What are the best apocalypse games on PC? There’s something about the end of the world that sounds more enticing than it probably should. No law, no order, and seemingly no consequences effectively turn the world into a wild party. If anarchy isn’t your cup of tea, you can explore chaotic new frontiers, digging through the bombed-out ruins of a wiped-out civilization for supplies. Either way, we’ve scavenged through heaps of apocalypse games to find the best ones.
Whether it’s a zombie apocalypse, a robot uprising, or nuclear fallout, the post-apocalypse is ripe for narrative experimentation in all forms of media – and the best PC games can take full advantage of the setting by letting you decide what kind of Wastelander you want to be. Will you bring justice? Domination? Salvation? Whichever it is, this list of the best apocalypse games offers everything from horror games and heartache to sandbox games and tactical combat.
Here are the best apocalypse games on PC in 2023:
Originally an ARMA mod, DayZ is an open-world survival game that throws you into a world decimated by a zombie apocalypse. It’s brutal, slow-paced, and absolutely fascinating. You have to scrape and scrounge for even the most simple of survival tools, with food and water at a premium – not to mention the hordes of zombies who would very much like to tear your limb from limb.
If those odds don’t sound too great, there’s also the human contingent on every map. With proximity chat, you can create friendships, temporary alliances, and mortal enemies. Despite being a decade old, Dayz recently reached a Steam record of nearly 70,000 users, and thus, it is more popular than ever, cementing its place as one of the best zombie games ever.
Despite its retro-futuristic world and art style, the Fallout series has done a lot to shape our collective idea of what a post-apocalyptic United States could look like. The original isometric games offer captivating adventures, the hybrid turn-based/real-time combat thanks to its VATS mechanics, and endless role-playing opportunities but are perhaps a bit dated visually for all but the most dedicated fans. However, they contain a lot of lore that’s well worth exploring in both its towns and the many Vault-Tec vaults. You’ll also meet many memorable characters, including some who appear in later games.
The jump to 3D (and the transfer to Bethesda’s Gamebryo engine) thrust Fallout’s aesthetic and world into the limelight. From Pip-Boys and power armor to the insidious Vault-Tec corporation conducting social experiments across its hundreds of shelters, Bethesda Softworks took the world of those isometric RPG games and brought it to life with imagination, detail, and personality to spare.
The main storylines in the Bethesda games are rarely the highlights. Instead, it’s the bevy of weird and wonderful side quests that keep you hooked, feeding you more details about the world or tasking you with making tough choices so you’re always left feeling equal parts savior and scourge of the Wasteland. It’s hard to truly separate many of the Fallout games, but our personal picks are Fallout 4 fort if you want to mess around with the modding community’s best Fallout 4 mods or Fallout: New Vegas if you want the best overall experience.
Having become the de facto spiritual successor to the aforementioned isometric Fallout titles of yore, the Wasteland franchise feels like the Fallout game many fans thought would never come after Bethesda assumed stewardship of the series, which is a curious twist of fate considering the original 1988 Wasteland was a key inspiration for Fallout’s designers.
Whereas Fallout has embraced fully first-person 3D design, inXile’s own modernization keeps the top-down view, with the series sticking to roots based on turn-based strategy games. Wasteland 3 is the latest entry and offers lurid characters, a deep RPG system, and a captivating combat set in an unhinged apocalypse. If you want to know more about why we think this is the best in the series yet, check out our Wasteland 3 review.
Turn-based combat with potentially game-altering consequences can make Wasteland a tough challenge for those new to the genre, but in inheriting so much of the core DNA from its forebear, Wasteland 3 offers densely detailed environments full of tales of life before the bombs fell.
Games based on movies are rarely more than passable, let alone good, and while Mad Max wasn’t ‘game of the year’ material back in 2015 (when it had the misfortune of launching alongside Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain), it’s garnered a cult following in the years since, thanks to its spectacular scenery, white-knuckle car combat, and chilling sense of loneliness.
Despite launching in the same year, the game doesn’t follow Fury Road’s plotline. Instead, Mad Max presents the player with the Ubisoft open-world games template of activities to complete, from liberating outposts to hunting down bounty targets. Where it differs is in vehicular combat, which forms a surprisingly large component of the overall game.
Upgrading Max’s vehicle – the Magnum Opus – is paramount to success, as many battles revolve around firing from the vehicle and tearing components off of enemy cars. The car is an RPG system in itself, and each customization option offers both positive and negative traits – which makes the upgrade tree feel like a see-saw of min-maxing and tough choices. Roaming around the vast, sandy wasteland of Mad Max in your carefully modded murder wagon is what apocalypse games are all about.
