What would you do if the world ended? This topic while morbid has fascinated our entertainment scene for generations. We’ve got movies and books such as Ready Player One, Planet of the Apes– to name a few. And of course, we also have videogames.
Actually making decisions and living through the post-apocalypse, video games are arguably the best medium for wasteland games. Games such as Fallout, The Last of Us, Metro Exodus and RAGE have all reached commercial and critical acclaim. So, if you’re interested to test your mettle at the end of the world, we’ve got a list of the best wasteland games out there.
For the sake of parity and variety, we’ll be limiting our entries to just one game per franchise. Also, we decided that zombie games are an entirely different genre, so there’ll be none of that here.
Brütal Legend by Double Fine
We’ll kick off our list with a less traditional take on the post-apocalypse. Less dreary and cataclysmal and more, comedic. This cult-classic was a game that was not afraid to not take itself seriously. And play some rocking tunes to boot.
Brütal Legend is an action-adventure game set in a universe somewhere between Lord of the Rings and Spinal Tap. It’s a celebration of classic heavy metal and takes every cheap shot it can at hair metal, nu metal, and other diluted variations on the genre. While the ultimate evil and its minions are truly terrible monsters, the lesser bad guys are made up to resemble glam rockers or emo kids. It will appeal most to those that spent at least some of their formative years as angsty headbangers although it isn’t exclusionary.
The story takes plenty of twists and turns along the way and deals with some interesting themes of quiet heroism and personal sacrifice. Our hero, Eddie Riggs, is a roadie and knows his place is out of the spotlight. He’s not here for glory — he’s here to make someone else look good. Riggs keeps this same attitude even when he is warped back in time and has the chance to be a real hero and save the world. Brütal Legend doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time, the story has some substance.
Spec Ops: The Line by Yager Development
Equal parts psychological mindfuck and bombed-out city warscape. Spec Ops is a disturbing gorefest of three soldiers on a retrieval mission through the sandstorm-ravaged remnants of Dubai. It’s a situation that’s bound to occur when the wealthy elite of the Emirates decide to bail out on the city and leave the lower castes to battle it out. Thankfully, as the military outsider, you’re armed to the teeth when you’re dropped in but survival or sanity are hardly guaranteed.
Spec Ops: The Line is actually one of the best multiplayer games I’ve played to date. Well, one of the best. (I think I see another list coming up here.) Not to mention that the game’s story could have been written by George R. R. Martin. Spec Ops: The Line accomplishes something most shooters don’t bother with: It makes violence meaningful. Your choices have consequences and the endings — whichever one you get — are open to interpretation while still offering closure.
Wasteland 2 by inXile Entertainment
Wasteland 2 is set during a time of global nuclear war with you and a bunch of other survivalists. The game perfectly captures the dread and tension that comes with being put in charge of a group of people. Protecting others in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. There’s no way to prepare for what’s to come so you have no choice but to find a way to deal with every problem as they arise while making sure that all of you come out alive.
If you like squad-based RPGs you’re going to like the Wasteland series. At the very recent E3 this year we got an announcement that Wasteland 3 is now in development and it will be a direct sequel to Wasteland 2. Read more about it here.
Mad Max by Avalanche Studios
It would’ve been easy for Avalanche Studios to just slap on the Mad Max title and release a half-ass game. But, that’s not how they roll. Instead, what gamers got in 2015 is a game that could be best described as, “What if Grand Theft Auto was set in the apocalypse?”
The 2015 Mad Max title brings to video game life everything that you would want in the title. This includes ridiculously insane car stunts and crashes, the over-the-top action, the violence, as well as the visceral post-apocalyptic world that fans of the franchise have come to love.
Put simply, Avalanche Studios definitely did Mad Max its due diligence. The game was obviously, painstakingly crafted to showcase the wastelands of Mad Max. Making use of every nook and corner and sprinkling in the little details that make exploring the entire landscape well worth the effort. Topped off with stunning graphics that look just as beautiful nearly half a decade later, Mad Max will take you on a post-apocalyptic joyride that you’ll never want to get off of.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel by Gearbox Software
Take off the cel-shaded aesthetics and any one of the Borderlands games could easily pass off as a Mad Max title. Complete with masked psychos, sun-baked wildlands and even the Australians (or, at least their accent). Of the four main Borderlands titles, however, we’d have to give the nod to 2014’s Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.
