Hopeless War

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

This is it. This is reality.[1] Of course it is. How deluded was I? No. No, on some level I knew it all along. I mean when you stop and think for a second it's obvious. There is no winning. Not against them.

Attack on Titan (English dub)

It's either the near future, the far future, or even the present, where there's a hopeless bleak war being fought between human and some non-human enemy. Be it sentient robots, mythical creatures, subterranean Mutants, or alien invaders, or even other humans. In any case the humans are fighting a hopeless battle, where even a major victory is just a hollow one. The human population has been 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. And more often than not, the war might have been intended as a minor engagement before things went SNAFUBAR, got complicated, and then went completely to hell, and now everybody is SOL. Its 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??

A Forever War may eventually grind itself down to one of these.

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

Examples of Hopeless War include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the Anime series Mobile Suit Gundam starts off as this. The space colonies and Earth forces fight each other to a stalemate that showed no end in sight ... until the show's events.
    • More specifically, Zeon was effectively fighting a hopeless war vs the Federation forces, with all of their big cards pretty muched played from the start. Other Hopeless Wars in Gundam include Omni vs Zaft (where Omni have to resort to suicidal last measures just to stave Zaft off and could barely even hold on during the events of Destiny), Kataron vs A-Laws and the Federation vs Cosmo Babylon. The losing side being the former respectively.
  • 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 any more; the series is exactly two characters away from a full-on Shoot the Shaggy Dog.

Comic Books


  • 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 though. As a good chunk of humanity got hit by SEVERAL Depopulation Bombs.
    • Terminator: Salvation shows 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 T3 was software distributed pretty much everywhere.
  • 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.


  • The War of the Worlds novel has an example of this with the British military valiantly trying to bring down the alien tripods... Thus this is Older Than Radio.
    • Ultimately, the tripods do not fall by human hands, but by bacteria.
    • There were 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.
  • David Gerrold's War Against the Chtorr novels depicts humanity slowly being overwhelmed by an invading alien ecosystem.
    • A quoted text in 'Season for Slaughter' even 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 Aliens humanity's obsessive war against all other aliens in the galaxy. As the story opens they've been seiging the Xeelee Sequence center of operations in the centre of the galaxy for several thousand years. The Xeelee are, well, just doing their thing and occasionally zapping the annoying primates.
  • 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 millenia. Little surprise that they're burned out ? and then when nothing happens for the last 3 millenia from the point of view of most of their population, little wonder they try and forget the hopeless task.
  • Jack Cambell'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 atrocites 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.
  • 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.
  • The elves of Middle Earth are mentioned to have long been fighting a war they've always known they will lose, and which they even call The Long Defeat.
  • 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 Coucil and blind them to their true enemy, the Circle.

Live Action TV

  • The Cylons from Battlestar Galactica nuked most of the humans and are hunting down the few tens of thousands of survivors in a 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 ressurection technology.
  • The War of the Worlds TV series has The Squad, called the Blackwood Project (which also has The Cavalry as back up) fighting remnants from the original 1950's 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.
  • Babylon 5 had the Earth-Minbari War as a backstory, in which the Minbari all but obliterate EarthForce and arrived at Earth with the intent to do the same to the planet. Even John Sheridan's big victory against the Black Star only served to piss off the Minbari more. Only when the Minbari learn something so soul shatteringly important about Humanity at the last moment did they surrender.
  • An alternate timeline in Star Trek: The Next Generation 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".
    • 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 and try to force them to surrender.
      • Messed with again in that the war as stated actually was hopeless, and the intervention of the Romulans and the wormhole aliens (both highly improbable events) was all that pushed the Federation into victory.
  • 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.
  • 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 over run 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 everyone -- including the heroes.
    • The thing about Empress Kreeya was that she wasn't spawning Red Shirt Mooks, But top tier female warriors. Think of it as being able to spawn armies of Red Sonja, Xena, Elektra En Masse. Khan's shadow priests was more or less a Deus Ex Machina because the story needed to be wrapped up as the show was canceled.
    • Huh. Wasn't this situation supposed to be resolved by having the Elder Gods push a Reset Button on it, seeing that Shao broke the rules? (A literal Deus Ex Machina, if you will.)
      • Not quite. Shao Khan's victory was supposed to be the ending for the first season, and went like it was supposed to. The beginning of the second season was supposed to reveal this victory to be a dream. Of course, the series was canceled, and the second season never happened, so...
  • The Doctor Who episode "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 Lord-Dalek 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. Whole planets full of people were time-looped to be repeatedly resurrected only to die horribly again. The damage to the timeline was unleashing several sorts of Eldritch Abomination on the universe. At which point the Doctor decided to just kill absolutely everyone involved time-lock the entire era so that nothing can get in or out and the whole thing is just shunted off into its own little pocket of space-time.
    • The Fourth Doctor serial "The Armageddon Factor" featured one of these between the peoples of Atrios and Zios. The suicidally aggressive Atrian commander didn't help things.
  • 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 mooks,[2] the seeming lack of urgency to their threat,[3] the heroes' gradually growing mastery of alien technology, and the overall very low Good Guy casualty rate,[4] made this a particularly comfy and non-threatening Hopeless War.
  • Falling Skies: the worlds military has been devastated, and civilians are all that's left of any real resistance.


