From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide to Survival Games

Christian Bonilla 07-07-2016

Survival games are some of the most difficult games to master, and with the release of No Man’s Sky No Man's Sky and the Future of Procedural Games If you haven't heard of No Man's Sky yet, you're missing out. This open-world adventure game is set to pioneer a new standard in procedural generation, a topic that's deeply interesting even if you don't... Read More around the corner more and more new players are joining the immersive, hostile world of the genre.


Whatever you do though, don’t get caught unaware of the complexity behind survival games. This guide will give you a basic understanding of what matters within the genre, and what you need to do to maximize your early game survival. The more knowledge you gain about these fundamental features, the faster you will be able to find you way out of the wilderness.

What is a Survival Game?

Many games have some element of danger, so it could be said that many are about surviving, but there’s a difference between surviving in games and survival games. In these games, you start off with nothing but a hand, a rock, or some other primitive tool. Your job is to grow from primitive to pro, crafting weapons, making food and creating clothing to shield you from the elements.

Survival games are anything but chores. Strategy, action, adventure and even architectural planning are all genres you’ll experience with these games. Survival games have grown a lot from the classic Oregon Trail 9 Old Educational Games You Can Play Right Now for Free Miss those educational video games from the 80s and 90s? You can play them again right now for free! Read More , and using the much more modern Minecraft as something of a template, the quality of games and gaming content available make these games worthy of the time and dedication necessary to succeed.

This guide will cover the terms, resources and features you will normally encounter in procedural-based games. Some information covers some games but not others. The main idea is to show the up-and-coming survival gamer how much thought and effort is required to be successful. Before you can raid enemy based and challenge players, you have to keep yourself fed and clothed.

PvE(aceful) Versus PvP(ro)

Some jump into a survival game with guns blazing, only to realize they have no guns. For an optimal survival game experience, it is advised to go from a more relaxed PvE environment to the more dangerous PvP, unless you already have several hours of experience playing survival games.


Server Population

Most survival games will not allow you the luxury of choosing between strictly PVP (player versus player) and PVE (player versus environment), so if you’d a higher chance of survival you will need to join a low population cap server What Is A Virtual Server, And What Can You Do With One? Virtual machines and virtual servers — what are they and how do they differ? Read More . These servers will only host a small amount of players, taking away the clutter associated with hundreds of playing fighting for resources on one server.


There are also some servers which will specify that they are “new user friendly” and will often ban or kick out more violent members. This depends from game to game, but if you’d like a simple gaming experience join a low population server to begin the learning process.

Player Type

At the end of the day, it’s you who decides your own gaming experience. When I first started playing survival games, I would attack any and all people I came into contact with. I ended up with no resources and tons of enemies. Believe it or not, there are plenty of players in any given server that simply want to enjoy the game. Don’t be afraid to reach out to players when you’re new; some will try to beat you with a rock, while others will take the time to show you the ropes.


I’m Going To Need 2 Health Potions or 30 Cabbages, Stat!

Stats are your way of knowing what is happening in the world around you. Health slowly dropping? You might be freezing to death. Are you starving? Fill your food meter. Are boars insta-killing you? Build some armor. Stats are important to any game, but survival games won’t let you get away with just health and mana. To survive a fight, you’ll need to brave the elements first.


Health is fairly straightforward; once the health bar reaches zero, so do you. There is more to health, however, than keeping your five hearts secure. As survival games advance in their complexity, more and more variables are added for you to keep tally of.


Multiple factors act towards your health’s detriment, while a few will benefit your character. Bandages, along with an assortment of other craft-able items, are necessary to heal you after a skirmish. Always keep a couple of these in hand, since they often stack and are easy to create. Along with a draining health bar, features such as a graying screen or red vignettes will warn you that death is nearby.



Hunger is steadily becoming a staple in survival gaming. Hunger is not just finding food and eating it; your hunger bar will fill quicker or slower depending on the amount of food, whether the food is cooked or prepared, and whether the food is rotting, diseased or overcooked.


You don’t have to be a chef to keep yourself well fed, but in the early game this is one of the hardest stats to keep satisfied. Be very mindful of the hunger bar, because if overlooked it will easily be the end of your adventure.


The first step of any survival game is surviving. The second step: flourishing. This is where armor comes into play. Although you often start out with shabby, basic clothing (or no clothing at all) the search for armor should be constant. It was easy to kill you before, but with an armor set you’re given a precious lifeline from death. Some armor is crafted, some is found and the best armor is looted from a rival player.



The same can be said for clothing you obtain if you start without any; or warmer, thicker clothing when you do. The role of armor is often ignored by new players who just want to take risks; for the player with everything to lose, you can’t risk a soft spot on or around your character.


