Top Multiplayer RTS Games for the PC

November 22 2010

Many real-time strategy games now have multiplayer options that allow you to wage war over the Internet. In most cases you are required to gather resources, research new technology, build up an army, and use it to vanquish your enemy. The player limit is typically between 6 and 12. A game's popularity is not the only consideration for inclusion on this list, which based in part on my opinion and your feedback. These are games I would recommend today, so with a few exceptions, it emphasizes recent titles over classics. Feel free to let me know if I've missed something.

Sequels can be risky because some people want unique and innovative changes, while others want the game to stay close to its roots. StarCraft 2 manages to walk that fine line nicely, bringing the franchise into the 21st century graphically and improving the interface while still offering similar core gameplay to the original. The competition on is fierce and there are a wealth of multiplayer maps to choose from. Blizzard continues to tweak the faction balance, but you'd have a hard time finding a more finely crafted and beautifully presented RTS game.
Company of Heroes Gold Edition

Often referred to as one of the best PC games of 2006, Company of Heroes ties real-time strategy to a WWII setting with great results. The graphics are spectacular, the different factions are finely tuned, and the game allows you to make effective use of the terrain. The Gold Edition includes Opposing Fronts, the first expansion, which adds the British 2nd Army and the German Panzer Elite to the fray. You may also want to consider Company of Heroes Online, which is currently in beta and doesn't include any of the expansions, but it is available for free. More »

This game is the third iteration of Blizzard's award-winning Warcraft real-time strategy series. Although it was released in 2002, it's still one of the most widely played RTS games both online and in pro competitions. The Battle Chest version includes the original, Reign of Chaos, and the first expansion, Frozen Throne. The game brings a number of roleplaying elements to the series as well as expanded multiplayer options for up to 12 players over

The original Dawn of War was a big hit with multiplayer RTS fans, but this didn't keep Relic from taking some chances in the sequel, Dawn of War II. Building bases has been dispensed with and replaced with RPG elements that allow you to highly customize certain units. The emphasis is on the tactical side of the battle rather than on resource gathering and base construction. You also have far fewer units at your disposal, so you have to deploy them wisely. Like World in Conflict, it's a different approach to RTS gameplay that won't appeal to everyone, and it's also a significant departure from the first Dawn of War.

Described as the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander manages to scale up the RTS experience a few notches. The game supports an astounding number and variety of units, and the tech tree is similarly vast. A unique camera interface allows you zoom out to a tactical map that gives you a broad overview of the conflict. The maps can get truly enormous, resulting in battles that often go on for many hours. The Gold Edition includes the original game and the Forged Alliance expansion.

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R.U.S.E. Box
Although R.U.S.E. uses an ever-familiar WWII setting, it brings some fresh ideas to RTS. The scale is impressive, with large maps that let you zoom out to a broad strategic view of the entire theater of war. Players have special abilities called "ruses," which can be deployed under the right circumstances to deceive or outsmart the enemy. You might create a distraction with decoys, or use terror to diminish your opponent's morale. The player base isn't that large yet, but the consensus seems to be that multiplayer R.U.S.E. is more fun than the single-player campaign. More »

Based on an alternate history of the Cold War, World in Conflict is a fast-paced RTS where NATO and Soviet forces battle over the west coast of America. In a fresh approach, they've forgone base-building completely, and you control a very limited number of units compared to most games of this kind, but this gives it a strong tactical component. Multiplayer features different player "classes," and requires a great deal of team coordination.

Best Way has released several ambitious WWII RTS games, and Men of War was added to the mix in 2009. Like their earlier games, they aim for a high degree of realism, and they forego the usual simplistic base-building system. Instead, attention is given to parts of battle that are often ignored in games of this kind, such as supplies of ammunition and fuel. Men of War also lets you take complete control of individual units, which makes tank engagements that much more fun. The production values are laughable at times, but the game has a good selection of multiplayer modes, including co-op. Some people miss the option include enemy AI in skirmishes, which can make finding a suitable match more difficult.

Going back to its roots, Command & Conquer 3 revives the epic conflict between the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nod. There's a third side called the Scrin in the fray now, but you'll remember the Mammoth tanks and ion cannons from earlier games in the series. C&C3 has a good selection of multiplayer maps and Battlecast functionality, which makes spectating games very easy. It was much better received that the sequel, Command & Conquer 4.
Supreme Commander 2 Box

Taking a step back from the enormous maps and heavy resource management of the original, Supreme Commander 2 created a split in the franchise's fan base. Some lamented that the tremendous scale and complexity of the first game was diminished, while others applaud the increased emphasis on combat and shorter matches. In many respects Supreme Commander 2 follows other recent offerings in the genre, If you were hoping for something even more massive than the first game, you'll be disappointed, but if you prefer a more streamlined approach, SupCom 2 is a solid offering. More »

Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War Box
Dawn of War is a combination of fantasy and science fiction based on the famous Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game, beautifully rendered in 3D. There is a solid mix of units and none of the playable races have been given an overwhelming advantage. It is a nicely polished game with an active community, and Relic has released a steady stream of expansions for the title, including Winter Assault, Dark Crusade, and most recently, Soulstorm. The Platinum Edition comes with the Winter Assault and Dark Crusade expansions. More »
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StarCraft: Brood War

StarCraft Battle Chest Box

This is a classic 2D sci-fi RTS from Blizzard which still has a large and very devoted following. You play as one of three different species, each with their own unique units and special powers, in an effort to overpower your opponents. Although it has been overshadowed by the release of StarCraft 2, the original remains one of the most popular RTS games played in video game competitions, especially in Korea. The Battle Chest version includes the Brood War expansion, and it supports up to 8 players over

The Red Alert series, with their twisted alternate timelines, are perhaps the quirkiest games in the Command & Conquer franchise, which has never really aspired to any sort of realism. Red Alert 3 features a wealth of outlandish units, including war bears, shrink beams, mini-subs, and sci-fi ninjas. It also has a considerable amount of naval combat, and the single-player campaign accommodates co-op play quite nicely. Voice chat is built-in, and you can skirmish with up to 6 players online.

For space strategy on a large scale, the often overlooked Sins of a Solar Empire has a lot of appeal. It is real-time, but the pace is very leisurely, allowing you to control numerous fleets of ships quite easily. Matchmaking for multiplayer is done through Ironclad Online, supporting up to 10 players (5 vs. 5). Multiplayer matches can take a long time on the larger maps, but they can be saved and played over several sessions.

Developed by Ensemble Studios, which was disbanded in 2009, Age of Empires is an iconic series in the RTS genre. The games have a historical basis, with players adopting the role of a civilization and trying to overpower their opponents. Age of Empires 3 was released in 2005, followed by The WarChiefs expansion in 2006 and The Asian Dynasties expansion in 2007, all of which are included in the Complete Collection. It's the most graphically current game in the series, and features online or LAN play using a utility bundled with the game.