December 2, 2022

Nikopol Game

E-Sport News

Best 11 Real-Time Strategy Games You Can Play

It’s not the most popular genre out there. The title goes to battle royales, MOBAs, hero shooters, and FPS titles as a whole. Still, I know gamers like me are looking for the best real-time strategy games available.

RTS offers a blend of mechanical and tactical challenges as a subgenre of strategy games. Winning against your opponents feels like solving a long-term puzzle. Each move you make can snowball you towards victory or defeat.

Finding the ideal title requires us to browse old and new games alike. Regardless of age, you should be able to find, buy, and play it easily.

Selecting Real-Time Strategy Games

Real-time strategy games are easy to recognize, as they look and behave the same way. Still, some games present unique elements to stand out from the crow.

So, to better understand our selection, I’m displaying the list of primary elements of the RTS genre:

  • Management: The core part is managing a city or an empire. You gather or loot resources, research, build structures, and train soldiers. 
  • Resources: It’s crucial to micro-manage your resource generation. In essence, your villagers, taxes, and economic structures work to feed your empire. 
  • Resource Management: Some RTS games feature limited resources, and others feature endless resources. A limited design is often more challenging.
  • Combat: You manage your soldiers against the enemy. They fight automatically, but you determine formations, movement, target skills, etc.
  • Rock, Paper & Scissors: Combat relies on counter systems. Certain unit or damage types are better or worse than certain unit types. 
  • Tech Trees: Often, you need to advance in a tech tree by researching technologies or building structures. 
  • Starting From Scratch: Similarly, you start a match or a campaign with a small settlement and a few units. Your job is to build your strength from scratch. 
  • Permanent Upgrades: On campaigns, you start from scratch on every episode. However, there are permanent upgrades to unlock in-between levels.
  • Turn-based Campaigns: If the game has turn-based management, the campaign happens all across a giant board, per turn -like a board game.
  • Game Modes: RTS games feature different game modes. Namely, you’d have a campaign, multiplayer matches, matches against the AI, training modes, etc.
  • Real-time: The gameplay progresses in real-time rather than in turns. That includes the management and the combat. 
  • Turns: Some titles add a turn-based management segment. You develop your city or empire per turn but combat in real-time.
  • Victory: Destroying your opponent’s assets, like military units and structures, achieves victory.
  • Population cap: You also play around a population limit, which varies per game. 
  • Soldier Units: Some games train units individually, which means you can use them individually. Or you can group them.
  • Squad Units: Other games train units in squads. They will always move together as a single unit and use their skills as a squad on command. 
  • Click & Drag: You issue most commands with clicks or dragging the click. It’s easy to learn, as the complexity revolves around the strategy.
  • Map: Most games happen on a map, where you can only see the areas where your units and buildings live.
  • Isometric Perspective: The maps are often in 2D or 2.5D, whereas the units and structures are in 3D. You see all of this from an aerial perspective. 
  • Keyboard Shortcuts: A comprehensive keyboard shortcut menu allows you to customize several in-game commands on different buttons.
  • Asymmetry, Symmetry, and In-between: RTS games thrive on factions. The more factions there are, the more similar they are as well. The same is true vice-versa.
  • AI: Lastly, RTS games require advanced AI systems to move the units and control the enemy. The way soldiers path across the map, attack, group information, and perform other tasks can make or break the game.

The typical RTS game features resource-gathering, tech development, base-building, and indirect combat. All other elements complement the category, making it more comfortable for players. 

Taking everything into consideration, we know what we want. We’re looking for RTS titles that feel smooth, refined, unique, and memorable

Best Real-Time Strategy Games

Starcraft II

starcraft-2-best-rts-games
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Release Date: July 2010
  • Platform: Windows, macOS

Starcraft II is a sci-fi RTS title, the sequel to the legendary Starcraft. IT comes from the glory days of Blizzard. We suspect the active community is larger than any other game on the list, but there’re no official numbers. 

The full title includes three single-player campaigns per race in the game. The Terrans (humans) start with Wings of Liberty (2010), which is currently free. Then comes the Zerg (insectoids) with 2013’s Heart of the Swarm. Finally, the advanced Protoss ends the story with 2015’s Legacy of the Void. 

