Entertainment Gaming The 10 Best Real-Time Strategy PC Games See the games that we think are a must-own by Jennifer Allen Writer Jennifer Allen has been writing about technology since 2010. Her work has appeared in Mashable, TechRadar, and many more publications. our editorial process Twitter LinkedIn Jennifer Allen Updated on April 16, 2020 Gaming Music TV & Film Performing Arts Visual Arts Fashion & Style Love & Romance Gaming Tweet Share Email Best Overall: StarCraft II What We Like Excellent balance between the playable factions Unique single player campaigns for each race Thriving multiplayer and Esports community What We Don't Like Multiplayer can feel intimidating Arguably the most popular RTS franchise in existence, StarCraft II is the sequel to Blizzard's StarCraft. Where most games that center on a war features just a pair of rival factions, StarCraft games takes a rock-paper-scissors approach to the combat and playable races. The military might of the Terrans fight the insect-looking Zerg who also fight the enigmatic Protoss in a three-way brawl to control the galaxy. Unlike most other RTS titles, StarCraft II relies on heavy intense strategies to counterbalance your opponents. Each of the three factions that you play feature a unique set of pros and cons. It boasts a single-player mode of over 70 missions with three different campaigns, an expanse of multiplayer content and community made arcade modes. StarCraft requires more time-sensitive strategically made decisions with a constant feeling of urgency. If you’re up for a challenge and faster-paced gameplay, StarCraft is the choice. Best Science Fiction: Stellaris Courtesy of Steam What We Like Vast player customization Gameplay suits itself well to a variety of play styles Excellent soundtrack What We Don't Like Almost too much DLC Steep learning curve 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 Courtesy of Steam What We Like Unique variety of factions Excellent grand strategy Looks amazing What We Don't Like Steep system specs 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. Best Business: Offworld Trading Company Courtesy of Steam What We Like Clever and witty Engaging despite the lack of combat What We Don't Like Can feel a bit unbalanced Multiplayer community is empty 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 Military: Imperator: Rome What We Like Flexible specs make it playable even on lower end machines Deep strategy and mechanics What We Don't Like Slow pace Steep learning curve 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 What We Like Fantastic aesthetic Manages to blend character moments and grand strategy What We Don't Like Diplomacy feels hollow AI feels a bit weak 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. Best Console Game: Halo Wars 2 What We Like Accessible Excellent console-centric controls What We Don't Like Feels a bit shallow compared to other RTS titles Based on the iconic FPS franchise, 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 and the humans are trying to prevent them from annihilating the universe using ancient forerunner technology. In Halo Wars, you control armies, ground vehicles, aerial units, and even the occasional orbital laser. 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 other great RTS titles, Halo Wars will tasks you with 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 cross-media narrative the Halo games have built up for two decades now. 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. Coolest real-time strategy: Frostpunk Frostpunk. What We Like Fun strategic decision-making Compelling setting What We Don't Like Limited replayability City-building meets post-apocalyptic mayhem in Frostpunk. Set in 1886, this real-time strategy game presents an alternate history where massive volcanic eruptions have ravaged civilization leading to a catastrophic cooling of the earth. In classic survival fashion, you’re dropped into the world as the leader of a modest group of survivors and refugees, none of whom seem particularly well-suited for the menial jobs you’ll have available at the start. No matter, because as you build out your settlement — which surrounds the lifeblood of your operations, a lone industrial generator — they’ll get stronger and smarter. They’ll even grow, with some of your inhabitants starting out as mere children. Some will also come in as escapees or refugees from neighboring colonies, and it’s up to you whether they stay. Your goal in Frostpunk is to build a new civilization from scratch in the freeze of winter with limited resources, giving orders to your people and enacting policies to make that happen. You’ll manage a delicate balance between growth and human resources, and if you’re not careful, you could end up with revolts, an exodus, and even deaths on your hands. Best Space Marines: Dawn of War III Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3. What We Like Massive, epic battles Unique MOBA-inspired gameplay Gorgeous visuals What We Don't Like Buggy Dev support is limited Warhammer’s latest entry in the RTS genre is one of its best yet. Dawn of War III hit the scene as a standalone addition to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, complete with new elite units, giant war machines, and an interesting gameplay twist. Your classic RTS elements are alive and well here, especially in the single-player campaign where deploying firepower in strategic locations becomes your full-time job. The occasional red button press triggers epic abilities that unleash hellacious carnage on the battlefield, giving you a break from being a cunning military commander to watch the jaw-dropping action unfold. Take your talents online, and you’ll see influences from the MOBA genre seeping through every stage of the fight. Dawn of War III has the most impressive large-scale battles of the series by far. Three warring factions in the world of Acheron deploy their massive armies to wrestle control of the goods from the other guys, each with their own motives toeing the lines of devious and righteous. Figure out which side you’re on and see to it they win. Best Campaigns: Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition Age of Empires 2: Definitive edition. What We Like New civilizations and scenarios Breathes new life into a classic What We Don't Like Aged graphics may be off-putting Voice-acting still isn't great We find it difficult to resist nostalgia, and releases like the definitive edition of Age of Empires II aren’t helping. This upgraded version of one of the genre’s foundational titles gives us plenty of reasons to revisit the glory years. There are all-new 4K assets, a new soundtrack, and four new civilizations to play with, bringing the total count to a whopping 35. There are hundreds of hours of fun on avail, and that’s just for single-player content — you could stretch your playtime many moons over if you get addicted to online play. For those new to Age of Empires, you start off as the leader of a fledgling civilization. Upon planting your flag in the soil of your desired land, you’ll begin toiling away to gather local resources to build housing, farms, aqueducts, walls, and royal service buildings, all to deliver your people to prosperity. That’ll be much easier said than done with competing civilizations eyeing your every move. That’s why building your army is your chief concern, because you’ll be fending off the envious who mean to separate you from your riches and seize your empire. Able to run on even the weakest of machines, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition comes with all expansions of old and new for a price tag that anyone can manage.