  • The very basis of Teutonic myth is that even the gods are going to fall someday. The only bright spot is to fight with valor and take plenty of the enemy with you.

Tabletop Games

  • 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...
    • 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 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.
    • 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.
    • 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. Their Plan B? Capture enough Eldar souls in hypertech soul capturing crystals that they can create another god—this one a god of Death.
    • 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 forced sterilization of conquered sentients, the concentration camps, the fact that their race has been under the sway of impossible to disobey avatars of The Virus for millennia, etc 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. And the Ethreals were designed to be another failed gambit by the Eldar as a means to have a race that won't intervere in the meaningful plans they woven over a millenia!
  • Warhammer Fantasy 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.
    • 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."
      • 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.
    • 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 abovementioned spells that keep the world safe from the denizens of Hell...
    • The last, best hope against the forces of chaos are 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.
      • Not to mention the fact that their plan is to separate all the races and lock them up in different spots of the world.
  • Several of the Old World of Darkness games were based around supernatural wars that just couldn't end well, particularly 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 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.
    • Also, the Kindred 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.
    • Also also in the New World of Darkness, 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.
    • 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, 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 Cosmic Horror, 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 Cosmic Horror as it is a Cosmic Horror reality.
  • In Magic: The Gathering set 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.
    • Not to mention 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 Planescape Campaign setting has the Blood War: an eternal struggle between Lawful and Chaotic Evil, 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* ...
  • Cthulhu Tech, anyone? In the grim darkness of 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) 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 you'd point at, given that the location you point at is 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 pretty much zero.

