Strategy is the quintessential PC genre, keeping us buried in maps, army lists and build orders since the earliest days of PC gaming. And it's one of the most diverse, catering to everyone from hardcore grognards to people who just want to see Gandhi nuke Montezuma.
In this list, you'll find everything from fast-paced, competitive RTS games to long burn 4X romps. If you want history, we've got it. Sci-fi? Yep, a few of them. Fantasy, too. In the case of series with multiple entries, we've picked what we feel was the best game to play now. We might feature more than one entry from the same series if we think they're different enough that you might benefit from playing both.
Total War: Warhammer 3
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Release date: 2022 | Developer: Creative Assembly | Steam, Epic
Total War: Warhammer 3, the conclusion to Creative Assembly's Warhammer trilogy, is also its strangest and most experimental, letting players leave the traditional Total War sandbox every 30 or so turns to journey through the Realm of Chaos, where the domains of the Chaos gods exist, culminating in huge survival battles that draw from tower defence games, with fortifications, in-battle recruitment and waves of enemies.
The campaign proved to be divisive, but for those more interested in a proper sandbox, there's always Immortal Empires. Available as free DLC for anyone who owns all three games, this mega-campaign pits every faction and legendary lord in the entire trilogy against each other in a gargantuan map. So that's 278 factions and 86 playable legendary lords. It's incredible. Total War at its most, well, total war.
Read more: Immortal Empires is a messy masterpiece
Crusader Kings 3
Release date: 2020 | Developer: Paradox | Steam
Crusader Kings 3, the best strategy game of 2020, has usurped its predecessor's spot on the list, unsurprisingly. It's a huge grand strategy RPG, more polished and cohesive than the venerable CK2, and quite a bit easier on the eyes, too. At first glance it might seem a bit too familiar, but an even greater focus on roleplaying and simulating the lifestyles of medieval nobles, along with a big bag of new and reconsidered features, makes it well worth jumping ship to the latest iteration.
CK3 is a ceaseless storyteller supported by countless complex systems that demand to be mucked around with and tweaked. Getting to grips with it is thankfully considerably easier this time around, thanks to a helpful nested tooltip system and plenty of guidance. And all this soapy dynastic drama just has a brilliant flow to it, carrying you along with it. You can meander through life without any great plan and still find yourself embroiled in countless intrigues, wars and trysts.
Read more: Were the Middle Ages really as sick and incestuous as Crusader Kings says? We asked a historian
Total War: Three Kingdoms
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Release date: 2019 | Developer: Creative Assembly | Steam
Total War: Three Kingdoms, the latest historical entry in the series, takes a few nods from Warhammer, which you'll find elsewhere in this list, giving us a sprawling Chinese civil war that's fuelled by its distinct characters, both off and on the battlefield. Each is part of a complicated web of relationships that affects everything from diplomacy to performance in battle, and like their Warhammer counterparts they're all superhuman warriors.
It feels like a leap for the series in the same way the first Rome did, bringing with it some fundemental changes to how diplomacy, trade and combat works. The fight over China also makes for a compelling campaign, blessed with a kind of dynamism that we've not seen in a Total War before. Since launch, it's also benefited from some great DLC, including a new format that introduces historical bookmarks that expand on different events from the era.
Read more: This is my last chance to bring peace to Total War: Three Kingdoms
Europa Universalis 4
Release date: 2013 | Developer: Paradox | Steam, Epic
Paradox's long-running, flagship strategy romp is the ultimate grand strategy game, putting you in charge of a nation from the end of the Middle Ages all the way up to the 1800s. As head honcho, you determine its political strategy, meddle with its economy, command its armies and craft an empire.
Right from the get-go, Europa Universalis 4 lets you start changing history. Maybe England crushes France in the 100 Years War and builds a massive continental empire. Maybe the Iroquois defeat European colonists, build ships and invade the Old World. It's huge, complex, and through years of expansions has just kept growing. The simulation can sometimes be tough to wrap one's head around, but it's worth diving in and just seeing where alt-history takes you.
