Strategy games hold particular importance for the gaming community as these types of games involve a lot of thinking and require wit to outsmart the enemy. The feeling of outsmarting another person or even AI is heavenly for any gamer. Here today we have compiled a list of the best real time strategy games of all time that mentions some classic titles which you should play at least once:
Note: We are strictly talking about “RTS Games for PC” here and don’t be surprised if you can’t find your favorite “Real Time Tactics game” in this list. We have covered “the best RTT games” in a separate list!
20. Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom (2010)
Settlers 7 is all about micro-management! Everything needs to go in perfect balance if you want your empire to grow. If you’re spending too much on the military, doing too little research, or collecting too few resources then you have no chance of making it through the game. If you are looking for a war-focused RTS, proceed to the next item on the list, because Settlers 7 will only disappoint you.
The game places much more focus on town planning and settlement rather than fights. The very small-scale fights that do emerge can take care of themselves even without much user input. Unless you’re an old veteran of the game, Settlers 7 is bound to give you a tough time learning it. The campaign itself only acts as nothing more than a tutorial.
19. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (2009)
Dawn of War II can be generalized as something like this: take an RTS, take away base building and resource collection, add special abilities to units, and role-playing mechanics, and voila! you have Dawn of War II. This game isn’t the typical RTS you’d expect but the second title in the franchise by the makers of Company of Heroes does manage to deliver what it promised to its fans. Now instead of spending half of your time worrying about resource collection or expanding your base, you are in constant battle, upgrading your units.
Although you’re units never really die in the game, they shut down until their power is revived (now don’t take this too lightly, it is a lot harder than you think!) The storyline of the campaign is nothing remarkable and the missions have a tendency to get repetitive after a while. But what is really impressive about the game is the departure from the traditional RTS where you have countless soldiers and the war is what matters.
Dawn of War II tells its story in a different way for the first time, where each of your soldiers plays a part in the story. For people loyal to traditional RTS, this might not be your thing but Dawn of War II does bring a lot of new stuff to the table.
18. UFO: Enemy Unknown (1994)
The earth is under attack by aliens! What to do? It’s at times like these that the leaders of the world unite for a common cause, and create XCOM, an organization dedicated to detecting alien activity around the earth and putting a stop to it. The players are given an option as to where to build the headquarters of XCOM. From there on it’s the players’ job to keep the earth free of aliens.
If any UFO is detected, the player sends in a team of soldiers to investigate and if any threat is faced they must fight off the aliens. The game switches between two different views (Geoscape and the Battlescape) depending on the contact with the enemy.
Although the game isn’t a pure RTS game XCOM is funded by the top leaders of the world and if they do not like the progress, they will leave the project, so to keep the funding going the player needs to keep everyone happy by thinking strategically – obviously a tough job.
17. Sins of a Solar Empire (2008)
When the war on earth is just not enough for you, Sins of a Solar Empire is here to get you into space, however, it’s rather a slow game that requires a lot of time to finish a battle. Even on a small map, there are about 15 planets and on a large one it goes up to nearly 100, so before you start a game, make sure you have some time at your disposal. Fleets bombard these planets and destroy enemy civilizations and then drop pods to start expanding their own population. You can only travel to various planets via marked routes.
The game lacks a campaign, but then again something as huge as this doesn’t even need one. What it does need is a little more introduction to the mechanics of the game. The tutorials are never really enough to get the player acquainted with the various aspects of the game. To sum it up, Sins of a Solar Empire is a great game, but it’s recommended for people who can work in the morning after staying up all night playing a match of Sins of Solar Empire.
16. Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II (2006)
The strongest point of the game is the way it represents the world of ‘The Lord of The Rings‘ to the real-time strategy community. For those who do not really care about the Tolkien brand, The Battle of Middle-Earth II is a major improvement over its predecessor.
In essence, the game is pretty much the same as the original, it just improves upon its weak aspects, for example, the look-alike maps and the bolted-down buildings. The game does keep many of the praised aspects from the original. The customizations, heroes, resource gathering, and base building provide enough charisma in the gameplay to keep any RTS fan involved. There are a number of factions to choose from and the gameplay is really addictive.
