The 9 Best Real-Time Strategy PC Games of 2019

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 Overall: Civilization 6

Considered one of the finest strategy games ever, save yourself the time and immediately buy Civilization 6. The beauty behind it is its sheer sense of scale and potential. The idea is that you develop a civilization from a tiny rudimentary settlement and eventually turn it into a world power that's capable of great things.

What kind of world power your civilization becomes is mostly down to you. You can achieve victory through military domination (wiping out all other empires), through technological superiority or even cultural influence. It's all down to the many steps you take as you progress in your bid to achieve some form of fame within the world. Being able to choose a kinder path or a more violent route is a great twist in a genre that's typically more aggressive.

It's possible to explore and discover new cities and technologies that are scattered around the world, as well as engage in trade talks and negotiations with other world leaders. In every session, how things unfold is randomized so you can't predict how the A.I. opponent will react based upon past game sessions, giving the game plenty of longevity and replayability. There's also multiplayer in both competitive and cooperative modes, allowing you to join up with friends online.

Being able to tackle things in completely different ways ensures that this is an ideal strategy game for aggressive players as well as more diplomatic and thoughtful types. It's a must-have for strategy enthusiasts. 

Best for Novice Players: StarCraft II

Debatably the most popular Real Time Strategy (or RTS game) series in existence, StarCraft II is the sequel to the 1998 hit game StarCraft. Where most games that center on a war features only two factions, the plot of the StarCraft games are all about a rock-paper-scissors approach to the combat and playable guilds. The military might of the Terrans fight the insect-looking Zerg who also fight the Protoss alien race in a three-way brawl to control the galaxy.

Unlike most other eSports titles, StarCraft II relies on heavy intense strategies to counterbalance 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.

It boasts a single player mode of over 70 missions with three different campaigns, huge multiplayer content and community made arcade modes. 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.

Starcraft is one of the best PC exclusives ever. Check out our list of the best PC games you can buy right now.

Best Console Game: Halo Wars 2

Based on the ever-popular first-person shooter games, Halo Wars 2 is an epic real-time strategy game that picks up right in the middle of the story. The set-up is simple but the lore is expansive: there's a war raging on between the Covenant alien forces and the humans trying to prevent them from annihilating the universe using ancient forerunner technology. In Halo Wars, you control armies, ground vehicles, aerial brigades, and even the occasional laser from outer space. You'll see plenty of familiar Halo-centric staples, such as the energy swords the Elites wield, the Spartan super soldiers, and the Warthog jeep.

Similar to another great series, Command & Conquer, Halo Wars will also have you gathering resources, building units, and attacking the enemy defenses. The developers focused on creating a story focused campaign, by paying attention to every detail in the cut scenes to preserve the rich narrative the Halo games have built up for two decades now (between comics, web series, novels, and more).

Halo Wars is also the best RTS game on consoles because the first game was designed to be played with a controller. It removes some of the hassle more complicated games in the genre can have and makes the controls streamlined so you can play this RTS from your couch in comfort. This allows the multiplayer to feel just like the Halo shooters, which makes it all the more fun.

For more rad multiplayer options, take a look at some of the best split-screen PC games. Also, peek through our list of the best offline strategy games.

Best Science Fiction: Stellaris

Stellaris

Courtesy of Steam

Many strategy games aren't considered the most accessible strategy games out there. As the name suggests, they tend to focus on the loftier ambitions of the genre - being convoluted and involving a lot of careful thinking and planning. Stellaris is one of the more accessible strategy games out there while still easily challenging its players along the way.

Set in space, players take control of a species during the early stages of that race's quest to explore space. Arguably, that's the most fascinating part of any science fiction journey and it leads to plenty of potential from Stellaris. You can choose to manage an empire, engage in a plethora of warfare, or learn to pursue the diplomatic route and forge partnerships with other civilizations. There's a certain amount of flexibility here with each route offering a different form of challenge.

The game's broken up mostly into three key areas - the early game of exploring and colonization, followed by governing, and finally, the ability to trigger galaxy-wide implications based on your actions. That means that Stellaris is always thrilling stuff. With seemingly endless choices available to you, this is something that will last hundreds of hours. 

Best Fantasy: Total War: Warhammer II

Total War: Warhammer II

Courtesy of Steam

The Warhammer fantasy universe is a rich and diverse world to use in the context of strategy gaming, and Total War: Warhammer II truly embraces it. Kind of like a more bloodthirsty version of Lord of the Rings, Total War: Warhammer II has you pitting different factions against each other in an epic war.

There are four factions to choose from including Lizardmen, High Elves, Dark Elves, and Skaven. Each forms part of the narrative-driven campaign mode so there's a compelling story to follow along in conjunction with the action. Combat is available in two different ways too. There's the turn-based open-world campaign mode, as well as a real-time strategy option. In either case, planning many moves ahead is vital to your chances of success.