Read more: This mod is becoming the fantasy grand strategy game you can't get elsewhere
Release date: 2020 | Developer: Mohawk Games | Steam, Epic
Few 4X games try to challenge Civ, but Old World already had a leg up thanks designer Soren Johnson's previous relationship with the series. He was the lead designer on Civ 4, and that legacy is very apparent. But Old World is more than another take on Civ. For one, it's set exclusively in antiquity rather than charting the course of human history, but that change in scope also allows it to focus on people as well as empires.
Instead of playing an immortal ruler, you play one who really lives, getting married, having kids and eventually dying. Then you play their heir. You have courtiers, spouses, children and rivals to worry about, and with this exploration of the human side of empire-building also comes a bounty of events, plots and surprises. You might even find yourself assassinated by a family member. There's more than a hint of Crusader Kings here.
Read more: Put an 'undo' button in every strategy game
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Firaxis Games | Steam, Epic
You can't have a best strategy games list without a bit of Civ. Civilization 6 is our game of choice in the series right now, especially now that it's seen a couple of expansions. The biggest change this time around is the district system, which unstacks cities in the way that its predecessor unstacked armies. Cities are now these sprawling things full of specialised areas that force you to really think about the future when you developing tiles.
The expansions added some more novel wrinkles that are very welcome but do stop short of revolutionising the venerable series. They introduce the concept of Golden Ages and Dark Ages, giving you bonuses and debuffs depending on your civilisation's development across the years, as well as climate change and environmental disasters. It's a forward-thinking, modern Civ.
Read more: PC gaming would look very different without Civilization
Sins of a Solar Empire
Release date: 2008 | Developer: Ironclad Games | Steam, GOG
Sins of a Solar Empire captures some of the scope of a 4X strategy game but makes it work within an RTS framework. This is a game about star-spanning empires that rise, stabilise and fall in the space of an afternoon: and, particularly, about the moment when the vast capital ships of those empires emerge from hyperspace above half-burning worlds. Diplomacy is an option too, of course, but also: giant spaceships. Play the Rebellion expansion to enlarge said spaceships to ridiculous proportions.
After years of waiting, a sequel is finally on the horizon, thankfully. Sins of a Solar Empire 2 can already be played in early access for those who preorder it.
Read more: Let's remember how great Sins of a Solar Empire was
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Paradox | Steam
Stellaris takes an 'everything and the kicthen sink' approach to the space 4X. It's got a dose of EU4, Paradox's grand strategy game, but applied to a sci-fi game that contains everything from robotic uprisings to aliens living in black holes. It arguably tries to do to much and lacks the focus of some of the other genre greats, but as a celebration of interstellar sci-fi there are none that come close.
It's a liberating sandbox designed to generate a cavalcade of stories as you guide your species and empire through the stars, meddling with their genetic code, enslaving aliens, or consuming the galaxy as a ravenous hive of cunning insects.
Read more: Stellaris's game director isn't thinking about a sequel: 'There's so much stuff for us to continue working with'
Release date: 2014 | Developer: Amplitude Studios | Steam
Fantasy 4X Endless Legend is proof that you don't need to sacrifice story to make a compelling 4X game. Each of its asymmetrical factions sports all sorts of unique and unusual traits, elevated by story quests featuring some of the best writing in any strategy game. The Broken Lords, for instance, are vampiric ghosts living in suits of armour, wrestling with their dangerous nature; while the necrophage is a relentless force of nature that just wants to consume, ignoring diplomacy in favour of complete conquest. Including the expansions, there are 13 factions, each blessed or cursed with their own strange quirks. Faction design doesn't get better than this.
Read more: Endless Legend review
Release date: 1999 | Developer: Firaxis Games | GOG
Civ in space is a convenient shorthand for Alpha Centauri, but a bit reductive. Brian Reynolds' ambitious 4X journey took us to a mind-worm-infested world and ditched nation states and empires in favour of ideological factions who were adamant that they could guide humanity to its next evolution.
The techs, the conflicts, the characters—it was unlike any of its contemporaries and, with only a few exceptions, nobody has really attempted to replicate it. Not even when Firaxis literally made a Civ in space, which wasn't very good. Alpha Centauri is as fascinating and weird now as it was back in '99, when we were first getting our taste of nerve stapling naughty drones and getting into yet another war with Sister Miriam.
More than 20 years later, some of us are still holding out hope for Alpha Centauri 2.
