The 10 Best Real-Time Strategy PC Games to Buy in 2018

See the games that we think are a must-own

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown

Our Top Picks

Best for Star Wars Fans: Star Wars: Empire at War

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If you like real-time strategy games, but want more of a familiar setting, Star Wars: Empire at War is the perfect game for you. Any Star Wars and RTS fan will love experiencing the same movie battles while gaming.

Star Wars: Empire at War features a campaign mode where players can either choose from the Rebel Alliance to The Empire. Players will be put in scenarios like protecting Emperor Palpatine, destroying the Death Star or completely taking another faction from the campaign map. Skirmish mode resembles classic RTS elements with a twist: You can either stick to land or battle in space.

Best for Beginners: Command & Conquer

Command & Conquer The Ultimate Collection
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Three years before StarCraft, the Command & Conquer franchise was the forerunner of real-time strategy games for PC. If you or friends are just getting into RTS games, the Command & Conquer series is the perfect starting point. (Don't forget to stock up on all of the hardware you need to get started too with our PC gaming for beginners guide.)

The highly addicting PC game series has both a single player and multiplayer skirmish mode. Players race to collect resources, build new structures and train new units to fight one another. Don't worry, you get plenty of time to do this before you’re in any real danger.

The Command & Conquer series boasts one of the highest ratings for a RTS PC game in existence. Though later sequels were not as well received.

Best for Faction Selection: Age of Empires III

Age of Empires 3
Courtesy of MobyGames  

Since its beginning, The Age of Empires series was the RTS game that gave players the most choices for factions. In Age of Empires III, players can choose fourteen different empires.

Unlike other real-time strategy games on the list, Age of Empires III features real life countries with actual historical military units like samurais. You start off with a civilization that has to go through the dark ages, researching technologies and then eventually opening up trade routes. From there, you’ll build up a massive army to take over parts of Europe and Asia.
Age of Empires is a great series for anyone wanting a little more realism to their game. It isn’t as quickly paced as other games, instead focusing on the development of your units and the civilization.

Best for Scale & Zoom: Supreme Commander

Supreme Commander is a real-time strategy game series with an immersive gameplay aspect. It has a full 180-degree aerial view that allows you to zoom out to see the entire map or get up close and personal.

For some, the game may be too intensive and unit heavy. Players must protect their irreplaceable construction unit called the “Armored Command Unit," all while racing for resources and building up armies. The game is fast-paced and puts you right in the action. You’re forced to consider your choices immediately such as researching new technologies, scouting the field and training troops.

Though the graphics of the Supreme Commander series aren't like the others on the list, it does offer large area scaled warfare and situational awareness. The game has received high praise from many reviewers and players worldwide.

Best World War II Setting: Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes is an award-winning RTS series that features a World War II setting. Relic, the studio behind the game, focused on building the game's realism based on historical locations and even how soldiers interact.

Beautiful graphics, destructible environments and rag doll physics make Company of Heroes one of the most intricately designed RTS games on the list. It’s simple to play and isn’t as strategically heavy as other games.

The Company of Heroes series is best World War II RTS game to date and is even more realistic than the other games on the list.

Best for Novice Players: StarCraft II

Debatably the most popular RTS game series in existence, StarCraft II is the sequel to the 1998 hit game StarCraft. It boasts a single player mode of over 70 missions with three different campaigns, huge multiplayer content and community made arcade modes.

Unlike Command & Conquer, StarCraft II relies on heavy intense strategies to counter balance your opponents. Each one of the three factions that you play as has their set of pros and cons. Blizzard (the company behind the game) has a tendency of making their games easy to play, but hard to master.

StarCraft requires more time-sensitive strategically made decisions with the constant feeling of urgency. If you’re up for a challenge and faster paced gameplay, StarCraft is the choice.

Best for Introspective Gameplay: Stronghold

The Stronghold series may be one of the most personal real-time strategy games. The award winning game has players bearing the harshness of medieval times and finding a balance in military and economy.

Stronghold’s gameplay dynamics are introspective. Players take hold of a kingdom, where they must make decisions in maintaining a civilization’s attitude. For example, focusing on recreational places, which make your peasants happy, but lazy. On the other side of the spectrum, you must prepare them for war with cruel conditioning.

