When it comes to post-apocalyptic worlds, there are not many to trump the world of Fallout as the best one. With a massive history rich in science fiction, and an alternate history where nuclear energy, robots, and power armor became commonplace in society, the world thrives despite the fact that most of the world is . . . dead. The nuclear destruction that obliterated the world in two hours has left the remaining survivors, most of which who originated from the Vaults, with scraps of old civilization as their only defense against mutated creatures, raiders, and evil beings who wander the Wasteland. On top of this already deep land filled with all kinds of characters, the world is also stuck in time. Since the bombings, no advancements were made, so the world is permanently frozen in the 50’s-esque style for architecture, vehicles, and other technology. This is one of the ways the world feels so unique. It has this haunting mixture of United States 50’s culture scattered around the corpses of ghouls and the bleakness of the settlements now residing in the wasteland. Not many worlds can compare to the amount of time and effort put into crafting this world over the last 18 years.
5. The SNES-pocalypse (Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger)
Oh, Lord. I can see the confusion and nerd-rage accumulating quicker than I can write. Let’s face it – the Super Nintendo possessed two of the greatest games ever made, and both happen to feature post-apocalyptic scenarios. We couldn’t possibly choose one over the other nor could we justify kicking one off the list. Both are unique in that they bear equal parts gameplay in both pre and post environmental destruction. Final Fantasy VI illustrates a vast world with a story revolving around the rebellious Returners and their fight against the Empire and Emperor Gestahl. Many hours later, the Emperor’s Magitek Knight Kefka demonstrates his sociopathic hatred for humanity by entering the Esper world and disrupting the world’s balance. The World of Balance becomes the World of Ruin. Players get to see the world they spent hours exploring in its new, destroyed state. Similarly, Crono, Marle, and Lucca explore their world in Chrono Trigger not only in the present, but also the past before traveling to a post-apocalyptic future in 2300 A.D. Players also get to explore this desolate, futuristic world before traveling back to prevent the world’s untimely end at the grasp of Lavos. We dubbed these worlds as the ‘SNES-pocalypse.’
4. Pandora (Borderlands)
Very little is known of Pandora’s history predating the time in which the series takes place. However, its desolate, barren nature is that of a long-suffering ecosystem. Let us also not forget that countless psychos, thieves, murderers, and corporate scumbags inhabit the land, interested in only their own selfish purposes. The atmosphere clearly draws inspiration from and is hugely reminiscent of Mad Max. It’s not unreasonable to expect that Pandora’s decayed state is the result of abuse caused by centuries of conflict and excavation over and for the rare Iridium element as well as the mythical, treasure-laden vaults left by an alien civilization. Aside from the hilarious (and sometimes insane) personalities that Pandora has to offer with the likes of Claptrap, Scooter, and Marcus Kincaid, it also illustrates a long history with the likes of Dahl, Atlas, and Hyperion in the second title. Pandora is a hugely entertaining mode of life after civilization, and that’s why we love it.
3. Rapture (Bioshock)
Rapture isn’t just one of the all-time great video game settings, it’s one of the most thoughtful fictional settings of the past few decades. While the earth’s surface is unblemished in this fiction, in Bioshock, the player experiences the total collapse of another world. I remember being in awe as I played through the first thirty minutes of Bioshock. We’re introduced to the world of Rapture through the eyes of Jack, the plane-wrecked protagonist. Once a great underwater utopia, the ruins of Rapture are home to chemical-addicted, murderous fiends. The prominent art deco influence and jive 60’s tunes firmly immerse the player in this abandoned world. Discarded amongst the ruins are voice recordings from citizens of all classes and cultures. The player learns of Rapture’s founding father Andrew Ryan, his socialist dream, and the class warfare and revolt that lead to Rapture’s demise. It’s a story and setting that I still think about to this day and it earns its high spot on our list.
