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The best survival games on PC

Best of the best

Hades artwork.

(Image credit: Supergiant Games)

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The appeal of survival games is simple to understand: fighting to stay alive is hard-coded into our DNA, so it's easy to see why we'd become engrossed in experiencing it in games. The best survival games on PC push players to their limits, presenting them with tough problems and challenging them to find creative solutions.

In such a popular genre, which games provide the best survival experiences? Below you'll find our favorite examples of simulated survival on PC, whether it's among the stars, deep underground, and in other dangerous environments packed with monsters, mutants, zombies, dinosaurs, or the deadliest enemy of all: other players. Here are the best survival games on PC. 

Valheim

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

In a sentence: Exploration and base-building in the Viking afterlife.
Status: Released in Early Access on February 2, 2021
Link: Official site

It didn't take long for Early Access co-op Viking survival game to draw a crowd, and it's easy to see why. A massive procedurally generated world, fearsome boss fights, and excellent base-building systems mesh wonderfully with survival elements like cooking and crafting. Solo play is great, but it really shines in co-op, and players can busy themselves with base construction or set out on perilous journeys across the sea to find dangerous new continents.

Further reading: Valheim is making me love survival games again

Subnautica

Subnautica

In a sentence: Survival, crafting, and building—underwater.
Status: Released January 23, 2018
Link: Offical site

Explore an alien, underwater world while piloting your hand-crafted submarine through mysterious submerged landscapes. From beautiful coral reefs to deep-sea caves and trenches, you'll gather resources and sustenance, build habitats and a fleet of subs, and craft new tech to help you survive the depths. It's hard not to compare it to Minecraft, yet developer Unknown Worlds has put their own unique stamp on the survival genre.

Further reading: Subnautica: Early impressions of Minecraft under the sea

Grounded

Grounded

(Image credit: Obsidian)

In a sentence: You're tiny and trying to survive in someone's back yard.
Status: In Early Access since July 28, 2020
Link: Offical site

Obsidian shrunk you down and dropped you in a normal backyard, but due to your size it might as well be a jungle. Surrounded by killer spiders, hungry birds, and annoying ants, you can build a base by chopping down blades of grass and forage for food and drink by roasting aphids and collecting drops of dew. It's a beautiful and somewhat wonderous environment from the perspective of a someone the size of a bug.

Further reading: Obsidian's Grounded has extreme spider horror and a few fun survival twists

Frostpunk

In a sentence: Survival, city-building, and crisis management in a frozen world.
Status: Released April 24, 2018
Link: Official site 

Frostpunk is a blend of city-building, society simulation, and survival in a grim and frozen world. With a handful of cold, hungry, unhappy people, you'll need to construct a working city inside a snow-filled crater heated only by a massive coal furnace. Gather resources, hunt for food, and manage your citizens by giving them hope for the future. It's a harsh and beautiful survival game that confronts you with difficult choices at every turn.

Further reading:  Frostpunk review: an incredibly stylish and addictive survival management game.

Escape from Tarkov

Escape from Tarkov

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

In a sentence: A brutal and hyper-realistic shooter all about hoarding and managing loot
Status: In beta
Link: Official site

Escape from Tarkov is a savage evolution of survival games with just a pinch of battle royale thrown in for flavor. Instead of playing in a persistent world, you spawn on a map with a few other players and several dozen enemy NPCs. To survive, you have to reach an exfiltration zone on the other end of the map, but you also get to keep anything you loot to sell on a player-driven marketplace or use in subsequent rounds. It's a lot like poker only way scarier. What really sells Tarkov, though, is it's hyper-realistic gunplay and ridiculously deep gun customization.

Further reading: How I became an arms dealer in Escape from Tarkov

Outward

In a sentence: A fantasy RPG with strong survival elements
Status: Released March 2019
Link: Official site

Sounds strange to say it, but this fantasy RPG where you can never actually die is one of the best recent survival games around. In Outward you're not only challenged by mystical monsters but the world itself, in which you must keep yourself fed, hydrated, and healthy. In the arid deserts heat will sap your endurance, in the marshy swamplands the water can poison you, and with no fast-travel or quest markers or even your own location shown on your map, each excursion is an exercise in preparation, patience, and survival.