Read more: The art of flavour text
Age of Wonders: Planetfall
Release date: 2019 | Developer: Triumph Studios| Steam
Pick an Age of Wonders and you really can't go wrong. If sci-fi isn't your thing, absolutely give Age of Wonders 3 a try, but it's Age of Wonders: Planetfall that's got us all hot and bothered at the moment. Set in a galaxy that's waking up after a long period of decline, you've got to squabble over a lively world with a bunch of other ambitious factions that run the gamut from dinosaur-riding Amazons to psychic bugs.
The methodical empire building is a big improvement over its fantastical predecessors, benefiting from big changes to its structure and pace, but just as engaging are the turn-based tactical battles between highly customisable units. Stick lasers on giant lizards, give everyone jetpacks, and nurture your heroes like they're RPG protagonists—there's so much fiddling to do, and it's all great.
Read more: Age of Wonders: Planetfall has endearingly weird factions
Company of Heroes 3
Release date: 2023 | Developer: Relic Entertainment| Steam
Every Company of Heroes game is worth your time, but I'm popping the latest in here because it's a mammoth of a game and blessed with the series' most impressive battles. Two campaigns, four factions, 14 multiplayer maps—and that's just at launch. It's likely going to grow from here.
Admittedly, Relic's experiments with its dynamic campaign haven't panned out, largely because the Nazis don't seem very interested in fighting back as you liberate the map of Italy. The turn-based campaign still has a lot to offer, though, but what you're really playing it for are the exceptional, explosive and diverse real-time battles. Across Italy and North Africa—a more traditional, linear campaign—you've got an absurd number of units to play with, and each company can have a dramatic impact on the tactics you deploy to win the day.
Dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines for a surprise attack, covering battlefields in smoke so your men can charge into trenches under cover, terrifying tank assaults and artillery strikes and air strikes and naval bombardments that completely terraform sleepy Italian towns and desert warzones... it's glorious chaos.
Read more: Company of Heroes 3 review
Release date: 2020 | Developer: King Art| Steam, Epic, GOG
If you played Company of Heroes and thought "What this really needs is some giant mechs", Iron Harvest might be the RTS for you. Set in an alternate 1920's Europe, factions duke it out with squishy soldiers, tanks and, the headline attraction, clunky steampunk mechs. There are plenty of them, from little exosuits to massive, smoke-spewing behemoths, and they're all a lot of fun to play with and, crucially, blow up.
Iron Harvest does love its explosions. When the dust settles after a big fight, you'll hardly recognise the area. Thanks to mortars, tank shells and mechs that can walk right through buildings, expect little to remain standing. The level of destruction is as impressive as it is grim. To cheer yourself up, you can watch a bear fight a mech. Each faction has a heroic unit, each accompanied by their very own pet. All of them have some handy unique abilities, and yes, they can go toe-to-toe with massive war machines.
Read more: Iron Harvest let me destroy a giant mech with a bear
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2
Release date: 2019 | Developer: Tindalos Interactive| Steam
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2's cosmic battles are spectacular. There's a trio of vaguely 4X-y campaigns following the three of the Warhammer 40K factions: The Imperium, Necron Empire and the nasty Tyranid Hives, but you can ignore them if you want and just dive into some messy skirmishes full of spiky space cathedrals colliding with giant, tentacle-covered leviathans.
The real-time tactical combat manages to be thrilling even when you're commanding the most sluggish of armadas. You need to manage a whole fleet while broadside attacks pound your hulls, enemies start boarding and your own crews turn mutinous. And with all the tabletop factions present, you can experiment with countless fleet configurations and play with all sorts of weird weapons.
Read more: Every Warhammer 40,000 game, ranked
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Shiro Games| Steam, GOG
Viking-themed RTS Northgard pays dues to Settlers and Age of Empires, but challenged us with its smart expansion systems that force you to plan your growth into new territories carefully. Weather is important, too. You need to prepare for winter carefully, but if you tech up using 'lore' you might have better warm weather gear than your enemies, giving you a strategic advantage. Skip through the dull story, enjoy the well-designed campaign missions and then start the real fight in the skirmish mode.
