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Hopeless War

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"There is no peace among the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods."

"A hundred thousand worlds, ten hundred thousand wars. There is no escape, no respite, no hope for victory."

It's either the near future, the far future, or even the present, where there's a hopeless bleak war being fought, where even a major victory is just a hollow one. The population could be reduced to small numbers because of this endless war. In some cases the war could even be a stalemate for the two opposing factions resulting in severe casualties on both sides.

More often than not, the war might have been intended as a minor engagement before things went FUBAR, got complicated, and then went completely to hell, and now everybody is SOL. It's basically the war equivalent of Kick the Dog, Shoot the Dog and Shoot the Shaggy Dog... and of course War Is Hell. In this bleak situation there's bound to be Despair Event Horizon, I Did What I Had to Do, Black-and-Gray Morality, or Grey-and-Gray Morality. All for the sake of victory, but Was It Really Worth It? Beware bad writing, for it can turn this into prime fuel for Too Bleak, Stopped Caring.

A Forever War may eventually grind itself down to one of these. Lowered Recruiting Standards may go along with this trope when things get truly desperate.

On a smaller scale, Last Stand. See also Bad Future, and Shocking Defeat Legacy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan
    • A century of hiding from man-eating Titans has created a setting where sacrificing hundreds of thousands of people to 'reclaim' land from the Titans, getting them slaughtered en masse, is a practical idea because it means fewer people to sustain on limited resources. A setting where no territory taken by the Titans has ever been reclaimed by humans, where it is normal to be Eaten Alive. Things become more hopeful following the revelation of Eren's Titan powers and the fact that they recaptured Trost from the titans. There is also an ongoing plan to recapture Wall Maria, lost at the start of the series, from the titans that eventually succeeds.
    • Before the four year timeskip, a new war is introduced: the island of Paradis, where the protagonists live, and potentially the Eldians in Marley, against the entire rest of the world, who apparently want nothing more than to see them dead because of their genetic link to the Titans.
    • Eren's Dystopia Justifies the Means plan to destroy the rest of the world ultimately becomes this during the Ragnarok Arc. Even if Eren is defeated and killed (which he actively supports) and the Titans are stopped for good, he already won by destroying every other country with a stampede of Titans, which means that whatever isn't stomped to death by the Titans is practically doomed to an era of brutal anarchy and endless fighting. Also, he has supernatural control over everyone who could become a titan.
  • The forces of good in Avesta of Black and White have been locked in an endless war against the forces of evil for thousands of years. As soon as any headway is made in taking down the seven archfiends, a new one soon takes the fallen ones place turning the whole thing into a pointless meatgrinder of a war with fatigue and despair gripping the common folk, especially after the great hero Varhram was killed. And it is revealed that this trope applies to the forces of evil as well. And worse, should any side "win" the war then the whole universe would undergo a complete reset with the whole thing starting all over again, just with the sides switched. Suffice to say, this truth has quite the effect on those who learn it.
  • In the Anime series Mobile Suit Gundam starts off as this. Zeon was effectively fighting a hopeless war vs. the Federation forces, with all of their big cards played from the start. The stalemate is the sign things is going to go downhill for them. Other Hopeless Wars in Gundam include the First Alliance-PLANT War (where the Alliance had to resort to suicidal last measures just to stave ZAFT off, though the tables were turned when they developed their own Mobile Suits), Kataron vs. A-Laws and the Federation vs. Cosmo Babylon. The losing side being the former respectively.
    • The war in Mobile Suit Gundam wasn't even a long one. Less than a year into it at the start of the series. Over half the human race had already been wiped out. It's known in later series as the "One Year War", which saw the devastation of Earth, the genocide of several colony clusters, and a final death toll somewhere around 5 billion.
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross/Robotech has a hopeless war going on between the humans and Zendtradi.
  • Simoun starts with the protagonists' nation easily fending off all comers through superior Applied Phlebotinum... and then the neighbours start catching up.
  • Blue Gender has a hopeless Bug War.
  • The entire point of Saikano is that one of these is causing the death of the planet. Chise pulls a planet-wide Mercy Kill to keep everyone from suffering anymore; the series is exactly two characters away from a full-on Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
  • Aura Battler Dunbine has a hopeless war that involves rebels trying to fend off the Drake Army's conquest of Byston Well, and it gets progressively worse as the series goes along.
  • Sousei no Onmyouji The human exorcists have been on the losing side in their war against the Basara for the past millennium, due to the Basara having relatively long life spans and the ability to absorb the powers of defeated exorcists.
  • In every version of Space Battleship Yamato (both the original series, the 2010 movie and the remake), the series starts with Humans fighting one against Gamilas, with Earth being devastated by planetary bombs and Earth ships being hopelessly outclassed by Gamilas' ones (to drive home the point, the original series, the movie and the remake all open with a battle scene in which Earth ships are outnumbered by a 2-1 margin, Gamilas' weapons are one-hit kills on most Earth ships, and Earth weapon shots bounce away from Gamilas ships unless heavily concentrated, the only exception being the weapons on the Yukikaze, prototypes of those mounted on the Yamato).
  • This is the case in Yuki Yuna is a Hero. The girls are being forced to fight monsters known as Vertex, which are unending in number and are simply reconstructed after being defeated. In the last episode, they do manage to at least earn a reprieve from their attacks, but it's still implied they'll come back eventually.
  • The War in the North is this for the Warriors of the Organization assigned to it in Claymore. There are only about two dozen of them, granted they are all super soldiers but the opposing force is overwhelmingly powerful. Consisting of several dozen Awakened Beings that usually take a four woman team lead by a Single Digit Warrior to hunt, the Awakened Being's leader is regarded as one of the most powerful creatures in the world. The Warriors only count three Single Digits among their number to combat dozens of Awakened Beings. Furthermore the Warriors' leadership are collectively unable to match the enemy's Number One let alone the leader himself. It's deliberate: the Organization has set up a number of Warriors they deem problematic to be killed slowing the Awakened Beings down. Fortunately their leader manages to fake the deaths of seven of them, including the protagonist Clare, with yoma suppression drugs.

    Comic Books 
  • What Frank Castle's one-man war on crime unfortunately comes down to. He knows that he will never be able to have any long-lasting effect on crime, no matter how many capos or drug dealers he kills. Best exemplified at the end of The Slavers arc from The Punisher MAX, where even after dealing with the heads of the human trafficking operation, the slavery ring in New York doesn't stop, it just gets more "sophisticated".
  • The war against Ellos ("Them") in El Eternauta.
  • Almost every iteration of the Days of Future Past storyline in X-Men. In the future, the world is overrun. The Sentinels have Turned Against Their Masters so even baseline humans aren't safe. Someone is sent to the past Terminator style because there is no restoring the world in the future. Many big-name X-Men who are usually immune to even temporary Comic Book Death in the present are long dead. As the present characters rush to prevent it from happening, the future characters fight to give them "long enough" to do it, as opposed to winning, which is often accepted from the beginning as impossible. The animated versions make it less bad - but less bad doesn't mean "good," it means "all the Family-Unfriendly Death must take place offscreen, and we're spreading the storyline over long enough that we can't kill anyone straight away, but it's still a miserable world to live in and not letting it ever come to be is humanity's only hope."
  • One of these is the backstory for the Excalibur Anti-Villain Albion. Basically, in his world, World War 1 didn't end in 1918, but just went on, and on, and on. By the time he was born, there was basically nothing of the world left, every government was gone, every resource used up. And then he gets super-powers, and the means to end the war. There's nothing to rebuild, and people start dying from rampant disease and starvation. Then Albion learns someone is responsible for all this...
  • The war against God-King Lore in Birthright is a recurring theme among the main characters. In the backstory, the world of Terrenos was controlled by a demonic Evil Overlord that corrupted everything as he saw fit. As a ragtag group of mages was assembled to defeat him and while they were very powerful at first, the war against Lore dragged out for years and they were nowhere near close to hurting him in the first place, let alone defeating him. It didn't help that the mages lost their loved ones and with each battle, more and more innocents were killed in the crossfire. Eventually they came to the conclusion that the fight was lost and they made a new home on Earth, placing protective barriers so that Lore would never invade our world. In the actual story, the main protagonist Mikey Rhodes gets a taste of this trope when he is pulled from Earth to fight with Lore because he is The Chosen One destined to kill Lore. As a young teen forced to witness the horrors of war, he ends up breaking too—though unlike his predecessors, he strikes up a bargain with Lore to return home and serve as his agent instead.