Each faction is entirely different. They feature different units, techs, and buildings. However, the game’s blocks are the same. You start with a few workers to gather the two resource types (minerals and gas) and build structures. Then, train your units, and go to war.

The game is fast and punishing, both in the campaign and multiplayer modes. Because resources are not infinite, each battle is costly. Also, units move very fast, feature frantic skills, and rely on a wide rock, paper & scissors system that includes land and air units. 

Lastly, the campaigns are perhaps the best part of the experience, at least for casual gamers. That’s because there’s a great focus on what happens in-between missions. You get to invest special resources you find on tech or to unlock units. You can also choose your next missions and talk to other NPCs.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition

aoeii-definitive-edition
  • Developer: Forgotten Empires
  • Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
  • Release Date: November 2019
  • Platform: Windows

Listen: this game has 27 campaigns without DLC and about 12K concurrent daily players on Steam alone. Not only is it the longest game on the list, but it also has the largest player base. That is, at least, by seeing the official numbers. 

This medieval RTS bundles the original game plus all of its expansions. Then, it adds more campaigns, various extra DLCs, hundreds of balance changes, and constant developer support. This is it if you’re looking for a time-tested RTS to play online.

For example, you can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4, and the rest of your team are your friends planning your moves through Discord. Then, you pick from 42 symmetric civilizations,m pick a map, and gain points to rise on the multiplayer ladder.

You can always play the campaigns, though. They follow historical battles, conquerors, and empires across the entire world. Every level within the campaign starts and ends with narration. And every moment you play takes inspiration from a historical moment.

As for gameplay, it’s challenging but easier than Starcraft II at the same time. That’s because two out of four resources are endless (wood and food compared to gold and wood). The rest is as usual: there’s a 200 population cap, and you build villages, units, structures, age up, research, and fight. 

Starcraft Mass Recall and Starcraft Remastered

starcraft-remastered
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Release Date: August 2017 (original game – 1998)
  • Platform: Windows, macOS, Classic Mac OS, Nintendo 64

Starcraft: Remastered is the newer edition of the classic 1998 RTS game. It retains the original gameplay, features, campaign, and expansion. Then, it brings UltraHD visuals, re-recorded audio, and a modern online multiplayer.

The title features the initial story of the Starcraft universe. Terrans and Protoss are in conflict against the Zerg, an insectoid race conquering planets fast. Kerrigan, a human-turned-zerg, is at the center of the conflict.

You get to play three campaigns, one per race. Then, the expansion offers three additional campaigns to expand the story. Additionally, you have matches against the AI, multiplayer modes, and challenges.

The best part, though, is the campaign. It’s memorable, complex, and morally grey. The conflict is not a simple black & white matter, as every side has valid reasons for war and conquer. Moreover, levels vary vastly, offering distinct levels of challenge and lore.

Lastly, you can play Starcraft Mass Recall. It’s a recreation of the original campaign with Starcraft II. Fans created it with the in-game editor, and it’s one of the many great mods you can play in the sequel. 

Total War: Rome Remastered

rome-total-war-remastered-1
  • Developer: Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Release Date: April 2021
  • Platform: Windows, macOS, SteamOS, Linux

Total War is a grand-strategy saga that blends 4X and RTS elements. You choose one of the three Roman family factions and engage in an epic campaign to conquer several settlements worldwide. Alternatively, you can play with any other faction in the game, like Germania, Parthia, or Carthage. 

The 4X (expand-explore, exploit, exterminate) happens on a massive board per turn. You manage your cities, resources, taxes, armies, and special units like diplomats. And as you rise in tech trees, you’ll unlock more powerful units.

To engage in combat, you move your army on the map against another army or city. Or an enemy army can engage you in combat on the open field or besiege a city. Winning a battle can raise the level of your troops, but it also depletes your numbers -as your soldiers die. 