Read more: Northgard review
Homeworld Remastered Collection
Release date: 2015 | Developer: Gearbox Software (originally Relic Entertainment)| Steam, GOG
Mechanically, Homeworld is a phenomenal three-dimensional strategy game, among the first to successfully detach the RTS from a single plane. It’s more than that, though: it’s a major victory for atmosphere and sound design, whether that’s Adagio for Strings playing over the haunting opening missions or the beat of drums as ships engage in a multiplayer battle. If you liked the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or just fancy a good yarn in your RTS, you should play this.
Thanks to the Homeworld Remastered Collection, it's aged very well. The remasters maintain Homeworld and its sequel's incredible atmosphere, along with all the other great bits, but with updated art, textures, audio, UI—the lot. Everything is in keeping with the spirit of the original, but it just looks and sounds better.
Read more: Homeworld is still my dream RTS
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Blackbird Interactive| Steam, GOG
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak sounded almost sacrilegious at first. Over a decade since the last Homeworld game, it was going to take a game remembered for its spaceships and 3D movement and turn it into a ground-based RTS with tanks? And it was a prequel? Yet in spite of all the ways this could have gone horribly wrong, Deserts of Kharak succeeds on almost every count. It's not only a terrific RTS that sets itself apart from the rest of the genre's recent games, but it's also an excellent Homeworld game that reinvents the series while also recapturing its magic.
Read more: Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak dev partners with NASA to build interactive Mars colony
Command & Conquer: Remastered
Release date: 2020 | Developer: Petroglyph, Lemon Sky Studios (originally Westwood)| Steam
Two of the most important RTS romps in history have been remastered and flung into this collection. The original Command & Conquer and it's alt-history spin-off Red Alert are full of delightful FMV cheese and sci-fi battles, and while the genre has come a long way since their initial launch, this pair of historical artefacts remain an absolute joy to play. Even now, it doesn't get much more fun than to build up your base, recruit a whole bunch of weird and wonderful units, and then tear shit up and send your opponent packing.
This collection kicks things up to 4K, updates the UI, includes all three expansions and the map editor, and importantly lets duke it out in multiplayer. Also included is Frank Klepacki's remastered sound track, and lemme tell you, it still slaps. Oh boy.
Read more: Command & Conquer Remastered looks great, but the music is the real treasure
Release date: 2007 | Developer: Gas Powered Games| Steam, GOG
Only Total War can compete with the scale of Supreme Commander's real-time battles. It's still exhilarating to flick the mousewheel and fly from an individual engineer to a map of the entire battlefield, then flick it again to dive down to give orders to another unit kilometres away.
When armies do clash—in sprawling hundred-strong columns of robots—you're rewarded with the most glorious firefights a CPU can render. It's one of the few real-time strategy games to combine air, ground and naval combat into single encounters, but SupCom goes even further, with artillery, long-range nuclear ordnance and megalithic experimental bots.
Read more: The making of Supreme Commander
Release date: 2010 | Developer: Blizzard Entertainment| Battle.net
In addition to being the preeminent competitive strategy game of the last decade, StarCraft 2 deserves credit for rethinking how a traditional RTS campaign is structured. Heart of the Swarm is a good example of this, but the human-centric Wings of Liberty instalment is the place to start: an inventive adventure that mixes up the familiar formula at every stage. From zombie defence scenarios to planets that flood with lava every few minutes, you’re forced to learn and relearn StarCraft’s basic elements as you go.
In 2020, Blizzard finally decided to wind down development on StarCraft 2, announcing that no new additions would be coming, aside from things like balance fixes. The competitive scene is still very much alive, however, and you'll still find few singleplayer campaigns as good as these ones. Conveniently, the base game is also free.
Read more: Phil Spencer 'excited' at the idea of more StarCraft
Release date: 2002 | Developer: Blizzard Entertainment| Battle.net
Most notable today for being the point of origin for the entire MOBA genre, Warcraft 3 is also an inventive, ambitious strategy game in its own right, which took the genre beyond anonymous little sprites and into the realm of cinematic fantasy.
The pioneering inclusion of RPG elements in the form of heroes and neutral monsters adds a degree of unit-specific depth not present in its sci-fi stablemate, StarCraft, and the sprawling campaign delivers a fantasy story that—if not quite novel—is thorough and exciting in its execution. It also has the best 'repeated unit click' jokes in the business. Shame about Warcraft 3: Reforged, it's not-so-great remake, which you'll need to buy if you want to play the classic version and don't already have a key.