For the more hard-core survival games, it’s not enough to protect yourself from other players. You’ve got to protect yourself from the elements as well. Shirts and jackets are more than fashion statements; in the popular survival game Rust, clothing is absolutely necessary to avoid freezing to death.


Be aware of how hot and cold your surroundings are, as the temperature and weather will lead to environmental changes as well as mob and foliage changes.

Please Sir, May I Have Some Ore?

Resources are the lifeblood of your gaming endeavor. Whether you’re trying to craft an empire or feed yourself, resources like ore, meat and plants are vital.


From Terraria to Rust, the most basic resources available is wood. From the get-go, wood is going to be a simple, yet highly-used resource that will always require a hatchet in hand. Most building structures, if not all building structure, along with several entry-level weapons, will require wood for one thing or another.


It’s always best to keep a healthy stack around in storage, but try to not farm your way into enemy territory; you don’t want to set out looking for wood only to find trouble. Since the resource is so necessary, and often only found in a dense forestry, farming for wood can make you an easy target.


Ore comes in varying types of strength and scarcity. Iron, steel, and other metals are craft-able from the ore found in nodes and deposits, but there is rarely only one type of ore in survival games. You may even need to upgrade your pickaxes a couple of times before being able to reach these resources. For the early game, figure out which ore you need to create basic level items. Terraria, for example, requires users to mine iron ore before creating iron items. ARK: Survival Evolved 9 Virtual Reality Games You Absolutely Must Play in 2016 Three VR devices -- and possibly more -- are launcing in 2016. Here are some of the most impressive VR games that you'll be able to play this year! Read More , on the other hand, allows players to use basic stones in order to craft pickaxes and other basic items.


Don’t forget that ore can be used for more things than weapons; armor and building improvements often require some type of ore as well. When it comes to both ore and wood, it’s never a bad idea to have plenty of stacks.


Meat is the first thing you’ll hunt for, also often requiring some sort of weapon. Use common sense when hunting for prey; you can’t kill a bear when you’re naked and cold. Look for relatively slow, docile looking mobs. Pigs or other types of swine are often first on the list; most survival games include some sort of pork in their meat list, and they are often the easiest meats to hunt for.


Other mobs, like wolves or bears, are also regularly added to the mobs list but may require short- or long-range weapons to kill. If you hear a roar and all you’re carrying is wood, run. Remember that the animal you find may depend on the environment as well; if you keep getting killed by bears, stay away from caves. Even fishing can provide meat, although it may require the use of traps and spears.


The best survival game strategists are both hunters and gatherers. Plants are an important resource in any survival game, although they often serve different purposes depending on the game. ARK: Survival Evolved allows users to take berries from shrubs in order to prevent starvation. You can then use the seeds from these berries to farm more food. Rust, on the other hand, allows you to cultivate hemp for clothing and other valuables. Hemp is then used to make clothing and tools. DayZ Standalone also provides farming and cultivation, making farm-able land and bases a valuable resource.

Keep your head to the ground early game, as plants may very well keep you alive when animals cannot. A large enough patch for cultivation will take care of certain necessities in the comfort of your own home, lowering the risk that you’ll be caught unaware by an enemy player.


It is advised that you gather plenty of resources like food, ore and wood before building a base. After all, if you don’t have the necessary items to get started building you’re susceptible to other players happening upon your home and stealing your hard work.


Homes begin as basic places to leave your belonging while you go out and hunt. As the game progresses, however, so does your commitment to your base. Sometimes you can stumble on an already-assembled home, but for the most part, you’re going to need to gather materials and create one. You might lock yourself out of your own home once in a while, but trial and error is all part of the learning process.

The first thing you’ll learn is building, and upgrading, your encampment. Once you’ve picked up a few good building habits, base-building threads online become great resources to learn what makes an architecturally safe house. Rust has a thriving community of individuals continually designing and perfecting home models for in-game use. There are even building-simulation websites like Second Chance Gaming which will not only let you design your home, but tally the total resources necessary to prepare for in-game building immediately.


Storage, like home-building, starts off rather simple. Basic storage gets old quickly, and you can only keep so many boxes littered all over the floor before you want to keep everything in one big chest.


This is where crafting expertise comes into play; the higher your crafting ability, the larger and more durable a chest you can create. This will protect all your items, be they weapons, armor, or other resources.

Storage is best kept to rooms to maintain their security.  Bar the window, lock the door, and hope that no one comes in with explosives. Storage is also a big deal to building artisans, as the most valuable items must be kept behind several doors to ensure their safety.

Map Location

Where you are on the map determines your early game. Many new players simply try to create a house where they first spawned, but these spawn points are gathering grounds for many other players as well. The best place to be, especially early-game, is out of sight; not only do more remote places allow for less players, they also allow for more resources because of the lack thereof.