Combat happens in real-time. You control up to 20 unit squads, which means around 1200 soldiers in your army. At the start of the match, you position your formation while the battle is on pause. Then, you fight while moving your units, targeting enemies, engaging skills, fleeing, charging, and similar. 

Lastly, you manage the politics of your empire. You marry your family members, raise heirs, assign mayors, manage your commander’s perks, assign commanders to armies, and much more. 

Total War: Warhammer III

total war warhammer 3
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Release Date: February 2017
  • Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux

Total War: Warhammer III is a turn-based strategy game with real-time combat. It works like TW: Rome but lives within the Warhammer fictional high fantasy universe. 

Currently, it’s perhaps the most popular TW game available. It allows you to easily find real-time combat against another player. Alternatively, up to eight friends can join a single match on combat or a board.

In the campaign, players move armies around the map, manage their settlements, and handle political matters. You can engage in combat with the enemy if two armies meet or if an army meets a settlement. 

You enjoy each faction’s advantages, tech, and units in combat or management. Then, in combat, you play with over 1000 units per team, and your army is full of magical creatures and heroes.

Lastly, the game has custom battle modes. It’s a popular feature within the game, as it allows you to create battles against the AI or another player. All TW gamers feature the mode. And that said, you can also try other TW games, such as Empire, Shogun 2, Rome 2, or Warhammer 2.

Company of Heroes 2

company of heroes 2
  • Developer: Relic Entertainment
  • Publisher: SEGA, Feral Interactive
  • Release Date: June 2013
  • Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux

Company of Heroes 2 is an RTS with a WWII setting. The story focuses on the Eastern front, and you control the Soviet Red army during a series of battles on the Eastern Front. 

It’s also one of the most successful games in the genre. That’s because the victory conditions are unique. You win by capturing specific flagged points, locations where you collect munitions, fuel, and other resources.

Then, you invest these resources to build your units. It means you don’t depend on collecting resources with workers. Rather, you need to aggressively capture map areas to secure your progress. Similarly, you can occupy civilian buildings to use them.

The combat is also memorable. You control your units per usual but use issue artillery attacks, air support, air cover, suppression fire, and similar commands. Each unit has a range of fighting abilities, strengths, and disadvantages.

Other systems in the game include line-of-sight calculations and weather conditions. Additionally, other game modes introduce single-player and co-op missions, extra campaigns, and challenges. 

Northgard

northgard
  • Developer: Shiro Games
  • Publisher: Shiro Games
  • Release Date: March 2018
  • Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Northgard is a Viking RTS game with unique gameplay. It’s challenging, the campaign features an engaging story, and the combat is a lot of fun. If you’re an avid RTS fan, it’s a must-have title. 

You play as a Viking clan exploring and conquering a new land. The goal is to bring fame to the tribe and write history through trading, conquest, or devotion. However, the undead, wolves, giants, and other mythical creatures won’t make it easy. 

The gameplay is about building a settlement on each level. However, you can’t train villagers or workers. Instead, your population grows when your settlement is “Happy.” Then, you can assign them to various jobs (like farmer, sailor, or warrior) and change them at any time.

At all times, though, you should be fulfilling your basic needs. It forces you to manage resources carefully. On top of that, you must survive winters where your lands can’t grow and expand your territory.

Lastly, the game features various victory conditions. You can win by conquest, fame, trading, and lore. Moreover, you can play the campaign, matches against the AI, or against other players to rise on the multiplayer ladder. 

Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection

command and conquer
  • Developer: Petroglyph, Lemon Sky Studios
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Release Date: June 2020 (Original game – 1995)
  • Platform: Windows

Command & Conquer: Remastered collection bundles the first two games in the saga. These are 1995’s Command & Conquer and 1996’s Red Alert, high marks in the genre. Alongside the original games, you also get all of its expansion packs.

The remaster has 4K graphics, upscaled full-motion video, cinematic footage, remastered footage, a new sidebar UI, and modern online multiplayer. Also, there’s a “making of” gallery you can unlock during the campaign. 

The plot follows alternative events during the late 20th Century. Nazi Germany, alongside the Soviet Union, is the height of the power. Their territory stretches over Eurasia and Eastern Europe. It opens up a campaign where you can play as the allies, or the soviets, in an alternate WWII. 

