The Survivalist: Massively OP’s guide to multiplayer survival sandboxes

Welcome to The Survivalist! Ya’ll might have noticed that I have gravitated a bit from my happy home of deep, immersive virtual worlds (possible due to the lack of them!) and have been tinkering about and enjoying time in various survival games. This isn’t as odd as you might think! One thing I love about sandbox worlds is the ability for your actions to matter in terms of shaping the world and carving out your place in it. Survival games have been allowing me just that with opportunities to build the world, from the society on it to structures in it to the even the physical world itself. And decisions definitely matter, bringing satisfaction and reward or disappointment and destruction.

I’m not alone in this appreciation of the survival genre, either. Many MMO gamers have joined mainstreamers by flocking to it lately as seen by the explosion of the available games. Those of you not on board yet might be wonder just what is so alluring about a genre that has many elements of MMOs but on smaller — and oft times privately managed — scale. As the weeks and months wear on, The Survivalist is going to explore all the nooks and crannies of the survival sandbox genre (and likely die many, many times in the process!), but today, we’re going to look at what players can jump into to test their survival skills. So here’s a guide to many options in the newest genre to take over our gaming sphere.

Multi-player vs. single-player

The genre that has really captured my heart and attention lately is the multiplayer survival games. These are not massive in scale, as in hosting tens of thousands of players or more per server, but they still are very much social environments with multiple players. That’s not to say that single-player options are lesser; no, there are plenty of great choices to scratch that survival itch by yourself. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the list is no less robust than the one for the multiplayer, so that will have to wait for part two of the guide!

Although there are myriad games out there that focus on surviving some sort of cataclysm or apocalypse or even just an accident, games included in our list meet certain criteria. As much as possible, this list is restricted to games in which survivors must not only build up from nothing but must manage hunger and thirst on top of battling the elements and wildlife (whatever it may be).

Do you have a specific preference for your type of survival? Do you want to blast zombies to bits or blast off into space? The guide is broken down into the various themes so you can easily see what flavors of death are available to partake in.

Dinosaurs

ARK: Survival Evolved
Launch: Early access June 2, 2015
Available on: Steam, PS4, Xbox One

With the ability to hunt, tame, and ride dinosaurs, this game exploded in popularity. It has different maps included in the base game as well as one map in a DLC expansion, Scorched Earth. Modding is encouraged. Players can run private servers.

Durango
Launch: Closed beta testing events
Available on: iOS, Android

A mobile title where players will be able to fight against as well as tame and ride dinosaurs.

Fantasy

Conan Exiles
Launch: Early Access January 30, 2017
Available on: Steam

Set in the Conan mythos, this game exiles players from civilization; they must carve out a living in the Exiled Lands. Players can summon massive avatars of their deity to fight in clan wars. Modding is encouraged. Players can run private servers.

Don’t Starve Together
Launch: April 21, 2016
Available on: Steam

A standalone multiplayer expansion to Don’t Starve, this is a wilderness survival with science as well as magic. Players can play cooperatively with friends or group with strangers online.

Rend
Launch: Announced March 2017
Available on: Not yet available

A new take on survival games where players will exist in three established factions. Base raiding can take place only during specified times when the faction bases’ shields go down, opening the bases up to wild life and opposing faction attacks.

Savage Lands
Launch: Early Access Mar 5, 2015
Available on: Steam

Stranded on the shored of a frozen island, players fight for survival while also trying to uncover the history of the island.

TUG
Launch: Early Access March 28, 2014
Available on: Version 1.0 no longer available on Steam; development continues on version 2.0

A creative sandbox built by academics. Only those who already own version 1.0 can access it at the moment as it’s being rebuilt.

Medieval/historical

Life is Feudal
Launch: November 17, 2015 (LiF: Your Own); Closed beta events (LiF: MMO)
Available on: Steam

A realistic feudal setting with physics-based combat, a full weather system, and terraforming as well as medieval building. Can host private server (with YO version).

