Every era of gaming has one or two genres that burst out of nowhere and take the gaming industry by storm, and most of the time, it’s the indie games or the era that lead the charge. In the 2000’s we were inundated with platformers with budding anthropomorphic mascots, then the early 2010s were dominated largely by dark 2D side scrollers like Limbo and Braid and Walking Simulators like Journey.
Then more recently, there have been innumerable games in mainstream and indie gaming that have offered vast open worlds to explore. Each generation of gaming brings with it a new and interesting brand of titles, and one of the most recent breakout indie genres has been survival gaming.
Not to be confused with survival horror that has been around for decades through franchises like Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Fatal Frame, to name a few. Survival games are dedicated to the survival aspect of these games, stripping the player of all useful resources, placing them in a hostile environment, and then asking them to gradually work their way through a vague storyline and conquer all that they survey.
We have seen some mainstream games that have tried to offer a big-budget version of this core experience; however, it has always been the breakout indie titles that have broken the mold and pushed the genre forward.
So with that in mind, we wanted to take a look at some of the best indie survival games on the market, weighing up all the options so that you don’t have to. Meaning that the next time you have a hankering for adventure, you can simply peruse this list and get lost in a new survival world. So without further delay, join us as we run down our favorite indie survival games in this comprehensive best indie survival game guide!
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this list, we reckon it would probably be best if we offer some criteria to help you understand exactly why we have picked the survival titles that we have.
While we can’t stop this list from being mainly subjective, we can put some rules in place to make sure that all of our choices are of the utmost quality. We know that survival games require a huge time commitment, and we don’t intend to waste yours. Here are our criteria below:
- All games selected must be indie titles, meaning they cannot be produced by huge teams or have infinite financial backing from a huge publisher
- All games selected must have an aggregate score of at least 65% on Metacritic
- If Selecting a franchise, we will only include one entry per franchise
- Games must have traditional survival mechanics like building, crafting, etc.
Okay, now that our criteria are all laid out, let’s get into the list. Enjoy!
Our Best Indie Survival Games:
#1 – The Forest
- Developer: SKS Games
- Metacritic score: 83%
We begin proceedings with one of my personal favorites within the survival gaming genre, The Forest. With the sequel to this game, Sons of the Forest, set to arrive in May 2022, it couldn’t be a better time to get acquainted with this survival gem. This game sees you crash land on a strange island where cannibals and mutants are the only inhabitants.
It seems that you and your son are the only ones who have survived the crash, and here’s the kicker, a man drenched in blood has kidnapped your son. Well, as you would expect, it’s your job to brave the perils of The Forest, survive despite thirst, hunger, and killer residents being huge factors working against you.
The Forest is full of secrets, and as you delve further and further into this one, you’ll soon see that there is more to this little island than meets the eye.
The Forest is best known for its wonderfully balanced and rather difficult gameplay, its crafting and building mechanics that make this game infinitely replayable, its co-op functionality so you can brave The Forest with a buddy. Plus, the game also has a surprisingly decent narrative if you are to seek it out. So with this in mind, we urge you to pick this one up today!
#2 – Subnautica
- Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
- Metacritic score: 87%
From a game with an abundance of luscious greenery and trees aplenty to a hostile planet completely covered in water. Subnautica is a survival game for all of you guys that like the water levels in your favorite games, and even if you roll your eyes when they come along, it does a lot to change the common gamer’s perception.
In this title, you must brave the depths, use the resources found under the sea to power your ship, create bases, and ultimately find a way to get yourself off this planet. It’s like being a sailor lost at sea, with water everywhere but not a drop to drink.
This game is an excellent example of how games of this nature can present themselves in different ways using new biomes and environments to alter the overall experience, and in a genre dominated by deserted island settings, this game is a breath of fresh air.
You know, so long as you can return to the surface in time. This one was given to Playstation players for free as part of the Play From Home initiative, so you may have this one already. So we say scroll through your backlog and try this one out.
#3 – Conan Exiles
- Developer: Funcom
- Metacritic score: 68%
It’s not often that you get a survival game these days that is a fully supported live service title, but Funcom has been dedicated to supporting the Conan Exiles community, and the result is a game that is still growing and thriving years after release. This game takes the Conan The Barbarian license and offers fans a world rich in lore to uncover and full of treasures to plunder.