    Fan Works 
  • The war between Equestria and humanity in The Conversion Bureau: The Other Side of the Spectrum.
    • For humanity, millions of people have become War Refugees over the course of the war thanks to the barrier, which annihilates any human or human-made object in its way (not even leaving dust behind). Not only that, but the barrier is nigh-unstoppable, and every human knows it. It took a minor miracle for the PHL and the American military to even delay the thing, and the world is painfully aware, to the point that the U.S President has resigned himself to a Godzilla Threshold plan that could destroy all life on Earth, with the small hope it will at least do something to the barrier, even as it kills them all. But now that the Canon Equestrians have arrived, it may not be so hopeless anymore.
    • For TCB!Equestria/the Solar Empire, humanity's determination to fight their ponification crusade and the sheer brutality of their more advanced weaponry has caused a massive loss in lives, rendering the Empire's old fashioned tactics for the Royal Guards and Zerg Rush usage of the newfoals impractical. On top of that, the massive influx of newfoals has put a huge strain on Equestria's economy, and morale is so low that fanaticism, propaganda and terror are the only things just barely keeping the Empire afloat. Plus more natural born ponies (at least those that haven't been fully brainwashed) are starting to question Queen Celestia's campaign and are either defecting to humanity or get thrown to the gulags.
  • In Fractured (SovereignGFC), a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands crossover and its sequel Origins, there are two, one averted and one played straight.
    • In Fractured the Reaper War might look like this since the Technology Levels between Citadel races and the invaders is so vast), until the Trans-Galactic Republic shows up with superior firepower and better shields. The Curb-Stomp Battle is thus turned on the Reapers as a Star Destroyer just ignores even the strongest Reaper beam weapons, and modified deflectors ward off indoctrination.
    • In Origins, a second invader arrives before the damage from the first has even been repaired. These newcomers push the heroes back constantly, and every play made ends up being countered, culminating in the loss of the Citadel's entire galaxy. Only timely intervention by one thought to be an enemy lets Shepard & Co. live to fight another day.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in the Terminator franchise (at least the first one) as there is a Hopeless Robot War fought in the future — hopeless for the robots, hence the time travel. The war was still quite brutal, and bleak for the humans, as a good chunk of humanity got hit by several Depopulation Bombs. Terminator Salvation double subverts it by showing that time traveling has actually made things worse. The T-800s come in a full ten years earlier and humans only have normal weapons (which we all know do nothing against the 800s), not plasma guns from the first version of the war, and while the main network and production base is destroyed along with a large number of unfinished 800s it's heavily implied Skynet has many many more. However, it would seem Skynet didn't go as heavy on the Nukes this time and the humans have A-10s and tanks. Skynet is also much harder to kill now. The original had one central computer controlling everything which could be destroyed, the one that got started in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was software distributed almost everywhere. And Terminator: Dark Fate goes for the hat trick by showing that the war is an actual universal constant - by the end of the prologue, both SKYNET and John Connor are deader than a doornail and the war just gets a new Master Computer and Resistance leader to take their spots. Notably, two of the characters of the cast, Sarah Connor and "Carl", the last of the SKYNET Terminators show some distress at this fact, which is proof that their efforts were All for Nothing.
  • The Matrix franchise has an almost exact similar war going on between humans and machines. Which makes you wonder if the two are somehow related, only in this one the humans were the ones who struck first with nuclear weapons (it didn't do them a whole lot of good).
  • TRON: Legacy involves the distant aftermath of one of these between Kevin Flynn and Clu. Kevin struggled against Clu after he began his coup to take over the Grid, but because Clu was largely created from Kevin's own body and personality, any attempt Kevin made to fight Clu just made him stronger. Ultimately, Kevin retreated and removed himself from the struggle, having long since been resigned to his fate.
  • In Reign of Fire the humans certainly feel that way about their fight for survival against the dragons while the dragons simply want to eat.
  • This is essentially one of the main themes of the Godzilla franchise. So long as humans engage in war, another Kaiju will inevitably show up to wreak havoc. To make matters worse, a good portion of Kaiju are Nigh-Invulnerable unless attacked by certain non-conventional weaponry (and even then it's a one-in-a-million-chance) which turns the war against giant monsters into an endless effort to just simply keep them at bay.
    • As for Godzilla himself, the original 1954 film implies that there can't be just one Godzilla. The sequels confirm this showing that there is an entire species of Godzilla (and a breeding population if Minya and Junior are any indication) meaning that humanity (Japan in particular) is in a constant no-win war against an entire species of enraged radioactive dinosaurs capable of destroying a city within hours.
  • What the war with the Kaiju was becoming in Pacific Rim. The Kaiju were learning to adapt against fighting the Jaegers and destroying more Jaegers until only four remain active. And the Pan Pacific Defense Corps was pulling funds away from creating and maintaining the Jaegers to focus on building the Kaiju Wall that claims to protect the surrounding countries from the Kaiju.
  • The one waged by mutants of the future in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Their eradication by the Sentinels is a predetermined outcome; even with Kitty Pryde's Mental Time Travel powers, they can only postpone their inevitable demise.
  • Fury (2014) is set in the last days of World War II. The Allies are marching through the German heartland, the regular Wehrmacht are surrendering in droves, and most German civilians are relieved to see an end to the war. It's obvious to anyone with an ounce of sanity that Nazi Germany is finished, but the remnants of the SS and other fanatics are still fighting bitterly and using any dirty tactic to, at the very least, make victory cost the Allies a little bit more. This includes: Child Soldiers, luring Americans into towns full of German civilians and then shelling or setting fire to the entire town, murdering anyone who refuses to be conscripted, really anything goes. In one scene that really underlines the state of the war, the protagonists see hundreds of Allied bombers streaking across the sky, then look across the sky to see a measly five German fighters flying out to intercept them.
  • Downfall (2004) takes place in the Fuhrerbunker during the Battle of Berlin, where Hitler and his inner circle are taking shelter while the Wehrmacht and the Red Army are fighting over the city. Everyone in Berlin knows the war is lost, and the movie explores the German people's reaction to Nazi Germany's rapidly approaching end at the hands of the Allies. Hitler desperately tries to postpone the inevitable, trying to command units that don't exist any more or have straight-up defected to the other side against the advancing Soviet forces. Himmler goes behind Hitler's back to negotiate a surrender with the Allies (who are having none of it), his adjutant Fegelein tries to desert (and is shot for it), and many of the remaining officials (along with Hitler himself) eventually commit suicide.
  • Midway (1976): Adm. Yamaguchi: "Once, we filled the sky with our aircraft. Now we win or lose with six fighters and ten torpedo planes."
  • Independence Day: With humanity's first counterattack failing, the revelation that the aliens' shields are powerful enough to withstand a nuclear blast, and the revelation that humanity will likely be wiped out in the next 36 hours, the War of 1996 is looking like this, that is until David gets an idea from his father that can take out the aliens.
  • Starship Troopers: Heavily implied to be the case, between the deranged general in the outpost screaming "My God! We're ALL going to DIE!" (because he's high up enough the chain of command to know the real strategic outlook), the fresh replacements for Rico's unit looking like fourteen-year-olds and the fact that the main characters all end up assuming senior command positions after the deaths of their superiors despite only being themselves teenagers just out of training.
    • Of course, because the film is set as an in-universe Federation propaganda piece, this detail is sunnily glossed over; the deranged general is just dismissed by his troops as a Dirty Coward who just doesn't believe enough in the Federation victory, which is surely inevitable. I mean, bugs that think? Preposterous! Now, why are you still here? Join now! Service guarantees citizenship! It's also played with in that the humans are the agressors attacking Bug planets while the Bugs don't seem to have any way to travel between worlds beyond launching spores to seed new colonies; the Federation could literally just stop at any time.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Despite the destruction of Starkiller Base, the war against the First Order is this for the Resistance. They no longer have the support of the New Republic as it seemingly collapsed following the Hosnian Cataclysm, much of their leadership including Admiral Ackbar are killed during the evacuation from D'Qar while Leia is left incapacitated, resulting in a fractured chain of command as Poe and Holdo repeatedly butt heads over strategy. Finn and Rose's mission to disable the First Order's tracking device on their fleet ends in failure resulting in heavy casualties and Holdo is forced to sacrifice the Resistance's last cruiser to buy them time to escape. When what's left of the Resistance reaches Crait and Leia broadcasts a call to arms across the galaxy to fight the First Order, no one responds as everyone believes the war is now hopeless while the First Order prepares to assault the planet and complete their conquest of the galaxy. Thankfully, Luke's intervention enables the Resistance to escape and spark inspiration across the galaxy for a new Rebellion against the First Order's tyranny.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien just loved this trope.
    • The War of the Jewels in Quenta Silmarillion in which Elves go to war against the strongest of the Archangels in the Arda.
      • And the struggle of that said Archangel (Morgoth) against the rest of the Archangels, Elves and Men.
    • The struggle of Men against the said Archangel due to the same war.
    • The War of Wrath, a single battle which lasted for over fifty years and destroyed an entire continent.
    • The struggle of Sauron against the forces of Númenor.
      • And the subsequent fall of Númenor, and their war against all of the Archangels in Akallabêth...
      • ...which ends in the intervention of the God himself! This wasn't so much a war as "Neener neener, we're invading your country" followed immediately by Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies.
    • The war of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.
    • The war of the Ring in The Lord of the Rings. The commanders of the Western forces are fully aware that all they're doing is delaying the inevitable in a desperate bid to distract the enemy while something else happens, and that actually winning is entirely dependent on that "something else".
  • The Animorphs slowly realize that their objective isn't to win, it's to at best slow down the invasion until the Andalite reinforcements arrive. Until they figure out that the Andalites are willing to wipe humanity out to ensure victory over the Yeerks, forcing them to take drastic measures.
  • The War of the Worlds (1898) has an example of this with the British military valiantly trying to bring down the alien tripods. Ultimately, the tripods do not fall by human hands, but by bacteria. There are a couple of hollow victories, usually excised in the numerous adaptations.
    • Notably, this (along with I Will Fight Some More Forever) is averted, in that when these hollow victories deflate some of the Martian hubris, the invaders find a way to strike with even greater impunity. Once it becomes clear that no further victories can be expected, it is explicitly stated that all organized resistance falls apart.
    • This is sort of a weird one. The "hollow victories" are the result of artillery. This happens to have been an arm in which the British army was extremely backward at the time (this was ground home by the 2nd Boer War, only a couple of years later), leading to the supposition that if the Martians had landed anywhere else in Europe things might have been a little more hairy for them. Of course, this is completely missing the point. The main issue is that rather than the invincible juggernaut they are in adaptations the Tripods in the book were Glass Cannon Fragile Speedster machines that the artillery just can't reliably land a hit on before being destroyed themselves, but any shot that actually connects by sheer luck takes one down.
  • David Gerrold's The War Against the Chtorr novels depicts humanity slowly being overwhelmed by an invading alien ecosystem. A quoted text in Season for Slaughter mentions a psychological condition called 'Red Queen Syndrome' where people alternate between fanatical attempts to defeat the Chtorr and a hopeless sense that all their efforts are in vain. The hero Jim McCarthy and his love interest 'Lizard' Terrelli are both caught up in the cycles of this condition. The quoted text depressingly concludes that there is no real cure as the perception that Resistance Is Futile is likely to be all too accurate.
  • Stephen Baxter's Exulant novel details the Scary Dogmatic humanity's obsessive war against all other aliens in the galaxy. As the story opens they've been besieging the Xeelee center of operations in the center of the galaxy for several thousand years. The Xeelee are, well, just doing their thing and occasionally zapping the annoying primates. The Xeelee are in turn, fighting against the Photino Birds, who outnumber them 4-to-1 and cannot be outmaneuvered even with time travel, meaning the outcome of the war has been decided since shortly after the Big Bang.
  • In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath series, the Kencyr people have been fighting a losing battle against the forces of chaos for 30 millennia. Little surprise that they're burned out — and then when nothing happens for the last 3 millennia from the point of view of most of their population, little wonder they try and forget the hopeless task.
  • Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet has two factions of humanity fighting a space war to a stalemate for the past 100 years. The toll of the war has resulted in regular atrocities by both sides and so many deaths that battle tactics aren't even used anymore since everyone who knew them died before they could teach the next generation. It is hinted that unseen aliens have been manipulating the war in the hopes that the humans will wipe each other out.
    • The Syndicate Worlds have been engaged in a second, hopeless series of skirmishes with the Enigma Race. Whenever they try to sneak ships or individual soldiers in spacesuits or hollowed out asteroids into Enigma territory for warfare or reconnaissance, they get destroyed or forced to retreat almost immediately. Sensors left behind on abandoned worlds never return any data. The war with the Alliance keeps them from diverting many military assets against the Enigmas, and whenever they do fight, the Syndics get wiped out without inflicting any casualties upon the enemy. This is explained by the fact that the Enigmas have hacked into the Syndics' computers, accessing their battle plans and sending them false images so that they shoot at empty areas of space during battles.
  • In the aptly named Final War of Keith Laumer's Bolo series, both sides are so effective at sterilizing planets that the best either the humans or Melconians can hope for is that the other side will overlook an out-of-the-way colony world or two.
  • In The Dresden Files, the White Council of Wizards has been engaging in one of these against the vampires of the Red Court since the third novel in the series, and it hasn't been going well for them, partially because the vampires took out the Council's foremost expert on vampires early in the war and a traitor within the Council has been feeding information to the vampires. The Council has just barely been holding on, and the only thing that saved them from being wiped out was the intervention of the Summer Court of Faerie. Then, in Changes, the war comes to an abrupt and literally heart-stopping end when Harry Dresden arranges to use a bloodline curse to kill every Red Court vampire at once.
    • Unfortunately, the war with the Red Court may have simply been a diversion to weaken the White Council and blind them to their true enemy, the Circle.
  • Codex Alera (by the same author) has the threat of this in the form of the Vord (openly inspired by the Zerg). According to Kitai and Doroga, the (currently nomadic and somewhat primitive) Marat once lived elsewhere, implied to be in another dimension / on another planet, (they lack the vocabulary to properly express it, and don't consider it particularly important) and had an advanced civilisation that was utterly wiped out by the Vord, leaving only a few refugees to flee and try to build new lives elsewhere, and when they successfully built a new culture, the same thing happened again. During the series, the Vord start another war of extermination, and by the end of the last book Alera is safe for now, but the vast home continent of the Canim has been obliterated, along with the vast majority of the Canim species, and the surviving Vord queen living there is expected to invade Alera in a century or so. Despite this, the series ends on a hopeful note, as the unintelligent Vord legions are a Keystone Army that only functions within a few-mile proximity of the queen, and the surviving queen is unable to create more queens to lead her forces, meaning that if she is killed (difficult, but by no means impossible,) the Vord in that world will be permanently crippled. However, it is very clear that if the first queen had not been forced to create sterile daughters due to her initial contamination by Tavi, the future would be totally hopeless for all other species.