The campaign features various ways to complete each mission. In each episode, you mine resources with trucks (ores and gems), build structures, produce vehicles, train troops, repair your units, and research tech. Often, the key to victory denies the enemy’s resources. 

Then, you group your units on number keys and guide them towards the enemy. You also have an “action bar” with various skills, like parachuting troops and air strikes, to help you along the way. And while you’re at war, you must keep up your power demands by building power plants to create electricity. 

Homeworld: Remastered Collection

Homeworld: Remastered Collection
  • Developer: Gearbox Software
  • Publisher: Gearbox Software
  • Release Date: February 2015
  • Platform: Windows, macOS

The Remastered Edition of the epic sci-fi RTS bundles four games. You have the remaster of the original two titles, plus the classic version of these games. Additionally, you can play it online on Steam, although there are few active players. 

The remasters feature UltraHD graphics, a modern UI, a re-worked AI, and new systems. It also has a new rendering technology to smooth-out combat, a remastered score, and high-fidelity voice recordings. 

These titles happen in space. You manage a capital ship, and through the vessel, you collect resources, build an armada, and research technologies. Then, the story goes across over 30 single-player missions in each game.

As you play, you’ll choose unit types and fleet formations. You can also select flight tactics and make other strategic choices in combat. Additionally, you plan out your research and construct ships, which range from small fighters to massive carries.

Overall, you’ll be able to fight with over 100 spaceships. Combat is mostly about securing resources, and you use helpless automatic vessels to gather minerals in space. 

Age Of Empires IV

age of empires 4
  • Developer: Relic Entertainment, World’s Edge
  • Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
  • Release Date: October 2021
  • Platform: Windows

Age of Empires IV is the modern successor to AoEII. However, the fan base has decreased steadily, as it debuted with around 15K monthly players and now features less than 6K. This is despite the proper developer support and the monthly balance changes.

It’s hard to pinpoint why it’s not as successful as the prior version. In theory, it’s the better game. It features eight asymmetrical and fairly interesting factions, advanced AI, branching tech trees, and neat visuals. As a result, multiplayer battles feel epic and rely on several strategy levels.

Perhaps its downfall it’s the campaigns. AoEIV seems more focused on the hardcore, multiplayer gamer than the casual user. So, only four campaigns focus on historical periods. And even though levels unlock interesting mini-documentaries, the levels themselves are not as good. 

This is also a medieval RTS, focusing more on siege units and warfare. In fact, siege units are often the strongest in the game, so multiplayer matches are often a race to reach the higher parts of the tech tree.

Because of that, playing requires perfecting every step towards efficiency. How you command your villages, what you research first, and your overall build order plays a massive role in the game.

Warcraft III: Reforged

warcraft 3 reforged
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Release Date: January 2020
  • Platform: Windows, macOS

Before we begin, sons of Durotan. We wish you could play the original Warcraft III, plus its expansion. However, since the Reforged version debuted, you can only buy and play the remaster. That’s a shame because its performance is shameful. Still, the original game is so good that we still recommend it. 

Regardless, the original game was another high mark in the genre. Like Starcraft, it revolves around four highly asymmetric races. There’re Orcs, Undead, Humans, and Night Elfs. Additionally, there’re many other non-playable races in Azeroth.

The story follows the never-ending conflict between Humans and Orcs. The Night Elfs, watchers of the forest, achieve an alliance between the living to stop their greatest foe: the Undead and their Burning Legion.

The campaign happens in four parts and in levels. Then, the expansion features three different campaigns. Plus, the Orc expansion follows two heroes and behaves like an isometric hack & slash. Overall, the levels, cinematics, characters, and major battles are memorable. Also, there’re hero units capable of leveling up and using up to four skills.

Lastly, the gameplay is highly difficult, as there’re many things to consider. First, there’s a complex rock, paper, and scissors system. Then, most units feature a unique skill, which forces you to micro-manage units. Third, all of the resources deplete, and the resource efficiency suffers the more population you have.