Looking at 2023's beefy release calendar, not only do I have no idea how I'm going to have time to play everything that's piqued my interest, I'm probably not even going to have time to play all the tantalising strategy games that are heading our way. It is an extremely good problem to have.
Despite the Dark Times when real-time strategy seemed to be dead, the broader strategy genre has always been a safe bet. 4Xs, wargames, epic grand strategy offerings—I've been kept busy. But 2023 seems poised to be an especially strong year, with even real-time strategy making a big comeback. February alone is just spitting out game after game.
Relic's Company of Heroes 3 is going to be demanding most of my attention. It's coming on February 23, and over the last couple of years I've played enough to convince me that it's going to be pretty special. The dynamic Italian campaign that splices a turn-based wargame with the series' fantastic RTS battles is the highlight, and exactly what I've been wanting Relic to do since they dabbled with dynamic campaigns back in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, and then again in Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault.
This would be enough to make February a very exciting month, but Company of Heroes 3 is also accompanied by Pharaoh: A New Era, the remaster of the classic Impressions city builder (which I'm including here because there's some light warfare); The Settlers: New Allies, Ubisoft's RTS reboot; and Blood Bowl 3, the oft-delayed, sporty Warhammer spin-off. That's four very distinct games all in the space of the year's shortest month. Not bad.
In March, you really need to be paying attention to The Great War: Western Front. Like Company of Heroes 3, it's another turn-based campaign with RTS battles, but otherwise is a whole other kettle of fish, set as it is during World War I. This means you'll witness a revolution in military technology with both sides developing groundbreaking new tricks and then countermeasures in a game of one-upmanship, all while duking it out in apocalyptic battlefields covered in craters and trenches. The trenches in particular make for a very different kind of RTS, completely transforming troop movement and assaults into enemy territory.
A lot of the most interesting games coming out this year are already playable in early access, but if your brain works anything like mine does, this might mean you've already forgotten all about them. But how can we forget about the miserable tactical road trip that is Darkest Dungeon 2? That the early access version is only available via the Epic Games Store probably hasn't done it many favours in terms of visibility, but as the successor to one of the greatest turn-based tactics romps of the last decade, it needs to be on your radar.
Also expected to shift from early access to full release this year are Warno, which continues Eugen Systems' penchant for hyper-realistic modern warfare; Dune: Spice Wars, which I didn't really gel with, but nonetheless has a potentially interesting take on real-time 4X shenanigans; Songs of Conquest, which anyone nostalgic for Heroes of Might & Magic should get a kick out of; Wartales, Shiro Games' tactical mercenary sim; and The Iron Oath, which looks to be similar to Wartales, but turn-based. Well, that's quite a lot. The nature of early access means some of these might slip out of 2023, but that might be good news for those of us who can't break the laws of physics just to make more time for new games.
Given that strategy is one of gaming's more intimidating genres, and has a (not always fair) reputation for inaccessibility, the impending arrival of Minecraft Legends is very welcome. It doesn't look like my cup of tea, but on PC there's a real dearth of strategy games aimed at the young 'uns, and this looks exactly like the kind of thing I can use to turn my wee nephews into little grognards like their uncle. That's out on April 18.
In May, I expect I'll be spending most of my time building fantasy kingdoms full of cannibal gnomes in Age of Wonders 4. When so many game announcements are followed by years of waiting, Paradox and Triumph have given us a treat with this one, as it was only just announced and yet its launch is right around the corner. Age of Wonders 3 and Planetfall were excellent 4Xs with pleasantly tactile and tactical combat full of customisable units and leaders, and AoW4 is unsurprisingly building on this. The headline attraction seems to be the empire customisation, where you can design both the species under your thrall and the empire you'll be developing, selecting from a big list of exotic traits.
The view of the year becomes a bit muddier when we start approaching the summer, mainly because a lot of the strategy games expected to launch this year don't yet have a specific date attached to them. The most notable among them has to be Homeworld 3, a game I have been waiting for since I was still in my teens. The sequel looks to be preserving the series' impeccable atmosphere, while introducing welcome wrinkles like space terrain, making the fully 3D battles even more spicy. For me, Homeworld is such a big deal that it could be the only major strategy game launching in 2023 and I'd still call it a good year. That it's releasing alongside so many other seductive games makes me wonder if it's all just a fever dream.
Plenty of other games are trading in nostalgia this year, like Tempest Rising, which is violently bursting with C&C vibes; Xenonauts 2, which should hopefully keep the old-school X-COM fans very happy; and long-awaited sequel Men of War 2. On top of this are interesting strategic twists on beloved arcade games like Metal Slug Tactics and R-Type Tactics, the latter of which is finally getting a PC port after launching on PSP way back in '07.
And is this the year Jagged Alliance finally gets rehabilitated? What was once a beloved name in the tactics genre has only managed to disappoint in recent years, but Jagged Alliance 3 looks promising. One thing that's given me hope is Haemimont Games' realisation that it had made a game that played just like XCOM, which it absolutely didn't want. XCOM is fantastic, granted, but it's not Jagged Alliance. One of the ways it's attempted to rectify this is by removing the odds from shots, so you never know what's going to happen, and apparently that's completely changed the flow. We'll have to see if it pays off, but the fact that Haemimont is trying to do more than just give us an XCOM with mercs makes me quite hopeful.
I've already mentioned Dune: Spice Wars, but it's not the only intriguing licensed strategy game that's in development. After publishing Battlestar Galactica Deadlock in 2017 and Starship Troopers: Terran Command in 2022, both of which were well received, Slitherine is now developing a pair of licensed games that I'm very keen to get my hands on.
First off is Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance, pitting humanity against the forces of Legion in the apocalyptic future. Slitherine's been touting its tactical realism, where you'll need to take advantage of different ammunition types and military equipment to topple the machines (who you can also play as in skirmish matches) while dealing with limited resources. I'll miss fighting Skynet, but Dark Fate was the best thing to happen to Terminator since the criminally underrated Sarah Connor Chronicles, so I'm eager to return to the latest version of the timeline. Stargate: Timekeepers is the big surprise, though. Inspired by SG-1, which wasn't one for huge battles, what we're getting is a real-time tactics affair, not unlike Mimimi's Shadow Tactics and Desperados 3. As a big SG-1 lover, I'm absolutely giddy.
I'm trying to wrap this up but keep remembering more games—there are just too many of them, pouring out of my brain. Tyler's description of survival-strategy-city-builder Gord as a "Diablo town manager" has left me sweaty with anticipation; Stormgate is apparently the StarCraft 2 sequel the Blizzard vets at Frost Giant Studios have been wanting to make for six years, which has naturally piqued my interest; and after becoming completely obsessed with last year's exceptional Midnight Suns, I am of course keeping a very close eye on Capes.
Even taking into account the inevitability of delays and disappointments, 2023 is primed to be an incredible year for strategy games. And the good news is that quite a lot of the games I've written about here are part of Steam Next Fest, so you can grab some demos and take them for a spin right now, and then start filling up your wishlist.