37 Of The Best RTS Games Of All-time (Ranked)
Hey Dudes! In my opinion, RTS games are the shit! That is why we decided to make a list of the top 37 RTS games of all-time.
RTS games are a genre of games that do not get as much respect as many other genres. In an RTS, the participants position and maneuver units and structures under their control to secure areas of the map and/or destroy their opponents’ assets. More specifically, the typical game of the RTS genre features resource gathering, base building, in-game technological development and indirect control of units. Additionally, RTS games are proven to increase human cognitive flexibility and increase reaction times meaning that they help our brain to multitask in our daily lives.
37. Star Wars: Empire at War
As a strategy game, Empire at War delivers a true Star Wars experience. If you’re into AT-ATs stomping around battlefields or Darth Vader knocking over 20 soldiers with a Force push, or space battles thick with dozens of fighters swarming in between gargantuan capital ships, Empire at War will deliver all that in a fun, compelling package. You can’t really lose in any game in which you can blow up a planet with the Death Star, can you? Empire at War is easily recommendable to any strategy fan, especially those who are fond of George Lucas’ space classic.
Stronghold is a base building game at heart, with battle being a capricious beast at the best of times. The keep is the center of you castle; here is where your lord resides. The goal is to simply keep your lord alive. Gather resources, keep peasants happy and defend your stronghold. While it sounds simple, the game can get quite tumultuous at times.
35. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
Where else but in the Red Alert universe could you pit transforming mechs against bears, or decide the fate of your mission by attacking floating fortresses with intelligent dolphins outfitted with sonic disruptors? Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 doesn’t take itself seriously, but that’s what makes it so much fun to play. This is the most rambunctiously over-the-top strategy game to reach store shelves in years, filled to the brim with laugh-out-loud cheesiness and a cheerful disregard for political correctness.
Stellaris has always been a bit better at the roleplaying, fantasy overlord stuff than the raw strategy and tactics side of things – which is a bit odd for a Paradox game – but with 2.0 it’s presenting a more balanced vision, where you can still play chill pacifist starfish who just want to be everyone’s friends, but when you do need to start kicking butts, war simply makes more sense and there are more ways to control it. And even if you manage to avoid conflict altogether (well done), the hyperlanes and starbases are a much more considered and deliberate way to plan and grow your empire.
Cossacks can be very entertaining. What it does, it does quite well. At the same time, it can grow dull quickly for anyone with more than a passing familiarity with other real-time strategy games, particularly the superb Age of Empires II and its expansion. Cossacks follows existing formulas too closely. Even its somewhat distinctive features, like the potentially huge number of peasants and troops you can command, don’t lessen the feeling that you’ve already played this game in other guises many times before. Still, if you don’t mind another variation on an oft-played theme, Cossacks has more than enough variety to ensure fun empire building and colorful clashes.
32. Men of War
In the already crowded field of World War II real-time strategy games, new contenders have to provide something special to distinguish themselves. In order to achieve this, game developers must experiment and push beyond the ordinary, creating games that give us new reasons to revisit WWII again and again. Men of War succeeds at carving a niche within the genre by delivering an epic campaign full of historical detail, plus the ability to jump into your units with a third-person “direct control” mode. Furthermore, Men of War forgoes base building so that you can focus on tactics. These elements combine to produce an experience steeped in history and rich in detail that will reward anyone looking for a challenging new twist on the genre.
31. Empire: Total War
Creative Assembly’s Total War is one of the most compelling historical strategy series in the PC catalog, so it’s fair to say that my expectations were high. We’ve been playing the final version for over a week now and can say that, with the exception of a few rough spots, this game has succeeded in creating an immensely engaging experience that captures the grand national strategies and battlefield tactics of the 18th century. And though it refines several elements of the Total War formula, it also offers up several new surprises.