15. Sacrifice (2000)
Creativity involves risk and not many developers are willing to take that. This is exactly what makes Sacrifice stand out among the crowd of RTS games. It’s different and offers unique elements to gamers. To begin with, Sacrifice was released in 2000 and offered some gorgeous graphics which were incomparable for its times (probably one major hook in the game). It also was the only RTS game that puts you on a level surface with your unit and not hovering above it.
The story is about a wizard, who once summoned a demon to help him win a war, but the demon went out of control and caused an apocalypse. Now the wizard has vowed to banish him from the earth. The gameplay is pretty basic, you build a base, build a team attack enemy. But in order to win the game, you must sacrifice a soul at the enemy wizard’s Altair. Sounds interesting right? Apart from a few drawbacks in the fighting sequence, the game has everything you need to keep you hooked at night!
14. Age of Mythology (2002)
If somebody has ever read or seen any work about Greek or Egyptian myths, you would know how fun and interesting they can be. Now imagine all that in a strategy game with you having the power to command your mortal troops and invoke Godly powers upon your opponents. Totally awesome right?
Say hello to Age of Mythology, a spin-off of the popular Age of Empires series. The story is a mix of three ancient mythologies. The game follows the story of Arkantos, the commander of Atalantis who is ordered to assist in the Trojan War. Arkantos discovers more deadly plans to release titans from the lowest level of Hades that can cause massive-scale destruction. In order to save the world, Arkantos makes his way through Greece and Egypt using local men and even gods for his purpose.
The gameplay is somewhat similar to its sister Age of Empires series, but with some interesting additions. Age of Mythology is in a 3D view. You build your town, expand it, and prepare your military. As expected each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses, so the player must have a perfect blend of units to maximize the strengths. The mythological units are the most interesting ones and are created depending on which god you worship.
13. Civilization II (1996)
Since we are talking about the best strategy games, why not mention the godfather of all micro-management games (despite the fact that it’s not an RTS game)? Civilization II was the sequel to a well-received Sid Meyer’s Civilization. For its time, the game was highly complex. You build an empire and you win by conquering enemy civilizations or advancing to space. The task does seem simple, but with Civilization, that’s not the case.
The game is extremely detail-oriented. In order to build cities, you need resources, trade, and food. How to get resources? You need to build trade routes and mines. So you can get the picture that the game requires micro-managing skills by the player to keep his civilization in balance. Combat was highly improved over the first part, where the fights were won outright.
In this game, the winning unit can also sustain damage, which can be repaired later on. Civilization II is considered by many as one of the greatest strategy games of all time due to its unmatched level of detail. Although the game has a steep learning curve, many RTS gamers will find it engaging.
12. Homeworld (1999)
A highly creative approach to an RTS game, Homeworld is a never-before experience for the fans of the genre. While most gamers are used to playing on the ground, where it’s a lot easier to fight with walls to give you cover and higher ground to give you an edge, for homeworld you will have to come up with more creative ways. Ladies and gentlemen welcome to space warfare!
You are the commander of a mother ship made by the people of planet Kharak, who learn that the planet is not their true home and decide to look for it. Now you must use the ships’ abilities and your own wit to take people back to their true home, their “Homeworld”. As an RTS game, the interface is one crucial part of the gameplay, and Homeworld doesn’t lag behind on that. It does take the player some time to get used to the new mechanics (the case with most strategy games), but it’s not a difficult job if tutorials are followed correctly.
Some issues are faced with the AI when units stop moving for no obvious reason, and laggy behavior of the repair ships. Also, it wouldn’t have hurt the developers to put a health bar along with the units to keep a track of the battle. Homeworld may have its shortcomings, but it still has enough to offer an addictive RTS experience!
11. Stronghold Crusader (2002)
As the name suggests, the game is centered on the Crusades in the Middle East. This might be the only notable RTS that finally moved out of Europe.