The game is best known for its online aspects, with dedicated servers where you can serve tribes, take part in raids, build huge settlements and ultimately conquer all that you survey. However, the solo survival campaign is also fantastic and will appeal to any survival gaming fanatic.
In this game, you will begin as a warrior, stripped bare and bound to a cross. You will be released and given a chance at a new life. A life where you must fight for survival, explore the various biomes of the Conan world, fight the brutish bosses and creatures that inhabit the land, and we dare say by the end of your playthrough, you will have earned the title of barbarian. This is one of the richest survival experiences out there today and one that you must check out for yourself.
#4 – Don’t Starve
- Developer: Klei Entertainment
- Metacritic score: 79%
What would it look like if Tim Burton designed a survival game? Well, we reckon that the final product wouldn’t be too far removed from Don’t Starve. In this game, you play as a keen young scientist called Wilson who has been trapped in an ever-changing and hostile alternative wilderness reality by a demon.
So not your typical scenario but just roll with it. Your role in this game is to adapt to this new, hostile world and use the elements and your environment not only to maintain your faculties and fend off the evil creatures that lurk in the woods but also to find a way back home.
This game has stood the test of time, having first released in 2013, and players can now player Starve Together, which is the co-op variant of this title. Plus, this game is infinitely replayable thanks to the procedurally generated nature of the worlds you inhabit.
It’s a title that will test your survival instincts to the very core, as this game doesn’t hold your hand throughout, but we have a sneaking suspicion that you will be just fine. Be sure to try out this timeless survival classic!
#5 – Minecraft
- Developer: Mojang
- Metacritic score: 93%
So this game began its life as a web browser plugin and then got bought by Microsoft in what was, at the time, the most expensive gaming acquisition ever. It’s called Minecraft; you might have heard of it.
Jokes aside, Minecraft is a game that, from humble beginnings, has grown into one of the highest-grossing games of all time. It’s adored by the speedrunning community, it’s an educational tool used in schools, it teaches people how to code, it’s a certified Metaverse, and above all, it’s a great game with a super core survival mode.
Players will be placed in a blocky, procedurally generated world and be tasked with building shelter, mining to harvest important resources, cooking to stay fed, fending off the creatures and Creepers out there, and ultimately building a portal to the Nether World, slaying the Nether Dragon and seeing the credits roll.
It’s a game that offers infinite possibilities, caters to all types of players, and no matter if you are a creative player, a rugged survivalist, or anywhere in between, there is something for everyone here. So check out this global phenomenon and see what you have been missing.
#6 – Terraria
- Developer: Engine Software Pipework Software Inc
- Metacritic score: 83%
Speaking of Minecraft, what about a 2D game that offers a rather similar experience, with just enough of its ideas and charm that it feels distinctly different? Well, if that sounds like a dream come true, you dream of Terraria, my friend. It’s an experience where you can play with friends, craft items, build structures, explore and mine to gather important resources.
So in a sense, it is like a tweaked version of Minecraft; however, the real draw of this game is the interesting world in offers, the lore, the vague but gripping story content, and arguably most importantly, the heavier focus on combat when compared to its cube-heavy counterpart.
This is a game that allows you to play however you like. You can treat this as a building-centric game; you can treat it as an explorative survival title; you can treat it as an intense action title. Honestly, there are innumerable ways of enjoying this game, and we would urge you to grab a few pals and try this one on for size!
#7 – Stranded Deep
- Developer: Beam Team Games
- Metacritic score: 65%
Next up, we have one of the aforementioned desert island settings, but as far as these games go, Stranded Deep is one of the best out there. In this title, you are placed in a procedurally generated world after a crash landing while on a commercial flight. It sure seems that survival gamers always have the worst flight with air travel. Then your role is to explore, survive, fend off the dangers of the island and the sea, and ultimately create resources to make this new land home.
This game doesn’t have any story mode to speak of. However, it more than makes up for it with co-op functionality, amazing building mechanics, a wealth of items and vehicles that enhance the sandbox vibe, and also a handful of boss battles for those that love a challenge. This is the desert island simulator you have been waiting for. So if you think that you would be a whizz in this desperate scenario, we say prove it.
- Developer: Studio Wildcard
- Metacritic score: 70%
It’s common knowledge that many moons ago, the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures were made extinct some time ago. However, what if they weren’t, but instead were placed on one little island where they have grown, evolved, and set the scene for this incredible game. In this title, you arrive on an island called ARK, and the only way you will be able to get off this island is through engaging with its rich, prehistoric ecosystem and training your dino army to help in your bid for survival.