You need to concentrate on army building and conquest, as well as resource gathering to stand a chance of surviving. That means plenty of multi-tasking and figuring out which objective to prioritize and when. Researching new technologies is just as important here as dominating through sheer force. Being able to discover new areas is a particular joy, invoking Age of Empires style memories. No longer do you have to focus on just having the biggest army.

Elsewhere, there's a multiplayer mode as well, so you can spend time competing with friends and other players online, with the promise of no two games being the same. If you previously owned the first Total War: Warhammer game, you can combine the two to gain access to a huge combined campaign called Mortal Empires which further extends the fun. For fans of the Warhammer universe, it's a bit of an unmissable game that can easily last hundreds of hours.

Also check out our picks for the best PC war games.

Best Business: Offworld Trading Company

Offworld Trading Company

Courtesy of Steam

Economic warfare is the name of the game in Offworld Trading Company - a game that tackles strategy from a more original perspective than most. Set on Mars, players are placed in charge of one of four off-world trading companies. It's down to their shrewd business skills if they want to become the winner. This is achieved by buying a majority stake in every off-world trading company in the game and it's far from a simple task.

The key to success mostly comes down to resource gathering. The game has 13 different resources including materials such as water, aluminum, iron, silicon, carbon, as well as more complicated ideas such as Hydrolysis reactors which can break water apart into oxygen and fuel. How the resources work out for you depend on how the game plays out. As in other forms of business, supply and demand fluctuate constantly so it's down to you to figure out when to buy and sell and how best to work your way up in the trading world.

The underground black market also plays a part if you want to get your hands a little dirtier with the option to purchase things like underground nukes that can wipe out resources before your opponents reach them, or arrange mutinies to slow them down further. There's a keen sense of real science and real economics here which makes Offworld Trading Company more distinctive than most. In particular, it'll really grip those with an active interest in financial systems or business ethics.

Best Combat: X-COM 2

Keen to blow stuff up but also want to think ahead and plan your moves carefully? X-COM 2 is the game for you. Part of a franchise that's been around since the 1990s, it focuses on the efforts of a military organization trying to fight off an alien invasion.

Oftentimes, that means levels play out much like a game of chess. You and the AI enemy take turns to position your troops and trying to snipe at them from a distance. Cover plays a hugely valuable role here with a soldier out in the open pretty much destined to be killed. It's important to think ahead and work out safe routes to get near enough to the enemy to be able to take them out. That's made all the tenser by the fact that your soldiers can die permanently (depending on the difficulty level you set) meaning you can feel surprisingly sad at the death of a loyal part of your squad if you screw up.

The soldiers can be upgraded along with your base so that you end up more powerful and with better equipment and weaponry. There's no focus on resources gathering here though, unlike other strategy games, with the emphasis squarely on combat. If you're keen to fight first, talk later, this is the strategy game for you. 

Best Military: Imperator: Rome

Imperator: Rome

Courtesy of Microsoft

For those players who look at the Ancient Roman Empire and wish they could participate in it in some way, there's Imperator: Rome. It's a vast experience that primarily focuses on nation-building and empire accruing. Because of that, it can be quite daunting at times.

You have to keep an eye on a lot of things such as how best to develop your population, but also best to keep them happy. An unhappy population can lead to treachery and rebellion which anyone with a brief knowledge of history will know never leads to a good ending for the leader. Combat also plays a significant role here with each culture having a different way of waging wars, so your choice at the outset of which clan to use makes a big difference in the long term.

Just to give you even more things to consider, you also need to manage the Senate and keep court together and well controlled. Plus, there's the matter of investing in infrastructure and maintaining your resource bases. The game has over 7000 cities to discover, along with over 83 different regions so you're definitely going to have plenty of time to sink into the world of Imperator: Rome.

Best for Epic Battles: Total War: Three Kingdoms

Total War: Three Kingdoms

Courtesy of Walmart

When it comes to real-time strategy games, the Total War series stands the test of time. But in the case of Total War: Three Kingdom, developer Creative Assembly went above and beyond expectations to craft the best game that the franchise has ever seen over the course of two decades. At its most basic level, it explores the Chinese Three Kingdoms period in a respectful and absolutely gripping manner. 

Real-world heroes like Liu Bei stand in for iconic figures from Western history for a massive, complex game with a campaign mode as fascinating and endlessly entertaining as its singular battles. With a setting that works well with the Total War brand and balanced mechanics to level it all out, it's a remarkable showcase of not only developer talent but the massive potential for the genre as well. Even if you find the setting uninteresting, you might change your mind after a few rounds of battle.

You may also be interested in checking out our picks for the best PC games of the year.