  • The Gun fights one of these against the Line in The Half-Made World. No matter how much death and destruction the Agents of the Gun wreak, the Line's resources are essentially infinite and they always end up pushing the Gun back. Subverted in that it's strongly implied that this suits the Gun just fine - it is literally the embodiment of belligerence and grudges and the romance of fighting for a lost cause, so winning would be against all it stands for. It also helps that despite being constantly driven back, the Gun can no more be permanently defeated than the Line can.
  • The First Galactic War in The History of the Galaxy can be seen as one in several novels set during the conflict. Originally planned as a single decisive strike by the President of the Earth Alliance to scare the Lost Colonies into falling in line and accepting refugees from the overpopulated Earth, the defiance of the Dabog colony to the bitter (radioactive) end serves as an inspiration for the other colonies to band together against the aggression. While Earth has the technological advantage for most of the conflict, the colonists do manage to one-up them in several areas, even developing an Anti Matter Wave-Motion Gun that's used only once due to its unpredictable nature, frequently resorting to We Have Reserves tactics against the superior cybernetic systems used by the Alliance. It becomes a typical war of attrition, lasting for many decades, where whole fleets are occasionally sacrificed to gain a moment of respite. The horrors of that war continue to echo for many centuries and hardly any novel fails to mention how devastating it was and what mechanical monstrosities it bore.
  • The war with the Sh'daar in Star Carrier novels, especially the early ones. The Sh'daar have proxy control over most of the galaxy, while the Terran Confederacy exists on the fringes of their empire. When the Sh'daar became aware of humanity, they immediately demanded that humans become their vassals and agree to give up certain branches of technology (specifically, the four techs that are supposed to lead to The Singularity). When the humans refuse, the Sh'daar send one of their militant vassals, the Turusch, to force the humans to reconsider. It's made pretty clear that the Confederacy has no hope to defeat the Sh'daar, especially if they bring in more of their vassals to fight humanity. At most, humans can hope to force the Sh'daar to leave them alone. It ends up working quite by accident when a Confed fleet ends up traveling to the Sh'daar past; the Sh'daar, afraid of temporal paradoxes, immediately sue for peace. They then resume hostilities when an even greater threat emerges.
  • David Weber's Safehold series begins with the last remnants of the human military going into the final major battle of the decades-long war against the Gbaba knowing they're going to lose and that following the battle the Gbaba will descend on Earth, the first and last planet humans occupy, to wipe everyone out. The series then transitions to the hidden colony of Safehold nearly 1000 years later which eventually becomes embroiled in a global religious war that results in massive suffering.
  • Alastair Reynolds:
    • In the Revelation Space Series, humanity inadvertently triggers the Inhibitors, a race of robot Precursor Killers, which slowly but steadily hunt down and wipe out human colonies, and are shown to quickly react and adapt to whatever weapon system is brought against them after dredging it out of their ancient memory. The protagonists spend much of the series trying to find out how to defeat them or at least survive. In the distant finale, it goes from bad to worse: the Inhibitors are "defeated" - but only by mistake - when human von neumann terraforming "Greenfly" robots, malfunction and begin to tearing apart solar systems to turn them into billions of habitats, slowing turning the universe green, and the "Shadows" from Another Dimension that humanity was communicating with imply the same thing happened to them.
    • In Minla's Flowers and Merlin's Gun, humanity has spent the last thousand or so years fighting a losing war against an unknown alien species that emerged from the center of the galaxy. The human coalition has faced steadily declining technological capability. The aliens scorch every world they find; humanity hides under false planet surfaces, builds their ships in hidden Oort cloud factories, and faces death on detection. It turns out that the aliens are just augmented humans, and the whole war began over political differences.
  • In Back Story to "Lynortis Reprise", two-year-long siege of Lynortis was this. The city was a fortress high on an unreachable summit and its king made a deal with darklings that provided him with white phosphorus and poisonous gas bombs, while civilians starved in the streets. The attacker, king Masale, threw tens of thousands of people and mighty siege engines to attack the city—and they also died by the thousands. In effect, it was a stalemate but Masale did not want to give up, as Lynortis was the only thing that stood in the way of his conquest. It was so bad that the half-men—maimed survivors from both sides of the conflict, who decided to stay in Lynortis's ruins—worship "The Bringer of Peace", that is the traitor who finally led Masale's armies into the city through hidden passages, even thought it ended in a massacre. The traitor Kane himself was just tired of the slaughter and wanted everything to end.
  • The Three-Body Problem: Earth versus Trisolaris is widely expected to be this, given the Trisolarans much greater technology, which humanity can't hope to match thanks to the sophon block. The point is really driven home in book two when Earth's entire space fleet is wiped out by a single two-meter Trisolaran probe, nine more of which will arrive within three years, followed by a thousand warships in another two centuries.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5 has a few in the backstory:
    • The Earth-Minbari War, in which the Minbari all but obliterate EarthForce and arrived at Earth with the intent to genocide the planet. Even John Sheridan's big victory against the Black Star only served to piss off the Minbari more. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the war is that the humans managed to hold out as long as they did, in spite of the massive technology and power imbalance. Only when the Minbari learned something so soul shatteringly important about Humanity at the last moment did they stand down. The Expanded Universe adds that the war was just as hopeless for the Minbari, as not only they had engaged in genocide to avenge a single man (thus ruining their reputation as the leaders of the Younger Races), but by the time of the last battle EarthForce had savaged the Minbari merchant fleet, to the point that not only had Earth somehow won at the Line they would have been forced to stop for months, even twenty years later, between that, the Shadow War, and the Minbari civil war, their supply situation was so bad the Orieni managed to overrun the Minbari Protectorate.
    • The Dilgar War was one for both sides, at least until Earth Alliance intervention:
      • The Dilgar were a xenophobic race who had just discovered their sun was about to explode, and, unable to just ask for help, launched a war against the much vaster League of Non-Aligned Worlds to find a new homeworld-not realizing, or just in denial about it, that even if they won they would have come up on the radar of the Centauri Republic, who could have overpowered the Dilgar and the League at the same time (indeed, the Centauri had considered intervening on the League's side, and didn't only due the sudden discovery of the Orieni re-emergence prompted them to deploy most of their fleet to that border until they could fortify it). Then Earth Alliance started their intervention by destroying the Dilgar's best force, and things only got worse from there. Especially as they never revealed why they launched their offensive.
      • The League of Non-Aligned Worlds was, in theory, much stronger than the Dilgar (indeed, each of their major members were a match for the Dilgar if not stronger), but not only their political infighting kept them from mounting a coordinated response, they were caught completely by surprise when the Dilgar attacked much earlier than expected, their tactics were optimized to deal with skirmishes with the Centauri and the Narn and, outside the Drazi, their commanders were inflexible and their crews were badly trained, allowing the Dilgar to devastate their fleets force most of the major members to put everything they still had to defend their besieged homeworlds (the only exceptions being the Drazi, who had stalemated the Dilgar offensive against them away from Zha'bar, and the Vree, who hadn't been reached yet), with the Abbai begging from help from their traditional enemies the Narn (who had an informal, if fragile, alliance with the Dilgar) and the Centauri (who had bigger problems), and even Earth Alliance, who were considered borderline crazy due their near-war with the Centauri. Thankfully, humanity proved not only willing to help, but also not insane as they seemed, heavily armed, and capable of rallying the League around themselves.
    • The War of Retribution proved to be a costly mistake for the Orieni: sure, they caught the Minbari completely by surprise before they had recovered from the Earth-Minbari War and the following conflicts and while they were busy with the Drakh War and had cracked Minbari stealth, but the Minbari still had vastly superior technology that gave them the advantage in firepower (an advantage that had just increased with the introduction of improved weapons), active and passive defenses (they had even started fielding Deflector Shields, very rare in the setting) and tactical and strategic speed, many of their crews were veterans from the various conflicts, and they had recovered their role of traditional leaders of the Younger Races. That translated in the Orieni exhausting their reserves overrunning the Minbari Protectorate and being stalemated at the border of the Minbari Federation proper before the Minbari had time to significantly mobilize their reserves or getting reinforcements from the rest of the Interstellar Alliance, and only the Alliance being busy with the Drakh kept the war from ending in a few weeks.
    • The Orieni tended to get into these: in the late 20th century-early 21st they started a war with the Centauri, who had superiority in numbers, industrial production, economy, space, and even the Quantium-40 necessary for jump drives (meaning a larger pencentage of Centauri ships were jump capable, and their jump drives were of better design) and had less logistically-intensive weapons. This was a calculated risk: the Orieni believed they would eventually get to war with the Centauri and seeked to fight it before the Centauri caught up with their slightly more advanced technology (something that indeed happened during the war), planning for it to be fought after Drazi raiders (opportunely supported by the Orieni) had softened them up and distracted assets from their front and being a brief conflict in which they'd use the incapacity of the Centauri admirals to take a number of border systems and improve their situation for the eventual annexation of the Centauri. When the Centauri soldiered on and replaced their admirals with more capable ones, the Orieni found themselves in a hopeless situation... And the Centauri being as furious as they were by the Orieni manipulating the Drazi while they were making peace overtures, they hit them so hard that entire planets were destroyed in the crossfire, and the Orieni could only return being a significant power due a combination of the Centauri being unwilling to commit genocide and being too distracted by other things to annex them later, and it still took them two centuries. Then the Orieni, who worshipped the Vorlon as gods, took offense at the Minbari and others getting them to leave the galaxy and decided to exact retribution...
  • The Cylons from Battlestar Galactica nuked most of the humans and are hunting down the few tens of thousands of survivors in an ongoing costly war. In fact things got so bad the crew of the Pegasus started to cannibalize civilian ships for spare parts... by force. It became somewhat of a hopeless war for both sides after the Cylons lost their resurrection technology.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Armageddon Factor" features one of these between the peoples of Atrios and Zios. The suicidally aggressive Atrian commander didn't help things.
    • In an Evil Versus Evil example, "Destiny of the Daleks" introduces the Movellans, a race of humanoid robots locked in a centuries-long stalemate with the Daleks. Neither side can gain an advantage because both sides rely on supercomputers to calculate battle strategies, and they're so evenly matched that neither computer can come up with a plan that the other can't immediately anticipate and counter.
    • "The Doctor's Daughter" has two groups of clones engaged in a hopeless war within the ruins of a crashed spaceship. Subverted when it's revealed that the war has only been going on for slightly under a week.
    • "The End of Time" revealed that the Time War ended up as an example of this. The Time Lords became morally corrupted to the degree that the war ended up being between two different types of Omnicidal Maniac, as the Daleks wanted to destroy every living thing in the universe that wasn't a Dalek and the Time Lords wanted to escape the war by destroying the entire universe so they could ascend into energy beings. Whole planets full of people were time-looped to be repeatedly resurrected only to die horribly again, and the damage to reality was unleashing several sorts of Eldritch Abomination on the universe. At which point the Doctor decided to use "the Moment" to obliterate both sides for the sake of everyone else.
  • Falling Skies: the world's military has been devastated, and civilians are all that's left of any real resistance.
  • Game of Thrones has this in the seventh season. in the sixth season finale, Cersei managed to kill all of her enemies in King's Landing and usurp the Iron Throne. However, this left her with no allies and the rest of the seven kingdoms, as well as Daenerys' invasion force, coming for the Throne. She insists they can win anyway and, thanks to Jaime's battle strategies as well as the Greyjoy fleet, she is able to get a few victories. However, once the enemy decides to unleash its full force, Jaime realizes there's no way they can win and that she's just delaying her inevitable defeat. She refuses to accept that. Ultimately, in Season 8, Daenerys furiously incinerates all of her forces, destroys King's Landing and has her Dothraki and Unsullied forces massacre the civilians, turning King's Landing from the seat of power into a graveyard. Cersei realized that she had indeed lost the war, just in time to be killed when the Red Keep collapses on her and Jaime.
  • In Mortal Kombat: Conquest, Shao Kahn was at war with the Deadly Alliance of Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, while trying to defend his realm from being overrun by a Amazon Brigade of Bee People. It was hopeless — for his enemies. In the finale he quit holding back and just sent his Shadow Priests to kill everyoneincluding the heroes.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Quality of Mercy" and "The Light Brigade", humanity is fighting a losing war against an extremely belligerent and much more technologically advanced alien species.
  • Stargate SG-1 had a mild version of this trope. Much was made of the superiority of Goa'uld technology and the near-hopelessness of a war against them, especially in the earlier seasons. The last episode of Season 1 showed us an alternate Earth where the Goa'uld were slowly but unstoppably obliterating city after city. In later seasons, there was an episode where it turned out Teal'c never truly believed the Goa'uld could be defeated, and a number of episodes where every seeming victory over the Goa'uld just seemed to make things worse in the end. On the other hand, the Goa'uld's over-the-top villain act (often lampshaded in the show), the Villain Decay of their mooksnote , the seeming lack of urgency to their threatnote , the heroes' gradually growing mastery of alien technology, and the overall very low Good Guy casualty ratenote , made this a particularly comfy and non-threatening Hopeless War.
  • An alternate timeline in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" has the Federation fighting a losing war against the Klingons.
    • An alternate universe in another episode had a badly damaged Enterprise that was one of the few Federation ships remaining and "The Borg are everywhere".
      • The Borg themselves were on the receiving end of this trope in their war against Species 8472.
    • Played with in the Deep Space Nine episode "Statistical Probabilities", in which a group of genetically engineered supergeniuses ( by which we mean "can deduce correctly that a political leader is a 'pretender to the throne' who killed his predecessor's daughter and took power just by watching said man give an unrelated speech") state that they have studied the state of the Federation's war with the Dominion and have found that the Federation has absolutely no chance of victory. Their prediction indicated that even if they got lucky with Romulan aid or an anti-Dominion coup on Cardassia (both of which ended up happening), the war was hopeless. The only hope was to surrender and endure decades (if not centuries) of oppression until an Earth-centered revolution would bring about the rebirth of even better Federation.
      • Unfortunately, unbeknownst to these geniuses, the Dominion leaders were already planning to wipe out every living thing on Earth once it was conquered; specifically, to prevent exactly that kind of organized rebellion down-the-road.
      • Ultimately subverted, as the war was over about a year and a half later, with the Federation victorious.
      • On top of that, the geniuses' plan to bring about the Federation's surrender in light of this was thwarted by their fourth member turning on them, leading to the Kirk Summation by Bashir amounting to "even you guys couldn't predict what was going to happen in that one room, let alone the galaxy; people can Screw Destiny anytime."
  • An alternate timeline in Star Trek: Enterprise has the Xindi succeeding in pulverizing the Earth and then starting a genocidal hunt for the remains of humanity.
  • War of the Worlds (1988) has The Squad, called the Blackwood Project (which also has The Cavalry as back up) fighting remnants from the original 1950s invasion guerrilla style. The Blackwood Project has it hard— their resources aren't too vast, since society mysteriously forgot about the original invasion for the most part. And the US government would like to keep it that way.
    • The Mor-Tax aliens don't have it very easy either, as they have to struggle to adapt to earth and free their comrades and war ships that are being held in military storage. Which, of course, is hard due to the interference of the Blackwood Project. In fact during the second season one of the leaders of the second wave of aliens (the mothren) questioned another lead mothren over the choice of picking planet earth in the first place.
    • Most of the time neither side ever actually accomplished anything, outside of stalemating each other. And if either side actually got a victory it was usually a very hollow one.