You’ll be able to ride pterodactyl-like creatures through the skies, grow crops, craft items, breed creatures to grow their army, find hidden technologies to kit out your sharp-toothed buddies and fight your way through hulking dinos and leviathans, all in the hope of making this strange land of yesteryear your home. Picture the land that time forgot, but a lot more punishing and a lot gorier. If this sounds good, then hop into this adventure soon.
#9 – RUST
- Developer: Facepunch Studios
- Metacritic score: 69%
Now we have a game that is essentially like PUBG if you swapped the battle royale format for a typical survival gaming setup. In Rust, you find yourself washed up in a new, strange land, and you must begin by crafting primitive tools, forming a makeshift shelter, and hunting to gather food. However, as this game goes on you get the resources needed to expand and broaden your horizons. You find that this land has technology, civilization, and a mass of factions who would love nothing more than to gun you down.
It’s a game that can be as simplistic or as complex as the player wishes. You can enjoy the solo survival aspects of this game. Or you can engage in online warfare where every piece of territory is fought for. Where raids are commonplace and where you will need to be on top of your game to survive the onslaught of rival teams. It’s a superb experience either way and if you haven’t tried this one, make sure you do soon.
#10 – Valheim
- Developer: Iron Gate AB
- Metacritic score: TBD (90% Provisional)
If we were to ask you to name a game from last year that came out of nowhere and blew everyone’s socks off, most people’s answer would likely be Valhiem, at least within the survival community anyway. This game was a runaway success, holding a huge concurrent player base for weeks after release, dominating the Steam most wanted list, and all for a good reason, too, as this game is a wonderful fantasy survival experience.
In this game, you explore the realm of Valhiem, where you will need to embrace the way of the Viking to survive. You will need to hunt and gather, build, explore, gather resources, craft weapons, fight terrifying foes, command a crew upon your sea vessel, and ultimately, you will uncover the secrets of Valheim in the process. So if you want to see what all the fuss was about, we suggest you check this one out.
#11 – Pathologic II
- Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
- Metacritic score: 72%
I always feel like I am the only person in the world that sticks up for this game, but this won’t stop me from doing it time and time again. Pathologic II, a polished version of Pathologic from 2005, is a work of art. The game theatrically tells a wonderful story, with subtle environmental cues, incredibly written dialogue, intricately woven storytelling, and multiple endings for those that seek them out. However, it is the gameplay here, of the lack thereof, which steals the show here.
This game sees the player arrive back in town during the beginning of a plague, and your actions will determine the fate of the town. You will be faced with moral dilemmas, near impossible decisions, and perhaps some of the most brutal survival mechanics on offer in any game of this nature. The game prides itself on making sure you will have a horrible time, and this masochistic experience is somehow inexplicably brilliant. It isn’t for everyone, but I would urge any survival buff to at least give this one a try.
#12 – The Long Dark
- Developer: Hinterland Studios
- Metacritic score: 77%
Episodic stories within games are often associated with narratively driven games like the Telltale games or Life is Strange, to name a few. It’s not something that you would typically associate with the survival genre. However, fans of The Long Dark will know that it can be done, and it has been done very successfully by this title.
In this episodic series, you play William Mackenzie, who is desperately searching for his partner Astrid after they were separated by a crash landing in the Canadian wilderness. There is that cliche plane crash opening again, but we can forgive any game so long as they crash somewhere as picturesque as this game’s environment.
From here, you must make your way through the wilderness, uncover the secrets of a geomagnetic disaster and try to find your friend—all the while braving the dangers of the wild and the elements. There are big bosses, no supernatural beings. Here, your only enemy is mother nature, and in some cases, yourself. This is a unique game that does something completely different within the survival space, and it’s something you should check out.
#13 – This War Of Mine
- Developer: 11 Bit Studios
- Metacritic score: 83%
Most survival games have a habit of starting the player off as a helpless, puny runt before allowing them the chance to grow into kitted out and wily wildmen, with an abundance of resources, capable of seeing to even the most hulking of behemoth si singlehandedly. Well, in This War of Mine, you don’t play as a superhuman Bear Grylls survivor; you instead play as a group of civilians trying to survive during a civil war that tears their home apart and makes every day of their lives a battle for survival. There are no winners in war, only losers.
