As the indie game industry has exploded, more and more excellent titles have popped up in every genre. From unique shooters and RPGs to a mountain of excellent modern metroidvanias, there really is an indie game for everyone.
While riding the high of successful metroidvanias, roguelites, and platformers, the indie industry has unfortunately overlooked one piece of game design – the open world. While rare, open-world indie games are usually excellent, breaking up the monotony of the Ubisoft open-world style that we've all come to know and tolerate.
10 Rust – Online Mayhem
Playing Rust is a grueling experience that you just can't help but keep coming back to. As an MMO-esque survival game, Rust is a magnet for griefers that will do their best to ruin the progress you've made over many long hours.
Despite that though, Rust's strange magnetism pulls you back in again and again, until, before you know it, you're a griefer too. Rust is a wasteland with very few rules, and even fewer merciful players, so be sure you're up for some 'friendly' rivalry before you buy it.
9 Grow: Song of The Evertree – A Calming Life
Grow: Song of The Evertree is a fantasy life sim that is dedicated to making you feel as cozy as possible. It tasks you with stepping into the shoes of a legendary alchemist on a quest to breathe new life into a landscape that desperately needs it.
During your time in your new home, you'll plant, grow, and farm crops, care for adorable local wildlife, and accommodate other people who arrive to see the micro-environment that you've been nurturing. It is an incredibly low-key, relaxing time.
8 A Short Hike – A Treasured Memory
A Short Hike is an adorable indie title that sees you explore and climb a peaceful mountain. While reaching the summit will only take around an hour, A Short Hike will keep you invested for much longer, as you explore every inch of its wholesome landscape.
The unique art style on display here reinforces A Short Hike's wholesome energy, too. Its almost fuzzy-looking 3D pixel graphics paint the world in a glow of nostalgia, as if you're playing through a treasured memory that has blurred over many years.
7 Don't Starve Together – Bleak Fantasy
Don't Starve is the poster child for the unforgiving indie survival game. Each life begins with you being thrown into a brutal, Tim Burton-esque world, with little more than the clothes on your back to protect you.
Everything can kill you in Don't Starve, and every decision you make could lead to you inadvertently killing yourself, too. This is even more dangerous than it may sound, as each death will send you right back to the main menu. The upside to this mechanic is that it adds a ton of replayability to Don't Starve, as you become determined to brush yourself off and try again.
6 Subnautica – Existential Dread Simulator
Subnautica may be the most famous game on this list, and its unique setting and genre fusion goes some way toward explaining why that is. Never before has a non-horror game been so scary. Hell, Subnautica is even scarier than most actual horror games.
Luckily, Subnautica allows you some breathing room amongst all the terror, giving you an escape pod in which to live between your trips into the blue outside. It's here that you'll expand your arsenal of tools and transport in the hopes that you'll one day find a way out of the unknowable abyss you find yourself floating in.
5 Firewatch – A Lonely Wilderness
Firewatch is a game about just that – spending a summer in a secluded piece of Wyoming woodland, watching for fires. While this premise doesn't lead to any groundbreaking gameplay, it does set up Firewatch's greatest strength – its storytelling.
Firewatch's four-hour trip into the woods is dripping with excellent character writing, something that the beautiful, desolate forest that surrounds you encourages you to focus on. The relationship between the two lead characters is amazingly conveyed and is an example of everything a story-driven game can be.
4 Terraria – More Than A Minecraft Clone
Many people see Terraria as a simple 2D clone of Minecraft. While it's easy to see why people might think this, this comparison massively underestimates what Terraria brings to the table.
Sure, mining, and crafting are a big part of Terraria's gameplay, but you aren't going to find exploration this complex, combat this satisfying, or bosses this wacky in Mojang's money-printing machine. Other than the overlap in some mechanics, Terraria does have one more similarity with Minecraft – it's consistently regarded one of the best sandbox games ever.
3 Chicory: A Colorful Tale – The Soul Of An Artist
Chicory: A Colorful Tale tells a unique story about artistry, creativity, and self-doubt. It is sure to be the most heartfelt game on the list for any creative, and is bound to hit uncomfortably close to home multiple times.
The exploration of the relationship between creativity and internal struggle is carried over into Chicory's gameplay too, as the game sees you venture out into the world carrying a magical paintbrush that can restore color to the monochrome environment around you. Each area plays out like a puzzle-solving coloring book, begging to be filled in.
2 The Witness – Kingdom Of Mazes
The Witness is the long-awaited 2016 game by puzzle game legend, Jonathon Blow. Anyone who was around during the Xbox Live Arcade indie explosion will recognize his previous game, the profoundly excellent Braid.
If Braid's reputation isn't enough to convince you to play The Witness, the immaculate puzzle design may do the trick. The Witness takes around 40 hours to complete for most players and not once does its host of maze-like puzzles falter. The world that these puzzles litter is also expertly crafted, full of ambivalent beauty and quiet exploration.
1 Disco Elysium – A Transcendent Experience
Disco Elysium is the sort of game that can only come out of an independent studio. The range of emotions its story conveys is impressive, and the depth of its gameplay is bottomless.
Set in the crumbling shadow of a once-great city, Disco Elysium examines human behavior through a laundry list of grim situations that the city's destitute citizens face. Even the protagonist isn't free from this exploration, as you routinely work with him to fight off his inner demons.
This theme even goes on to affect the gameplay mechanics of the game, transforming it into an RPG where you level up through emotional and personal growth, rather than through gaining fighting prowess. In Disco Elysium, conversations are combat, and dialogue options are spells.
Disco Elysium's conversations manage to captivate far more than most games with actual combat systems, a huge achievement that is one of many that the game has to its name.
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