The Pre-Sequel is set not at the end of the Earth but after the almost destruction of Pandora’s Moon, Elpis (same difference really). The Dahl Corporation had dug too deep into Elpis, causing the moon to crack and destroy the atmosphere. Not to mention anger a bunch of the scary monster (and human) residents.
From the open and wide but lifeless road to the wasteland setting, as well as a colourful set of characters, and countless psychopaths for you to gun down. Borderlands keeps the spirit of wreaking havoc and mayhem all across the post-apocalypse well and alive.
Frostpunk by 11 Bit Studios
It’s not all Mad Max and out of control shooting in post-apocalyptic wasteland games. Sometimes like Wasteland, it’s just about survival. Frostpunk is brutal management sim that doesn’t pull its punches. It’s also one of the best games you might have missed last year, check out the full list here.
When a global catastrophe sends the world into a neverending winter, you must guide the last of humanity to warmth. Build a town around a gigantic generator and do your best to keep your people happy. (Despite the fact that they should just be grateful to be alive.) It’s up to you to make the hard choices. Do you take a hardline approach to laws and enact a dictatorship? Or do you try to be more liberal and optimistic? Both choices will alienate someone in your camp. It’s a tricky balancing act in Frostpunk and one that you will probably lose sleep over, which is what the best post-apocalyptic games should do.
Rage 2 by id Software
Don’t expect a deep story this time around but do expect havoc. It’s a wasteland but you definitely won’t be bored here. RAGEis a fast-paced first-person shooter set in a world turned vast desert badlands, courtesy of an asshole asteroid. There’s a crazy amount of things to see, do, and kill. So you can be forgiven for forgetting the storyline, which is, well, it’s there, that’s for sure.
Whether you’re raiding raiders with your fancy boomerang of death, racing your bucket of bolts around, or just taking up a harmless addiction to gambling. RAGE is an interesting look into life after the end of everything. If you’ve already got it, check out our beginner’s guide for RAGE 2.
Subnautica by Unknown Worlds Entertainment
The definition of a wasteland is an area of land that has become barren or overgrown. Subnautica doesn’t look like the doom and gloom wastelands that we have on the rest of this list. But you’ll definitely need to keep your wits about you to get home — this is a survival game after all.
The basic premise of Subnautica is that you have crash-landed on an alien planet. You can see the burning hull of your ship, the Aurora, from your lifepod. You have no idea if you are the sole survivor, and you have no idea what lurks beyond the shallows. The first order of business is basic survival. The story is surprisingly deep and the once bright and inviting sea becomes an ocean of nightmares. Lovecraft would be proud of the creations lurking beneath. Subnautica is one of the best games you might have missed last year, check out the full list here.
Metro Exodus by 4A Games
The first two Metro games mostly took place underground and inside tunnels, which, was drab and bleak and all, but it wasn’t really what you’d refer to as a wasteland. Metro Exodus changes all of that.
Flipping the game’s entire script on its head and putting Artyom and the gang in a now-unfamiliar territory as they try to navigate the once-uninhabitable surface, Metro Exodus is more tense than exhilarating, but breathtaking nonetheless. Throughout Metro Exodus, players will learn the darker and brighter side of the apocalypse, told through a tale that’s as narratively captivating as the well-executed gameplay.
If you were a fan of the first two games, you’ll feel right at home with Metro Exodus. But, even if you weren’t, and you’re a fan of gripping tales of survival in video games, then Metro Exodus is well worth a shot.
Fallout 3 by Bethesda Softworks
The third game in the Fallout franchise, and the first to be played in a first-person perspective, Fallout 3 is the creme of the crop of wasteland and post-apocalyptic games.
Putting you in the shoes of a vault dweller who escapes to the surface above to look for your missing father, your journey will take you to what would quite literally be hell on earth with the nuclear-ravaged United States serving as your landscape. We can’t really say much without spoiling the entire thing, but what we can say is this — while the Fallout franchise has since had multiple titles released after Fallout 3, none of the succeeding titles has managed to surpass or even match Fallout 3, in terms of execution, story-telling, and replayability.
With five different DLC packs released for the game, as well as a robust modding community that’s still alive today, the sheer amount of gameplay to be found in Fallout 3 will keep you tied until the apocalypse comes.