Further reading: Fantasy RPG Outward is the survival game I've been looking for

RimWorld

In a sentence: Sci-fi colony management simulation inspired by Dwarf Fortress
Status: Released October 17, 2018
Link: Steam

It's been five years of Early Access, but RimWorld has finally reached version 1.0. In this management and survival sim you oversee a colony of randomly generated people stranded on a procedural alien planet. Expand the base, keep your colonists healthy and sane, and deal with disasters thrown your way by RimWorld's AI director, which can include anything from disease outbreaks to alien attacks to weather events. The toughest challenge may be just making your colonists simply get along with each other: each one has a distinct personality, desires, and moods.

Further reading: Making a clan of cannibals with RimWorld's scenario editor

Raft

In a sentence: Survive on a raft while building it into a floating fortress
Status: In Early Access
Link: Steam

It sounds almost idyllic, floating through the world serenely on a raft, building and expanding upon it as you fish flotsam from the ocean with a grappling hook. There are sharks, though. Hungry ones, and if they can't eat you they'll settle for eating your floating home. You'll need to somehow find food and fresh water while keeping your raft afloat and growing. Luckily, you can play co-op with a pal and double your chances for survival.

Further reading: How Raft conquered the seas of Steam

The Long Dark

The Long Dark

In a sentence: Atmospheric survival in a Canadian post-apocalypse.
Status: Released August 1, 2017
Link: Official site

With a focus on atmosphere and environmental survival, The Long Dark stands out in an increasingly crowded genre. You play as a bush pilot stranded in the frozen wilderness after a mysterious global calamity. There are no zombies, no mutants, and no other players: it's just you fighting against the elements, the wildlife, and your own human fragility.

Further reading: Survival gets serious in The Long Dark

Oxygen Not Included

Oxygen Not Included

In a sentence: Keep a handful of 3D-printed colonists alive in a dangerous and expanding underground colony
Status: Released on July 30, 2019
Link: Official site

The best games are those that are easy to learn and difficult to master. Oxygen Not Included fits that bill: jumping into it and learning the basics is a snap, but fully understanding it takes a lot of time and effort. While it's adorable, the colony-builder is also deep and complex as it simulates its harsh subterranean environment. You'll need to manage your colonists hunger, happiness, cleanliness, and naturally their clean and breathable oxygen as they dig out caverns, gather resources, build machinery, and try to turn a harsh environment into a comfortable underground home.

Further reading: Oxygen Not Included is a deep and complex sim that's also easy to jump into 

Ark: Survival Evolved

Ark: Survival Evolved

In a sentence: Survival, crafting, and building—with dinosaurs.
Status: Released August 29, 2017
Link: Official site

Dropped nearly nude on an expansive map filled with dinosaurs, you'll have to contend with extreme heat and cold, starvation and dehydration, and fellow humans (though you can play solo as well). Craft weapons and gear, build a base, tame and ride dinosaurs, and join with (or battle) other players. Ark's free Primitive Plus DLC adds tons more depth to crafting and farming.

Further reading: Why Ark's best mount is a damn frog

Don't Starve

Don't Starve

In a sentence: Survive a cartoon wilderness filled with beasts and monsters.
Status: Released April 13, 2013
Link: Offical Site

With charming artwork yet punishing gameplay, Don't Starve is an addictive challenge and one of the best survival experiences out there (and in a rare turn of events, one of the few games here to graduate from Early Access). The crafting is complex and satisfying as you attempt to survive busy days and deadly nights. Fight (and eat) animals, practice both science and magic, and keep an eye on your mental health so you don't go insane. The standalone expansion Don't Starve Together even lets you play with pals.

Further reading: Don't Starve: Shipwrecked is a breath of fresh... Nope, that's a hurricane.

Duskers

Duskers

In a sentence: Real-time strategy roguelike in which you explore creepy abandoned spaceships using drones.
Status: Released May 18, 2016
Link: Steam Store

Duskers may not feel entirely like a survival game, given that it's a real-time strategy roguelike about steering a fleet of drones through spooky derelict spaceships. But the reason you're exploring is to scavenge parts, collect fuel, and repair and upgrade your drones so you can continue traveling through space in hopes of finding safety and an answer to the unexplained event that seems to have left the universe uninhabited (by humans, at least). Its a tense and nail-biting experience as you must keep moving through increasingly dangerous situations in hopes of gathering enough resources to survive.

