Ever since Minecraft got us hooked on surviving its deadly nights and sinister, snickering foes over a decade ago, there have been wave upon wave of new survival games to scratch our deepest masochistic itches. Attempting to tackle them all at once, however, would probably lead to an early grave, so we’ve put together this list of the very best survival games on PC to help satisfy those cravings for Darwinian supremacy. Whether you love punching trees, surviving against the elements or simply stuffing your belly with as much grub as you can manage, there’s a survival game with your name on it.
This is an updated version of our best survival games list for 2020, and we’ve added and removed four new games in the process. As always, we’ve kept our definition of ‘survival’ fairly broad. After all, the genre has crept into several other types of games over the years, from RPGs and management games to horror and cosmic sandboxes, so you’ll find plenty of hybrids in this list alongside the pure survival classics.
That said, in keeping with the spirit of survival games, we’ve also focused on games that we’d recommend you play today as opposed to doggedly sticking with some of the genre’s founding fathers. Survival of the fittest and all that, right?
Don’t see your favourite game on the list? Tell us about it in the comments below, and maybe you’ll convince others – and us – to give it a go. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a completely different kind of game, then check out our list of the best PC games to play right now.
Best survival games
There are loads of brilliant survival games to be found on PC, but we’ve selected 20 of the best below. We’ve also split our best survival game list across multiple pages for ease of navigation, and you’ll find the page links at the bottom of each page. Onwards!
Getting started in Rust can be a bit of a pain in the arse. After waking up naked and clueless, you’ll spend hours smashing rocks and chopping down trees like a Stone Age drone. If you’re lucky, you’ll go unnoticed for long enough to put a little base together, but chances are that you’ll become a snack for wild animals or a target for other players long before that.
Playing solo, the vast majority of your interactions with other players will be aggressive, belying the fact that forging alliances and cooperating is the best way to protect yourself. Working together, players can create fortified towns, surrounding them with automated turrets and traps, and from there try to dominate the server.
Once you’re able to protect yourself, Rust’s appeal becomes more apparent. A gathering expedition is a lot more exciting when there’s a chance you’re going to get in a shootout with packs of other players. The competition creates predators and prey, which can lead to highly imbalanced fights, but that makes it all the more satisfying when you start fighting back and winning.
What else should I be playing: If you want to start more survival games with your genitals out, there’s Conan Exiles.
To say Pathologic is unlike any other survival game is a little bit redundant, as it’s unlike any other game, regardless of genre. It’s a survival RPG that’s laced with psychological horror. Your goal, playing one of three healers, is to uncover the source of a plague that’s slowly killing an otherworldly town, and you only have twelve days to do it.
The town has its own rhythm and schedule, and events will occur whether you’re there to participate or not. As the plague spreads, the town’s inhabitants can start dying off, leaving them unable to provide you with information or help on your quest. Avenues are constantly being closed off, while others won’t open at all unless you’re playing as a specific character. And you won’t learn anything at all if you get sick or become malnourished.
Survival games are typically wilderness survival affairs, but not Pathologic. The town creates all these different ways for you to get by. You might, for instance, hit up some of the locals and try to find something to barter with; alternatively, you could choose to engage in less scrupulous activities, robbing and stealing to survive. And for everything, there’s a consequence, though not always overt. You can increase your reputation by easing the pain of the ill, but those might be resources you need later, or for yourself. The whole game is a gloomy, ethical conundrum.
What else should I be playing: There isn’t anything really like Paralogic, but Ice-Pick Lodge’s other games, The Void and Knock Knock, are the closest.
18. 7 Days To Die
At first glance, 7 Days To Die seems like just another zombie game, the intersection at which Minecraft somehow inexplicably collides with the likes of DayZ. But to dismiss it based on its crude graphics and misshapen landscapes would be to greatly underestimate this muddy-looking craft ’em up, as it’s probably the closest thing we’ve ever had to an interactive zombie movie.
In the early days of trying not to die, you start to fall into familiar routines. You build up your supplies, get yourself holed up in a good base, and you slowly start to become more confident amid the ruins of the apocalypse. The zombies are proper Romero-style meatbags, too, their slow, shuffling corpses barely registering your presence as you venture further and further afield with each new scavenging trip.
It’s all designed to lull you into a false sense of security. You think, “Yeah, those traps will do the trick” when you hunker down at night. The the game throws a swarm at you and all hell breaks loose. It’s classic zombie movie mistakes 101. You should have known better, and yet you fall into their trap every single damn time. Ultimately, 7 Days To Die knows how to apply just the right amount of pressure to keep you on your toes – provided it doesn’t chew them off in your sleep first, of course.
What else should I be playing: Should 7 Days To Die prove too stressful, then you’ll probably want to sink back into the blocky delights of Minecraft. If it’s more holding out against the hordes you want, though, give The Forest and Project Zomboid a go, which you can find elsewhere on this list.
Minecraft is best known for the creative endeavours it’s inspired, like building all of Middle-Earth, but there’s a survival game in there too, full of deadly nights and Creepers waiting to blow up everything you’ve worked so hard to create. Hunger, thirst and death accompany you as you dig underground and explore infinite, procedural worlds full of monsters and dungeons.
A brilliant crafting system means that you have a great deal of freedom when it comes to how you survive. You might build automated systems and sprawling mines, becoming an industrial powerhouse; or maybe you’ll choose the simple life, rearing animals and growing crops. All the resources you generate from your mines and farms can be turned into handy items, or you can sell them in NPC villages.
All the mods and game modes mean that you can essentially build your own survival game, or you can focus on something else, like building a flying pirate ship with a bunch of mates. And if you fancy an additional challenge, there’s a hardcore survival mode that deletes the entire world when you die. It’s not for the faint of heart.
What else should I be playing: Infiniminer started the whole blocky craze, but you should also check out Terraria, which you’ll find elsewhere on this list.
Kenshi is an odd thing. It’s many odd things. Is it an RPG? Is it a building game? A strategy game? A survival game? Yes. Yes, it is. But when Kenshi is about survival, it’s about more than topping up hunger bars. It’s about finding your niche and making it work. Where many survival games run out of purpose as soon as you stabilise your food supply, Kenshi opens more possibilities.
Did you establish a sustainable farm? Perhaps now you can scale it up and recruit people to defend it. Maybe you became a skilled enough thief to supply your needs, and now feel like delving into an ancient ruin. Perhaps you’re tired of fighting roaming ninja gangs for rice and chewsticks, and become a bounty hunter instead.
People often emphasise that you’re not special in Kenshi, that its world does not fit itself around your needs and wants. But equally, it’s not particularly set against you, either. The most common ‘bandits’ are bands of starving people fighting for scraps of food. We sometimes put some food in their pocket before leaving. It’s sadly never really acknowledged, but we do it anyway. It’s not their fault they’re stuck in this subsistence mindset.
All that gave our humble camp a sense of ambition beyond pure self-interest. This land could provide for people, we think. If we can protect it, maybe we could start to change things. And before we know it, we have a team of recruits running a farm and factory in our absence while we lead our tiny founding trio out into the world, camping out under twin moons, fending off unfamiliar animals, and accidentally offending a powerful faction of religious bigots. Welp, we guess we have enemies now, gang. Best head back home and figure out how to survive this, too.
What else should I be playing: RimWorld is a colony management survival game that’s also a great story generator, but if you prefer Kenshi’s RPG elements, then Fallout 4 has companions and settlement building in a familiar nuclear post-apocalypse.