Video Games

  • 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.
  • The humans of the Halo series were spread out as far as the outer rim of the galaxy with their many planet colonies, which were in the hundreds . But eventually they were pushed all the way back to Earth's solar system, and their numbers reduced greatly to a mere 200 million. And of that 200mill, all that's left of the vast UNSC military was a few 10's of millions. 10's of Million UNSC forces may seem like a lot but when you put it into proper context of the UNSC formerly being in the high 10's of millions (if not hundreds of millions), and the human civilians at over 39 BILLION!! (A rough estimate by the according to Dr. Halsey) It really put the casualties of war into perspective. The reason for this was because of an invading collective force of Scary Dogmatic Aliens called The Covenant who saw humanity's existence as a form of heresy. Oh and then there's the alien parasite known as The Flood which is a huge threat to both humans AND covenant forces.
    • Specifically the battle of Harvest that dragged on for 5 grueling years, and the fall of Reach which was a HEAVILY guarded and fortified planet (more so than Earth).
    • What's sobering about this war is the fact that the U.N.S.C. was filled with legendary badasses from the top of the chain of command (Admiral Cole) all the way down to marine grunts (Marvin Mobuto). And they were STILL nowhere close to ending the war. The only thing that helped turn the tide was The Flood and Covenant civil war.
      • The 200 million figure is for Earth; canon says many or most inner colony worlds were bypassed to attack it after Reach. The death toll is still horrific, but there are probably tens of billions of survivors at least.
      • Not to make light of a horrific death toll, the inner colonies were among the most industrialized and populated, though they don't really get mentioned much with the notable exceptions of Reach and Earth (the most important). Stands to reason that, there are many billions of survivors yet.
      • Halsey estimates that 23 billion humans are left.
    • We don't actually know the casualties on the Covenant side though. Basically the entire Prophet race (very small to begin with, with tight family planning to prevent inbreeding) was on High Charity - so, that's one less species in the Halo galaxy at least. Not that anyone'd miss them, considering what they're responsible for.
      • The covenant might have taken Reach but they payed a heavy price for it, because over 2/3rds of the Covenant fleet (Fleet of Particular Justice) was destroyed during the attack. The covenant would also take heavy loses in ground battles. Interestingly enough before they attacked Reach the covenant suffered a severe defeat at the Battle of Sigma Octanus IV.
      • There was also the loss of an armada of 500 ships and a massive supply station due to the Heroic Sacrifice of Admiral Whitcomb, a Spartan, and a spook.
    • The Covenant's civil war is still ongoing 6 years AFTER the Human-Covenant war. Jiralhanae wage their own internecine wars, the Sangheili themselves are gradually losing their fleets in a war of attrition, having lost the technical expertise kept exclusively by the Prophets.
      • Although it's a bit more hopeful for the Sangheili, given that they are now on the side of humanity who, as the true inheritors of the Forerunners, should have few problems providing a new source of technical expertise.
      • Maybe... the relationship between humans and Sangheili are still dicey at best... if Halo: Glasslands is to be believed.
  • 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 Free Space series consistently portrayed the war against the Shivans as hopeless, especially in the succession of Hope Spots known as Freespace 2.
  • The Virtual Console title Sin and Punishment screws this trope up entirely. Originally released on the N64 in 2000 exclusively to Japanese audiences, 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. In 2007, it was localized and released on the Virtual Console to English-speaking audiences. The screw-up? The game takes place in the year 2007. Hilarity Ensues.
    • This seems more like a problem with Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale.
    • Sin and Punishment 2 fits better: 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 pretty much 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.
  • The protagonist of Prototype wages a one man war against the legions of the Infected and the full military might of the United States Marines Corp and Blackwatch. It is completely hopeless—for them.
  • 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 Dragons 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.
  • 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.
  • In 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.
  • 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 Rebels are fighting to overthrow the Empire and survive amidst all these crazy lunatics trying to wipe them out, 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 Worldwar 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. Until nukes are built, this pretty much fits the trope.
  • The above page quote from 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 garanteed 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.
  • 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.
  • The Babylon Project plays out several battles of the Earth-Minbari war from Babylon 5, mentioned above.
  • 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, all of them are completely unstoppable. There really is no hope of winning conventionally.


  • In the Sluggy Freelance story "That Which Redeems," the Dimension of Lame is pretty much 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.

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!.

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 to 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 thing standing against the Fire-Nation were small uprisings and guerilla armies. And the 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.