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Easily", off of Californication:
    The story of a woman on the morning of a war
    Remind me, if you will, exactly what we're fighting for...
    Throw me to the woods because there's order in the pack
    Throw me to the sky because I know I'm coming back

    Myths & Religion 
  • Older Than Print: The very basis of Norse Mythology is that even the gods are going to fall someday. Fight with valor and take plenty of the enemy with you. That being said, there are texts that say a new world will be born out of the ashes of the last, and humanity will repopulate from the two survivors Líf and Lífþrasir.
  • In Christianity, Satan is in one against God. He knows that his time is running out, the day of reckoning is coming, and there's nothing he can do to stop it, let alone win. So he does the next best thing: if he can't win against God, then he will deceive and take down as many humans as he can in a Last Stand.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space 1889 played straight or subverted depending on perspective. A Martian trying to fight off humans is likely to feel this way if he is being honest with himself. Mars has been drying, developing backwards and diminishing in numbers for at least two millennia. Humans on the other hand are breeding like vermin and are constantly developing new and better machines, particularly weapons. Even a major victory is unlikely to reverse these trends and will thus be a very hollow victory.
  • Warhammer 40,000. Let's see:
    • The Necrons, a race of formerly humanoid but short-lived people turned brain-dead immortal androids, are reawakening after 50 million years to kill literally everything in the galaxy and eat all souls. Oh, and they brought their gods with them. Oh, and they were only stopped before by the entire galaxy being overran by Chaos — so their current plan is to just seal off the warp — which sounds nice of them until you realize that that's where everyone's souls are stored... Partially retconned later, but part about billions unstoppable killer robots awakening everywhere remains true.
    • The Tyranids, a race of psychic locusts that eat planets, have attacked the galaxy 3 times, being held at bay only by strokes of luck and the sacrifice of billions — and those 3 attacks are just Tyranid scouting fleets, the Tyranids having possibly eaten several other GALAXIES before heading to ours. And on top of that two of the three scouting fleets are still operational, the thousands of splinters of Hive Fleet Kraken are still roaming around in the fringe devouring worlds with impunity while Hive Fleet Leviathan is still barreling on toward Terra fighting the Orks but another two hive fleets are coming to reinforce them, and there's no telling how many Genestealer Cults exist. And even if they fall, there are hints - here and there - that something even worse is chasing them.
    • Chaos is sending out stronger and deadlier incursions from their alternate universe than ever before — and all it takes is one properly psychic person turning to Chaos to allow them to attack anywhere, anywhen. One particularly insidious problem Chaos poses is that the Imperium has literally no way to fight back. Chaos can turn planets into Daemon Worlds, but the Imperium can never retake or destroy the pits of madness and evil, which will spawn horrors for apparently the rest of eternity. The best they can hope for is temporary containment, and as the entire Imperium just got ripped in half by the largest warp rift to ever exist, it's safe to say that plan is not working. Even the newly returned hero, a son of the God Emperor himself, seems to be doing nothing but fighting battles as they show up without one iota of long-term strategy. The only factions to pose a real threat to Chaos at this time are the Necrons, who have the unique technology required to seal rifts, and the Tyranids, who might starve Chaos to death by eating every creature in the galaxy. While their gods are not big on getting things done and their champions spend as much time fighting each other rather than the Imperium, every major victory they do win hurts the Imperium permanently. The reverse is not true.
    • The Orks, being a race of fungus-people, are everywhere (killing one releases spores that grow more Orks) and nearly impossible to get rid of. The only thing preventing them from taking over the galaxy in very short order is that they have just as much fun killing each other. However, Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka is trying his damnedest to fix this problem (and as of 8th Edition, he's doing a pretty good job at it).
    • The Eldar are dying, having destroyed themselves accidentally creating a rogue god/dess of lust — and it's strongly hinted that the only way the Tyranids or Necrons can be fought off is with the Eldar outfitting all of Humanity with their ancient superweapons, which humanity is too xenophobic to use anyway. Their Plan B? Capture enough Eldar souls in hypertech soul capturing crystals that they can create another god — this one a god of Death. Then this one actually happened. The status quo is now wildly in flux.
    • The Dark Eldar are missing these hypertech soul capturing crystals, so they keep the god/dess of lust away by causing as much random pain and misery as possible, by doing slave raids and torturing the slaves to death. It doesn't work perfectly — they slowly lose their souls to the god/dess anyway, so their plan is to just steal OTHER souls to replace their own.
    • The Humans in the setting? They're a civilization of Omnicidal Maniacs full of ignorant masses that worship a (only mostly) dead atheist psychic posthuman as a god — or else the church kills them. And they sometimes kill them anyway. The humans' current plan is to just kill everything and everyone not human and they'll be fine, right? The scary thing — it's heavily hinted this Omnicidal Maniac position really is the only hope they have. Said dead atheist psychic posthuman is being kept alive (barely) by technology that only he understood, which requires that thousands of psychic humans be sacrificed to him each day. Oh, and it's also heavily hinted that he's slowly dying anyway, from a combination of boredom and despair about what humanity's become. Oh, and in the latest edition of the game, the humans have discovered that the life support system keeping him alive is breaking down. Oh, and if he does die, it's insinuated that hell itself will immediately break through into the real world and kill everyone. Oh, and his secret police force, the Inquisition, is currently going through a civil war trying to decide if they want to kill him and see if he'll reincarnate or not. God, it sucks to be a human in a Games Workshop game.
    • The Tau may be the most "hopeful" or "positive" civilization in the setting — as long as you ignore the concentration camps, the fact that their race has been under the sway of impossible to disobey avatars of The Virus for millennia, etc. They even have active scientific progress and actually understand their technology. The problem? Because they're completely un-psychic their faster-than-light travel is much slower than that of other factions, and they're right smack dab in the path of the Tyranids... Oh, and one of their generals appears to have broken out of their racial mind control, which is a very very bad thing as the leaders of the race have spent 5000+ years on a breeding program to make their warrior caste the biggest, baddest, most bloodthirsty Tau possible, under the assumption that they'd never, ever be able to disobey. While Tau society is relatively stable within their sphere of influence, their constant innovation means they might be able to come up with effective counters to the orks and Tyranids given enough time, and the aforementioned renegade is still noble and focuses on the Tau's enemies, their overall presence in the galaxy is minuscule compared to other factions, and with their poor understanding of the Warp limiting their FTL capabilities, it's likely to stay that way for some time.
      • The Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM) books have a lighter take on the setting. Humanity isn't as xenophobic as first stated and is willing to work with other species, the more brutal of humanities' minions are offed by disgruntled citizens and soldiers, and many worlds are downright pleasant to live on.
    • One small relief is that the war is hopeless for Chaos too. Tzeentch, the God of Magnificent Bastardry, is in fact in a Hopeless War with himself. Tzeentch would die if he ever won decisively as he'd have nobody to scheme against and nothing to change if he ever won, so he deliberately sabotages his own plans and creates plans which run contrary to each other by design so even those "thirsting gods" have little relief. Tzeentch is powered by specific emotions, however, so there is one way for the Imperium to defeat him. All they need to do is, uh, eliminate hope, planning, and change from the galaxy.
  • Warhammer is, if possible, even bleaker than 40K.
    • Orcs are still there. They outnumber mankind and most other races combined. As usual the only thing keeping them from taking over the world is the lack of unity. And their skewed balance of quantity over quality. Green life is cheap.
    • The forces of Chaos are as numerous and deadly as ever, except that they have hordes of mutants and beastmen hiding in the woods (who, again, outnumber mankind), the spells that keeps Hell Itself from breaking through the barriers of reality are steadily weakened... And as the army book proclaims: "Against the daemons of chaos there can be no final victory." And they did win in the end... Though, it's continued in Age of Sigmar. Adding to that are the cults dedicated to chaos, anything from individual hamlets and small covens to entire human armies that have turned to chaos and are actively fighting for it from within the Empire's borders...
    • The Skaven has been undermining all of civilization for ages, they are arguably the most technologically advanced race, with huge amounts of Magitek. The only thing keeping them from taking over is, like the greenskins, a lack of unity. Nine out of ten Skaven plots to attack the surface are thwarted by other Skaven who would rather all Skaven lose than let some Skaven other than themselves win.
    • A more localized example is the Elven civil war, where the somewhat-less evil side has been fighting their psychotically evil kin for millennia. Both sides having suffered so much in the fighting that they are going extinct. Oh, and the latest plans of the psychotic versions have included undoing the above mentioned spells that keep the world safe from the denizens of Hell...
    • Undead the world over are growing in strength, their armies of skeletons and zombies rising under the command of powerful vampires or vengeful mummies. Worse, factions within the two branches are conspiring to resurrect Nagash, an Omnicidal Maniac lich with aspirations to kill every living thing on the planet and resurrect them as his undead minions before challenging the Chaos Gods to become the only god left standing.
    • The last, best hope against the forces of chaos is a race of man-eating lizards, who only has a fraction of the knowledge they once had and have trouble coordinating their actions at that (and their plan is to separate all the races and lock them up in different spots of the world).
    • And the Dwarfs are at war with every race/group/nation that has ever offended them (Which by this point means almost all of them), and once they finish any of their current wars, they feel morally obliged to start a new one to avenge the deaths of the people who died in it (followed by a war to avenge the deaths from that war, and another war to avenge the deaths of the people who fought in that war, etc, etc).
    • Out of all this, Chaos won, the World was consumed by the Warp. There was a "Ray of Hope" Ending when Sigmar rescued a small spark from Chaos and used it to rebuild the world from scratch... which is once again besieged by Chaos, and the Forces of Order are struggling to keep the invasion at bay. A big part of Age of Sigmar's tone is that the story picks up at the exact moment that the war stopped being hopeless, and the forces of Order began to turn the tide and come Back from the Brink.
  • Several of the Old World of Darkness games were based around supernatural wars that just couldn't end well:
    • Vampire: The Masquerade and its vampire Gambit Pileup, the Jyhad. Ultimately all of the wars ended up being called on account of the destruction of Earth.
    • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the werewolves and other shapeshifters are losing a Hopeless War against the unstoppable cosmic force of corruption that is warping the Earth and will, very soon, either destroy humanity and all shapeshifters, or reduce the planet to a Hell on Earth. The shapeshifters know they are hopelessly outmatched and cannot win, and most don't believe there'll ever be a recovery after the Apocalypse. But they are determined to die with honor and dignity, resisting to the last.
    • While not the main focus of the line, the war against Oblivion on the part of Stygia in Wraith: The Oblivion takes on this air. The only real way to get out of Oblivion is to Transcend by resolving your connections to life... only the leader of Stygia dismissed Transcendence as heresy and banned wraiths from dicking around in the world of the flesh, because he knew that Stygia needed wraiths focused outward, not inward, in order to sufficiently repel Spectres. Stygia keeps drafting soldiers for the war against Oblivion but doesn't necessarily have all the resources to quarter, supply, and sustain those numbers, which means wraiths that outnumber a Necropolis' capabilities or just don't fit in get soulforged, denying troops in favor of arms and armor. And the deeds necessary to soulforge and to fight Oblivion will often feed the wraith's Shadow, which may just produce more soldiers for Oblivion in the long run. Add to that the Great Maelstroms that threaten to scythe Stygia clean, which are happening more and more often as humanity finds new ways to create mass death... It's not really a surprise that the game line's original ending has Stygia reduced to rubble by the Sixth Great Maelstrom.
  • In the New World of Darkness:
    • The Forsaken are locked in three major wars at once: against the Hosts, vicious half-spirit entities that want to either cut the spirit world off permanently (the Azlu) or rip its walls down (the Beshilu), the spirit world itself, and a faction of their race known as the Pure which views them as heretics. The Hosts are nigh-impossible to kill permanently. Nine out of ten spirits are more powerful than the strongest werewolf, and they tend to be extremely hostile towards living things. And the Pure collectively outnumber the Forsaken.
    • The Vampires are also locked in multiple eternal struggles. They fight against the Beast. They fight with one another in a shadowy struggle for power. They fight against an Ancient Conspiracy of Vampire-hating Vampires. They fight against bloodthirsty packs of psychotic Vampires who want to kill absolutely everybody. All this while trying to uphold the Masquerade because if they didn't, they'd have to fight humanity at large as well. And the Crapsack World is only getting worse no matter what happens.
    • The Changelings are fighting a never-ending guerrilla war against The Fair Folk, who will gladly drag any Changeling they can catch back to Arcadia, and generally have the power to do so. And that's not even counting spies the True Fae have planted in the Changelings' midst, radicals whose extreme tactics in battling the Fae actually do the Changelings more harm than good, and the various political machinations, infighting, and squabbles that inevitably occur between the different Changeling Courts, because it's the World of Darkness. And just to put the cherry of futility on the sundae of despair here, the True Fae are Changelings, or, rather, what Changelings will eventually become when they finish growing to Wyrd 10. And Clarity 0. So it isn't completely hopeless. The operative word being "completely"
    • The majority of Mages have been divided into two major factions which have continuously been at war since before recorded history, with no signs of it letting up ever. Both sides have goals which could be considered simultaneously altruistic and incredibly selfish (although Seers of the Throne are definitely much, much worse), and even within the two groupings there is much infighting, backstabbing, and vicious politicking. If Mages don't fall into these two groupings, they are either 1) individuals who choose to go it alone and have little to no support network and probably won't last very long, 2) self-hating magic haters who have basically declared war on all other Mages, and will pursue this goal with fanatical single-mindedness, 3) members of the so-called "Left-Handed Legacies" which even if they aren't serving the agenda of some manner of reality eating monster, will still do some truly reprehensible things (cannibalism, soul-eating, etc.), or 4) dead. And then there's the constant struggle against the Abyss, which isn't so much a reality eating monster as it is a reality.
      • Not quite if you play as an archmage. It is possible to change the world for the better through usage of Imperial Rites and high-level spells, it just won't be easy, as your opponents have same level of power and you have to preserve Pax Arcanum in order to not be killed by them for overstepping. But it's still a chance.
    • Hunters, just from the sheer mass of supernatural threats they must face. Most hunters even wind up acknowledging this soon after taking to the Vigil. The ones who don't typically don't fare well.
    • The Unchained wage war against the omnipresent God-Machine. The good news is that it's neither omnipotent nor omniscience, and they can win against it. The bad news is that it is still a magnitude of power above them, any victory they may have over it is forcing it to Know When to Fold 'Em, and they have to live the rest of their life in paranoia to hide from its and its agents' sight. Any demons who think they can actually win against the God-Machine will get a painful reminder that it has been holding back.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • In Shards of Alara, the Grixis plane plays host to such a plight. In a world bereft of white and green mana, the last traces of humanity are left to fight a hopeless battle against demons, necromancers, and armies of undead.
    • The Kamigawa block set also featured a hopeless war inspired by Japanese mythology, where mortals fought against the immortal Kami, powerful spirits that inhabited all things.
    • Phyrexia: Originally a five year story-arc consisting of enemies to the entire Multiverse made of both machine and flesh. Originally defeated only through a huge war and the sacrifice of many main-characters to the story. Phyrexia is back as of "Scars of Mirrodin" and have turned the plane of Mirrodin into "New Phyrexia" despite the best efforts of the Mirrans to fight them off. The last humans and other Mirrans are holed up in tiny refugee camps, alive and free only because the victorious horrors can't be bothered to kill them as long as they aren't a threat. Which they aren't. Ultimately, the war ends in a crushing defeat for the Mirrans, with the Phyrexians consolidating their forces and wiping the Great Forge, the last Mirran refuge, out of existence. It's heavily implied that Koth of the Hammer is the only non-compleated survivor left on the plane.
    • Zendikar: In all honesty nothing on Zendikar or even Zendikar itself can stop the Eldrazi. These are eldritch horrors that eat reality itself. It's so one-sided that it can't even be considered a war; to the Eldrazi it's basically pest control and harvesting.
    • Until Oath of the Gatewatch, when the bodies of two of the Eldrazi titans are fully pulled into the plane and killed with the aid of Zendikar's soul. As Ugin warns, however, this could have some unforeseen consequences.
  • The Forgotten Realms and Planescape setting has the Blood War: an eternal struggle between the Lawful Evil Devils, and the Chaotic Evil Demons, both of which possess infinite amounts of troops, that has been going on ever since the two forces first met. It paused, twice - once to assess the threat of the Illithid Empire, and once when the forces of Good tried to intervene directly... and were utterly stomped. Most forces not directly involved are desperately trying to keep the fight going, for fear of what would happen if either side actually won.
  • CthulhuTech, anyone? In the grim darkness of the not-so-far future, humanity is on the losing side, what with the Migou (your unfriendly neigborhood Starfish Aliens from Yuggoth) holding the poles, the whole of Russia and chunks of Canada (together with Alaska), Scandinavia, Manchuria and Korea (both North and South) in their insectoid/fungoid/crustacean hands/paws/whatever; the Ax-Crazy Rapine Storm rolling through Asia towards Europe; and the Esoteric Order of Dagon everywhere at sea. And each side hopes to bring upon The End of the World as We Know It, at least for the New Earth Government. To be fair, the NEG doesn't always lose, but their chances of winning the Aeon War are zero.
  • The late part of the second half of the Amaris Civil War in Battletech was this for the Amaris forces. The first half of the war involved Amaris completely taking over the Terran Hegemony in a bloody and well-planned coup that was executed almost flawlessly. The second half involved the Star League Defense Force (SLDF) fighting back against the coup, starting with completely conquering Amaris' home empire, the Rimworlds Republic, in only three years. After resting and refitting, the SLDF then attacked Amaris' Terran Hegemony, centered around Earth. However, Amaris had used all his time building up his defenses, and the SLDF couldn't actually break through the defense satellite network around Hegemony territory without absolutely horrific and untenable losses. Then they got lucky and found out how to subvert the defense satellites completely, and in this late part, the civil war became a Hopeless War for Stefan Amaris. Unable to keep his enemies back, the SLDF utterly trampled Amaris' forces, carving a path through Hegemony territory until they managed to reach Earth, by which point everyone but Amaris knew that the war was lost, with all the previously neutral powers (who were content to sit and wait for a likely victor to emerge) threw their weight behind the SLDF. With his holdings reduced to literally one planet from an empire that had once spanned hundreds of stars, Amaris was offered a chance to surrender and refused. The war on Earth lasted for two more years before Amaris was inevitably defeated.