Further reading: Duskers review

DayZ

DayZ

In a sentence: Online zombie survival in the Eastern European countryside.
Status: Released (but still not finished) December 13, 2018
Link: Steam Store

Yes, it was a long road out of Early Access, DayZ's technically still isn't done. But the survival elements of DayZ are strong, with complex nutrition, hydration, and health systems that go beyond merely eating, drinking, and bandaging wounds. Scavenge a sprawling and decaying persistent open world, engage in tense interactions with other players, customize weapons and craft gear, and try not to die: if you do, you start again with nothing.

Further reading: DayZ Diaries: the one where Ben force-feeds Andy a rotten banana

Starbound

Starbound

In a sentence: Terraria in space.
Status: Released July 22, 2016
Link: Steam Store

From visiting distant galaxies in your customized starship to building a home and farming crops, Starbound satisfies as both a sprawling survival adventure and a cozy pastime. The 2D pixelated sandbox is a joy to explore, and along the way you'll meet friendly alien NPCs and battle surprisingly tough bosses. There's a story-based campaign and side-quests, but no real feeling of pressure to complete them except at your leisure. You can also play with friends on dedicated servers or simply by inviting them into your game via Steam.

Further reading: Starbound review

Rust

Rust crafting guide

(Image credit: Facepunch Studios)

In a sentence: Naked men running around hitting each other with rocks.
Status: Released February 8, 2018
Link: Official site

Join or battle other players—or attempt to go it alone—starting with primitive tools and weapons and advancing to firearms and massive bases. You'll have to contend with wild animals, hunger, and thirst, but this is a very PVP-intensive survival experience and your main threat will come from the dozens of other players on the servers. Rust left Early Access in Early 2018, but continues to add new features.

Further reading: Trick-or-treating in Rust went about as well as you might expect

Minecraft

Minecraft

In a sentence: Build things, destroy things, fight monsters.
Status: Released October 7, 2011
Link: Official site

You may have heard of it. There are many different ways to play Minecraft: alone, in creative mode, with friends and strangers, as an explorer, or with custom game modes on specialty servers. As a survival game, it's still excellent, with well-implemented hunger and thirst systems and incredibly robust crafting and building. Dive into its blocky and beautiful world and you may never want to leave.

Further reading: The 40 best Minecraft custom maps

The Forest

The Forest

In a sentence: Plane crash survivor angers cannibal tribe.
Status: Released April 30, 2018
Link: Steam Store

After picking through the wreckage of the plane crash that stranded you here, you'll quickly discover you're not alone. You share a mysterious island with a tribe of terrifying cannibals, and while you struggle to stay fed and hydrated, build structures from simple tents to log homes, and construct traps to snare animals, you'll have to defend against the hungry and determined locals. The Forest is built in Unity 5, which provides stunning visuals and effects. There's even a VR version.

Further reading: The Forest review (Early Access)

Terraria

Terraria's whip

(Image credit: Re-Logic)

In a sentence: Side-scrolling Minecraft.
Status: Released May 16, 2011
Link: Offical site 

A wonderful, expansive, addictive, and not to mention inexpensive survival crafting sandbox. Explore randomly generated worlds, gather resources, and enjoy a simple yet satisfying crafting system. Tunnel through vast caverns, battle monsters, befriend NPCs, build yourself a palace, and play alone or with friends in co-op. Terraria has been around for years, but it's stood the test of time.

Further reading: Terraria review

This War of Mine

This War of Mine

In a sentence: Struggle to survive in a war-torn city.
Status: Released November 14, 2014
Link: Offical site

Depicting war not from the perspective of an elite soldier but from that of a group of civilians simply trying to stay alive amidst the chaos, This War of Mine is a different and more desperate kind of survival game. You'll face tough choices as you manage your survivors' health, both physical and mental. Scrounging for food and supplies during the night is tense and harrowing, and no matter what you find it never seems to be enough. It's not just a survival game but a harsh and unblinking look at the reality of war.

Further reading: This War of Mine review

Unturned

Unturned

In a sentence: A free-to-play multiplayer survival sandbox.
Status: Released July 7, 2017
Link: Steam store

It costs you nothing to play Unturned, but this isn't some slapped together free-to-play title. Its creator (a teenager) has released scores of updates to the zombie-based survival sandbox since 2014, which makes it easy to see why it's been downloaded by millions of players since its initial release. Despite Unturned's blocky visuals it contains deep and satisfying crafting, skill, and survival systems, plus there's a massive and exuberant community surrounding it.

Further reading: How a survival game made by a 16-year-old racked up 24 million downloads

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