In this game, you will have to consistently make repairs to your base, look after your injured and sick, keep your people watered and fed. Plus, you will need to keep them out of the firing line as snipers will waste no time killing off the characters that you hold most dear.
Resources are scarce, and no matter how you play, you will have to make rash decisions, take huge risks, and ultimately, the inevitable casualties of war will tear your little community apart and stay with you long after you set the controller down. This is a harrowing experience but one that we would deem seminal for the survival gaming aficionados out there. Be sure to check out this one.
Check out our complete This War Of Mine: Final Cut Review
#14 – DayZ
- Developer: Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall
- Metacritic score: 69% (Based on one professional review)
Using the build for the reasonably popular military game, ARMA 2, DayZ is a mod where the player would survive on a map where zombies have been let loose, and you must use limited resources to build shelters, armor and arm yourself, keep yourself alive as the dead to their utmost to make you one of them. However, as is often the case in these games, it’s not the PVE enemies you need to worry about; it’s the other survivors that you must fight for resources.
This game is an emergent zombie-filled sandbox where players can team up and work together or trust no one for fear that they will be betrayed and fed to the infected. You can play the legit way by hunting, crafting, building, and being a generally good citizen on this huge map, or you can be a chaotic force of nature; it’s up to you. Whatever you choose, we reckon you will have a swell time. So be sure to check out this one.
#15 – No Man’s Sky
- Developer: Hello Games
- Metacritic score: 77%
Then lastly, we have a game that we wrestled with before including, as this game did have a lot of support and hype before release. However, as it was a hot mess and dropped by the gaming industry like a hot stone, we decided to add this one in. Mostly because of the Phoenix-like revival this game has managed to pull off. From the ashes of an infinite but barren, hollow space exploration game is the No Man’s Sky of today. A fully fleshed-out space survival game where players can build colonies, explore an infinite universe, and survive the elements of each unique planet.
While the game still doesn’t deliver on the promises before release, how could it possibly, it does offer an experience that is more than worth your time. The game has excellent survival, resource management, space combat, and eCommerce mechanics, and that only really scratches the surface of the vast improvements that have been made here. So if like me, you were one of the gamers that rode the hype train for No Man’s Sky and then promptly got a refund, it might be time to revisit this one.
Best of the Rest
We would love to run you through every single survival video game known to man, but neither one of us has the time. So instead, how about we give you a quick list detailing the best survival games that we just couldn’t squeeze in:
Question: Are All Survival Games Indies?
Answer: We are struggling to think of any traditional survival games that we would not consider indies. We suppose the closest games to AA would be those that have received sequels like Subnautica: Below Zero or the upcoming Sons of the Forest. However, for the most part, survival games succeed because they aren’t commercially produced and formulaic games. However, when we do see a survival game made by an AAA studio, we can’t wait to see what they do with all those resources at their disposal.
Question: What Makes A Good Survival Game
Answer: It’s difficult to layout the perfect blueprint for the perfect survival game. As ultimately, all of the best games within the space do something completely different. However, there are some key aspects that we would say all traditional survival games should feature. These are as follows:
• Building and crafting mechanics
• A vast and interesting setting
• Punishing survival aspects like hunger, thirst, temperature, etc
• A wealth of enemies to make things interesting
• A subtle story that appeals to those who want it but isn’t the main feature of the game
• A core gameplay loop that facilitates consistent replayability
• Co-op functionality
Question: What is Survival Mode?
Answer: This tends to be a hardcore difficulty setting that is added to some action games and RPG titles. This is where the player will need to play through the typical game experience but with added survival aspects to consider. For example, you may play through an RPG and have to complete quests, build your character, and gather loot.
However, in survival mode, you will also need to feed your hunger, quell your thirst, and usually, you will be much more flimsy, so you can’t just run into gunfights and absorb hits like a bullet sponge. It’s a fun way to play games and often provides a new perspective on games that you thought you knew inside and out.
Question: What Survival Horror games are worth playing?
Answer: If you are looking for a survival horror game that offers more spook and less traditional survival mechanics, you might want to take a look at these options:
• Dead Space
• Dying Light
• Alien Isolation
• Resident Evil Village
• Dead Island
Survival of the Fittest!
As you can see from this list above, there are so many fantastic indie survival titles available, with more on the horizon. These games offer so much replayability, such a deep experience, and usually offer quite a challenge too. So we hope that this list keeps you busy and entertained for a little while at least. So get out there and make survival look like child play, and as always, thank you for reading!