New Dawn
Launch: Not applicable
Available on: Not yet available

Greenlit on Steam, this title canceled its Kickstarter drive. The premise is that players are natives of an unknown island of Southern America at the end of 1800, and the island is being invaded by pirates.

The Black Death
Launch: Early access April 19, 2016
Available on: Steam

Who needs a made-up apocalypse when you have a historical catastrophe already? Set in medieval times, players try to survive in a world that is plagued with the plague. Besides needing food and such, you have to avoid getting sick.

Modern

Out of Reach
Launch: June 8, 2015
Available on: Steam

Players are castaways, shipwrecked on an island and cut off from the rest of the world. Includes shipbuilding to explore other parts of the archipelago.

RUST
Launch: December 11, 2013
Available on: Steam

Cut off from surrounding areas (but receiving supply drops form the air), survivors are faced with dangers like radiation hotspots, wild animals, and other players. Note: Players can kill and eat other players.

SCUM
Launch: expected 2017
Available on: Will be on Steam

Players are inmates of an island prison that televises all activities to the mainland.

The Wild Eight
Launch: Early Access February 8, 2017
Available on: Steam

A small-scale survival adventure set in Alaska that focuses on teamwork. As survivors of a plane crash players work together to uncover the mystery behind the crash by following the quest lines and seeking out anomalies. Can be played single-player.

Post-apocalyptic

Divergence: Year Zero
Launch: October 16, 2016
Available on: Steam

A modern-day post apocalyptic prequel to Divergence: Online. No longer receives updates and has been reclassified by devs as an exploration game.

Nether: Resurrected
Launch: October 2015 (original game: June 5, 2014)
Available on: Steam

After the publishers closed the original game, it was brought back as an independent FPS title. Players must fight to survive in an urban environment, including subways, abandoned buildings, and decaying landscapes.

Xsyon
Launch: Early access Dec 29, 2014
Available on: Steam, PC via official site

Set at Lake Tahoe, players who venture too far out of the main map start to run into mutated creatures and toxic atmosphere. Terraforming is possible. Players can go to PvE or PvP server. Devs hold various events during the year.

Sci-fi

Fragmented
Launch: Early access April 26, 2016
Available on: Steam

The smaller-scaled version of The Repopulation in a survival setting. Players must carve out a life after crash landing on a hostile alien planet. Can host own servers.

ROKH
Launch: Early access planned Q1 2017
Available on: Steam

Set on the planet Mars in the future, players must create an inhabitable area in order to survive.

The Skies
Launch: Early access April 16, 2016
Available on: Steam

Peppered with MMORPG elements, this survival in this wasteland includes a non-linear story line that players can follow while trying conquer.

Space

Astroneer
Launch: Early access December 15, 2016
Available on: Steam

Set in the 25th century during an intersteller gold rush, players explore space in hopes of striking it rich. In the meantime, they terraform planets and collect resources to trade or craft things from simple tools to massive industrial bases to mobile Rover bases.

Empyrion – Galactic Survival
Launch: Early access January 8, 2015
Available on: Steam

There’s a whole galaxy out there trying to kill you, so make a ship and go show all those aliens on all those planets and moons who really is boss! Plus you get to build spaceships.

Grav
Launch: Early access August 5, 2015
Available on: Steam

Survive hostile creatures on a multitude of alien planets! Worlds are procedurally generated, so never-ending. The worlds also have dynamic weather events as well as procedurally generated dungeons. Can host private servers.

Hellion
Launch: Early access February 24, 2017
Available on: Steam

Players awake in a stasis chamber amid the ruins of mankind’s first interstellar colony that needs repairs to become operational enough to maintain life. Then players work to get a ship in order to strike out into space and scavenge broken ships and abandoned space stations.

Osiris: New Dawn
Launch: Early access September 28, 2016
Available on: Steam, consoles coming 2017

Players awake after a crash landing on an alien world and need to quickly repair their suit lest they die before they can even start the process of long-term survival. Can build up to space travel. Can host private servers.

