“Strategy” is a gaming genre that has managed to remain relevant despite being a part of gaming history almost since inception. This is quite a broad term, considering the variety of titles that fall under this umbrella, such as tactical, turn-based, tower defense, and many others. In this article, we’ll be tackling the most well-known of all strategy games – RTS or Real-Time Strategy
If you’re looking for the best RTS games, look no further because we’ve compiled a list of the most fun RTS-type titles that will suit a wide range of tastes. Before you get into our review, you should know what makes an RTS title tick, and what differentiates a good one from a bad one.
Unit And Faction Variety
It’s almost impossible to have a strategy game without and units or factions. Many people credit the original StarCraft game as the title that revolutionized the whole genre by implementing different races with varying behaviors and play styles.
In short, playing as a Protoss would feel considerably different from playing Terran or Zerg, and you would have to employ different strategic measures for each in order to win since each race has its own strengths and weaknesses. This greatly enhances StarCraft’s replay value that millions of gamers around the world keep coming back to for many years coming.
Immersive Narrative And Story
The strategy genre is often lauded for its replayability and addictive gameplay, especially the titles that feature a multiplayer mode. With that said, you might have noticed that the most popular and well-known titles all over the world also had an attention-grabbing single-player experience with well-developed characters and a good story progression.
A great example is Warcraft III by Blizzard. This is an RTS title that blew everyone away because of its beautiful story-telling, spine-chilling cinematics, and memorable cast of characters. The mere fact that the most well-known characters from the Warcraft franchise were first seen in this game is solid proof that the addictive tactical and strategic play was neatly wrapped up in excellent story-telling.
Having different strategies to win the game is a key aspect of the best RTS games. Otherwise, gameplay would get very repetitive after a while. That’s what’s sets the RTS genre from many other genres – the replay value. By having multiple factions, units, classes, skills, powers, etc., you can mix and match these different aspects to form your very own strategy, honing your overall plans as you learn from past mistakes.
One fine example of an RTS title that sports multiple strategies are Command & Conquer’s Red Alert. This game managed to stand out in the 1990s, an era where more and more games started being produced.
Red Alert will let you choose whether to side with the Soviets or the Allies, and each will have a diverse set of units that can be further upgraded to improve their battle prowess. From ground units to aircraft, this game encouraged player creativity and used a variety of tactics to beat the enemy.
Fleshed-Out Gameplay Elements
Since every gaming genre is basically at least a decade old by now, game developers have to think up new ways to spice things up and generate interest in their titles. They implement new gaming mechanics that can enhance the main RTS gameplay.
For example, Total War: Shogun 2 managed to create something unique by implementing a turn-based element. It might seem a bit contrary at first, but it managed to work really well with Shogun 2’s RTS gameplay. The “real-time” occurs when you’re leading the battle with your army.
But aside from that, you’re faced with making other important decisions like clan trading, alliance forming, troop upgrading, and, all of which can be done without the pressure of limited time.
Many of the best RTS games had an impressive single-player experience, with challenging scenarios and varying AI opponents that keep you on your toes till the last hour of gameplay. However, there’s nothing more compelling or challenging than competing with a fellow human who has different strategies up their sleeve and just as ready as you are.
Most RTS games nowadays feature a multiplayer mode for players who have exhausted the single-player experience. One great example is the Company of Heroes, which has managed to remain relevant despite the release of its sequel. This game has a multiplayer mode that can host eight players who can use a variety of unit types to collect resources, defend strategic points, and outlive their foes. If you ever want an RTS game with a ton of replayability, look for one that has a multiplayer mode.
The Best RTS Games Of 2019
Arguably the most well-known RTS game that has ever graced the gaming stage, this titles is the direct sequel to its 1998 predecessor that has been praised for its excellent gameplay, much like this one.
Back in those days, most games only center on two warring factions, but StarCraft managed to create a triangle approach to units and factions. The Terrans, the Zerg, and the Protoss fight try to take control of the galaxy by fighting each other to the death.
StarCraft II is heavily reliant on precision strategies and speedy play just to keep up with the growth of your enemies. As explained previously, you choose from the three available factions that have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. The gameplay itself is very easy to get into and feels very intuitive, but it’s extremely hard to master.
The length of its single-player campaign is impressive, with over seventy different missions spanning across three campaigns. And its multiplayer base is very much active even today. StarCraft is an excellent game that’s very fast-paced and time-intensive, definitely not for gamers looking for a casual bit of gameplay.
