Playing with my closest friend group, which ranges from four to six people depending on who is on, can make it hard to find something that will be perfect for our inconsistent squad of gamer buddies. While we rely on Overwatch for when we have four to six players or an uneven number of five people makes it a Rainbow Six Siege night. Other times we scratch our heads on what to do if we don’t want something competitive. One genre where we look through the must-plays to see if something is worth our time and money are survival games. Due to lobbies being open to parties of all sizes, we opt to dive into a few here and there, regardless of who is or is not hopping on Discord to play and chit chat. So, if you are in for the hardcore or casual, this list has a bit of everything when it comes to hunkering down to live in a harsh environment.
1. 7 Days to Die
Coming on eight years in Early Access, 7 Days to Die still shambles along pretty strong. Whether you have a buddy or buddies or are doing it solo, living off the land while zombies and other monsters lurk around every corner, this one is for the players looking for a challenge. It has the genre’s hallmarks; from needing to eat and drink to crafting, it manages to go above and beyond with its premise (hint, it is in the name).
The reason for the title is that every seven days delivers a horde, and the difficulty goes up each time. The waves are brutal, so rather than wondering the wasteland like others in this realm, it is best to find somewhere safe and reinforce it as much as you can. The dead are tough, persistent, and can be tricky, like digging under your home because you thought a moat was a smart idea. Well, not so smart anymore now that your shelter has fallen into the dirt.
Alpha 19.3 is the latest patch from December 2020, so it is a good sign it is still getting worked on, despite not reaching Beta. It feels a little janky, and the frames are not great, but it is good enough to make the list for anyone curious.
Whether you are talking about the superb mod or the standalone, which has risen from the grave over the years, you cannot go wrong with DayZ.
My first hardcore survival experience as most of the time, I would have something more on the forgiving side. Instead, death can come from any corner or hilltop as someone might lay in the grass with a sniper rifle waiting to pick off any unsuspecting humans. Even with that, you may die on your own. Starvation, dehydration, getting ill, or injury can get you. It is grueling in the best way imaginable.
3. Green Hell
If you like the brutal difficulty of DayZ but want a grounded, realistic approach, then out of all of our listed survival games, Green Hell is a must-play. It is one thing to eat or drink to keep your heart beating; it is another when dealing with getting the right nutrients in your body or dealing with a variety of illnesses, beasts, and indigenous tribes.
When my friends and I play, you will constantly hear one of us having a bad time. Someone got a rash, another got bitten by a poisonous spider and will die, or another was dumb enough to eat enough crap to make him go insane. Yes, there is an Amnesia-Esque mechanic that makes you lose your marbles.
Green Hell is on PC.
Let’s continue the challenging line-up we have here with Raft. If you love the ocean and sharks, then this is for you, or if you are like my friend who played with me and the rest of the gang, then this will be a nightmare.
You, or your crew, are stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with a shark hunting you down. Outside of that, everything else is pretty much what you should expect by now, like finding resources to build or getting enough food and water to prevent anyone from dying. Finding little land while surrounded by ocean water makes for an extremely hard situation alone, but being chased by a man-eater makes it harsher.
Raft is on PC and still currently in Early Access.
For you readers who are like my shark fearing friend, then this might even be worse for you as Subnautica involves you living in the ocean on an alien planet. Horrifying while breathtakingly beautiful with its colorful art style in this fascinating world, this strikes a great balance for players wanting both relaxing and challenging time.
For people who already love this indie title, then you should also check out its Early Access sibling, Subnautica: Below Zero.
The reason for a “must-play survival games list” stems from Valheim, a Norse mythological indie release that came out earlier this only (February 2) in Early Access. My friends and I have had a blast with this massive planet filled with wildlife, monsters, and Norse legends.
We are swimming away from waves beating down on us or sprinting away from zombies trying to eat us alive to something far more relaxing. Leveling up stats to get stronger is easy as all work you do gives consistent progress. Finding resources can take time, but not impossible, once you learn more about the environment. Death is not a huge deal as it may hinder your leveling up slightly, but you can easily find your items that get dropped without having to stress unless you die in an inconvenient area.
On top of the fun, accessible mechanics, it is beautiful with its mix of modern and retro art style that makes it shine bright in the plethora of indies that aim in a similar direction. Valheim is one of my favorite games of the year and is the definition of “must-play survival games.”
Valheim is in Early Access on PC.
7. The Forest
If you are a horror fan like me, then you need to snag The Forest when you buy your next game. Stranded on an island with a dangerous tribe hunting you, you must not only live off the land but also find your son. Unlike most of the entries here, while some may have a story, this one you may want to see through to the end. It has plenty of twists and turns towards the final act that is surprisingly compelling.
Excitingly, we will get a sequel at some point called Sons of the Forest. Keep your eyes open for that one if you are a fan.
Rust has exploded despite having a strong following for years. It continues to grow with new developments for players looking for a punishing, survival experience. Since hitting full release in 2018, it has some of the most depth out of any entry on our list. Plus, if you want something more gentle, there is a softcore mode that may take off some of the pain that you will feel when diving in.
Rust is on PC.
9. Don’t Stave Together
Don’t Starve Together is a standalone multiplayer expansion of the 2013 game Don’t Starve. It is a gothic breath of fresh air for the genre due to its art direction. Its spooky yet disturbingly cute world is full of danger and surprises. It is hard to resist going into the darkness with some friends or family members in an attempt to make it through alive. Besides, nobody wants to die alone anyway.
How can I write a whole article on must-play survival games for you and not mention the megahit Minecraft? After all these years, it is still going strong; despite the vehicle has steered towards a more creative side, it remains a monster of a survival experience. Creepers that will explode you and your home, zombies banging on your doors, or not having enough light, making you not see a giant hole that you stepped into as you fall to your death. A million things can happen that will lead to an untimely demise while also looking adorable with its iconic blocky look.
I know I must have missed something that you love out of these must-play survival games. Let me know what you think of the list and what games I should check out for myself.