2. United States (The Last of Us)
While The Last of Us is ultimately a story about the relationship between two people, the world surrounding that relationship stands tall on its own two legs. The game takes place in the United States twenty years after a pandemic outbreak devastates the human race. Society as we know it has collapsed, and though the world isn’t completely lawless, culture does seem more like the wild west. People live in dirty, impoverished locales, the government regularly scans for infection, and those who test positive are killed on the spot. In the role of Joel, the player sets out on a task of utmost importance to the human race, retracing the manifest-destined steps of those that came before him. Along the journey, you experience all walks of life in this down-trodden world. And although there are plenty of people to meet, the ultimate tone of the game is one of solitude and loneliness. Vegetation and overgrowth triumphantly scour human architecture while those few humans left stumble about, hopeless and afraid.
We are blessed that video games allow us to inhabit so many different worlds. These range from historical, to science fiction, to fantasy. There is one world, however, that video games can portray much better than any medium thanks to it’s vastness and interactivity – post-apocalyptic wastelands. As a player, we are able to inhabit these worlds and experience the remnants of society. These games truly excel when they take it upon themselves to get a little creative with the history itself and the reasons that led to the world’s demise. Here are our Top 10 Post-Apocalyptic Wastelands in Games.
10. Sera (Gears of War)
While long plagued with environmental destruction, the planet Sera is ravaged at the hands of the Locusts, alien creatures born from below the planet’s surface. Remaining human survivors now occupy the Jacinto Plateau while many others, known as the Stranded, clinging to their old lives and homes. Even before the fateful Emergence Day, the planet suffered at the hands of human conflict and natural energy depletion. Whilst warring over a new energy source, Imulsion, the Coalition of Organized Governments (COGs) was formed, and now serves to combat the Locust threat. The conflict leaves the planet long in ruin as the first game does not take place for fourteen years after the emergence. We only get to see the world as Marcus and company, but the lore of the world is there. Its long history and unique cause of destruction earns the planet Sera a spot on the list.
9. United States (Enslaved: Odyssey to the West)
Here is one of the more unique post-apocalypse settings around in gaming. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West does not rely as much on the dull colors and dark tones that clutter game design, especially in apocalyptic settings. Instead, the world is overcome by nature, and the surviving humans live in fear of an almost alien oppressor. The scattered mechs that wander the lands wait to pounce on unsuspecting prey. Based on the story of Journey to the West, which featured the Monkey King in the classic Chinese literature piece detailing his pilgrimage to the West. Unfortunately, this game did not receive the praise it deserved. Therefore, this is one world that many missed out on, but should definitely give a try.
8. Australia (Mad Max)
Poor Mad Max. This game was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Immediately following the releases of Batman: Arkham Knight, sharing a release date with Metal Gear Solid V, and immediately preceeding the much anticipated Fallout 4, Mad Max was a poster child victim of open-world fatigue. The game is not bad, by any stretch of the imagination. The hand-to-hand combat was a little lackluster, sure, and the story was a contrived narrative to send you on mundane side activities. However, the setting was purely breathtaking. Whether you were soaring over sand dunes or racing for safety with a desert tempest nipping at your rubber heels, you always felt like you were in the Mad Max universe. The characters are full of flavor and unique idiosyncrasies. Customizing your car and tooling around the deserted wasteland just feels so right. The original movies serve as direct influences to the like of Borderlands and Fallout, and Avalanche Studios’ realization of the world was a faithful one.
7. Hyrule/Great Sea (The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker)
At first glance, this world does not seem like it fits in with other post-apocalypse settings. It takes a bit of story progression and some critical thinking, but soon it is clear that the world of Wind Waker is the flooded world of a past Hyrule. Some kind of catastrophic event, most likely related to this timeline’s return of Ganondorf being unchallenged, caused the oceans to rise and submerge the planet. The residents of the world become acquainted with it and begin to rely on naval travel to navigate the still uncharted waters of this mysterious and watery world.
6. Earth/City 17 (Half-Life 2)
The world of Half-Life 2 is bleak. Since the events of the original Half-Life, the Combine has entered Earth’s dimension and taken over the planet. All of Earth’s resources are being harvested by the Combine. This includes human beings as well. Beyond the Combine, Earth also has a population of inter-dimensional creatures inhabiting it thanks to the efforts of the scientists at Black Mesa, which includes Gordon Freeman. The wastes of a free civilization remain, filled with the oppressor’s Combine whose goal is to ensure that the world is sucked dry of what little life remains. The remaining humans build up a resistance called Lambda in hopes of pushing the Combine back into their own dimension for good.