30. Dark Reign: The Future of War
Real-time strategy game designers face a difficult task: If their game stays too closely within the path laid down by Red Alert and Warcraft II, it is sure to be criticized for being derivative. On the other hand, if they tinker with the formulas of those classic games, they may find themselves outside the familiar and comfortable bounds of the genre, and thus, without an audience. The only solution – one which is very rarely achieved – is to create a game that is instantly accessible to real-time strategy gamers, but which at the same time offers new and significant innovations that take the experience beyond its previous limits and into the realm of the new and unexpected.
29. Shogun 2: Total War
Shogun 2 demonstrates an admirable re-setting of Total War’s sights. It’s a tighter, more focused experience than the continental sprawl of other Total War games. However, it sacrifices none of the intricacies of those games. In the final count, it’s consistently thrilling, grand in scope, surprisingly atmospheric, and bloody hard to put down.
28. Empire Earth II
Empire Earth II has a lot of good points, but it’s no friend to the casual real-time strategy gamer. This sequel remains a standard historical RTS, but it’s also a grab bag crammed so full of new features, interface amenities, and complexities that it’s bursting at the seams. Still, if you can commit a great many hours to familiarizing yourself with all the game’s nooks and crannies. Expect to be rewarded with an enjoyable addiction that will cost you weeks, if not months, of your life.
27. Close Combat
A typical day at the beach: the sand under your feet, the roar of the surf… and the ripping sound of German machine guns as they cut your troops to pieces. The beach is in Normandy. The date is June 6th, 1944—D-Day. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take control of either the German or American forces and rewrite history. Atomic Games, creators of the popular V for Victory games, has joined with Microsoft to create one of the most innovative military simulations on the market. Close Combat offers a real-time approach to warfare, delivering an experience you will never forget.
26. Medieval: Total War
Medieval: Total War, like its predecessor, Shogun, is both a turn-based strategy game and a real-time tactical combat game featuring massive armies containing hundreds or even thousands of troops. Released in 2000, Shogun might not have pioneered this style of gaming, but it was definitely one of the best strategy games to come around in a while. Now, two years later, developer Creative Assembly has returned with a follow-up set in the Middle Ages of Europe. It’s another outstanding strategy game that’s highly complex but richly rewarding.
Like it or not, for the last few years the Real Time Strategy genre hasn’t exactly been an exercise in originality. Developers have stuck almost exclusively with an effective and tired formula, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being it sells like mad. Majesty is one of those games that looks vastly different than it actually plays. At first glance, it could be signed off as another of the countless stale, run-of-the-mill RTS games released in the last 2 years. That’s understandable, considering the graphics are exceptionally average and it adopts the familiar three-quarters view that’s been the trademark look for the genre for ages. In order to judge Majesty, you’re going to have to look deeper than visuals.
24. Nemesis of the Roman Empire
Also known as Celtic Kings: Punic Wars, Nemesis is Haemimont Games’ follow-up to its well-received real-time strategy game Celtic Kings: Rage of War. Nemesis is built upon the same engine as its predecessor but adds two new races, the Carthaginians and the Iberians, to the Gauls and Romans that were available in the original Celtic Kings. While on the surface Nemesis offers features we’ve seen many times before in the genre, such as hero characters and a lack of base-building, it also includes a clever logistics model and better-than-average artificial intelligence to help it stand apart from the numerous RTS clones on the market.
23. Halo Wars 2
It is said that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In that sense, Halo Wars 2 is the de facto king of real-time strategy games on consoles, where the venerable genre is underrepresented because of the challenges of managing a lot of units at once on a gamepad. Like its predecessor, Halo Wars 2 does a reasonably good job of overcoming many – not all – of those challenges, but compared to the best RTS games on PC, where it also exists, its campaign missions are flat and unambitious, and its distinctive Blitz multiplayer mode sacrifices the stability of a level playing field in the name of fast and unpredictable action.