In the Crusade era, the wars were heavily focused on fortification, and that’s what the game does. The player is given a city inside a fortified wall which it needs to sustain. Being a desert, Oasis is the center of everything around here and has important strategic points. Watch what you’re people are eating, the happier they are the more taxes they will pay. This game pays much emphasis on city building which demands some real management skills!
10. Rise of Nations (2003)
So you’re a hardcore strategy gamer and Age of Empires just wasn’t enough for you? Allow us to introduce you to Rise of Nations, another masterpiece from the makers of the Age of Empires. Micro-Management would be a small word to describe how this game goes, and it is one hell of a lengthy game. Players begin to build their empires from the dark ages, manage resources and go all the way into the modern era, a total of 8 periods of history to play through.
The gameplay is pretty simple. The player needs to balance his economy with his military. Too much focus on the economy will leave you open for attack, and too much military will get you bankrupt. As the game advances you capture more and more cities (you can rename your cities at will) and gather resources to get more creatable units, each having its own specialty. Being difficult is exactly what makes it a great strategy game.
9. Supreme Commander (2007)
What would happen if you take everything good about Total Annihilation and mix it up with hi-fi graphics and sounds? You get Supreme Commander. The game is pretty much a remake of the highly influential game but is satisfactorily better. One of the things we found most impressive about it was the way the robots self-managed. If a robot is damaged, they would repair it or even fix the Robo-hut without being told, so you can totally focus on your combat.
The game is set in the distant future, where the human race has split into two factions, each competing for its cause. The UEF represents order, the Cybran fight for independence while the Aeons fight to liberate the universe. The campaign is told from the side of each faction. Being set in the future, the only resources that the player needs are energy and mass. Supreme Commander also features a unique strategic zoom option, allowing players to zoom out of the screen to view the entire map.
8. Command and Conquer Red Alert 2 (2000)
Anybody remembers the legendary Command and Conquer Red Alert? For the fans of the game, it only goes uphill from there. Red Alert 2 offers unique interactive gameplay, where the cut scenes and in-game videos are formatted to show direct interaction with the player. There are two playable sides, the Allies and the Soviets.
One feature of the C&C series is that the game seems to continue from the predecessors’ Allied campaign ending. Red Alert 2 is set in the cold war era, where the Soviets wage a war on the Allies, and the player is the only chance for survival. Unlike most RTS games, Red Alert 2 has only one collectible resource; money. So all the players’ focus goes into combat, and that’s where the game shines.
A wide collection of modern military units and impressive combat maneuvers make the game highly memorable. Graphics are not the strong point of the game, but hey, don’t judge a book by its cover – this is where the modern strategy genre actually started!
7. Company of Heroes (2006)
Getting tired of WWII games already? Wait till you play this one. The game is detailed to an unbelievable level. You can hear your soldiers shouting orders and victory chants as they fight the enemy and even scream in pain. Every building can be leveled by artillery and poorly aimed shells can even bounce off.
The game is set in the World War 2 era, where the player takes control of 2 units during the battle of Normandy and the Allied Liberation of France. The campaign is extravagant. The cutscenes, the voice work, and the storyline make it a game truly worth the time and money.
More than 15 challenging missions unveil the story of D-Day, the end for Hitler. With an overflow of WWII games in the market, Company of Heroes stands out tall among them. COH holds top scores in the RTS games category at many mainstream reviewing sites!
6. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (1999)
A genre that started with Civilization came to perfection with the Age of Empires. The Age of Kings only adds to the already rich world of AOE that can’t possibly be described in this short review. It provided the gamers with something different to do: to command real people instead of faceless tanks. To sum up the gameplay it goes as follows: you build a civilization, expand it until it is technologically advanced to fight, and when you finally face and defeat the enemy.
All this process requires the players to manage resources and population along with expansion. With a total of 13 playable civilizations, each having its own strengths and weaknesses, the game is very much balanced. Multiplayer is highly improved and requires strategic gameplay from users. On larger maps, alliances need to be formed to defeat an enemy.
