One of the most popular game genre that just keeps topping charts: Survival RPG

Survival games
have carved out a unique niche in the gaming industry, captivating players with their immersive environments, challenging gameplay mechanics, and the thrill of overcoming adversity in harsh virtual worlds. Whether you’re navigating treacherous seas, taming prehistoric beasts, or simply trying to stave off hunger and the elements, survival games offer a diverse range of experiences that keep players coming back for more. Here we will delve into the history of survival games, see why they are so loved by gamers, and talk about some of the most fun and popular survival games along the way!

What sets survival games apart from other genres is their focus on resource management, exploration, crafting, and often, multiplayer interactions. Players are thrust into hostile environments where they must scavenge for resources, build shelters, craft tools and weapons, and fend off threats ranging from dinosaurs, hunger, sea creatures, and even other players! The sense of accomplishment that comes from starting with nothing, surviving, and gradually building a thriving base or character is a major draw for many gamers.

The Beginning of the Genre

The root of the survival genre goes all the way back to the early days of gaming. Although the first games were much simpler, the genre has evolved into many different styles and subgenres. From simple point and click adventure games, all the way to colony survival simulation games with deep and complex game mechanics

The Oregon Trail (1971)

A true classic and one of the first survival games, The Oregon Trail. It was simple and was created to teach school children about the life of a 19th century pioneer on the Oregon Trail, from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Players would start in town with a limited budget and would need to carefully plan for their trip. Choosing the right balance of food, medicine, and supplies would often be the difference between life and death for the player’s party. One of the most important aspects of this game was hunting. This is true for survival crafting games even to this day, as one of the key components of “survival” is the ability to feed yourself. 

Another aspect of The Oregon Trail that has been adopted over the years is death and illness. You can suddenly become ill, requiring you to take antibiotics and other medicines. There’s also the potential of broken limbs and diseases. 

UnReal World (1993)

UnReal World is a roguelike survival game set in a fictional time of Iron Age Finland. Heavy in Finnish mythology and folklore, you can expect harsh environments where death is all too common. You can choose from several cultures true to Finnish history, as well as occupations such as fisherman or trapper. Unexpected natural disasters can also take place, throwing into the mix a new kind of anxiety to your quest for survival. 

SOS (1993)

SOS is a survival adventure game that was based on a book from 1969, as well as a film from 1972, titled The Poseidon Adventure. You must escape a sinking ship, Lady Crithania, which was struck by a rogue wave and capsized off the coast of England. There are four playable characters in this game, each with a different backstory. Unfortunately, character customization was not common in early crafting-survival games. 

In SOS, you also have a time limit. You are given one hour to escape the ship before you’re lost to the depths completely. Another key component to this game is the ability to take up to 7 survivors, each of which can bring a new element and value to your group. It isn’t always so easy though, as each survivor has a requirement to be filled before they will join your party. 

Resident Evil (1996)

Resident Evil (1996 edition) is a new style of survival game, throwing horror into the mix. In this earliest game of the Resident Evil series, you play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, and you must escape a mansion infested with zombies set in the Arklay Mountains. While Resident Evil did not have the wilderness survival aspects, the player’s goal was straight out of a hack and slash horror film. The player would need to manage their inventory, solve puzzles, and choose to evade or fight zombies and other enemies to survive by escaping the area. 

The Evolution of Survival Games

Survival games have changed a lot since the early days. With the introduction of farming, fishing, and elaborate base building, the tools at the players’ disposal are potentially endless. Consider Sunkenland, released in 2023, for example. 

Sunkenland’s map is a majority of underwater exploration, with tiers of crafting skills and items you can unlock by means of blueprints you can find throughout. These blueprints give you the ability to create above-water planters for growing crops from seeds. You can also equip a fishing pole with bait to catch fish for the grill. Naturally, there is an elaborate base building system in place too, so you can create your virtual home away from home anywhere you want in the world.

Perhaps it’s part of the appeal that games are ever changing and adapting. Developers are listening to their fanbase. Social media, Discord, feedback surveys, and live service updates are all new tools in a developers’ toolbox that weren’t available before. These tools are utilized to introduce new crafting materials and mechanics into a game that the players wish to see, at the developer’s discretion.

Another great example of this would have to be Enshrouded, which was released into Early Access in 2024. Keen Games, the developer of Enshrouded, utilizes a website where fans of the game can go to submit suggestions and upvote others. With this handy tool, Keen Games had the ability to create a “roadmap” of sorts, to inform players of the game of what is expected to come, and a rough time frame as to when. Of course, Discord is also one of the most used tools, as you can get up-to-the-minute feedback and suggestions from players that are all too eager to voice their concerns, share their opinions, and even submit bug reports. Many other developers are getting on board with this method of listening to their player base and taking their opinions into consideration. So keep your eyes out for links in Discords and on Steam pages that allow you to go and share your creative thoughts and ideas of what you’d like to see in your favorite early access games.

