I’ve played a lot of videogames over the years, from my first Atari 2600 to the 111 games in my Steam library. I’ve put an absurd number of hours into gaming, probably more than any other pursuit aside from sleeping. Unsurprisingly, I have Opinions on the games I play.
I have to say that, of all the games I’ve played, Kerbal Space Program is by far the best of them. There are other games out there that have it beat on individual criteria, but nothing can touch this game for replayability or the depth of fulfillment when a mission succeeds. I’ve got more than 1200 hours into this game since it went Early Access on Steam in 2013, and I still revisit it every year.
It’s a game that perfectly combines engineering challenges and exploration with experimentation. On the surface, it sounds pretty simple: cobble together a rocket from parts and launch it into space, eventually sending them to other planets. You start out struggling to build something that can even make it into low orbit. Eventually, you get so good at it that you can put a Kerbalnaut on Eloo (their analog of Pluto). It’s got a Mythbusters kind of trial-and-error fun to it. Failures can be as spectacular and entertaining as the successes. Of course, there can also be moments of frustration so intense you invent new languages just to curse in. The base game is plenty fun and challenging, but by itself it would probably only last you a couple hundred hours.
It’s the mods that make the game truly great. When the mod community got involved, the game evolved into something epic, and it continues to evolve constantly. The number and types of mods available is, frankly, daunting even for me today. They can be as simple as a parts pack to give you a few new things to play with, to resource and colonization systems that completely change the goals and gameplay, to realism mods that transform the entire game into a real space program simulator using realistic rocket parts and the actual solar system (FYI: real rocketry is HARD).
The variety of players is almost as amazing as the variety of mods. Everyone from kids casually futzing around with a space game to actual NASA and SpaceX employees (some of whom have far more hours into the game than I do). There are thousands of hours of YouTube videos— how-to’s, mod reviews, and people just showing off their own creations.
If you haven’t tried this game before, I can’t recommend it enough. Start small, and work your way into the mods only a few at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. A simple Google search will provide you with plenty of recommendations on what mods are best for a beginner. My personal recommendation: Go as far as you can with the base game, then add MechJeb and watch how the autopilot accomplishes things. Orbital docking kicked my ass until I’d seen it done a few times.
If you enjoy games that let you construct and explore, this game will eat your life, but it’s some of the most fulfilling time you’ll ever spend.