22. Europa Universalis IV
The game has been formed to begin historically, with real events occurring in real time. The game itself is an interactive map of Earth divided into the provinces that compose nations. The gameplay requires the player to lead a nation by finding a balance of military, diplomacy and economy. Players can choose to conquer the world by military might, become a colonial superpower, establish trade dominance, etc. The game is a sandbox environment, and while there is no strict rule on winning the game, a loss occurs when the player’s nation is removed, or annexed, from the map. Europa is a fantastic take on the RTS Genre.
21. Age of Empires
Clicking on a villager in Age of Empires: Definitive Edition conjures up a portal to 1997. The sound effects and brief voice lines are cleaner now, but still familiar even after all these years, attached to memories of civilisations duking it out over resources, charging into each other’s towns and setting fire to everything. What you might not remember is the awful AI and the units who struggle to even walk around things. Don’t worry, the Definitive Edition will remind you of that, and of why Age of Empires was overshadowed by its much-improved sequel.
It’s odd that one of the best space operas on PC should be a real time strategy game, but that’s the magic of Homeworld. More than 15 years after its original release, Gearbox remastered Relic’s opus. It’s a thing of beauty, especially if you have an affinity for spaceships doing spaceship things, like shedding squadrons of attack craft and shooting giant lasers across the void. But Homeworld’s beauty runs deeper. It’s in the sound design—the stirring use of Adagio for Strings; the curt, lonely comms from your captains; and the way Homeworld’s three-dimensional warfare simulates loss and attrition across its campaigns.
19. Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3 is as bloody and chaotic as its bombastic sci-fi universe demands. After its predecessor memorably focused almost exclusively on unit tactics, the pendulum has swung back toward larger armies and basic base-building, creating some extremely challenging micromanagement with a complex set of rules that makes it tough to dive into. It’s not big on variety and its campaign has a scattered pace, but it’s a good real-time strategy game that makes some bold moves.
18. Stronghold Crusader
Stronghold: Crusader is the stand-alone successor to Stronghold, meaning you don’t need the original Stronghold to play it. It takes Stronghold out of Europe and into the Holy Lands, giving it a tighter focus and a more exotic flavor. The economic missions that had you racing against the clock to fulfill contrived objectives have been removed from the game. Instead, Stronghold: Crusader places more emphasis on the fine art of defending or storming a castle. After all, isn’t this what you want when you pick up a box with a knight standing in front of a castle? When players first looked at the box for the original Stronghold, they probably wouldn’t have guessed that they’d be spending their time accumulating 500 units of cheese.
17. Tom Clancy’s Endwar
It’s not often that a game arrives in the IGN offices that is embarrassing or awkward to play in front of the other editors. But then, most games aren’t Tom Clancy’s EndWar. This real-time strategy (RTS) game from Ubisoft Shanghai offers something new for the genre. It’s not just an RTS on a console, it’s an RTS made for the console. An innovative voice control and camera system has been devised to work around the pesky fact that controllers don’t have nearly as many buttons as a mouse and keyboard. And while it may be awkward to sit there in an office talking to your game, it’s worth it.
16. Warcraft II
Blizzard Entertainment has outdone itself with this sequel to Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. The development company has become known for highly playable games – including cartridge classics like Interplay’s The Lost Vikings and PC greats such as the side-scrolling action game Blackthorne – but the original Warcraft was the first to show Blizzard’s penchant for strategic fare. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness continues in the same vein as its predecessor, but adds more depth and features to the formula.
15. Rome: Total War
Rome: Total War is the third Total War game from England’s Creative Assembly, and, to make a long story short, it’s the best one yet. It was naturally expected to build on its illustrious predecessors, which featured epic-scale real-time battles and impressive attention to historical realism and detail. Shogun: Total War was a promising start for the series, while Medieval: Total War built on that promise to create an even more engrossing strategy game. With Rome: Total War, Creative Assembly takes the next step, and it’s as much a revolutionary step as it is an evolutionary one, thanks to a beautiful new 3D graphics engine that makes the series’ tactical battles–featuring thousands of soldiers–better than ever. The results are nothing short of spectacular, helping make Rome: Total War the very definition of an epic strategy game.
