There’s always been something oddly enticing about the end of the world and what comes afterwards for a lot of people. By exploring the depths humanity will sink to when up against the wall, the genre has been successful on the big screen for years. However, there’s arguably just as big a market for the best post-apocalyptic games, those that allow you to live through the grime and the struggle of just surviving.
They’re in higher demand than ever with plenty of games showcased at E3 2018 revolving around the end of days, including the likes of Days Gone, Gears 5, Metro Exodus, and more. While those titles are a little ways off, we still have a huge range of the best post-apocalyptic games that you can immerse yourself in the squalor of right now. From twisted and destitute playgrounds to more human and introspective affairs, there’s no shortage of options for those who are more morbidly minded.
For the sake of variety (and also not having five Fallout games in one list), we’re limiting entries to just one post-apocalyptic game per franchise. We’re also trying to avoid adding too many zombie games as we already have a super excellent list for just that. We’re also excluding regional apocalypses as seen in The Division and going full fat end of days.
The Best Post-Apocalyptic Games
Developer: Piranha Bytes Publisher: THQ Nordic
Nobody’s going to suggest that ELEX is the most polished post-apocalyptic game you will ever play, neither is it the most casual. Full of the customary bugs from Piranha Bytes, it’s a game that threatens to pull you out of the experience but never enough to prevent you from appreciate its weird charm. It’s not really like any other ARPG on the market.
When the population of Magnalan is wiped out by a comet, the survivors claw their way through the dark days and create tribes, the most powerful of all being the Albs. They harness the power of the titular ELEX and with you playing as an outcast Alb, it’s up to you to decide who you pair up with next. If you can get through ELEX’s testing first ten or so hours, you may find a lot to love.
Developer: Unicube Publisher: Team17
Fallout Shelter may be the first game that comes to mind when you see Sheltered in action, though Bethesda’s spin-off’s tone is far more irreverent and inconsequential. Sheltered, meanwhile, is grim and almost oppressive by comparison, constantly giving you and your family tests to survive in the post-apocalypse.
It’s also a far deeper game than Fallout Shelter, allowing you to scavenge in the wastes and take part in turn-based combat. You can make your own stories in Sheltered, so if that means you turn into an omnipotent patriarch, so be it. Your family can be customised to be whatever and whoever you want them to be, but don’t get too attached: you never know when death will come in Sheltered.
13. State of Decay
Developer: Undead Labs Publisher: Microsoft Studios
One of the better ways to live out eking out a living in a zombie apocalypse (try saying that when drunk), State of Decay tasks you with not only surviving but also to allow those around you to prosper as well. With multiple characters to play as in your community, it’s a constant source of despair when your favourite survivor permanently dies, so much so that you may never want to take them out again.
While the second game is more expansive and arguably rewarding, it’s also a tad on the unpolished side. The first State of Decay still has its issues, though it’s not difficult to look past that when you’re moving from house to house and scrounging all the supplies you can find before mowing down zombies in your car as you make your escape.
Developer: id Software Publisher: Bethesda
The epitome of a Jack of all trades post-apocalyptic game. RAGE had many interesting ideas when it was released, though it never managed to excel in just one. Still, with the amount of things to see, do, and kill over many hours of gameplay, you could be forgiven for forgetting the storyline, which is, well, it’s there, that’s for sure.
Whether you’re raiding raiders with your fancy boomerang of death, racing your bucket of bolts around, or just taking up a harmless addiction to gambling, RAGE is an interesting look into life after the end of everything. With id Software being the behind of wheel, RAGE gets a pass for some of its missteps just for its gunplay alone. Hopefully the upcoming RAGE 2 will deliver on the promise of the first game.
11. Mad Max
Developer: Avalanche Studios Publisher: WB Games
Critically polarising at launch, Mad Max has gone on to become something of a cult classic in recent years. An amalgamation of games like Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham series, Mad Max’s main hook comes from taking your puny vehicle and eventually turning it into the scourge of the wastes. It’s slow going, but worth sticking with.