    • The Clan Invasion certainly seemed this way in 3050 and 3051, as the Clans had a decided edge in technology and martial prowess, and the Inner Sphere couldn't work together due to centuries of hostility between the Great Houses and the fact that all their defenses were focused against their neighbors, not oriented towards the Clan Invasion route. The Clans excelled as small-scale, hyperfast engagements, and managed to take over planets with impunity due to the Inner Sphere's inability to keep up. The invasion halted in 3051 due to the death of the ilKhan, which required the Clans, due to tradition, to return to their homeworld to choose a new one, allowing the Inner Sphere a chance to catch their breath and realize that this threat was more than they could deal with individually, letting them band together and slow down the invasion when it resumed in 3052, but the Clans were still effectively unstoppable until the Battle of Tukkayid, when ComStar used the Clans traditions and honor to grind them to dust.
    • After the Clan Invasion, and through several espionage actions and other operations, the Inner Sphere figured out where the Clan Homeworlds were, and launched an invasion, Taskforce SERPENT, that targeted the Smoke Jaguar homeworld specificallynote . The taskforce outnumbered the Smoke Jaguar forces, who were still reeling from Tukkayid as well as a disastrous war against another Clan to vent their frustrations, but Smoke Jaguar, even recognizing the hopelessness of their situation, refused to yield. Taskforce SERPENT then announced that they were initiating a Trial of Annihilation according to Clan rules, and proceeded to utterly destroy Smoke Jaguar in a bloody, one-sided battle that the other Clans could only watch in terror.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect 3 begins with the Reaper invasion of Earth. Most of Earth's fleet are massacred before they can inflict any damage, and the only possibility for victory is for Shepard to escape from Earth, leaving the Reapers in control as s/he tries to build an alliance to take back the planet and defeat the Reapers. The rest of the game only serves to drive the point home that, while individual Reapers can be defeated with incredible effort, their fleet as a whole is completely unstoppable. There really is no hope of winning conventionally.
  • Missile Command is one of the earliest known examples in video games. No matter how many missiles you destroy, more will just keep coming. The game never ends, and you WILL eventually lose.
    • Two Atari 2600 games, Imagic's Atlantis and U.S. Games' M.A.D., were also based around the same premise.
  • Gears of War has a bleak war going on between humans and a race of subterranean mutants called the Locust who literally come from up under the ground and begin to slaughter everything and everybody. Ironically and cruelly, most of the human casualties comes from the human military scorching the planet (along with civilian survivors) with orbital laser satellites in order to stop the rampaging hordes of Locust from commandeering cities and equipment that may be of use to them. Now the humans are fighting a dire guerrilla war with the Locust. In the first game you unleash a massive bomb that is supposed to either destroy the Locust or cripple them so badly that they cannot recover, you're treated to a cutscene of the bomb gloriously detonating and wiping out a ton of Locust, then the Locust Queen reveals that the Locust have survived and the war is far from over. The second game brings new developments in the war: a lethal disease known as Rust Lung that comes from exposure to Imulsion, the COG's main fuel source, and the fact that the Locust have a new weapon that can destroy entire cities, forcing COG onto the offensive to wipe out the Locust. However, it becomes apparent that the Locust are fighting their own losing war against humanity as well as the Lambent. By Gears of War 3, the COG has disbanded. However, the remnants form an alliance with their old enemies to hit both the Lambent and Locust's last strongholds and finally, a superweapon which removes the parasite in Imulsion is unleashed which kills all the Lambent and Locusts on the planet. This still doesn't defeat them, and they come back 25 years later in new forms.
  • Grim Dawn: The game starts right after a devastating attack by a race of Eldritch abominations called the Aetherials which all but collapses civilization. Suddenly humanity finds itself thrust in the middle of a cosmic war between two absurdly powerful races, one of which, the Chthonians, seeks to revive their universe-ending deity and to that end sacrifices humans en-masse, while the Aetherials are perfectly immortal so long as they are provided with a host, and seek to take away their enemies' advantage away by extinguishing humanity first. Meanwhile the Gods on which humanity has relied all this time for protection are nowhere to be found and said to be trying to advance their own personal agendas, which pushes some of the most desperate human factions into deals with the devil with older gods. Several characters even note that the war was lost the moment either Aetherials or Chthonians were allowed to set foot in the physical realm, and a god the player encounters even states that the Grim Dawn (the aformentionned invasion) is but the beginning of humanity's suffering.
  • Halo:
    • The humans of the UNSC had possessed hundreds of colonies throughout the Orion Arm. Then the numerically and technologically superior Covenant attacked, glassing entire planets from Harvest to Reach. In short order, humanity is pushed back to only its inner colonies and Earth itself, with humanity taking roughly twenty three billion casualties (from an estimated pre-war population of over 39 billion), and any hard-won victories doing nothing more than delaying the inevitable. What's sobering about this war, besides the massive casualties, is the fact that the UNSC was filled with legendary badasses from the top of the chain of command, such as Admirals Cole and Whitcomb, all the way down to Marine grunts, like Sergeants Marvin Mobuto and Avery Johnson. And that's not getting into its SPARTAN Super Soldiers, like the Master Chief himself. They were STILL nowhere close to winning or even ending the war. The only reason humanity ultimately survives is because the Covenant falls into a massive civil war, which ends up also killing off most of its remaining leaders (the rest having been nommed when the Flood overrun their capital of High Charity).
      • Let's put it this way: in only two months towards the end of the war, the Covenant loses over 200 ships attacking Reach (more than the entire fleet humans had available to defend it), as well as an armada of 500 ships and a massive supply station (due to the Heroic Sacrifices of Admiral Whitcomb, a Spartan, and an ONI agent). The Covenant leadership considered the first no great loss, and the second nothing more than a minor, if irritating, setback. That's how outgunned and outnumbered humanity was during the war; even early in the war, when the Covenant was dedicating such a small percentage of its forces that humanity actually held the numerical advantage in space, the UNSC was still forced on the defensive.
      • By the Halo 4 era, humanity is partly recovered from the war, having even surpassed the Covenant in some technological areas thanks to an influx of Covenant and Forerunner tech. The Infinity is the largest and most advanced human ship ever built (not counting ancient humanity) and can go toe-to-toe with most Covenant ship and win note . There's also the SPARTAN-IV program, a re-tool of Project ORION (AKA SPARTAN-I) involving the "upgrading" of veteran soldiers to Super-Soldier status with hardly any genetic restrictions, unlike the earlier SPARTAN-II and -III programs. Their MJOLNIR armor is also superior to even the IIs', while also being much cheaper. Basically, given enough funding, a whole army of SPARTANs can be created with no shortage of volunteers.
      • All that being said, while the dissolution of the Covenant has given the UNSC breathing space, the chaos has also created new powerful factions which still seek to finish the job against humanity. Additionally, successor conflicts to the Covenant civil war (Elites vs. Brutes, pro-human Elites vs. anti-human Elites, etc.) are still being waged throughout the Orion Arm, with no side being able to gain a decisive upper hand (a fact made worse by many factions having to struggle to reteach themselves science and engineering even as more and more valuable infrastructure and equipment is lost each day).
    • The main background lore of the franchise revolves around the Forerunners attempting to save themselves and all other life in the Milky Way from the innumerable (and technologically superior) Flood 100,000 years before the Human-Covenant War. Eventually, the Forerunners become so desperate that they activated the Halos, killing all sentient life in the Milky Way (except for those chosen few stored in safe zones in order to reseed the galaxy afterwards) to starve out the Flood.
  • Wing Commander sometimes portrayed the war against the Kilrathi as hopeless, especially in the Tie In Novels. So much so that the only way that humanity could come up with to win was a desperate strike against the Kilrathi homeworld, completely destroying it and killing millions, if not billions of civilians to demoralize the entire race. The fact that it works is a miracle.
  • The FreeSpace series consistently portrayed the war against the Shivans as hopeless, especially in the succession of Hope Spots known as Freespace 2.
  • Sin and Punishment: the story of the game takes place in the near future, where nearly everyone has been screwed over into becoming psychotic killer mutants of any given breed. But it's the sequel that really drives home the trope: it's revealed that humanity only exists because some Sufficiently Advanced Aliens called the Creators need a massive supply of Red Shirts to fight against Eldritch Abominations from another dimension (remember Achi? She was just one of these abominations, and the whole of the first game came about due to her actions). There are seven Earths, and whenever a strain of humanity grows too peaceful for the Creators' tastes, they wipe out all life on the planet and replace it with monstrosities called the Keepers, which are to defend the planet until the Creators can re-seed it with human life.
  • One of the major themes of Half-Life 2. In the 'Episode' expansions it's heavily implied that even if the Combine occupation forces are driven from the Earth, the retribution from the Combine proper will be even worse than their current regime.
    • All accounts seem to suggest that the Combine are going out of their way to preserve humanity in order to turn us into slaves (thanks to Doctor Breen's "efforts"), and that they need but a nudge to destroy us all utterly. Let's hope that the Freeman-Vortigaunt team-up shakes things up a bit more, then.
  • The Earthsiege series portrays the Cybrid onslaught as nearly unstoppable, with the heroes' efforts to stop them being as much about luck as anything else.
  • Total Annihilation. To paraphrase the intro, after 4,000 years of total war that exhausted the entire resources of the galaxy, the shattered remnants of the two sides' armies now battle viciously to the death on each world, and the only acceptable outcome is the complete and utter elimination of the other. Though subverted in that one side does eventually win...
  • This is one of the possible endings in Alien Front Online, where the war between humanity and the Triclops becomes a near-permanent stalemate with millions of casualties on each side.
  • Killzone ends with taking Vekta back from the Helghast invasion, though it took them many years and many deaths to accomplish. Killzone 2 looked like the end of it, after invading Helghan and reaching the Emperor's Palace, until you witness a large Helghast fleet loom over the capital shortly after Rico kills Scolar Visari. This after most of Vekta's navy was mostly obliterated and the remaining ground forces had made their last desperate attempt to reach Visari to end the war.
    • It wasn't Vekta's navy, it was the ISA fleet, as in the entire human forces and the Helghan fleet was most of their force (hence why Visari claim "We have lost nothing")
    • The ISA managed to pull a last minute victory from the Helghast which involves triggering the Petrusite Bomb, which came at the cost of billions of Helghast lives. Driven borderline-suicidal by the devastation of their home planet, the remaining Helghan armies continue pushing their conquest, but on the diplomatic stage, until they manage to negotiate a peace treaty in exchange for literally one-half of Vekta. This sets the stage for a cold war that almost goes hot 20 years later.
  • The protagonist of [PROTOTYPE] wages a one man war against the legions of the Infected and the full
  • The Resistance series. A war that mankind is losing because their enemies, the Chimera, are so advanced that everything the humans have tried against them has been proven either obsolete (like the anti-Carrier serum in Resistance: Retribution. Even if James Grayson succeeded in killing off all the Carriers with it, it did nothing at the end, since the Chimera had already changed their conversion methods beforehand) or ends up failing horribly (examples in question: the British capturing an Angel in the second game, basically becoming bait for an attack, and the Fission Bomb in the second game ended up triggering the teleportation of Earth into some other place in space). It's also implied that Daedalus' plan worked. And finally, with most of the key characters either dead or incapable of recovering from The Virus, the situation just keeps getting worse. However, in the third and final installment, The human managed to pull through with a cure and the more obvious problem was solved through liberal application of firepower from an One-Man Army.
    • As of the end of Resistance 3, it seems that the hope is back into the world.
  • Frontlines: Fuel of War is set to one of these. The oil's run out, setting off World War III. Even after taking control of Moscow, the Russian capital, the war still persists. Partisan militias, the Chinese with Chopper Support(who are likely to deploy The Dragon's Teeth) and the harsh Russian winter have yet to be seen in full force. Odds are, if a sequel comes out, things will be extremely bleak.
  • The Earth Defense Force series often portrays the war against the aliens in this light before the EDF gains their second wind, but Earth Defense Force 5 takes this ball and runs with it: while the EDF puts up a good fight and makes good progress in repelling the aliens early on, the aliens keep hitting back harder, wearing humanity down and tearing the Earth asunder. Eventually, Earth's population is reduced by 90%, civilization collapses, and the player's squad is the only remaining fighting force that can even dare to hope to win. Even when the Final Boss is defeated and the aliens are routed, the price of victory is frighteningly steep...
  • Traffic Department 2192. The player is a police officer helping defend a planet from the Vulture Empire, which spans multiple solar systems. The planet's sole remaining resistance consists of its traffic departments. The traffic departments have some hoverskids. The Vulture Empire, on the other hand, has many more hoverskids, KillSats, a massive space fleet, and is able and willing to wipe out entire cities or planets to deal with any attempts at rebellion.
  • The Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series, and its titular Tiberium Wars slowly became this over the course of its existence, the war started in 1999 and while there were moments of peace, the entire conflict didn't end until the third Tiberium war in 2049, with a smaller flare-up occurring all the way in 2077. Over the course of the wars, two different third parties have attempted to end all life, Tiberium, which originally started the war, has taken over half the world, and is slowly, but surely, turning earth into a Death World, yet GDI and Nod keep going at it.
  • Dragon Age:
    • The dwarves are fighting one against the darkspawn. Due to the darkspawn's overwhelming numbers, as well as the dwarves' low population and slow birth rate, they are slowly losing, down to only two cities (which hate each other). It's made worse by the fact that a large portion of their population is not allowed to fight, due to how dwarven culture forbids the massive surface-caste and castless population from serving as warriors. It's theorized that if the dwarven culture doesn't change soon, then it will be destroyed, even if the dwarves live on. Depending on your decisions in the first game, things may start looking a lot less bleak for them, even getting human troops to help out. Or, you could inadvertently cause them to be permanently sealed off from the surface...
    • While it hasn't reached full-scale war, the Tevinter Imperium has spent eighty years or so fruitlessly trying to drive the Qunari off the island of Seheron. As the Qunari once fought everyone else in the setting and almost won, Fenris doesn't think much of the Imperium's chances if they go on the offensive. "I believe the Qunari are saving their strength, building a massive fleet. When they wish true war, we will know."
  • Jade Empire had ghosts overrunning the Empire thanks to the Sun brothers massacring the Spirit Monks and enslaving the Goddess in charge of the dead. There was no hope of winning: every ghost disrupted would eventually reform, and everyone killed by a ghost would eventually become one. And to make matters worse, the imbalance caused by the appearance of the ghosts is empowering demons.
  • Gratuitous Space Battles is set in a galaxy where everyone is at war with everyone else. The Alliance and the Order are on genocidal rampages to wipe out everyone who isn't them, The Empire is out to conquer whatever parts of the galaxy they don't rule already, the Swarm are invading with their endless fleets, the Nomads are bored and think riddling others with laser beams is jolly good fun, the Rebels are fighting to overthrow the Empire and survive amidst all these crazy lunatics trying to wipe them out, the Parasites need more hosts, the Outcasts have a grudge against organics and the Tribe have decided that the only way to bring peace and harmony to the galaxy is to blow everyone else to atomic ribbons. And all of the above owe The Federation money, and their "Contract Enforcement Division" is coming to collect.
  • In the Backstory for the upcoming Dawn Of Victory mod for Sins of a Solar Empire, Earth is invaded by aliens in the middle of World War 2 à la World War by Harry Turtledove. Despite the Scinfaxi (human name for the invaders) miscalculating the human level of technology, they proceed to Curb-Stomp Battle humans to the brink of extinction using their Humongous Mecha. Humans only once manage to score a decisive victory by luring the enemy into an ambush in a major North American city and then proceeding to shell the city with massed artillery barrages, scoring a blow to the alien forces at the cost of an entire city. The Soviets manage to capture a supply of plutonium from a Scinfaxi convoy and use it to build an atomic bomb. The detonation wipes out most of the enemy forces in the region. Seeing this, the Americans, the Germans, and the Japanese follow suit, forcing the Scinfaxi to retreat to the Southern hemisphere.
  • Myth perfectly illustrates the situation - the Empire of Cath Bruig has been razed leaving only a barren desert, the Free Cities of the North are under threat, and every day the Fallen Lords gain more ground.
  • The Elder Wars in Lusternia, fought between the Elder Gods and the Soulless Gods: not only did the Soulless outnumber the Elders, they ate them upon defeat and gained their powers. The Elders tried the same tactic against them, but it didn't go so well.
  • This is how the war in Valkyria Chronicles was viewed by many Gallians before Alicia's Valkyrur side awakens, as Gallia was severely outnumbered and didn't have many of the technological advances that the Imperials did. In fact, the battle in which the spoilered event occurs would have guaranteed Gallia's defeat had said event not happened.
  • A gameplay example: in MOBA games like League of Legends it is possible to realise your team is going to lose in the first 5-10 minutes, or even before the match starts (bad champion matchup in blind pick mode in LoL) but you cannot surrender yet and are forced to keep playing and getting your face kicked in by a team that keeps getting stronger until you can finally surrender - assuming there are less than two people on your team that choose to decline the surrender vote and keep fighting a hopeless battle. And since an early '11 update the winning team is encouraged to drag out the game for as long as possible to get more influence points.
    • You can get worse situations in games like Dota 2, where surrender isn't possible outside of professional games. While no one gains from dragging out the game, and massive comebacks are more likely in Dota, there is still the occasional game where one team will insist on defending for hours, potentially, before they can be defeated.
  • In Digital Devil Saga, it's heavily implied that before the events of the game, the Junkyard was in a perpetual stalemate. To the point where an alliance is almost unheard of. This is quite intentional on the programmers' part, as the Junkyard was conceived as a training sim with the ultimate purpose of creating combat A.I.s capable of responding under duress to any situation that popped up. This was to be achieved by restocking lost units and shoving adverse conditions on the commanders to force them to keep thinking of new strategies while never giving them any data or idea that could lead to an actual chance of winning, which would end the sim without ever completing its purpose.
