5 AAA-Quality Indie Games
Think “indie” video games and you’re bound to think of pixel art and platformers. Walking simulators and cute experiments. Over the past decade, small studios have pushed the indie games label and presented entries on par with the high-budget world of AAA video games.
All of these games can be found on Steam, so if you would like to experience some AAA quality indie games (which we highly recommend), then make sure to get some Steam Wallet Codes!
Be it with the depth, breadth, or the sheer ambition of gameplay, some indie games are more bang for your buck. Here is our list of five indie games that rival the quality of AAA games.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Platforms: PC, PS4
On the surface, Hellblade is a beautiful hack-and-slash video game. The title, however, captures the ambition of indie games. It tells the story of Senua; a Celtic warrior who is suffering from grief and psychosis. So polished were the facial animations and the powerful emotions of Melina Juergens that the first-time actor received an award for her performance. The strong writing makes it a moving experience as well.
Again, on the surface, Hellblade is a traditional game. It is about a journey to the underworld, swinging swords at big brutes, and dodging attacks. What sets the game apart from AAA titles and even other works of art is its portrayal of mental illness. Hellblade tries to replicate those feelings of fear and anxiety with several gameplay tricks.
The visuals and camera always play tricks on you, as you fail to realize what’s real and what’s in Senua’s mind. The surround sound design further adds to the confusion. With headphones on, you would hear several voices around you encouraging or mocking you and simply arguing with each other.
Biomedical research charity Wellcome Trust funded the game in part with a $395,000 grant. It explains how Hellblade wonderfully treats mental illness with grace and compassion. The UK developers Ninja Theory are promoters of the theory of “independent AAA” development. And with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, the indie studio presented a true AAA experience.
No Man’s Sky
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S
Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky is an indie game from a small team. It was also published by Sony and cost a full $60 at launch! By its release in August 2016, the open-world space exploration game had generated immense hype and anticipation. And when it had a difficult launch and was missing features, No Man’s Sky received AAA-level of backlash.
Since then, No Man’s Sky has become gaming’s biggest redemption story. While it failed at launch under the weight of high expectations and unfulfilled promises, the game kept improving with each update. As it stands, it is a solid open-world game that can be enjoyed for hours and hours.
You control an astronaut trying to repair his ship to get off the starting planet. The gameplay cycle of resource gathering, surviving the wildlife, and finding outposts on the different planets in a procedurally-generated universe is what follows.
The No Man’s Sky: Beyond update in 2019 more or less completed the game. Multiplayer and base-building works efficiently and you can now easily spend hundreds of hours exploring the world. The game can still feel incomplete with its many bugs and glitches. However, with a solid gameplay loop, otherworldly graphics, and tons of content, No Man’s Sky rivals any big-budget release.
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch
If exploring outer space is not your jam, then how about exploring the deep ocean? Unknown Worlds Entertainment’s Subnautica is a survival game that marries resource gathering and exploration with narrative and effective scares. The open-world first-person game begins with you crash-landing in an ocean on an alien planet. Soon, you’re swimming and diving to find resources and materials. There are numerous items to craft — from breathing apparatus to underwater vehicles.
The world is tough, and waiting for you are tentacled sea monsters and creatures that can swallow you whole. But where Subnautica differs from No Man’s Sky is that it is not procedurally generated. The scarier, tougher areas are mapped further away to allow you to familiarise and prepare yourself. The underwater tunnels and beasts however keep the tension going.
You can turn off the ‘survival’ mechanics and not worry about eating fish frequently. Beware, though. The game is designed to be intense and you would still have to deal with the flora and fauna as well as the claustrophobia. The progression is gradual and the story unravels cryptically. And while it certainly is a tense experience, beauty can also be found in the relaxing moments. All this makes Subnautica a unique survival game.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, iOS
First, a little history. Jonathan Blow — creator of 2009 hit indie platformer Braid — poured about $3 million into his next project: The Witness. In all, the puzzle game took close to $6 million in development costs. “I don’t talk about (The Witness) as an indie game that much because it’s got a really high budget, in part because we worked on it for seven years,” Blow said in an interview.
Though developed by a small team, The Witness, which came out in 2016, is almost a AAA offering. Not just because of its cost, but because of the aspiration. The first-person puzzle game is set on a colorful island as the player moves from puzzle to puzzle, which plays out in a 2D maze-like grid.
It is a peaceful experience as you learn the satisfying lore while exploring and solving logic-based puzzles. There are no audio or visual cues to lead you or to help you solve a puzzle. The open world is yours to explore at your own pace.
It’s not a game you’ll forget quickly. First off, it takes close to 20 hours to figure out the mystery of the island. But it also leaves you feeling smarter. That sense and scale of accomplishment make The Witness more than just an indie game.
Platforms: PC, Mac, Switch
We’re all aware of the roguelike game that has captured the hearts of many across the world, right? Hades is just one of those games that you would keep coming back to, be it for the storyline, characters, or just because you want to hack away at waves of enemies.
Hades was initially released into early access at the end of 2018 by Supergiant Games but leaped into fame in 2020 when it was fully released on most platforms. The game stole hearts not only because of its beautifully made characters but because of its unique take on storyline progression.
The game’s developers wanted to create a game where they could implement procedural narrative storytelling, and Hades was made as a result of their experimentation. In the game, players will die multiple times in order to develop the story further (which, honestly, is not a problem at all as it is impossible to not die in this roguelike).
Honorable Mentions & Conclusion
In addition to our list, there are a lot of titles that have pushed the boundaries of what an ‘indie game’ could be. Games such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Firewatch could be tagged as walking simulators but are picturesque depictions of well-rounded characters and adult themes.
There are fresh twists on classic genres such as rogue-lite, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer Dead Cells, and 2D action platformer Hollow Knight, or even an expansive, surprisingly in-depth farming sensation such as Stardew Valley.
Indie games have always challenged our expectations. And now inspired developers are tackling challenges of funding and limited reach to bring us creative projects that punch above their weight. We hope our list helps you enjoy indie games that feel like a AAA experience.
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