Which is why in-game maps are necessary items for a proper early game. In-game maps are valuable resources, as they will show you where you’ve been and allow you to write notes detailing important places you’ve been.

Real-time mapping websites, on the other hand, like RustIO for Rust will generate live maps of any popular server available. All you have to do is look up the live map to a particular server and you can begin planning your next move immediately. Considering the maps in Rust are procedural-based, map layouts can change drastically from server to server.


Sites like ArkMap for Ark: Survival Evolved also provide the same functionality, allowing you to know exactly where you are at any point in time.

Drop Locations

One particular feature increasing in popularity is the use of drop locations. These drop locations will provide players with free, often valuable resources along certain map routes.

Be warned: although many new players will not take advantage of these drops, many older players rely on them as easy resource boosts. If there are some drops, or in the case of Ark: Survival Evolved, beacons, in less-populated locations, the knowledge of these drops can make a significant impact on early game activity.


Crafting ranks slightly below surviving as the most important aspect of survival games. You will never beat a player with a stone weapon if you’re wielding a wooden weapon, so developing your crafting skill is crucial to giving you an edge over your competitors. If you’re able to craft certain things — like buildings materials and weapons — that others cannot, acting as a builder can greatly benefit your friends and allies.


Crafting involves creating items based on blueprints, though they might go by another term in-game. Whether you find the blueprints online — as is often the case with games like Minecraft — or need to gather blueprints in-game, you’ll need them if you want to craft good weapons and armor.

Some games, like Ark: Survival Evolved, require that you level up before being able to craft items. Others, like Minecraft, only require that you have the resources. In Rust, you obtain and read blueprints from blueprint fragments. The more blueprints you can put together, the more rewarding the item. Your crafting ability extends to weapons, armor, and even homes.


Rust recently added a research functionality to its game, wherein players can create research tables to research items your character couldn’t craft previously. The research component is refreshing, as it’s quicker and less risky than gathering blueprints and hoping for the best.

Research for survival games isn’t just an in-game feature; since survival games are continually developing  their feature and item list, you’ll do as much research in real life as in the game, if not more.

Melee Weapons

There are two major weapon types, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Melee weapons are the first choice in most survival games, as certain utility items like axes and pickaxes double as low-level weapons. Unfortunately, they are also the first to get replaced. Hand-held utility items should be created first, and in good supply because of their multiple uses.


Beginner utilities, such as basic axes, can usually be made what it readily available. More developed items will require more, and rarer, resources.

Projectile Weapons

If you’re looking to deal damage, invest yourself and your resources in gathering projectile weaponry. Things like guns and bows will automatically level the playing field against enemies. The sooner you can acquire a bow to hunt wildlife or enemy players, the better.


Spears and bows are a good start, and should be acquired as early as possible. It’ll take a while before you get your hands on an assault rifle, but it’s best to set up your arsenal before getting complacent. Even if you’ve gotten your hands on an impressive weapon, you’ll need to know how to find the munitions to maintain its use.

I’m Too Young To Respawn!

You’re going to die in survival games, a lot. It’s not enough to know about eating and armor; all it takes early game is a cheap shot to end an otherwise fruitful and enjoyable experience. Later on in the game, however, death becomes a premeditated chance for learning and revenge.


Death happens largely because of one thing: Some other player comes and bonks you on the head. Although death is unavoidable in survival games, you should try to avoid death at all times. This means more than simply running away from trouble; don’t start trouble either. Haggling and bartering with players, or working together with them, can be the difference between losing a little and losing everything.


Everything from shelter to research is bought with time, and you want to protect your hours of hard work. That is why knowledge of the game’s mechanics is key to excelling in survival games. If you’ve done all you should, in-game deaths are less of a rattle. If you haven’t, hours of work can be lost in seconds of skirmishing.

Respawn Points

Respawn points are lifesavers when it comes to survival games. Certain items, such as sleeping bags in Rust and simple beds in Ark: Survival Evolved, allow you to re-spawn wherever you’d like so long as they aren’t destroyed.

For early-game survival, this means being able to come back to your base after a pesky bear or enemy player sneaks up on you. Later on, having multiple re-spawn points is key when being raided by an enemy army. Clever placement of sleeping bags, such as laying one in your weapons room, will have you back up and fighting in no time.

Survival of the Fit! Only the Strong Survive!

Charles Darwin once wrote, “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” Survival games have a steep learning curve, and learning their framework is a bit harder than learning to point and shoot. Their thrill, however, more than makes up for the extra work and study.

Do you play survival games? Want to recommend a feature we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Related topics: Multiplayer Games, Online Games.

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