Read more: The outrage over Warcraft 3: Reforged, explained
Rise of Nations: Extended Edition
Release date: 2014 | Developer: Skybox Labs (originally Big Huge Games)| Steam
Age of Empires gave us the chance to encompass centuries of military progress in half-hour battles, but Rise of Nations does it better, and smartly introduces elements from turn-based strategy games like Civ.
Instead of marshalling troops from a single base, you build cities all over the map to grow your nation’s borders. When borders collide civs race through the ages and try to out-tech each other in a hidden war for influence, all while trying to deliver a knockout military blow with javelins and jets. There aren’t enough games that let you crush longbowmen with amphibious tanks and stealth bombers.
Read more: Reinstall: Rise of Nations
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2
Release date: 2009 | Developer: Relic Entertainment| Steam
It was tempting to put the excellent first Dawn of War on the list, but the box-select, right-click to kill formula is well represented. Instead let’s appreciate the experimental sequel, which replaced huge units with a handful of rock-hard space bastards, each with a cluster of killer abilities. In combat you micromanage these empowered special forces, timing the flying attack of your Assault Marines and the sniping power of your Scouts with efficient heavy machine gun cover to undo the Ork hordes. The co-operative Last Stand mode is also immense.
Read more: Great moments in PC gaming: Going on the defensive in Dawn of War 2
Marvel's Midnight Suns
Release date: 2022 | Developer: Firaxis Games| Steam, Epic
Midnight Suns was not how I expected Firaxis to follow up XCOM. From the card-based tactical combat to the emphasis on the social lives of superheroes, this tactical RPG eschews the legacy of XCOM in favour of experimentation. But Firaxis's skill at crafting tense battles and dense systems is still very much on display. It's a busy game, but all of it just feels great.
All of the social and roleplaying stuff is fantastic, but if you're reading this list then you're probably even more interested in its tactical chops. Each hero comes with a deck that, in battle, gets mixed up with cards from two other heroes, creating a hand that lets you control all of them. In a regular fight you'll have three card plays and one opportunity to move. Firaxis then lets you you push against these limitations and constantly move around the battlefield, using a mix of card and environmental attacks to unleash holy hell on your foes. There's nothing like managing to eviscerate every enemy in one turn. Each arena becomes a clever tactical puzzle, and the whole thing just feels like magic.
Read more: Marvel's Midnight Suns is more Fire Emblem than XCOM
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Harebrained Schemes| Steam
Like an adaptation of the tabletop game crossed with the XCOM design template, BattleTech is a deep and complex turn-based game with an impressive campaign system. You control a group of mercenaries, trying to keep the books balanced and upgrading your suite of mechwarriors and battlemechs in the game's strategy layer. In battle, you target specific parts of enemy mechs, taking into account armor, angle, speed and the surrounding environment, then make difficult choices when the fight isn't going your way.
It can initially be overwhelming and it's undeniably a dense game, but if that's what you want from your strategy games or you love this universe, it's a great pick.
Read more: BattleTech has grown into a sprawling, must-play mech war sim
Into the Breach
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Subset Games| Steam, GOG
A beautifully designed, near-perfect slice of tactical mech action from the creators of FTL. Into the Breach challenges you to fend off waves of Vek monsters on eight-by-eight grids populated by tower blocks and a variety of sub objectives. Obviously you want to wipe out the Vek using mech-punches and artillery strikes, but much of the game is about using the impact of your blows to push enemies around the map and divert their attacks away from your precious buildings.
Civilian buildings provide power, which serves as a health bar for your campaign. Every time a civilian building takes a hit, you're a step closer to losing the war. Once your power is depleted your team travels back through time to try and save the world again. It's challenging, bite-sized, and dynamic. As you unlock new types of mechs and mech upgrades you gain inventive new ways to toy with your enemies.
