Post-apocalyptic games have always been popular, with massive hits like Fallout 4 and Metro Exodus drawing thousands of players into their bleak, inhospitable universes. From nuclear wastelands to war-torn cities, these depressing worlds are often the most exciting to explore.
These grim dystopias are not created equal, however, as it takes a lot of work and attention to detail to create a truly immersive experience in a video game universe. The best among these desolate worlds often serve as stunning backdrops to terrifying monsters, well-written characters, and compelling narratives.
9 Lordran – Dark Souls
It makes sense that the terrifying and powerful enemies in Dark Souls would live in the dangerous mysterious lands of Lordran. With the light of the First Flame fading, the once vivacious kingdoms have been transformed into a nightmarish hellscape, full of the restless Undead.
Navigating the maze-like dungeons and treacherous forests of Dark Souls is always a nerve-wracking experience as players never know what may be lurking in the dark. While there are the occasional pockets of beauty like the streams and waterfalls in the Catacombs, most of Lordran’s kingdoms are dreary and inhospitable.
8 Russian Federation Wasteland – Metro Exodus
Following the events of Metro: Last Light and Metro 2035, players are introduced to a bleak urban cityscape in the peak of winter at the start of the game. Artyom isn’t bothered by this at all, as the inhabitants of this world have grown used to the post-nuclear war setting.
The dilapidated buildings, unstable bridges, and obstructed pathways are all ingeniously incorporated into the gameplay. There’s no escape from the mutated monsters, either, as they roam both aboveground and in the dingy sewers, ready to attack at any moment. The only respite from the war-torn setting is the changing of seasons, with the arrival of spring adding a bit of much-needed life to the barren world. This is short-lived, however, and Artyom is quickly thrust back into the harshness of winter before players even realize autumn is almost over.
7 Sera – Gears 5
Gears 5 is the sixth installment in the third-person shooter game series, the Gears of War. It’s still a popular franchise today, with even the canceled Gears games generating interest among fans. Gears 5 is definitely one of the fan favorites, as it made use of well-thought-out storytelling to delve into Kait Diaz’s chaotic past and its role in the Swarm.
The game takes place in Sera – an Earth-like planet that has been destroyed by the Locust Horde, who later re-emerge as the deadlier Swarm. The crumbling buildings and frozen wastelands only emphasize the dire situation of Sera’s inhabitants, who must deal with the dangerous creatures, constant wind storms, and various environmental problems all at once. Thankfully, forests are starting to come alive again, but these patches of green are small compared to the irreversibly damaged landmasses all over the world.
6 The Zone – S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl
After a second nuclear explosion in Chernobyl, the surrounding areas, also known as the Zone, are beginning to show strange changes caused by the radiation. In Shadow of Chernobyl, Stalkers are tasked with exploring these anomalies and will likely encounter mutated plants, animals, and even humans along the way.
As if fending off horrendously disfigured humans wasn’t enough, players will also have to trudge through irradiated swamps, dying forests, and dilapidated buildings. There’s a heavy fog that almost always encompasses every area, which helps the game accomplish the bleak atmosphere the creators were likely aiming for.
5 The Wasteland – Fallout 4
Bethesda’s Fallout 4 is one of the most popular post-apocalyptic games of all time, and it owes a lot of its success to its’ expansive irradiated world. Fallout 4’s compelling storylines wouldn’t be as immersive if it wasn’t for the depressing landscape of the Wasteland.
Often referred to as the Wastes, the barren lands that make up most of the game are a direct result of humanity literally scorching the earth with nuclear weapons. The inhospitable mountains and coastal areas in Fallout 4 are also home to some of the most horrendous creatures. These monstrous enemies seem to be the only ones truly thriving in these environments – bloatflies, radscorpions, and mole rats live their best lives in the ruins of mankind.
4 Cvstodia – Blasphemous
This Metroidvania action-platformer follows the story of the Penitent One as he navigates the dark world of Cvstodia. As suggested from its name, Blasphemous has a lot of religious themes, with players tasked with completing their ultimate penance. Along the way, there are scenes of medieval torture, crucifixion, and even burning at the stake.
The gothic region of Cvstodia is filled with run-down churches and dying forests. The most jarring parts of the game often unexpectedly appear throughout the region. There are gruesome blasphemous statues and bloody encounters that make every area more exciting (if not a little bit terrifying) to explore. In one level background, a player can witness a cliff full of tormented souls struggling to break free from their rocky imprisonment. It’s visuals like this that expertly create a foreboding world of damned souls and unrelenting bleakness.
3 The Wasteland – Mad Max
The criminally underrated Mad Max game has its own version of a Wasteland where players must work to obtain scrap and resources to build the ultimate war vehicle and escape to a better place. To stay alive, Max must protect his interceptor, find fuel, and fight off a constant onslaught of Marauders.
Players who have seen the 2015 film likely already know what to expect from this Wasteland. In this barren desert where vehicles rule, there’s no respite from the glaring sun and the endless sandy dunes. The little that is left of human-made structures are barely standing up, with the world’s broken-down buildings looking like they’re more useful as scrap than shelter. The result is a game that truly captures the look and feel of Mad Max‘s iconic cinematic desert Wasteland: spare, unforgiving, and brutal, much like the protagonist himself.
2 Hell – Agony
Agony left a lot to be desired when it was released in 2018. The messy gameplay and endless bugs were met with negative feedback from players who just wanted to have a good time in Hell. Thankfully, the game has improved a lot since then, and those who enjoy dark survival horror games might want to give this another chance.
As a tormented soul navigating Hell, players must face both demons and other lost souls in this nightmarish environment. The world is constantly on fire and horrifying creatures seem to appear from every corner. Players will meet the condemned in the darkest caverns and fend off celestials who gloat from their bloodied thrones. While the gameplay is flawed, the immersive location and impressive depth of detail make Agony a worthy game to experience.
1 Graznavia – This War Of Mine
This war-themed game takes players away from the frontlines and into the shelters, where civilians are struggling to stay alive. This War of Mine is a survival and strategy game, where players must work to manage resources in the fictional war-torn city of Pogoren in Graznavia.
During the daytime, players have to avoid snipers by staying in the dilapidated shelter housing the survivors. This unhospitable makeshift home, with its broken walls and shoddy staircases, looks like it’s about to collapse at any second, which is why constant repairs are necessary. At night, players can venture out and explore the even more devastated cityscape, which is rendered in exquisite detail by the game’s detailed graphics that successfully conveys Pogoren’s war-torn status. With fires burning in the distance and building ruins blocking most directions, it’s a terrifying depiction of just how devastating war can be.