World-builder games are all about creation – they have in-built systems to allow players to build, explore and expand within a contained adventure narrative. Usually, the most popular games come with the least number of rules. At which point the only restrictions on your dreamscape are the limits of your own imagination. Your capacity for rendering rich and complex microcosms sets you free. Whether you’re foraging for domestic upsets in Sims, or building writhing rollercoasters using the mechanics of Theme Park World.
We take a look at some of our favourite world-builder games, digging into the quality of immersion and the sheer wealth of options on offer for engaged creators:
From independent Montreal-based game developer, Ludeon Studios, this indie top-down construction game started out as a Kickstarter project and was officially released in October, 2018. It was widely praised by critics and looks unlike anything else out there with its two-dimensional bird’s eye view. The main objective is to hold your colony together as both external and internal events arise to tear you apart. It’s totally unpredictable, with a chaotic central torrent of randomly generated events that occur in your customised world, generated by your very own AI storyteller.
Dawn of Man
Every wondered what it would be like to live as a primeval human? Dawn of Man pitches players against the raw elements as a group of settlers, faced with the tricky task of survival in the Palaeolithic era (the game runs up to the Iron Age). Forage for food, acquire clothing, seek out water, hunt and build crude settlements – all while avoiding the stomping grounds of resident woolly mammoths. Your goal is to build a self-sufficient village. Aside from the mammoths, there are also blizzards, raiders and many other types of wild animal attacks to contend with. This game was developed by Madruga Works and released in March, 2019.
Developed by Mothership Entertainment (published by Team17 – famous for the wonderfully destructive Worms franchise), Aven Colony is a strategy game that focuses on city-building colonisation of alien planets. Build. Survive. Then watch your city grow on Aven Prime, light-years from our old familiar habitat. It’s the usual mix of construction, resource gathering and expansion. What’s great is that you can build the colony from scratch and build out over time as more colonists descend into the atmosphere. Much of your time will be spent tending to various buildings, from tents to space elevators. And, of course, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Sandbox Mode, when your colony spreads outwards into an open-ended landscape, with very few limitations.
Here’s something slightly different? Imagine if the first-person Metro games expanded into a survival strategy game. Enter an alternate history in the late 19th century and nurture your little hardened companions through the icy grips of a global nuclear volcanic winter. The steampunk feel makes this game extra special and there are various scenarios for you to try out – each with their own specific story arcs and challenges. This one was published by 11 bit studios (available on PC, PS4, Xbox One).
Worn out by the volcanic winter of Frostpunk? Tropico whisks you off to a comparatively balmy archipelago. Rule as either a benevolent or a vengeful dictator in a political simulation that compiles all the best aspects of world building onto one idyllic string of islands. Developed by Limbic Entertainment, players assume the position of ‘El Presidente’ and attempt to maintain control through four eras, ending in the modern era. Choose your actions wisely – your fully simulated citizens are never above defiling your works and throwing a good old fashioned revolt.
To many, it’s the ultimate sandbox video game. Minecraft was developed by Swedish Mojang Studios and released to the public in May 2009. The game now spans several platforms and recently became the best-selling video game ever, in 2020. You’re hurled into a procedurally-generated world in 3D, with pretty much infinite variations of terrain and endless avenues of creation to stroll down. Select from a range of game modes. Build things, craft tools and search for raw materials, either with other players or against the computer. You can even modify the gameplay mechanics yourself.
Imagine yourself as Matt Damon, dropped headlong into a Martian world. This colony building simulation was first developed by a Bulgarian studio, Haemimont Games and later Abstraction Games. It was released on several platforms in March, 2018. Unlike some of the other options listed above, this one if more readily grounded in realism, with players being tasked as overseers as your digital minions establish a colony on arid Mars. Supposedly the game is modelled on real Martian data. The player relies mostly on recognisable scientific tools and modern technology – we’re talking drones, rovers and hermetically sealed domes. So, you do feel up against it when the dust storms and meteor showers begin to roll in, upping the stakes and making the whole experience all the more visceral.
Ark: Survival Evolved
Developed by Studio Wildcard, this collaborative survival game combines adventure with strategic base-building and teamwork. The island itself is overrun by rampant dinosaurs and prehistoric beasties. And the player – armed with improvised weapons and firearms – experiences this open world in either third or first person. Though are offered the ability to hop on and ride many of your fellow creatures (over 176 species populate the island).
Jurassic World Evolution
Spare no expense in Frontier Developments popular video dinosaur game, released in June 2018 – inspired by the film that came out in 2015. This one came out on pretty much all platforms and whisked players off to realise their dinosaur park dreams on the Las Cinco Muertes Archipelago. Whether you’re chasing an escaped T-Rex with a scoped tranquiliser rifle, or simply adding a sprinkling of foliage and rocks to your Triceratops pen, this game is everything it promised it would be – a long-awaited opportunity to right the errors of John Alfred Hammond.
Finally, we come to the animal-focused cousin of Planet Coaster. Published by Frontier Developments, this all-out construction/management simulation plants you firmly in the role of Zoo Manager, overseeing the expansion of your sprawling animal kingdom. Released in November 2019, this game was critically praised and is filled with realistic animal mechanics, as well as an intelligent emphasis on conservation. Build your dream zoo and populate it with a few of over 100 different artificially sentient species (some of which are downloadable via separate content packs). Fans of animal anarchy beware! Unlike Zoo Tycoon, there is no option for deleting a portion of fence and seeing your animals rampage against you guests.