They Are Billions
Set in a steampunk post-apocalypse, They Are Billions is a strategic colony sim where you’re charged with defending the last vestige of humanity against an infected horde that grows larger each and every passing day. You start off with a few units defending an agricultural outpost and quickly establish a walled city with elaborate outer defenses that steer the undead horde through as many traps and turrets as you can squeeze in.
Let just one infected into your city, and you’ll watch in horror as the settlement turns in a matter of seconds. If you’re looking for strategy games with a serious sense of dread, then They Are Billions is for you.
Remember the original Rage? Many won’t, with the game offering some stunning visuals but feeling nondescript in all other aspects.
id Software obviously felt that the series had more to give and partnered with Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios to offer a very different post-apocalypse FPS game for the sequel. For one, Rage 2’s world is full of punk-rock vibes, where spiky hairstyles are as common as machine guns, and then there’s the fact that you get mutant-bashing superpowers.
Rage 2’s open world might not feature as many side quests and distractions as a Fallout game, but blasting an enemy off a cliff with a ‘force-push’ move or beating a group of baddies into the dirt with an aerial ground pound is so satisfying it makes up for it. Thanks to id Software’s silky smooth movement and gunplay, Rage 2 plays more like a finely-tuned FPS game like Doom than an RPG or open-world game has any right to.
The latest in 4A Games Russian-set doomsday sim, Metro Exodus isn’t a game for the faint of heart. The world is a ruin following a nuclear war, and survivors have been driven underground by radiation – not to mention some mutant nasties that roam above ground.
In Metro Exodus, you and a band of survivors leave the claustrophobic corridors and tunnels of the titular metro for a cross-continent expedition in search of a better life. The grey, cold architecture of post-apocalyptic Moscow is substituted for larger open areas with patches of verdant countryside that contrast with the bleak, dead underground of the previous games in the series. Your end-of-the-world Trans-Siberian adventure sees your ragtag band of hopeful survivors turn an old steam train into a mobile base, stopping off to scavenge supplies and fuel on your journey west.
Metro Exodus’ genius is in the way it knows when to pull back when to let the player experience its open environments, and when to offer combat scenarios that are challenging and varied. Thanks to Dmitry Glukhovsky’s haunting Metro novels, the world of Exodus is always richly detailed and unsettlingly realistic.
Overland is – perhaps more so than other apocalypse games – an exercise in futility. As you make your way across its minimalist landscapes, you’ll witness horrors that linger on in your subconscious long after you exit to the desktop.
Just as you’re hunting for supplies, irradiated beasts do the same. Will you be able to rescue a new party member? What could it cost to do so? What if that new companion is an adorable dog? There are no guarantees in Overland, and it’s a better game for it.
Intergalactic machine invaders is certainly a fresh take on an apocalyptic setting (at least in gaming), and Nier: Automata throws itself head-first into the insanity of that narrative setup. Protagonist 2B is a combat android, one of many sent to wipe out the threat of the machines while mankind licks its wounds on the moon.
Combat is stylish and deep, while the game shifts genres from third-person action, to ‘shmup’, to platformer, and more – often within a single mission. That variety is also applicable to its endings, of which there are a staggering 26 variations.
All of this is to say nothing of the sumptuous soundtrack, where synths intertwine with mechanical percussion and classical themes to form one of the greatest musical videogame accompaniments of the last decade. All the best apocalypses have their own memorable soundtracks, after all.
The franchise may have been dormant for a while (Call of Pripyat is now a decade old), but S.T.A.L.K.E.R remains a landmark achievement for misery-inducing post-apocalyptic videogames.
Its chilling version of a Chornobyl ravaged by a second incident – this time involving metaphysical forces – is dripping with atmosphere, and a combination of radioactive beasts and limited supplies ensures every encounter is tense.
The result of the incident is a city full of monstrosities known as anomalies, with many entering the treacherous zone to seek items, or artifacts, that bestow special properties upon the user.
Even today, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. remains a supreme piece of survival horror, as players rush to stem bleeding or battle against radioactive conditions in between scrapes with other denizens of the city and the mutated monsters lurking around every corner. It’s tense, terrifying, and utterly brilliant.
Surviving the Aftermath
A city building game from Paradox Interactive, Surviving the Aftermath tasks you with managing a small colony of survivors who have managed to endure whatever apocalypse you choose in game creation – and there are a few. You start off with a shanty town of tents, but as you harvest resources and try to reforge technology, you can create a new haven for your citizens.
What sets Surviving the Aftermath apart from similar city builders is that you can unlock access to a world map that requires you to explore and hunt for rarer resources. You can also make contact with other survivor enclaves, as well as marauding bands of raiders that you’ll need to defeat to keep your people safe.
That should be enough gaming to keep you busy until the end of the world, but if you need more and you like a challenge involving decisions and control, why not take a look at some of the best management games? And prepare for that post-apocalypse scrimping and scavenging with our overall best free PC games, because money won’t mean anything at the end of the world.