The driving is excellent, though the combat does feel like a poor imitation of Rocksteady. Still, with an interesting approach to gathering water and fuel, Mad Max is a game that constantly keep you on toes and also regularly on the verge of wanting to punch Chumbucket square in his irritating face. It’s available for a pittance these days, so be sure to check out Mad Max and lose yourself in its dunes if you haven’t yet.
10. Resistance 3
Developer: Insomniac Games Publisher: SIE
Here’s an underrated blast from the past. The Resistance franchise may have never been the Halo or Gears beater that Sony were hoping for, but it had enough of its own unique ideas to make it worthwhile. You can couple a good story with its interesting mechanics with the finale of Resistance 2 bringing plenty of shocks.
However, if it’s a true post-apocalypse you want, it’s Resistance 3 you have to play. Humanity is on its knees with the chimera ravaging Earth in an alternative history. You play as Joseph Capelli as he takes the fight to the invaders and to put an end to the conflict once and for all. With some mind-blowing setpieces and a truly moribund atmosphere, Resistance 3 is an FPS game that shouldn’t be overlooked. Now, if only Sony had a spot open for an FPS game set in an open world for their PS4 exclusive line-up…
Developer: 11 bit studios Publisher: 11 bit studios
When a global catastrophe sends the world into a neverending winter, you must guide one of the last remaining vestiges of humanity to warmth. This entails building a town around a gigantic generator and also trying your best to keep your people happy, despite the fact that they should just be grateful to be alive. Seriously, they do love a good whinge in Frostpunk.
Primarily a management sim, Frostpunk constantly makes you answer its toughest questions. Do you take a hardline approach to laws and enact a dictatorship or do you try to be more liberal and optimistic? Both choices will alienate someone in your camp, so it’s up to you to make them see the light. It’s a tricky balancing act in Frostpunk and one that you will probably lose sleep over, which is what the best post-apocalyptic games should do.
“While not without some faults and limitations, Frostpunk is an often harrowing parable on society that makes you the monster without you even realising it.”
8. The Long Dark
Developer: Hinterland Studio Publisher: Hinterland Studio
When a geomagnetic disasters crashes your plane in the Canadian wilderness, you must scrape by one day at a time and just try to survive. A quieter post-apocalyptic game compared to many of its peers, The Long Dark is designed to be an introspective and patient experience, one that rewards those who take the time to get lost within it.
With limited supplies to be found out in the tundra, coming across any kind of resources is like a birthday present in The Long Dark. You’ll celebrate finding a small candy bar like you’ve just won the lottery as it gives you more time to breathe in the gorgeous world. The Long Dark is relatively low on action, though encounters with bears and wolves are always heart-pumping affairs. If you like rabbits, though, you should probably avoid this one.
“Despite a couple of bug bears and a needlessly drawn-out story mode, The Long Dark sets a fine example for other survival games to follow. It will pull you in and have you worrying about the correct balance of condensed milk and beef jerky in your inventory without you even realising.”
Developer: inXile Entertainment Publisher: inXile Entertainment
Anyone who’s been left jaded by the action route the Fallout franchise since Bethesda took over need look no further than Wasteland 2. Developed by the producer behind the original Fallout game, Wasteland 2 takes the post-apocalypse back to its CRPG roots to great effect.
Just like its cousin, your decisions in Wasteland 2 can lead to long-term consequences, meaning that guilt trips are almost certainly on the way. With an impressive depth of customisation to dive into, Wasteland 2 is the perfect way to craft the post-apocalypse you see fit, faults and all. Featuring dozens upon dozens of hours of gameplay, the second entry in the series is a decent entrée until Wasteland 3 drops sometime in 2019.