Space Engineers
Launch: Beta Oct 23, 2013
Available on: Steam

Build spaceships to explore the galaxy, and land on planets to explore them. Also build planetary outposts or even space stations. Can host private servers.

Uniques

ECO 
Theme: Rustic
Launch: Alpha November 23, 2015
Available on: Steam (coming soon), Alpha access

The life or death struggle is actually focused on the world and environment instead of individual avatars. Will players team up and build civilization or strip the land bare and destroy it?

Minecraft (survival mode)
Theme: Cube world
Launch: October 7, 2011
Available on: Just about everything! Windows, Mac, Linuzx, Android, PlayStations 3, 4 & Vita, iOS,  Xbox One & 330, Wii U, Kindle Fire, Gear VR, Apple TV

One of two game modes (the other being creative); players must collect resources to build structures while managing hunger and fighting off creatures.

The Island – Ethereal
Theme: Modern
Launch: No date set; green lit on Steam
Available on: Will be available on Steam

Do you want a survival experience that has a defined beginning and end? This match-based tactical shooter employs survival and horror elements and is played cooperatively with up to six people either through LAN or over the Internet. The player team goes against an AI team, and matches can last between one and six hours, depending on the win requirements set by the host.

Zombies

7 Days to Die
Launch: Alpha access December 13, 2013
Available on: Steam, PS4, Xbox One, discs

One of the longest running early access zombie survival games where players have to battle infected wildlife as well as zombies in a post-apocalyptic world.  Players can host private servers.

DayZ
Launch: Early Access December 16, 2013
Available on: Steam

Another long-running early access title set in a post apocalyptic landscape where most of the population was infected with a disease, creating zombies.

Dead Frontier
Launch: Open beta April 21st, 2008
Available on: Browser

Takes place in a zombie-infested city called Fairview City. Unsure if the game requires food and water for survival, but does have MMO elements.

H1Z1: Just Survive
Launch: Early access January 15, 2015
Available on: Steam

Fight off wild beasts, infected zombies, and try not to get infected (or actively try to!) while eking out an existence in a post-apocalyptic modern landscape.

Lifeless
Launch: Early access June 16, 2016
Available on: Steam

Work on the main survival game has halted leaving only the Super Death Arena — a horde mode survival game where players fight increasingly larger waves of zombies.

Moonlights
Launch: Expected second half of 2017
Available on: China only

This will be China’s first zombie-themed sandbox survival game. Instead of being the infected-style of zombies, however, these are nocturnal mutants that will hide during the day.

Unturned
Launch: Early access Jul 7, 2014
Available on: Steam (FTP)

Three modes: PvP, arena (last man standing,) and PvE. Players help progress the story by helping rebuild society through questing with NPCs.

Expect the second part of our list next week! Can you folks think of any survival sandboxes we should include?

In the survival genre, there are at least 1001 ways to die, and MJ Guthrie is bound to experience them all — all in interest of sharing them with you! The Survivalist chronicles life and death struggles against all forms of apocalypse, outbreak, mutation, weather, and prehistoric wildlife. And lets not forget the two-legged savages! Tune in here and on OPTV to see who feeds better: MJ or the Death Counter.
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39 Comments on "The Survivalist: Massively OP’s guide to multiplayer survival sandboxes"

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Siri

I am surprised that Empyrion Galactic Survival wasn’t on your list. It is on steam, not sure if you heard about this one. It has very good reviews so far and a very active and friendly dev team. The game can be played on a multiplayer server or solo. Hope you cover this in the future.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/383120

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Siri

I stand corrected I see that Empyrion has been added. I didn’t see it on the list when I first read it. My Bad.