If these tools would have been readily available to early survival crafting game developers, how do you think it would have changed the genre as a whole from day one? Would they have had the capability to implement any of these things from the jump, or is this evolution necessary during the genre’s prime to continue the trend of ever-growing popularity into the modern age?

Popular (Survival Game) Mechanics


Many survival crafting games have been designed to be played in multiplayer, with dedicated and private servers hosting the game world that players can connect to. The open-ended nature of these games encourages players to work together, with friends or strangers, to survive against the elements and other threats that the game may pose. These games are also able to be played solo, but it’s far less fun and could be more difficult!

Staking your claim by crafting

Talk about starting from nothing. Many of these games start you with nothing except the clothes you’re wearing. Venture into the expansive worlds to gather resources needed for building structures, fires for cooking, and crafting benches for making better equipment. Some of these games may even offer an opportunity for farming and raising animals, which can be a rewarding experience in itself.

Sense of progression

The sense of progression and mastery over the game’s mechanics, from learning how to efficiently gather resources to defeating formidable foes, provides a satisfying gameplay loop.When you first begin a survival game, you have bare bones equipment that doesn’t do much to protect you from the elements, let alone the enemies you could face in the wonderfully built worlds. If your first goal is to increase your chances of survival, then you’re going to want to pursue the means of creating better equipment. The wild boar that killed you at the beginning of the game won’t stand a chance once you’ve gotten a full set of metal armor and an automatic rocket launcher.

Exploration and Discovery

The environments in survival games encourage exploration and discovery. Players are driven to uncover hidden treasures and unique locations in order ro find the best loot. Most survival games feature dozens of different biomes from calm forests and grasslands, all the way to the most dangerous scorched hellscapes. 

Creative Freedom

Many survival games provide players with tools and mechanics for creative expression, allowing them to design and customize their bases, vehicles, and gear. This freedom fosters a sense of ownership and personalization, enhancing the overall immersion and investment in the game world. You want to fly blue banners instead of red? You can! You want to wield a combat knife and a crossbow instead of donning a pistol or a rifle? That’s fine too. You want to explore the world on foot, on the back of a horse, or on a motorcycle? You go for it. Scrap together a sniper rifle with pipe and duct tape if that’s what you fancy, no one should judge you for it.

Survival Crafting games released since 2011

There are hundreds of survival games on the market. There have already been 16 open world survival games released this year in just 2 months. This is huge, given the genre of survival crafting only relatively recently becoming popular among video game lovers. This style of gameplay is only going to explode even further as different styles of gameplay are released. There truly is something for everybody in the world of survival crafting.

A Thriving Market


One of the most popular survival crafting games on the market today is Palworld. Released January 2024, it quickly became the #1 most played game, #1 top selling game, and the 2nd highest concurrent player base on Steam. This is an amazing accomplishment for a game within the survival crafting genre. One Reddit user, AnonymousJoe35, spoke highly. “As a 30 year old, this game is my Pokemon fever dream from when I was a ‘90s kid.” With praise like that, it’s hard not to consider giving Palworld, and other survival crafting games, the old college try. 

In Palworld, you can expect to fight, farm, build, and work alongside mysterious creatures called “Pals” in this completely new open world game, where survival is key. To sweeten the deal, you can even play online with your friends! In a harsh environment where food is scarce and vicious poachers 

roam, danger waits around every corner. To survive, you must tread carefully and make difficult choices… even if that means eating your own Pals when the time comes. You can also put them to work on your base, hauling goods and materials, watering and planting your gardens, and even cooking your food for you over an open campfire.


Game of the year for 2021 by PC Gamer. Later, Valheim won the Best Debut and Audience Award at the Game Developer’s Choice in 2022. This fantasy-esque survival crafting game, with a heavy hand in Norse culture, had an all-time peak playerbase of 502,000 people. Half a million people, and the game is still in development stages. Iron Gate is still pushing out new content for this uniquely styled game, with Ashlands coming in the near (hopefully) future. 

Valheim is a brutal exploration and survival game for one to 10 players set in a procedurally generated world inspired by Norse mythology. You can craft powerful weapons, construct longhouses, and slay mighty foes to prove yourself to Odin. 

The world is shrouded in mystery. Discover distinct environments with unique enemies to battle, resources to gather and secrets to uncover. Be a viking, sail the open seas in search of lands unknown, and fight bloodthirsty monsters. Raise viking longhouses and build bases that offer reprieve from the dangers ahead. The buildings can be customized inside and out with a detailed building system. 

There are many different styles of crafting and survival games on the market today. Not every survival game is about building big elaborate structures or killing zombies to stay alive. And they can cover any type of theme or gameplay style from first person shooter, 2D, 3D, Isometric, and everything in between. Here are some of the more unique crafting and survival style games that put their own spin on the genre.