6. Metro: Last Light
Developer: 4A Games Publisher: Deep Silver
The Metro series of post-apocalyptic games have always been a cult favourite FPS. While the first game, 2033, was based on the Dmitry Glukhovsky novel, Last Light deviates away to craft its own story. You again play as Artyom, who is part of an underground network of survivors following a nuclear apocalypse. You’ll come across your fair share of enemies, some human, some not so much, and some completely unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Minimalist in its nature, Last Light doesn’t overload the player with information or hold their hand at all. It’s a difficult FPS featuring different ways to approach situations, as well as the ability to customise your weapons and change the ending depending on your actions in the game. A sequel, Metro: Exodus, is on its ways next year and with the Redux version of Last Light often being bundled with 2033 at a cheap price, you have no excuses not to check it out.
5. Telltale’s The Walking Dead
Developer: Telltale Games Publisher: Telltale Games
If we’re talking about a particular season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, though its fourth is already showing a lot of promise. When the franchise started, it allowed players greater freedom in exploration and the all-important difficult decisions having genuine weight because of the connection to the characters.
Lee Everett is not just one of the best protagonists in a post-apocalyptic game, he’s one of the best overall. A man with inner turmoil and a conscience, Lee’s job is to keep a young girl by the name of Clementine safe as they make their way to any sign of hope they can in a walker-infested America. While it may be light on gameplay for some, the choices you make in The Walking Dead, and the game as a whole, will stick with you for a long time.
4. Gears of War 3
Developer: Epic Games Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Gears of War 3 didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel for the Gears franchise, though it never arguably needed to. The blueprint of the first two games (including the unusual but somehow excellent reloading mechanic) was followed for the third instalment but with some refinements to make the action and chainsawing feel more fluid than ever.
Following the events of the second game, Gears of War 3 pits you once again as Marcus Fenix: the manliest man in all of gaming. Humanity is on the brink of extinction after civilisation had effectively been wiped out by the Locust, so it’s up to you to take the fight to them one last time. Considering the amount of testosterone in Gears of War 3, it’s a surprisingly grim and emotional ride that’s the pillar of the Xbox brand for good reason.
3. Horizon Zero Dawn
Developer: Guerrilla Games Publisher: SIE
Compared to the rest of the best post-apocalyptic games on this list, Horizon Zero Dawn is positively vibrant. Bursting with colour and life, you play as Aloy in a world where humans are put back in their place on the food chain. Robot animals roam the lands and it’s clear something terrible happened to Earth, evidenced by the remnants of a long gone and advanced civilisation.
An open-world game with a huge emphasis on exploration, Horizon Zero Dawn offers players the chance to tame robots or hunt them down however they see fit. There’s a fantastic storyline to unravel the deeper into Horizon you travel, though you couldn’t be blamed if you just decide to relax atop a Tallneck for a while and gaze upon the beautiful, erm, horizon.
If you want a post-apocalyptic game that doesn’t shy away from showing humanity in its ugliest form, The Last of Us is the game for you. When a parasitic infection turns most of the world into zombie-like creatures, the final remnants of civilisation spend their morbid days without much hope for the future. That is, of course, until Ellie comes along.
You play as Joel, a man hardened by grief, as you protect Ellie during a trek across America to deliver her to a movement. The gameplay revels in the filth of the apocalypse, giving you things like bricks to dispatch your enemies — there’s no magic ammo cache in The Last of Us. An emotional and consistently engaging time, The Last of Us is storytelling and character building in gaming at its very best.
1. Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian Publisher: Bethesda
Often hailed as the best modern Fallout game, New Vegas embraces the first-person ARPG style that Bethesda brought to the series for Fallout 3 while also being sure to maintain the Obsidian sense of building a world begging to be explored and characters worth caring out. Play Fallout 4 and New Vegas side-by-side and you will notice some disappointing “streamlining” in the former.
When you’re left for dead out in the Vegas desert, you must seek revenge — or, failing that, go and complete the 45000 sidequests and distractions that New Vegas has to offer, which include lending a helping hand to an Elvis impersonator or just frittering all of your money away at the casino. Fallout fans have been begging Bethesda to convince Obsidian to return for another game, and it’s really not hard to see why when even bashing the heads in of your millionth cazador.