The best RTS games aren’t usually what you would call accessible. They are usually built upon fleshed out systems and complex gameplay that takes a bit of time to get into, but definitely worth it in the long run. Stellaris manages to create a fine balance of complexity and accessibility, giving a tough challenge to keep veteran players interested while providing a more casual and relaxed experience for beginners.
This title is set in the vast reaches of space, where players can customize their very own species appearance, strengths, and weaknesses, or choose from the array of available pre-customized races. You also have the option of choosing the focus of your entire civilization. Do you want to have science take precedence or religion? Warfare or peace? You can start out as an absolute monarchy where power is held by one family or a democracy with a regular voting system that takes place every few years. The possibilities are endless, and there are many ways you can win the game.
The game is mostly broken up into the early, mid, and late-game stage. The early game entails the player to explore and colonize surrounding star systems. Mid-game starts out where most players already have established colonies all over the galaxies and improving their civilization through research and technological advancement. Finally, to keep things interesting, the late-game stage will have a random “crisis” that requires plenty of preparation to beat.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
Shadow Tactics manages to create a very interesting take on real-time strategy using a good mix of puzzle elements and tactical play. This game challenges both your creative thinking and your ability to think and act fast under pressure.
You will follow the main cast of interesting characters, each with their own unique skills in a stealth-based style of play. Subterfuge and concealment are key here; the more the enemy remains ignorant of your actions, the better.
The level of detail lovingly implemented in each of the levels will give you an immersive and challenging experience from beginning to end. And the addition of switching between characters to make use of their skills is a classic way of keeping things interesting.
Total War: Warhammer II
The universe of Warhammer is extremely extensive and rich, making it an excellent setting for the best RTS games, and Warhammer II is no exception. This title will pit you against different warring factions that are seeking total domination by annihilating their foes.
You can play from four different factions, which include the Dark Elves, High Elves, Lizardmen, and the Skaven. Every faction plays a big part in the campaign mode’s story, where you can follow along different viewpoints to see their motivations for war. The combat can be played in two ways, where there is an open-world campaign that’s turn-based combined with real-time warfare.
There’s also a multiplayer function that you can play after going through the main campaign. You have the option of pairing up with random players or playing with your friends. If you’re looking for a solid addition to the Total War franchise, Warhammer II is your best bet.
Total War: Three Kingdoms
One of the best RTS games of all time, Three Kingdoms is one of Total War’s most recent titles that manages to bring something new to a very congested table. You need to take hold and rule one of the three major kingdoms set in a period where bloodshed and treachery are the prevailing tactics of winning.
If you want a chance at winning the campaign, you need to staff all of your armies appropriately, and it isn’t as simple as picking the officer with the highest stats. Each of your characters will develop kinships (or even rivalries) after some time, and this adds an interesting addition when considering how to organize your forces.
The design of its campaign is brilliant, telling a rich story that’s filled with character and manages to give a satisfying conclusion while giving a few unexpected turns along the way. The game has also been fully improved in terms of optimization and performance compared to its predecessors. The battles all throughout give a good level of challenge that will keep you hooked right up to the end.
If you want the best RTS games set in ancient Rome, these titles will offer you just that, and more. This game focuses on building up your nation and expanding the reach of your empire. While it can have a slightly steep learning curve, it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there after you’ve got a solid grip on the basics.
You need to keep a close watch on many factors because even if your nation is developing, things won’t end well if your people are unhappy. An angry population will mean rebellion and treachery, and everyone knows who’s head they will demand first. Warfare also plays a significant theme in the title, much like the best RTS games do. You have a choice of selecting which clan to employ because their varying cultures can either benefit or harm your goals.
Another thing you need to consider is your government, where you have to manage your Senate while keeping your court well-maintained. You’re also tasked with improving your nation’s infrastructure, and this requires a steady stream of resources. With over thousands of different cities to see spanning 83 regions, you’re sure to have plenty of hours spent enjoying Imperator: Rome.
Offworld Trading Company
If you don’t particularly like warfare, but you still like the process of managing your resources and improving your production, then the Offworld Trading Company is one of the best RTS games that offer just that.
This game is set in the bleak reaches of Mars, where players are tasked with heading one of the four trading companies that are competing with each other. The goal of the game is to have the majority stake of each of your rival companies, and this isn’t exactly what you would call an easy task.
To start off, you need to gather necessary resources, including water, iron, carbon, and aluminum. You can further break down materials using different technologies to take advantage of their base forms. How you manage all of your resources will largely influence your chances of winning.