5. Command and Conquer: Generals (2003)
Generals was the game that finally put the Command & Conquer series among the legendary titles in the history of real-time strategy gaming. The game continues to focus more on war strategy rather than micromanagement. As a matter of fact, the game gets even easier in the resource collection than its predecessor games like Red Alert 2.
There are three playable teams: the USA, China, and the Global Liberation Army. The gameplay is quite similar to the previous games in the franchise: money is still the main resource and the player needs to build the base around a Basic Construction Unit. This game provided the option to zoom in and out of maps and went completely 3D. This may not be the typical strategy game where you spent hours trying to build your base, but it does have its own charms for some.
There is a critically acclaimed expansion pack for the game (Command and Conquer General Zero Hour) and countless mods that completely transform the game (most notable mods include Zero Hour Reborn The Last Stand, Rise of the Reds, MidEast Crisis, and Blitzkrieg II: The Finest Hour) and improve its replay value. Despite a sequel, the original game is still played and enjoyed religiously to this day!
4. Empire Earth II (2005)
Once you start playing EE II there are a few things you’re going to notice. First, the game has a really steep learning curve. Second, the first few epochs are quite dry and boring, and the game doesn’t really take off until the third epoch. Resources are a key part of the gameplay. Before anything is constructed, resources must be gathered. Multiple types of resources are available for different purposes.
The player progresses through 15 ages of history, which is quite similar to its predecessor, however, the game doesn’t allow you to go into space. The player must also advance technologically and do research. Multiple development paths are available and the player may proceed with the one that suits the needs best. One extremely interesting part of the game is the weather conditions. They provide a lot of new attacking strategies for the players since the weather can be predicted with outposts.
3. Rome: Total War (2004)
Very few games have completely redefined the genre as Rome: Total War did. It has been critically acclaimed and is crowned by most publishers and gamers as the best strategy game ever. The game focuses a lot on historical accuracy and plays a lot of alike Myth. Many of its features are simply superb and incomparable, for example, whatever you bring with you to the battlefield is all the men you have. You can’t just make more men just because your villagers gathered enough stone. That is why the game emphasizes a lot more strategy than micro-management.
The game has two gameplay modes. First is the strategic map, where the player sets up his empire and expands it. Whenever the player’s army meets an enemy, the scene shifts to a 3D close-up of the battle. There are a total of 17 forces to choose from, each having its own special abilities which makes the game even.
2. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002)
When you run out of material to build games on real-world scenarios, you try fantasy. If there is one team that knows how to create stuff from scratch, it’s Blizzard. Warcraft is a highly successful role-playing strategy game that is based on pure fiction. For the fans of the series, Warcraft III was a wonderful gift after a long wait.
Warcraft III adds two new playable races. In addition to orcs and humans, we now have night elves and undead. All four races compete for the same resources: gold and lumber. As expected from an RTS game, each race has its own specialty and weakness. The player must exploit the enemies’ weaknesses to win battles. One amazing feature of Warcraft is the hero system. Each side has two heroes with special abilities. Although this isn’t exactly a new concept, it’s brilliantly pulled off.
1. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (2010)
StarCraft was the rival for C&C Red Alert back in 1998 and is the sci-fi version of Warcraft. After nearly 12 years of waiting, the fans of the franchise got their reward in the form of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.
There are three main civilizations: the Terrans, Zerg, and Protos. As far as the gameplay goes, it’s pretty basic and should be familiar to all RTS players. You start with a central unit and some workers to mine resources. You build structures, make units, and voila! That’s it. But the most interesting part of the game is that there is no definitive way to win a match and the player may have to change the strategy with time.
For example, the map “The Devils Playground” contains volcanoes, which erupt every 5 minutes. So the player will have to accommodate such issues in the plan. With 26 missions to choose from, huge maps, crispier animations, state-of-the-art graphics, and large-scale battles, StarCraft offers the best RTS experience among all strategy games out there!
Our list of best strategy games of all time cannot be completed without mentioning these RTS titles:
Earth 2160 (2005)
- Dungeon Keeper 2 (1999)
- Black & White 2 (2005)
Which of these best real time strategy games have you played the most? Let us know in the comments section below!