Read more: Somehow, our favorite game of 2018 got even better in 2022
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Firaxis Games| Steam, Epic, GOG
XCOM 2 cleverly uses scarcity of opportunity to force you into difficult dilemmas. At any one time you might have only six possible scan sites, while combat encounters are largely meted out by the game, but what you choose to do with this narrow range of options matters enormously. You need to recruit new rookies; you need an engineer to build a comms facility that will let you contact more territories; you need alien alloys to upgrade your weapons. You can’t have all of these. You can probably only have one. In 1989 Sid Meier described games as "a series of interesting decisions." XCOM 2 is the purest expression of that ethos that Firaxis has yet produced.
The War of the Chosen expansion brings even more welcome if frantic changes, like the endlessly chatty titular enemies, memorable nemeses who pop up at different intervals during the campaign with random strengths and weaknesses.
Read more: The best XCOM 2 mods
Release date: 2015 | Developer: Klei Entertainment| Steam, GOG
Sneaky tactics doesn't come in a slicker package than Invisible, Inc., Klei's exceptional stealth-em-up. It's a sexy cyberpunk espionage romp blessed with so much tension that you'll be sweating buckets as you slink through corporate strongholds and try very hard to not get caught. It's tricky, sometimes dauntingly so, but there's a chance you can fix your terrible mistakes by rewinding time, adding some welcome accessibility to the proceedings.
Read more: The best stealth games on PC
Release date: 2006 | Developer: Introversion Software| Steam, GOG
DEFCON’s sinister blue world map is the perfect stage for this Cold War horror story about the outbreak of nuclear war. First, you manage stockpiles, and position missile sites, nuclear submarines and countermeasures in preparation for armageddon. This organisation phase is an interesting strategic challenge in itself, but DEFCON is at its most effective when the missiles fly.
Blooming blast sites are matched with casualty numbers as city after city experiences obliteration. Once the dust has settled, victory is a mere technicality. It’s nightmarish, and quite brilliant in multiplayer.
Read more: 15 games with their own simulated operating systems
Unity of Command 2
Release date: 2019 | Developer: 2x2 Games| Steam
Unity of Command was already the perfect entry point into the complex world of wargames, but Unity of Command 2 manages to maintain this while throwing in a host of new features. It's a tactical puzzle, but a reactive one where you have the freedom to try lots of different solutions to its military conundrums. Not just a great place to start, it's simply a brilliant wargame.
Read more: Unity of Command 2 review
Hearts of Iron 4
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Paradox| Steam
Hearts of Iron 4 is a grand strategy wargame hybrid, as comfortable with logistics and precise battle plans as it is with diplomacy and sandboxy weirdness. Ostensibly game about World War 2, it lets you throw out history as soon as you want. Want to conquer the world as a communist UK? Go for it. Maybe Germany will be knocked out of the war early, leaving Italy to run things.
You can even keep things going for as long as you want, leading to a WW2 that continues into the '50s or '60s. With expansions, it's fleshed out naval battles, espionage and other features so you have control over nearly every aspect of the war.
Read more: The 7 best depictions of World War II in PC games
Steel Division: Normandy 44
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Eugen Systems| Steam
Steel Division: Normandy 44 takes its cues from Eugen Systems' exceptional Wargame series, combining the titular subgenre with loads of RTS goodness. Normandy 44 takes the action back to World War 2 and tears France apart with its gargantuan battles. It's got explosive real-time fights, but with mind-boggling scale and additional complexities ranging from suppression mechanics to morale and shock tactics.
The sequel, Steel Division 2, brings with it some improvements, but unfortunately the singleplayer experience isn't really up to snuff. In multiplayer, though, it's pretty great. And if the World War 2 setting isn't your cup of tea, the older Wargame series still represents some of the best of both RTS and wargaming, so they're absolutely worth taking for a spin.
Read more: The most historically accurate PC games
Strategy games to watch
We're always updating this list, and below are a few upcoming games that we're hoping we'll eventually be able to include. These are the strategy games we're most looking forward to, so check out what you should be keeping an eye on.
Deserts of Kharak was fantastic, which is why you'll find it above, but who hasn't yearned for a true Homeworld sequel? Blackbird Interactive's Homeworld 3 will have 3D combat with massive scale battles that let you control everything from tiny interceptors to massive motherships, just like you'd expect, as well as moving Homeworld's saga forward.
