Archaeology! The dream job of anyone who saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at a formative age. Lost civilizations! Cool traps! Puzzles and dangers! What’s not to love? No wonder video games were quite keen on using archaeology as a theme for quite a few titles of the last few decades.

There is, however, a “but” involved in this, and it’s a “but” of significant size and importance. These movies, and by extension: games are not great at archaeology. They are wonderfully fun, some of the best adventures anybody could hope to experience in a medium, but they create a flawed perception of the profession.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them. We’re just saying that we’re going to present a few games which are great games with debatable archaeology, and a few great games with good archaeology, to keep it balanced, as all things should be.

NameRelease dateDeveloperDiscount
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Definitive Edition) 2018-09-14 SQUARE ENIX 82%
Tomb Raider 2013-03-05 Crystal Dynamics 77%
Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Years Celebration 2016-02-09 Crystal Dynamics 86%
LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures 2008-06-03 Traveller's Tales 81%
Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection 2022-10-19 Naughty Dog 56%
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4) 2017-08-22 Naughty Dog 68%
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4) 2016-05-10 Naughty Dog 55%
Minecraft Java Edition 2011-11-18 Mojang 32%
Minecraft: Java & Bedrock Edition 2022-06-07 Mojang 33%
Minecraft: Story Mode - A Telltale Games Series 2015-10-13 Telltale Games
Outer Wilds - Echoes of the Eye 2021-09-28 Mobius Digital 47%
Heaven's Vault 2019-04-16 Inkle 95%

Tomb Raider (series)

Release date:2013-03-05
Developer:Crystal Dynamics

Lara Croft is probably the most famous video game archeologist of all time, travelling the world, exploring forgotten temples and sealed-off tombs in search of powerful artifacts. Of course, she’s not the only one doing that, and she often crosses paths with greedy mercenaries, protective locals, and more wildlife than you’d expect. She’s an icon, although her conduct might not be the best.

Tomb Raider (series)

Lara’s methods tend to be rather invasive, and more focused on overcoming traps than study, this changes from installment to installment. The recent reboot trilogy, for example, lets Lara discover relics and study them to learn something about their history and function. At least she’s formally educated in the field, but whether it’s a mark for or against her, given her methods, is up to you.

Key features
  • Stars a thrill-seeking archeologist with complicated family history
  • A long series of excellent third-person action-adventure game
  • The reboot trilogy is a great entry point into the series
  • Archaeology evaluation: questionable methods, good intentions

LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures

Release date:2008-06-03
Developer:Traveller's Tales

Indiana Jones is another legend of archaeology. Over the course of his adventures, he’s been all around the world punching Nazis, translating ancient texts, and using a whip with proficiency unexpected from a university professor. While his adventures do get quite destructive, some of the coolest moments in the movies rely on his knowledge, not fists, so cheers for that.

LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures

As for the video game part, his most recent incarnation in the medium has been through the Lego-based games recreating the movies in a family-friendly, fondly comedic manner. They are great for co-op, and seeing some famous scenes in a cute Lego form is quite a treat, even if you’re going to be even more destructive than Indy was in the source material.

Key features
  • There are also a few older, more serious video games about Indy
  • Lego versions of the original trilogy: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade
  • Just as fun as the source material, and more family friendly
  • Archaeology evaluation: These methods belong in a museum

Uncharted (series)

Release date:2022-10-19
Developer:Naughty Dog

Let’s make something clear here: Nathan Drake is not an archaeologist. He’s a treasure hunter, and he’ll be the first to tell you as much. At the same time, he’s also really good at treasure hunting, and his knowledge of history is enviable, even if he’s mostly in the field for fun and profit. Much like Indy and Lara, however, he often ends up dealing with mercs trying to exploit old magic for evil.

Uncharted (series)

Archaeological foibles aside, the Uncharted series is all top-tier action-adventure games. It has thrilling cinematic sequences, third-person combat and traversal, and a charming cast of rascals. Uncharted is very close to the kind of adventure Indiana Jones movies delivered, which is absolutely worth checking out, especially since Uncharted 4 is even available outside of PlayStation.

Key features
  • Several games filled with cinematic and TPP-action excitement
  • Phenomenal performances, especially from the leading cast
  • Mostly PlayStation exclusive, but partially available on PC
  • Archaeology evaluation: Drake’s an excellent treasure hunter, not an archaeologist

Minecraft (since the Trails & Tales update)

Release date:2013-11-19

Minecraft doesn’t come to mind as a particularly good archaeology representation, but that’s because you haven’t played the Trails & Tales update yet. Nobody could have expected that a game that is either a complex survival game or a creative sandbox would have archaeology, and yet it’s one of the game’s features. And it’s miles more respectful of the art than the previous three games!

Minecraft (since the Trails & Tales update)

In certain locations you can find blocks called “Suspicious sand/gravel”, looking a bit different from regular ones. By cleaning them with a brush you can get various items, such as resources, armor trim, or pottery sherds (sic) you can then craft into custom pots. Caution is important because if you accidentally break the suspicious sand block, the valuables are lost. It’s surprisingly satisfying.

Key features
  • You can discover trail ruins buried in the ground: remnants of a lost culture
  • Requires some patience and caution while digging around: it’s easy to ruin your findings
  • You can find decorated pottery sherds you could reassemble
  • Archaeology evaluation: careful and educationally valuable

The Outer Wilds

Release date:2021-09-28
Developer:Mobius Digital

You have 22 minutes until the star system you’re in is enveloped by a supernova, and you’re in a position to prevent it… eventually. See, you’re stuck in a time loop, and only by investigating the ruins and relics of a mysterious civilization can you find a way to change what’s going to happen. Despite the dramatic stakes, The Outer Wilds is mostly about exploration and investigation.

The Outer Wilds

Due to the system’s size and gravitational anomalies, you have to think creatively about getting access to certain areas. For instance, one region of the game is only accessible once the gravity of the tiny planetary system drags dust away. However, it’s the persistent-across-loops understanding of the world and the Nomai culture that is the key to success, not survival mechanics and reflexes.

Key features
  • A fascinating planetary system with interesting physics involved
  • You’re stuck in a time loop, and a supernova is just 22 minutes away
  • An interesting Echoes of the Eye expansion
  • Archaeology evaluation: wonderful archaeology in SPAAAAACE!

Heaven’s Vault

Release date:2019-04-16

We’ve saved the best for last: Heaven’s Vault is not just a game about an archaeologist, it’s a game about archaeology itself. You’re playing as archaeologist Aliya Alasra studying a lost civilization that once was common in the Nebula, a peculiar region of space the game is set in. There are also higher stakes than just knowledge: a person is missing, and Aliya hopes to find them.

Heaven’s Vault

It’s an adventure game (as opposed to action-adventure), which provides a good genre backing for believable archaeological practices. A lot of time will be spent translating the hieroglyphs, collecting artifacts for study, and consultations with other people to piece together lost history. It might be the best archaeology representation there’s ever been in video game.

Key features
  • Gorgeous setting
  • Non-linear path to the ending, with plenty of important choices to make
  • Complex writing system you’ll get to decipher as you explore more of the Nebula
  • Archaeology evaluation: 10/10, no notes

Dig around and find out

There we have it, a list of archaeological and treasure-hunting games. We’ve provided options both for people who want to be (like) Indiana Jones and people who would prefer something more down to Earth…which is funny, because none of the down-to-earth games takes place on, well, Earth. Alas.

Whether you want to seek the lost gold for personal enrichment or excavate the history of civilizations worthy of remembrance, we’ve got you covered.