Real Life

  • The American Civil War was initiated under the presumption that it would be a quick and decisive enforcement. By no means was it imagined just how long it would drag on, resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties even for the most strategically insignificant of skirmishes such as at Gettysburg, and result in the absolute economic deconstruction of an entire region of the United States, resulting in an After the End scenario whose aftershocks would continues to permeate to this day.
    • Without trying to sound too blase about it, virtually all wars start with the assumption that they will be quick and easy. They very seldom turn out that way.
  • The last leg of World War II was a pretty good example for the Germans when you think about it. Whatever you say about them, the foot soldiers fought bravely till the bitter end against impossible odds (Any government likely would not go out and announce that they are losing, but pretty much everyone did know they had lost the war at that point). See also: Der Untergang
    • And the German soldiers, especially on the Eastern Front, knew what was at stake if the Russians made it to their homes, especially considering what they had done on their advance East and the likely reponse. Several historians have suggested that the wisest course of action would have been for the Germans to surrender on the Western Front and throw everything to the East to keep the Russians out, but Hitler wouldn't hear of it until they were literally right outside the city. Those decisions doomed Eastern Europe and Germany to nearly a half-century of Warsaw Pact oppression.
    • Similarly, the first, few successful years of Germany's Operation Barbarossa saw what ultimately boiled down to a German effort to annihilate all (or, at least, a majority) of human activity—institutions, agriculture, lives—of the western Soviet Union, in an effort to free up 'living space'. And in many respects, they came close: in four years, the USSR sustained on the lower-end estimation of 23 (and on the higher, 27) million war deaths—between 13 and 16 percent of the 1941 population, and more than any other nation. And while Hollywood movies tend to over-exaggerated historical conditions, the Red Army found itself facing the German offensive under-supplied, under-trained, and with the knowledge that those captured would more likely starve to death in enemy custody. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, that was a hopeless war—the turn-around came as a considerable surprise.
      • The turn-around on the Russian Front in WWII from 1941 to 1943 is the real life equivalent of a Rocky film, where he's beat up for most of the fight, then gets up off of the canvas to win.
      • The cracks in the German strategy were showing up even during the initial offensive. The first Battle of Rostov proved that blitzkrieg couldn't deal with Russian weather and Russian counterattacks. Whether any significant portion of the Soviet army was aware of this is a different issue, however—it almost certainly seemed very hopeless at the time. Really, the war seemed quite hopeless to everybody right up until the end, prompting the first and only offensive use of nuclear weapons to ensure a definitive end.
  • Japan at the end of WWII. By the end, they were literally fighting the whole world. Germany had surrendered and Italy, along with others of Japan's allies, had pulled a Heel Face Turn, leaving Japan to fight on alone against the allies. This was the phase of the war that added the world 'Kamikaze' to the English language, even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese generals had an audience with the Emperor where they demanded the right to fight on.
  • The Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, a decade long stalemate with Saddam Hussein on one side and a hardline theocracy on the other side. It really says something that Saddam came out the moral victor: Iran used human wave tactics that far exceeded WWI in their pointlessness. Minefield blocking your way? Recruit a bunch of teenagers (sometimes not even that) give them little plastic 'Keys to Heaven' and make them run across the minefield barefoot.
    • A very close victory when you consider Saddam's rather liberal use of chemical weapons on civilian populations, including his own.
    • Out of all the wars listed in this section, only the Somalian one could possibly have a bleaker outcome than the Iran-Iraq War. (Concerning present-day matters, of course.)
  • The Bosnian War
    • Not really, the Bosnians got what they wanted (1) to keep their country and (2) not to be "cleansed," at tremendous cost to the people and infrastructure- but still. The Croats got the independence they wanted. Only the Serbs didn't achieve their goal- and thank God for that.
      • It depends, really-the Serbs in Croatia definitely lost and many were driven out of their original homes, but the peace treaty gave the Serbian-populated regions in Bosnia much more autonomy than they had before the war; The Croats in Bosnia definitely did not achieve what they originaly wanted, though, as today they don't have even the kind of partial independence that the Serbs do.
  • The Vietnam War, The U.S. goal was to go to Vietnam, kick Viet Cong ass and be home in time for corn flakes. Unfortunately the Viet Cong proved to be quite more resilient and determined. Thus dragging out the war despite the horrific casualties they suffered.
    • The Viet Cong pretty much destroyed themselves in the Tet Offensive. After that the US was fighting the North Vietnamese army.
    • It was a hopeless war from the start, because the Soviets threatened to enter the war if the US and co. invaded North Vietnam. Unless they wanted to trigger WWIII, the US could only ever hope for a draw.
    • The tragedy ultimately outlasted the war and the American defeat. The fallout would give the world the two bleakest phrases of the later 20th century - 'The Killing Fields' and 'The Boat People'. Ironically, it would be Vietnam that would oust the Khmer Rouge and stand against the advance of Chinese communism in South East Asia.
    • Even worse is the fact Kissinger and Nixon knew the war was lost as early as 1971, but prolonged it anyway, extending it into neutral countries like Cambodia and Laos. See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQ 3 L Iqz R 6-Q
  • The civil war in Somalia has lasted for 20 years now and shows no sign of stopping. The saddest part is that world governments deployed the might of their navies to curb a side effect, ocean piracy, and turn a blind eye to the disease - the genocidal warlords, the unchecked pandemics, the poverty and one of the bleakest and most chronic famines that the world has ever seen.