Aquatico (Aquatic)

Aquatico is what is widely considered as a colony simulation game, a strategy game, and a potentially downright satisfying city building game. This style of game brings survival crafting to a whole new level, as you still have to farm, manufacture, and build. The difference is, you are doing these tasks for an entire city or civilization, not just for yourself. Build tiny houses for your citizens, provide enough food through plantations, utilize enough of your hard earned resources to build bigger and better power turbines to give your city light and power manufacturing.

This classic city builder is set within the depths of the sea, which brings an array of new challenges. You have to strategically build an underwater colony atop the ocean floor and face the challenges that accompany ocean life. This includes megalodon and shark attacks. 

Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter puts you in control of a stage-of-the-art underground Vault from Vault-Tec. You can build the perfect Vault, keep your Dwellers happy, and protect them from the dangers of the Wasteland. These dangers include raids from Raider clans, ghouls, radroaches, and more! (Can’t forget about the mole rats!) This style of gameplay is unique, considering it is still classified as a survival game with heavy base building notes. 

You can select from a variety of rooms, each with its own purpose. There are rooms that generate power, purify water, feed your dwellers, craft weapons and armor, even grant you the ability to make your own stimpaks and radaway. You can also build your own radio station to attract new dwellers to your vault for increased productivity. 

You play as the Overseer of the vault, where you can get to know your Dwellers individually and lead them to happiness. Match them to their ideal jobs and watch them flourish. These aspects seem to be the trend among many, if not all, survival crafting games. Do what needs to be done so that you, and/or everyone with you can squeak out the best existence possible in any given situation. As Overseer, you can also send Dwellers on missions outside of the vault to collect rare materials, weapons, armor, medicines, and even new Dwellers!

Stardew Valley

This game holds a very special place in my heart. While it was the olden days of FarmVille that started me down the road of turning dirt into gold, Stardew Valley took those original ideas and made them almost perfect. In this open-ended country-life farming sim, you’ve inherited your grandpa’s old farm plot in the Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools and a few coins, you set out to begin your new life away from the hustle and bustle of the city and your previous job at Joja Corp. 

Features include turning your overgrown field into a lively farm. Raise animals, grow crops, start a fruit tree orchard, you can even craft or purchase useful machines for turning your base crop into something more. I mean, who wouldn’t want to turn all their eggs into mayonnaise or all their milk into cheese? 

Another wonderful thing about this game is that it gives you the ability to play with up to three of your friends! ConcernedApe even designed a farm specifically for multiplayer, which holds a little bit of everything the game has to offer so that each player can find their niche. Do you prefer fishing? There’s a portion of the farm with a pond. What about mining? There’s another corner full of geodes, rocks, and minerals. You can share these resources with each other, take turns managing the crops and livestock, and share your wealth with the community. Each of the aspects about this game grant you skill points, as well. Over time, the more mining you do, the more proficient you will be at it, using less stamina so that you can get more done in a shorter amount of time. This is the practice with each skill in the game, farming included. 

You can court and marry a partner to share your life on the farm with. There are 12 available bachelors and bachelorettes to choose from, each with unique cutscenes and dialogue. It’s quite a process to woo your potential partner, with a lot of chatting and gift giving to be done. Once you reach maximum hearts, you can marry, and your partner will move onto the farm with you. You can even have children and raise a family. This aspect of the game seems to be becoming more and more common in crafting and survival games that introduce NPCs to the player. I would personally love to see more of this in other games. The ability to romance a partner and start a life together makes the big world seem less empty and lonely, doesn’t it? 


Zombie survival games like Project Zomboid, 7 Days to Die, and DayZ typically involve players navigating post-apocalyptic environments overrun by zombies. The primary objective is to manage hunger, thirst, and health to survive as long as possible against hordes of the undead, and sometimes other players! Project Zomboid is regarded as the king of zombie simulation games. Its super in-depth simulation settings makes it one of the most challenging and rewarding games in the genre. 7 Days to Die combines survival mechanics with base building and crafting, requiring players to fortify their bases against nightly zombie attacks while exploring and gathering resources during the day. DayZ focuses more on player VS player interaction in a persistent online world. As if the zombies weren’t enough, you will need to defend your loot from hostile players equipped with C4 and RPG rockets!  Each game offers a unique blend of survival challenges, exploration, and strategic decision-making in a zombie-infested world.


Survival games continue to captivate players with their blend of exploration, survival mechanics, multiplayer dynamics, and emergent gameplay experiences. Whether you’re playing as a slain viking in Valheim, delving into the depths of Subnautica, taming dinosaurs in Ark: Survival Evolved, surviving the whimsical nightmares of Don’t Starve, or harvesting organs in Rimworld, the allure of overcoming adversity and thriving in challenging environments remains a timeless appeal for gamers worldwide.

As the genre evolves and new titles push the boundaries of what survival games can offer, one thing remains constant—the thrill of the survival experience and the camaraderie (or rivalry) forged in the fires of adversity.

What’s your favorite survival game? What aspects of the genre keep you coming back for more? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, and we’d love to hear your recommendations!

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