14. Age of Mythology
Three trolls, four golden battle boars and a pack of wolves have just devastated the last of Thor’s town centres, and my gatherers have already moved in to take over their farming network. I am Odin, and my asshat of a thunder god son had the audacity to attack me during the opening 30 minutes of this random map skirmish. This is my petty revenge against Age of Mythology’s AI, to send in every single powerful unit I have at the risk of an army of pink centaurs raiding my two settlements from the North while I’m gone.
13. Rise of Nations
Designer Brian Reynolds had already made a name for himself with his work with Sid Meier on turn-based strategy classics such as Civilization II and Alpha Centauri. But Reynolds went off and founded a new studio called Big Huge Games and began work on the historically themed Rise of Nations, a game that has finally arrived on store shelves. This superb strategy game combines the best elements of real-time strategy with the conventions of the turn-based blockbusters that Reynolds had worked on previously. By combining some of the concepts of Civilization with the general gameplay of Age of Empires, Reynolds and Big Huge Games have created a truly outstanding game.
12. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Command & Conquer Red Alert 2 is the sequel to the popular 1996 spin-off of Westwood’s definitive real-time strategy game. The latest game in the successful series isn’t a dramatic technological improvement over any of its predecessors, and its hammy alternate-World War II setting borders on being tasteless. However, Red Alert 2 is a very polished game that combines tried-and-true play mechanics with enough new features, improvements, and enhancements to make it both an excellent sequel and a great real-time strategy game in its own right.
11. Total Annihilation
The gaming industry is gearing up to bury consumers under an avalanche of real-time strategy games. Every developer is touting the one or two features that will help its game to “redefine the genre” – but the majority of these features do nothing but take away from the precarious balance which made the big two – Warcraft II and Command & Conquer – such runaway hits. At first glance, Total Annihilation, with its much ballyhooed 3D terrain and more than ten dozen units, appears to be nothing more than another in a long line of real-time games with a few minor innovations. But in this case, the innovations work. Cavedog has done a commendable job of taking the basic mechanics of real-time strategy and using them to create something new: A game that relies less on constant mouse-clicking than careful planning and strategic thinking.
Imagine that you could actually buy a working pair of those fabled rose-colored glasses people are always talking about. Booting up StarCraft Remastered isn’t too far off from living that nostalgia fantasy. It takes an all-time classic RTS and makes it look like my fond memories of it, rather than how it actually looked. Other than that, the amazing campaign and competitive gameplay are almost completely unchanged, which is exactly what the esports community wants, but slightly annoying for casual players accustomed to modern conveniences like working pathfinding AI.
When I say StarCraft Remastered looks really good, I don’t need to qualify that with: “Good for a 19-year-old game.” Blizzard’s art team has created units and maps that are about as detailed as I could hope for from a sprite-based isometric style.
9. Empire Earth
Empire Earth is a real-time strategy game that spans about a half a million years of human history, the last 200 of which take place 200 years from now. So if you’re the type who appreciates ambitious game designs, then you’ve found one in Stainless Steel Studios’ first game, which was conceived by the designer of the original Age of Empires. Actually, Empire Earth has a great deal in common with Ensemble Studios’ highly successful Age of Empires series. Even the games’ graphics look similar, though Empire Earth uses a fully 3D engine, unlike Age of Empires. Similarities aside, Empire Earth is a huge game to say the least–it’s much more time-consuming and involved than the typical real-time strategy game, and its staggering variety of units is as impressive as it is intimidating. Real-time strategy is sometimes criticized for favoring shallow, action-oriented gameplay rather than strategic depth–but that’s definitely not the case here.
8. Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth
Gandalf didn’t “die” in Moria. In fact, the old wizard slapped down the Balrog and marched out of the mountain with the rest of the fellowship. Meanwhile, King Theoden of Rohan managed to get cut down at Helm’s Deep and, oh yeah, Boromir lives. Is this revisionist fantasy history at work? No, it’s just a campaign as the good guys in The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth, EA’s real-time strategy game that spans the entire saga of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies. The Battle for Middle-earth has a lot going for it: This is a big game packed with beautiful graphics and two huge campaigns. And while it doesn’t achieve the same epic sense of scale as Jackson’s movies, it’s still an engrossing and well-made real-time strategy game that captures the essence of J.R.R. Tolkien’s wondrous world.
7. Supreme Commander
When it comes to real-time strategy games, few developers have followed the philosophy that bigger is better. As such, the scale of RTS games has stayed mostly the same over the past decade. The battlefields never feel that large, and the focus is more on economics and tactics than it is on actual strategy. Well, Supreme Commander isn’t that kind of game. Instead, the long-awaited strategy game from Gas Powered Games is everything that was promised. This is a game that’s less concerned with the aesthetics of combat than it is with capturing a sense of awesome scale, although it does look amazing when armies clash.
6. Army Men: RTS
It is my opinion that many games can get a lot of mileage out of nostalgia. For Army Men: RTS it’s a relatively simple formula. Take a favorite toy from our past and computerize it, and we’re in heaven. This game is a humourous take on the RTS genre. Instead of food and wood, you mine plastic and electricity. This simplification will speak to the novice RTS gamer.
5. Age of Empires III
Coming off the success that was Age of Kings, Ensemble Studios came back with another installment in the series. Age of Empires III advances the series hundreds of years into the future, trading swordsmen and catapults for musketeers and cannons. However, not a lot has changed from it’s predecessor. The game features some improved visuals and an interesting, inventive twist in its persistent “home city” system.
4. Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes is a visually stunning real-time strategy game that depicts all the chaos of World War II. Set during the invasion of Normandy, Company of Heroes takes its cues from Saving Private Ryan. It portrays both the sheer brutality of the war as well as the humanity of its combatants. Many other recent WWII games have also drawn influence from Steven Spielberg’s landmark film, but Company of Heroes is even more graphic. This and the game’s highly authentic-looking presentation are its distinguishing features. Additionally, it boasts some frantic, well-designed strategic and tactical combat to match. Company of Heroes trades a wide breadth of content for an extremely detailed look at WWII-era ground combat. Its action is so fast paced that it’s best suited for the reflexes of an experienced RTS player.
3. Warcraft III
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos needs little introduction, and neither does Blizzard, the company that created it. The worldwide July 3 release of Warcraft III, which shipped about 5 million copies in its first run, seems like a suitably momentous occasion, given that the game itself is both so highly anticipated and has been such a long time in the making. Considering that many have long since preordered the game and that the remaining copies are likely to fly off the shelves, giving a critique of Warcraft III almost seems like a moot point. It’s like trying to convince someone whether or not to go see a movie like Star Wars: Episode II. Fortunately for those who intend to play it no matter what anyone says, they’ll find their time with Warcraft III to be very well spent.
2. StarCraft II
This is Blizzard’s most polished game to date.
Forget StarCraft’s reputation as a punishing, multiplayer click-fest played only by rocket-powered Korean pro-gamers. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty includes a lengthy and compelling singleplayer campaign, alongside some of the best multiplayer and co-op functionality I’ve seen. It offers a kind of baffling but welcome nostalgia. It looks, sounds, plays and feels like a game you may have loved from over ten years ago – the original StarCraft. When you sit down to play it for the first time, if you’re a PC gamer of any experience at all, you’ll immediately understand what’s going on, and what you need to do to succeed.
1. Age of Empires II
This game still has a large community. 20 years after its release. AOE II is the OG of RTS games; literally kickstarting the RTS revolution. While StarCraft II has taken the pro gamer world, AOE II had a massive community in the early 2000’s that died down in around 2005. Since 2014 there has been a resurgence in players thanks in most part to YouTube and streaming site Twitch. If you want an RTS with multiple fantastic campaigns, great multiplayer and even a bit of historical knowledge, then Age of Empires II is your game.