  • The Babylon Project plays out several battles of the Earth-Minbari war from Babylon 5, mentioned above.
  • Alien Legacy has this as its backstory and is the entire reason for the game. You are the captain of the colony ship UNS Calypso, sent to a remote system as part of a last-ditch effort to ensure humanity's survival. Earth is in a losing war against the Centaurians. While both sides are at about the same technological level, humans are limited to one system, while the Centaurians have already settled at least one other system (Tau Ceti is mentioned). They are also significantly more aggressive than your average human, and this ferocity is what's driving their desire to obliterate humanity. After a failed final offensive (contact lost with the last fleet sent to Alpha Centauri), the Earth governments unanimously vote to switch to a defensive strategy and start building colony ships. Each ship's crew is to maintain radiosilence and assume the loss of Earth and all other colony ships. By the time you arrive to Beta Caeli at the start of the game and wake up from your Human Popsicle state, hundreds of years (if not millennia) have passed, and there have been no word from Earth besides a few messages several decades after the launch.
  • The premise of Muv-Luv is this, humanity discovers the BETA which quickly overwhelms humanity taking over Eurasia and reducing the human population to just 1 billion and with most of the world's adult male population dead frontline nations have started to cosncript females as well as teenagers and still humanity only has about 10 to 15 years left before complete extinction. It does get better in the Alternative timeline where they destroy the BETA original hive on Earth and destroy its leadership allowing the slow retaking of Europe and Asia. However there are at least 10^37 BETA in the universe and Mars has a Phase 9 hive while the largest on Earth was only Phase 6
  • Epic Mickey: Before Mickey came to the Wastelands, Shadow Blot and the Mad Doctor had won the Blot War; they have conquered Oswald's castle and petrified his wife Ortensia, an act which sends him into a deep depression and causes him to lose his will to fight, leaving the fighting to small, weak bands of resistance groups. One of them, the crew of Captain Hook, has most of the members dead or turned into Beetleworx and the rest scattered leaderless in the jungle. Another group, The Gremlins, has been more successful in fighting off Blot's forces, but the sheer force of Blot's forces causes most of the Gremlins to be taken as prisoners, and their own village was under siege before Mickey helped in turning the tide.
  • Overlapping with a Forever War is the war between the Shinkoku race and the Gohma from Asura's Wrath. The Shinkoku Trastrium civilization has fouight the Gohma, the embodiment of the planet's rage, for countless eons, with no clear victor on either side, with Vlitra, the leader of the Gohma factions, growing stronger and bigger with each awakening after being only subdued each time. This causes the 127th emperor, Strada, to lose hope that the war will ever end, and would rather have the Shinkoku move to a different place across universe and abandon their home planet of Gaea. This actually sparks the main plot, as Deus, the other Big Bad, as well as a Well-Intentioned Extremist, to betray strada and pin the blame on Asura to exact his plot to use The Brahmastra to blast Vlitra into oblivion once and for all.
    • To make this fact even worse, Chakravartin, who created the Gohma in the first place to test the Demi-gods and see if he can find himself an heir amongst them, says that even if Vlitra were destroyed, he can make more Gohma at will, and implies that he has destroyed countless galaxies with the Gohma since time immemorial, and will continue to do so in the future. It was a good thing that Asura decided to take him down once and for all.
  • "The Eternal War" is a single game of Civilization II has been running for ten real-life years. The world is locked into a stalemate that has lasted nearly 2,000 years. Thanks to nuclear warfare being a daily occurrence, the Earth is a mire of radioactive swamps, and, as a result of the constant war and lack of any arable farmland, 90% of the world's peak population in 2000 AD has been wiped out by 4096. Anyone that steps outside of a city is nuked. Cities can't build improvements because 100% of all labor is needed to replace units killed at the front. The world is 1984 after 2,000 years.
  • The Giant War in the backstory of Dark Souls II. The Giants were so enraged by King Vendrick stealing something very important to them that they continued to invade Drangleic for generations heedless of the losses to their own side. The Giants were eventually driven away for good after the Undead Hero went back in time and defeated the Giant Lord but the damage was done. The double whammy of the War and the onset of the Undead Curse doomed Drangleic.
  • The war against the Ur-Quan Hierarchy in Star Control turns out this way, as the second game begins with you finding out that your side lost the war, and the rest of the game is based on building up alliances and trying to regroup, while never entertaining the possibility of taking on the Ur-Quan directly. If you waste too much time though, another example comes up, as the Kohr-Ah (the Ur-Quan's meaner, nastier brothers) start exterminating every race in the sector, ending with you.
    • Possibly subverted however, in that while the Alliance of Free Stars did lose the war, the Chenjesus immediately began work to catch up to Ur-Quan's technological superiority. There's also the fact that the Ur-Quans still possess the Sa-Matra, which allowed them to decisively win the first war. The primary goal of the 2nd game was finding the Sa-Matra's whereabout and destroying it, and once it's out of the picture, the Chenjesus (now the Chmmr; part of that catching-up involved a Fusion Dance with their partners the Mmrnmhrm) immediately showed that their current tech and military might is more than a match to the Ur-Quans', and won the war.
  • Final Fantasy XIV
    • The Dragonsong War for Isghard's history has lasted for a thousand years between the people of Ishgard and dragons. Nidhogg, the leader of the brood that has been in the war, started the war because of his eye being yanked out by Isghardians a thousand years prior. The war itself has been more or less a stalemate with neither side gaining any advantage over the other while both sides have suffered heavy losses of life. You don't get a chance to alter the course of the war until the Heavensward storyline and you find out there's more to the war than you heard. The war actually started when King Thordan and his twelve knights kill Nidhogg's sister and ate her eyes to gain more power. Nidhogg wanted revenge and led his brood to war, which eventually cost him an eye. Your allies theorize that Nidhogg could have easily destroyed Ishgard many times over, but had chosen not to do so and purposely prolonged the war just to make mankind suffer as long as possible until A) everyone dies from the war or B) everyone gives up in despair and become dragons via drinking dragon blood.
    • The Ala Mhigan Resistance's struggles against the occupying Garlean Empire amounted to very little, if anything, before the events of Stormblood, with the Resistance struggling to win any meaningful victories before the intervention of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. Not helping matters is the fact that after several years of brutal tyranny under Prince Zenos, most Ala Mhigans have become too scared to fight back, and convinced that bending their knee to the Empire is preferable to the reprisals for rebellion. The situation in Doma is not any better: the reign of the cruel Boomerang Bigot viceroy is just as frightening, but the local resistance is barely even present at all.
  • The protagonists of NieR: Automata eventually find out the war between the Androids trying to reclaim Earth for humanity and the Machines build by Earth's alien conquerors is one of these when it turns out both the humans and aliens are long dead, and the Android commanders and the AI in charge of the Machines have conspired to keep the war going indefinitely so that both sides have a reason to exist. It pushes some over the Despair Event Horizon.
  • World War II is this for the former Allied Powers in the alternate universe of Wolfenstein: The New Order, where the Nazi war machine under General Deathshead's leadership has grown into such a technologically advanced superpower that not only does the war stretch out another three years, but the Allied Powers are so thoroughly outmanned and outgunned that the war in Europe is all but lost before a last-ditch effort by the Allies to kill Deathshead ends in disaster. Following this defeat, the Nazis deploy the first atomic bomb against the United States, forcing the would-be superpower into submission as the Nazis go on to betray Imperial Japan and to crush resistance from both the Soviets and China, effectively establishing Nazi rule over the entire planet and declaring the war over; the next fourteen years sees the Nazis completely level several major cities such as London all over the world, replacing them with cities more suitable to the Nazi ideology and expanding their reign of terror to every corner of the globe, with the Final Solution being applied to every person deemed undesirable by the Nazis and violently putting down any attempts at resistance with their superior technology. It's only after fourteen years that BJ Blazkowicz, one of the only soldiers to cross paths with Deathshead and live to tell of it, comes out of his comatose state to find that resistance is all but crushed, with the survivors forced underground as they can expect no help from a now thoroughly defeated US; only a few pockets of resistance in Africa and elsewhere still thrive, fighting a losing war against the Nazis as they slowly but surely wrestle away the few territories that have so far refused to submit to their rule. Blazkowicz's revival and recruitment into the Kreisau Circle where he reunites with many of his wartime comrades reinvigorates the resistance and they are eventually able to discover the source of the Nazis' advanced weaponry and begin to turn the tables against Deathshead's brutal regime, Eventually killing Deathshead himself in an act of Heroic Sacrifice, but the Nazis will spare no expense in quashing the few who remain to challenge their brutal oppression of the world abroad.
  • The Korean-American War in Homefront breathes of this all throughout the campaign; reinvigorated by its annexation of South Korea, Japan, and numerous Pacific nations in the wake of its newfound nuclear and economic might, North Korea establishes itself as the dominant superpower of East Asia and under the reign of Kim Jong-Un spreads false messages of peace as it tightens its grip on the world abroad as the globe is ravaged by economic depression, disease, and the decline of American influence politically and militarily. Taking advantage of this, the North Koreans paralyze the with an EMP that blacks out all vulnerable electronics nationwide and irradiates the Mississippi River, paving the way for a massive invasion in which the entire continental US west of the Mississippi has been occupied, with Hawaii and Alaska in tow. Without the US Army able to enact an organized and decisive counteroffensive, the Western United States is defined by a system of totalitarianism that sees the North Koreans indiscriminately imprison and massacre droves of civilians with or without provocation, mass graves, the loss of power, food, and all critical infrastructure, disease, starvation, and constant fear of being tortured by the North Korean Army. A few pockets of American resistance are all that stand against the North Koreans in the absence of the US Army or its overseas allies, and every attack against the enemy risks massive reprisals against the civilian population. That said, the situation bodes badly for a shattered United States that doesn't have the fuel, technology, or reach to drive the Koreans out of their country.
    • With the success of a desperate counterattack against San Francisco and San Diego due to the help of the American Resistance, there is newfound hope that the United States can defeat its Korean oppressors, with the European Union ordering an emergency session to debate military and economic aid to the United States' war effort.
  • The war in Homeworld certainly starts off as this for the Kushan, who in their quest to find their long-lost homeworld Hiigara which was lost to them thousands of years prior invite the wrath of the very empire who enacted their exile, with the brutal Taiidan Empire exterminating all life on their surrogate world of Kharak and wiping out all of their families and comrades who made their galaxy-wide journey possible; to establish the desperation of this state of affairs, all but approximately 600,000 Kushan are still alive in the aftermath due to the blind luck survival of their fleet, most of them colonists who have been cryogenically frozen for their eventual arrival on Hiigara, with no children among them. And if that weren't bad enough, the Taiidan have enlisted of the Turanic Raiders to quash the survivors. Suffice to say, the Kushan are desperate to ensure the survival of their kind when it becomes apparent that they are waging a desperate war against an empire they remember almost nothing about.
    • Hope returns however when the enigmatic Bentusi open up trade with the Kushan and provide them with the technologies necessary to wage open war against the Taiidan, giving them the firepower need to be a serious threat to the Empire's vast armada. As word of the Kushan's return spreads and as their fleet grows in strength, the galaxy begins to rally to their cause as does a small but powerful Taiidan rebellion that has become disillusioned with the Emperor's genocidal regime, forcing the Empire to fight on two fronts and paving a path for the Kushan to strike at the Imperial Seat of the Empire that occupies their homeworld.
  • The entire point of playing as Western Roman Empire in Total War: Attila. It is the first faction in the series to have a "Legendary" faction difficulty. You start in control of the largest empire on the game map, but 80% of it is at risk of rebelling in the first 20 turns. Everyone hates you, so there will be a constant stream of barbarians attempting to carve chunks out of your empire for themselves. To make matters worse, corruption and disease are rampant, and it turns out that all those barbarian tribes are actually fleeing from the Huns, who will show up on your border around turn 100, and unlike everyone else, don't conquer and settle, but simply raze towns to the ground and move on. Up to Eleven if you set the game difficulty to Legendary as well, which disables the minimap in battles, autosaves before and after every battle and turn and doesn't allow any other saves.
    • A lot of the Total War games in general will see the AI get itself into examples of this trope quite a lot. Do not be surprised if a one-region city state tries its luck against a (usually player-controlled) vast empire with infinitely more wealth and military manpower. Curb Stomp Battles tend to ensue.
  • The setting of Battleborn is engaged in this trope, which is mixed in with elements of Cosmic Horror Story. All of the stars in the universe, except Solus, have been darkened by the Varelsi. Out of many civilizations that fought against them, the only remaining factions are the United Peacekeeping Republics, the Last Light Consortium, the Eldrid, the Rogues, and the Jennerit Imperium; all of whom are fighting each other rather than focusing on the Varelsi threat. By the time of the game, Lothar Randain usurped Empress Lenore of the Jennerit Imperium and sided with the Varelsi in hopes of survival by joining with them rather than fighting against them with the playable characters of the faction being members of La Résistance who oppose his decision. As a result of these conditions, the titular Battleborn was formed to avert this trope.
  • In Evolve, the conflict between the humans and the monsters. On one side, three galactic superpowers with massive amounts of resources and thousands of years of technological advancement over present-day Earth. On the other, an extradimensional force that pushes into our reality in the form of a horde of monsters that can rip through planetary defenses like they weren't there, constantly mutate new strains to become even deadlier, and can appear on any planet with no warning.
  • Super Robot Wars V: The war between the Earth Federation and Neo Zeon in the Universal Century world is turning into this. Unlike in canon, the Getter Ray pollution from Saotome Institute and the Second Impact devastated Earth right after the Federation forces took Solomon. Because of this, even though the Federation still won the One Year War, anti-Federation forces were able to grow unhindered while the Federation was too busy rebuilding Earth. Fast forward to 15 years after the One Year War, the Earth Federation is now locked in a stalemated war with Full Frontal's Neo Zeon, which is now an actual army instead of the underground organization depicted in Unicorn. The situation has gotten so desperate that even Mithril, normally a neutral organization, is assisting the Federation simply to stop Neo Zeon from destroying Earth completely.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: In the pre-apocalypse world, The Faro Plague was beyond humanity's ability to defeat using conventional methods, being able to replicate faster than they could be destroyed. Project Zero Dawn was mankind's only hope. Thus, Operation Enduring Victory was launched, a global military action in which billions of people were armed and tossed at the swarm to delay it as long possible so that Project Zero Dawn could be completed. In a cruel twist of fate, however, it literally was a hopeless war. Zero Dawn was not actually intended to save humanity at all, but to re-seed the planet with life after the machines had stripped everything bare and been deactivated. The soldiers of Enduring Victory were ignorant of Zero Dawn's true purpose, being misled by an elaborate propaganda campaign. They were all overrun eventually, and the robots succeeded in purging the planet of all its original life forms.
  • Into the Breach had an interesting aspect where the war against Vek invasion had already annihilated the remnants of humanity that the pilots had to go to the timeline where the invasion began. This had been done for so many times that pilots like Ralph Karlsson and Isaac Jones had become grimmer in attitude after failing to save every timeline they came across except for a rare victory if the players done it right.
  • Guild Wars Prophecies sees the beginning of the war between the kingdom of Ascalon and the Charr Legions. The Searing shatters the human forces, breaking their main defensive line, killing a large portion of the populace, and leaving the land uninhabitable. The early missions of the campaign deal with the struggle just to prevent the Charr completely overrunning the last human footholds, including an invasion of their capital. Prince Rurik realizes how bad things have gotten and takes a majority of the civilian population to Kryta, leaving his father's forces to continue their crusade.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in the present time, the people of Hyrule are fighting an endless battle against Ganon's minions. No matter how many they exterminate or defeat, the monsters always resurrect in a few days due to the Blood Moon, making battles of attrition useless against them. It's telling that there are numerous ruined villages and farm holds overrun and surrounded by monsters, while the remaining still-inhabited settlements are few and far between. Some places like Zora's Domain is strongly implied to be once vast and expansive but much of their territory is now lost to monsters and restricted to their close surrounding area.
  • The New Order Last Days Of Europe: The Great Trial is the ultimate endgame goal of the All-Russian Black League, a post-Soviet warlord state based in Omsk. The Great Trial is envisioned as a final, genocidal war against Nazi Germany in revenge for twenty years of brutal occupation and enslavement, and against the wider world for allowing Russia to fall. Dmitry Yazov openly boasts that if all the Germans and all but one Russian die in the Great Trial, then that is still a victory. As both sides have access to chemical and nuclear weapons, the insane war predictably results in the destruction of human civilization in a nuclear holocaust.
  • Ground Control II: Operation Exodus: Since the NSA have lost its fleet along with all of its planets apart from Morningstar Prime, the NSA have no ways of defeating the Terran Empire.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • In the Sluggy Freelance story "That Which Redeems", the Dimension of Lame is helpless before the Dimension of Pain demons, largely because Torg's the only person in the entire dimension who isn't a complete pacifist (most Dimension of Lame residents aren't even comfortable with the idea of food fights). The only thing stopping the demons from completely overrunning the Earth are their small numbers and Lord Horribus's poor decision making.
  • In Homestuck, the war between Prospitians and Dersites is this... quite literally. The dark kingdom (Derse) is always fated to win the war, no matter what the players in Sburb/Sgrub do to change it.
  • Hue Are You Red side and Blue side have lost all humans and many bots as a result of this war. Ironically, human orders were the one thing that could have stopped this war but they were killed by the soldier bots.
  • Gone with the Blastwave: We're not given a whole lot of detail about the wider war, but the city where the action takes place has been so thoroughly wrecked by the fighting that its strategic value is probably close to nil, and yet the three factions are still at it. It's implied that civilization has already crumbled in addition to the city, because the chain of command for all three factions is messed up.