The studio still hasn't revealed much about the sequel, though its broad vision is to capture how the original games looked and played—something it even managed to do with Deserts of Kharak, despite being a ground-based RTS—but with "meaningful improvements." One example of the changes is how the ballistic system works. There's no hard release date at the moment, but we're expecting it out in 2023.
The Great War: Western Front
If you've been looking at Company of Heroes 3 and thinking "This looks great, but I'd prefer more trenches" then WWI RTS The Great War: Western Front might be exactly what you're looking for. It's split between a turn-based wargame campaign and RTS battles, but the unique complications of WWI battles make this feel very different from your usual RTS.
Your infantry are paper thin and will vanish quickly when targeted by machine gunners, and you might end up fighting over single locations for several turns, as you watch the battlefield evolve thanks to artillery fire. If you fail to capture your objectives, or don't push the enemy back, you can still strike again, hopefully learning from your mistakes. There's a big emphasis on planning, and you'll start each RTS encounter by laying down trenches, positioning your troops, requisitioning balloons to help with visibility, bringing in tanks—anything to help give you an edge.
The Great War: Western Front is out on March 30.
Age of Wonders 4
After a sci-fi detour with Planetfall, which you'll find above, Triumph Studios is returning to fantasy with Age of Wonders 4. Once again you'll traipse around colourful realms, erecting cities, going on adventures and recruiting/fighting monsters, but this time there's a much greater emphasis on the society that you're building.
As well as making a custom ruler, you'll also be able to pick myriad traits for the people you lead, building an empire of cannibal rats, mystical dwarves or militant tiger-folk. You can create all sorts of unusual combinations right off the bat, but thanks to magical tomes you'll be able to continue to develop them throughout the game. Maybe you'll make those cannibal rats zombies, or turn down the temperature and transform your mystical dwarves into frosty warriors with ice spikes sticking out of their backs. If only real political leaders offered these kinds of benefits.
Age of Wonders 4 is coming soon, on May 2.
If C&C Remastered got you all pumped for more classic RTS shenanigans, Tempest Rising will probably pique your interest. It's unabashedly inspired by '90s and early 2000s real-time strategy games, but with a flashy aesthetic that's considerably more modern.
You've got base building, of course, and three factions, each with a unique way of handling combat and building up their economies. Along with multiplayer and comp stomp skirmishes, you'll be able to duke it out in a pair of 15-mission campaigns, where you'll also fight over neutral buildings and deal with neutral populations—so the battlefields are going to be a bit busier than C&C's.
Tempest Rising doesn't have a specific release date but is expected to appear in 2023.
Best strategy mods
Some of our favourite strategy games have spawned enduring modding communities, keeping decade-old game alive with dramatic overhauls that continue to be updated long after the devs have moved on. As well as celebrating the best strategy games, then, we also want to celebrate a few of our favourite strategy mods.
Third Age: Total War
Until Total War: Warhammer, we had to rely on mods to get our fantasy Total War kicks, but with mods as good as Third Age, that wasn't too much of a sacrifice. It's a Medieval 2 overhaul that recreates the third age of Middle-earth, including cities, landmarks and all the ents and orcs you could hope you fight or befriend. Lord of the Rings has inspired countless mods, but this remains one of the best.
XCOM: Long War
XCOM: Long War could have been an expansion. It throws in so much and tweaks pretty much everything, but it never compromises the game it's built on. XCOM was great, but it was quite a bit more streamlined than original X-COM designer Julian Gollop's vision of the series. Long War merged them, giving fans of the older games something trickier and meatier to play with, but it still felt modern and polished. Firaxis developers even got involved, and for XCOM 2 the team created some official add-ons, before following up the mod with Long War 2.
Crusader Kings 2: A Game of Thrones
Crusader Kings 2 is pretty much the perfect platform for a Game of Thrones strategy game. It's fat with intrigue, warring nobles and mad monarchs tearing kingdoms apart. That's not to say that the creators of CK2's A Game of Thrones mod haven't changed loads. It's a substantial overhaul that goes beyond changing the map and giving people lore-approriate names. Most of the focus is on one throne that everyone's fighting over, for instance, so the structure of the game has been changed to fit the setting. It also introduced a few systems before Paradox did, including characters being able to duel each other. No official game has been able to capture the books or show quite like the mod.