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Joe Seabreeze

State of Decay 2 is coming out soon and it will likely blow away every game in this list. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it. And yes, it’s a multiplayer game.

https://www.stateofdecay.com

sandboxsurvivalist
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sandboxsurvivalist

A few for your list:

Hurtworld (http://hurtworld.com/)
Gloria Victis (http://www.gloriavictisgame.com/)
Survive the Nights (http://www.survivethenights.net/)
Dual Universe (http://www.dualthegame.com/)
Remnants (https://remnantsgame.com/)

sandboxsurvivalist
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sandboxsurvivalist
DeadlyAccurate
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DeadlyAccurate

The link for The Skies goes to The Black Death. Here’s The Skies’ link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/337950/

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Melissa McDonald

holy cow, this is a great list. Thanks Massively!
I always put in a plug for ARK because I love dinosaurs. If you love them, give it a try, they are awesome, and the game has amazing graphics. You can play on a PvE server if you want (I do).

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steve

This segment has been long-needed. I’m happy to see it.

Survival games became MMOs some time ago. Each of those official ARK server maps are connected just like the zones in an old-school MMO. Each zone is custom-built and has a history. The cross-server warfare is almost Eve-like.

I’m not against having overarching narratives or dev-guided stories, but the survival medium is what I see as the next generation of MMO world in it’s MUD-like infancy.

I think there are many great things to come.

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enamel

Arma itself has quite a few of these games and mods / custom missions, not that they need to be listed, but Arma is a great base for them:

DayZ (the mod that spawned the standalone version)
Breaking Point (DayZ-like)
Epoch (Rust-like)
Exiled (Rust-like)

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Schlag Sweetleaf

I’ve been mulling over The Culling. Is that still a thing?

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Darthbawl

Great job MJ! This is that article you were working on the other day, you were not kidding on it being a pretty long list.

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Dagget Burmese

Oh, you forgot Wurm Online! Old one of all, i suspect (paternal grandfather to Minecraft)

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johnwillo

Don’t forget real life. I play that a lot. Leveling is slow, and it’s kind of stingy with loot, but somehow I keep returning. I’ve got a lifetime sub.

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Dagget Burmese

Our group has played or is currently playing Conan Exiles, Space Engineers, and Minecraft (since it was alpha circa 2010)

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Pi Er

Great article! Very helpful “guide”! Good job!

Just a few things: The Skies Steam link leads to another game (BlackDeath specifically :P)

Some other suggestions to add: Haven and Hearth and Wild Terra!

Keep up!

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imayb1

I’m glad to see you’re collecting these under one banner. I think it will help all of us keep these games/concepts organized. ;)

Cyclone Jack
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Cyclone Jack

If you can get on a good server, Project: Zomboid is quite fun. It may not be the best looking game, but it has much more depth than most other survival games I’ve played.

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BalsBigBrother

Yeah Project Zomboid is the only one of this type that i play these days. It is certainly one of those gameplay trump’s graphics games. It isn’t pretty but boy it can deliver an intense experience.

luxundae
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luxundae

Any chance of Massively setting up a way for readers to donate to a pot that is used to run “official” Massively servers for some of these?

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steve

Let’s ask. Bree, with my tongue firmly in cheek I wonder, what would make it worth your while to host, maintain and manage game servers for us?

The hosting charges would be irrelevant. Just to maintain one survival server requires at least one person who is always on-call for a restart or update.

Then there’s drama. We’re a great bunch of Odds around here, but surely this isn’t anyone’s first rodeo. Never mind who decides what game we play. Who decides the rules?

I’m all for such a thing, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for managing a custom game cluster for the public unless there was some serious compensation.

MJ does let us play on her ARK streaming server. I kick a few bucks to her Patreon now and then.

luxundae
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luxundae

That’s the spirit!

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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Kinya

You forgot about awesome Miscreated :D
And then there is also Wild Terra, Novus Inceptio, Planet Nomad, Saurian with dinosaurs, Infestation The New Z, Badiya from Saudi Arabia and probably many more which I missed :D

I am trying to find and write about those which are worth mentioning on my site :)

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William Bond

I am surprised you guys are not listing Empyrion. It is inline with Spaces Engineers and Osiris. It is pretty slick in my opinion.

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