Stronghold may be the best relaxing RTS game since it focuses on you taking time in building a relationship that needs happiness and warfare. 

Best for Immense Battles: Total War: Warhammer

Total War: Warhammer takes place in the realm of the War Hammer franchise, allowing for massive scale attacks on enemy units, with factions such as dwarves, vampires and orcs. If you’re experienced in RTS games, this is the one for you.

Total War: Warhammer is overwhelming. You can command a unit count of around 2,000. The humungous battles require you to zoom out, focusing on different platoons and forcing you to utilize different strategies and attack patterns.

The Total War series is more strategy than resource collecting and building. You’ll be focused on waves of different infantries, commanding different attacks and be right there in the battle.

Best for Immediacy: World In Conflict

World In Conflict is a Cold War era unit intensive RTS strategy game. It focuses heavily on mission-based gameplay, capturing different command points and switching formations while in constant battle.

There is zero breathing space in World In Conflict. You’ll have other commanders giving orders in-game while you await for various backup units and face constant attacks. Though the game throws you right in the action, it helps build up your knowledge of strategizing, so you can overtake areas.
World In Conflict is perfect for any gamer that wants immediate action.

Best for Halo Fans: Halo Wars 2

Based off the ever-popular first person shooter games, Halo Wars 2 is an epic real-time strategy game that faces you off with space marines and aliens. Everything you love about the Halo series is included in this RTS (like the Warthog jeep and laser sword wielding Elites).

Similar to Command & Conquer, Halo Wars 2 will also have you gathering resources, building units and attacking. Developers focused on creating a story and paying attention to detail in every graphic and action sequence in the game.

Tested by

How We Tested

Our reviewers spent 23 hours testing one of the most popular real-time strategy PC games. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when playing the game and we've outlined them here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

What to Look for in a Real-Time Strategy PC Game

Single player vs. multiplayer - Many gamers will tell you that whooping your friends is way more exciting than playing by yourself. If you enjoy the social aspect of PC gaming, look for a title that supports multiplayer gameplay. Most multiplayer games will have the option to play on your own as well.

Setting - History buffs might enjoy a game that takes place during World War II, while sci-fi fans might prefer a space-age setting. There’s something for everyone out there, but the setting will certainly influence your purchasing decision.

Level of difficulty - Gamers who are new to real-time strategy games might want to begin with an easier game to dip their toes into the genre. It doesn’t take long to master the strategies behind building and breaking alliances, but some games have more strategic gameplay than others. Luckily, most games feature a variety of difficulties so you can level up as you wish.

Test Results: Star Wars: Empire at War (Best for Star Wars Fans)

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What We Like

  • Familiar character and environments

  • Interface and functions are easy to pick up

  • Offers nostalgia for Star Wars buffs

What We Don’t Like

  • Two discs required for installation

  • Simple strategy requires little micromanagement

  • Graphics are dated compared to newer games

One of our testers summed up this game perfectly: “With the ability to use your favorite heroes and villains to fight large-scale battles both on and above the planets you know and love (Tatooine and Hoth, to name a couple), this game excels at creating memorable and satisfying moments that are cinematic in their own right.”

Our reviewers found Star Wars: Empire at War to be simple but satisfying, with one person noting that the game was distinctly different than other real-time strategy games he had played in the past. “The campaigns do involve linear, mission-based gameplay,” he said, “but you’re also free to pursue control over various planets on the map even if they aren't directly related to the task at hand. In fact, it's often important to follow both the linear path and branch out on your own in order to reap some added benefits that can help your cause.” The flexibility of the gameplay allows you to play with a style that suits you, whether you want to explore or simply beat the game as soon as you can.

And, of course, there’s the nostalgia factor that comes into play for any Star Wars fan. “Few other games carry the kind of weight that this one does — from the first time you strike someone down with Darth Vader or use the droids to download crucial intelligence,” one of our reviewers said. He added, “If you're playing this game, you've seen the story so many times that you probably feel like you've lived it yourself, and this game helps you embody what already holds a positive place in your mind.”

Overall, the game is best for anyone that isn’t a seasoned gamer. According to one tester, “The lack of micromanagement (resource gathering, infrastructure, technology trees, etc.), particularly in the middle of any given campaign battle, means there are fewer things to worry about, so someone new to the RTS genre can definitely handle gameplay without too much difficulty.”