    Web Original 
  • Tech Infantry features an Earth Federation that is in two endless Hopeless Wars at once. The first is against The Bugs, large insectoid aliens that never seem to be defeated, no matter how far they get pushed back at the cost of horrific casualties. The second is against itself, in a seemingly endless series of Civil Wars, coup attempts, resistance movements, and supernatural secret wars carried on behind the scenes inside the very power structure itself. Even when the Eastern Bloc conquers the Federation, beats the minor alien races along the border into submission, and seems to finally reach some sort of low-grade stalemate with the Bugs, the former Federation military-political power structure becomes the NEW La Résistance, carrying on the tradition of endless civil war from the other side of the barbed wire. Meanwhile, the Vampires, Mages, Werewolves, and other supernatural creatures continue their private and not-so-private power struggles as usual.
  • The USA in the Alternate History Decades of Darkness become an expansionist, slave-holding Evil Empire. Mexico and other Latin American states are fighting a Hopeless War against them (and eventually lose, too).
  • In The Salvation War, the forces of Hell find themselves in this situation when they try to conquer 2008 Earth and Humanity kicks their tails and proceeds to conquer them!.
  • The end of Worm, where every parahuman including those kept in the Birdcage, and the Endbringers, are fighting a losing battle against Scion. The only thing that saves humanity is Taylor merging parahumans from the local multiverse into a hive mind that would be able to develop a superweapon capable of winning.
  • The Anglo/American – Nazi War is an Alternate History where the Nazis win against the Soviet Union and force the Western Allies into a stalemate... until the Nazis launch a chemical weapons attack on several countries including Britain, killing 50,000 people including the Queen Mother and all her children. When the infuriated Allies invaded Europe and killed the bejesus out of the German military, the increasingly desperate and insane Nazis resorted to systematically destroying Europe's cultural heritage including the French cities of Paris, Reims and Orleans, and almost all the arable farmland in the Netherlands and using indoctrinated children as suicide bombers. The Allied response was little better.
  • In the backstory of The Strange Case of Starship Iris the Human-Dwarnian War was nearly this for humanity. It becomes clear to the protagonists that the only reason for the armistice was that the pro-extermination faction in the Dwarnian government lost favor. Though it's uncertain that the Intergalactic Republic quite grasps that as they're planning to start another war. Or perhaps they do.