    • Sounds like an attempt to avoid this trope, actually.
      • Not to mention that it's more a brutal subversion. Don't forget that the United States and Ethiopia both led different interventions into the country to try and stabilize it, the U.S. from 1993 to 1995 and Ethiopia from 2006 to 2009. The world governments have tried to treat the disease, and it just hasn't worked.
      • Probably because the world governments dragged their feet in the beginning. By the time they acted it was too little too late.
  • Great Sioux War of 1876-77
    • Particularly the Battle of the Little Bighorn
  • The Battle of Thermopylae, long remembered as one of history's greatest Last Stands. King Leonidas, his 300 Spartans, and their allies knew that they would not win against the massive army of the Persian Empire, but their sacrifice held the Persians back just long enough for the other Greeks to mobilize against them proper.
    • And if they had held there, the Naval fleet at Artemisium would have kept fighting the hopeless battle against the larger fleet. It was only retreating to Salamis that they were able to turn the tables.
  • The War of the Triple Alliance. Paraguay decided that it would be a good idea to invade Brazil and crushed their army. Then, as if that wasn't enough, they went to war with Argentina and Uruguay at the same time. Paraguay won early victories, but ground down over six years.The war only ended with the complete conquest of Paraguay by the Alliance and the death of their dictator. Over half of the prewar population of Paraguay died before they finally surrendered.
    • It got to the point where the Roman Catholic Church decided to allow polygyny (the "multiple wife" type of polygamy) because so many men had died there weren't enough husbands.
  • The Invasion of Iraq, the Iraq forces had very little chance on standing against the Coalition forces. Hussein utterly fooled Iraq into thinking they could stand up against invasion with big speeches and mass propaganda, while in truth the invasion forces were having little trouble fighting of Iraqi forces. Many Iraqi forces instead try to avoid fighting the Coalition forces, some were desperate into surrendering than fighting back, one instance is a bunch of Iraqis surrendered to a news crew. In the end the Coalition have captured Baghdad, Hussein went into hiding, and the statue of himself was brought down.
    • More than one commentator has suggested that the very phrase "War on Terror(ism)", in both its' variants, is by design unwinnable; terrorism is a tactic used by stateless groups too decentralized to ever sign formal articles of surrender while "terror" is an emotion.
  • The Arab-Israeli Conflict, for both sides. The idea that Israel could ever be decisively defeated militarily is laughable, the fate of the Gaza strip is a prime example. On the other hand, Israel can not maintain the current status quo forever, Jewish birth rates are far lower than Muslims, the 'Demographic Bomb' that Right Wing politicians have warned about is very real, by 2050, Jews will be a minority in their own land, from then Israel will truly feel besieged. The obvious solution is of course, an end to the conflict - the 'Two State Solution', but that has been a Hopeless War all in by itself.
  • The conflict between South and North Korea, which has not officially ended since the beginning of the Korean War. For the foreseeable future, both countries are locked in an eternal stalemate, constantly fearing an attack by the other nation. South Korea doesn't want to attack because of North Korea's massive army while North Korea won't attack due to South Korea's massive technological advantage (and rather large army). Not to mention, the United States and China are guaranteed to back their respective allies should hostilities break out. Finally, the ideological differences and stubbornness of both sides means a peaceful solution won't be likely either.
    • If it came to it, the South will probably win. Chinese support for the North is far from certain, and the US is not likely to support Southern aggression either. The South can rapidly build up its military, but the North cannot rapidly close the technological gap.
      • It would, however, be a Pyrrhic Victory in many respects. North Korea has the capability to demolish Seoul, which boasts a population of 10 million (making it the eighth-largest in the world) and is the political and economic heart of the nation, purely through liberal use of fifty years worth of fortified artillery. More than that, attempting to integrate the hopelessly backwards North Korean nation would cripple the South Korean economy to a degree that would make the German post-reunification economic issues look like a mild economic blip. Some admittedly pessimistic estimates put civilian casualties in the first days of any shooting war on the peninsula at upwards of 2 million.
      • It's to the point that any saber rattling, such as when North Korea shelled several ships in late 2010, makes the world stop, look at the Korean Peninsula with fear, and then hope that it doesn't escalate. However, there is a Hope Spot: China has come out and told the North Korean government to calm the hell down, a massive shift in policy between the two traditional allies.
        • Since then, China's continually put a no Bullshit warning on NK's Leeroy Jenkins moments. And with the recent threat of a missile launch (which ended in a MASSIVE Epic Fail by North Korea)...
  • The Western Front of World War I seemed like this for years. There were great offensives on both sides, millions died, but the frontlines haven't moved.
    • Largely true, but this aspect of it has been Flanderized to hell and back.
  • Some see the War On Drugs as this (including some law enforcement). It's definitely a hopeless war if you bring it up on the internet.
    • Technically speaking, any war declared on a concept or item (drugs, terrorism, etc) is doomed to failure before it even begins. For example, the war on terror can't be won, because terror is an idea.
  • Afghanistan; especially after the Wiki Leak files made it seem bleaker.
  1. Because of the sense of imminent danger, it's probably safe to assume the This Is Reality is not a joke. He is contrasting reality to a naive-fantasy in which there is a chance of victory. He is not comparing reality to fiction as we normally think of it.
  2. Humans on Earth progressed technologically, while the Goa'uld mostly didn't
  3. Earth was relatively well-defended thanks to the Stargate Iris, and it's location in space was mostly unknown in the first season, then protected by the Asgard starting in the third season
  4. Of course, SG-1 is the only group that experienced no casualties: other SG teams were mixed of Red and Mauve Shirts