    Western Animation 
  • The war in Avatar: The Last Airbender lasted for nearly an entire century. By the finale of the show the nation of the Air Nomads had been wiped out, the Southern Water Tribe had been reduced to scattered villages, and the Northern Water Tribe had retreated within its own borders. Vast areas of the Earth Kingdom had been claimed as Fire Nation colonies. The two major Earth Kingdom cities, Omashu and Ba Sing Se came under Fire Nation control. The only things standing against the Fire-Nation were small uprisings and guerilla armies. And then the comet came, giving the Fire Nation the ability to literally burn the continued resistance to the ground... of course, the good guys win, but without the Avatar they were basically screwed.
  • Much like in the comics section, the Bad Future of Wolverine and the X-Men (2009). The war against the Sentinels can't be won, because there's a limitless supply of Sentinels, who can learn and adapt to their enemies techniques, and they're evolving super-powers of their own. What's left of the world is a burnt out wreck, and there's no visible signs of humanity left, just ruined cities everywhere.
  • The first Bad Future in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's Season 5 finale has all of Equestria's resources including the Mane Five mobilized in a futile war against the King Sombra-controlled Crystal Empire. In the second, the Changelings have conquered Equestria, and the surviving ponies are reduced to a La Résistance band residing in the Everfree Forest. To make it worse, while the ponies are at least putting up a fight in the Sombra future, however futile it may be, the Chrysalis future ends with the ponies being defeated.
  • By the time of Samurai Jack Season 5, Jack's struggle against Aku has delved into this. After 50 of continuous conflict, the two are locked in a stalemate: though Jack has managed to inspire others to rise against the tyrant, no real progress has been made for him to find a way back to his timeline and undo the future, which has taken its toll on his mental health and going as far as hallucinating with his own despair embodied trying to push him into committing suicide. Aku has been negatively affected by this, as any attempts to destroy his enemy ended in failure and not even waiting out for him to die a natural death will work, since Jack has become biologically immortal due to being displaced from his timeline.
    • The war between the evil AI and the Spartans in "Jack and the Spartans" has been going on for five generations with neither side able to get an advantage (the AI's armies cannot break the phalanx, and the Spartans don't have numbers or access to the AI's core to launch a counter attack), but the Spartans know it's only a matter of time before they are overwhelmed by the unending horde of robots attacking them. Fortunately, Jack's arrival provides them with a secret path to the AI, allowing the Spartans to launch a surgical strike and end the war on their terms.
  • Batman: Gotham Knight. In one of the episodes a criminal disposes of his gun by throwing it down a drain into the sewers. In a following episode, Batman is staggering wounded through the sewers, only to find a vast pile of firearms thrown down there, after being used in crimes he could not prevent.


Video Example(s):


The Final War

Monol relays to the Searchers how the ancient Pangeans became savage, leading to a war that lasted for unknown centuries, to the point that nobody even remembered WHY they were fighting.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / ForeverWar

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