The 36 Best PC Strategy Games: from X-COM: Apocalypse (1997) to the Infinite Crusader Kings (2021)

From classics to recent releases, these are the best strategy games for PC.

The 36 best PC strategy games
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Medieval, space, or fantasy games. Strategy games allow you to digitize war conflicts, attend to diplomacy, learn history at full speed, and enjoy idyllic periods of peace—in Balance of Power or DEFCON, it was a prerequisite to win— in a world conquered with bayonet and mortar blows.

Here is our objective, truthful selection. Timeless classics and recent wonders, with purchase links to try the ones you like the most. Turn-based or real-time strategy? It doesn’t matter. We could go back to the years of Wargy (1976) to the primitive hexagonal grids to talk about this immortal genre.

And please, if your favorite game is not on this list, you can mention it in the comments. Nothing better to break the summer monotony than facing a good RTS.

Table of Contents (36)

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (1999)

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

There is no room here for Beyond Earth because we have not yet healed the scars of the planet Chiron. Brian Reynolds oversaw the design, and Sid Meier put his signature—which led to a legal dispute— in what is one of the best-written RTS.

Space opera of premium quality, where every turn counts. Those were magical times indeed. The team could appeal to comfort and invent a Civilization III with space colonization.

Instead, the recently inaugurated Firaxis poured all its industrial, technological, and creative resources into building a jewel where the literature of Frank Herbert, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Vernor Vinge draw our games.

X-COM: Apocalypse (1997)

X-COM: Apocalypse

And why not the official debut, the review by Firaxis, or even Xenonauts, a kind of unlicensed remake filled with darkness? Because no. X-COM: Apocalypse, the third release in Julian Gollop’s masterful saga, narrows the space to a single-game scenario and expands the badassery developing alien technology to its limit.

It’s the fifth Mythos game and is probably the best of its genre. There is nothing like it. Keep an eye out for mind control.

X-COM 2 (2016)

We jumped almost two decades to a planet Earth dominated by aliens, where turning the tables is practically impossible.

X-COM 2 is that near-perfect sequel, the final addition to a dynasty marked by narrative milestones. The change is clear: we must plot ambushes, move through the shadows, and blow up their strongholds. Although a Chosen One can kidnap, interrogate, and execute part of our troop and bust our plans.

Command & Conquer Remastered Collection (2020)

The holy scriptures in what we understand as a remaking of a classic that debuted in 1995 and continues to raise passions. Petroglyph, former members of the original Westwood, have developed this compilation where more than 100 missions -including console exclusives- will remind you how to create an immortal RTS.

Yes, the story is a bit dodgy and suffers from outdated stereotypes. However, when it comes to moving troops, there are few things more enjoyable.

Age of Empires II HD (2013)

Age of Empires II is living history somewhere between mythology and didactics. High school students went from cramming ages of kings to clicking on blue troops and measuring the cost of sacrificing their cavalry, from suicidal outposts with William Wallace to the rise of Frederick Barbarossa.

The now-defunct Ensemble Studios was more than just the factory of the “wololo” meme; it was the home of the best light strategy, the gateway to a genre. If we haven’t stopped talking about this game it’s for a reason (more than nostalgia).

Total War: Warhammer II (2017)

We could have dedicated this space to claim Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, but the studio’s new trilogy offers a new point of view that players should not ignore.

This game brings the gigantic lore of Warhammer Fantasy with the mechanic’s system of Total War. Creative Assembly has reached the highest level with this project. We can marvel at the graphic quality of these rats that have emerged from the abyss, or we can set out to conquer the three continents. Both options are valid, but it’s obvious that this alliance is setting a standard in this genre’s history.

Invisible, Inc. (2015)

One of the virtues of chess lies in its moves: after the first one, there are 400 possibilities. After the second, we have another 197,742 moves. A simple board game in which it is almost impossible to quantify the time it would take to replicate all the possible moves.

This is also the virtue of Invisible, Inc.: we lose because we have not analyzed the game three or four moves ahead. The tension grows as we assess which option is the least bad. It’s a game about giving up and staying alive after the first few hours. Don’t forget to kill them all.

Prison Architect (2015)

Strategy games are full of evil and perversion: they shake our morale until our worst intentions, or a hidden knife, slip out of our pockets.

If we didn’t have enough of bribing savages in pursuit of an advantageous position next to an iron mine or if it wasn’t enough to fill our ice cream with ice, Prison Architect is born with an even more bastard vocation: we must manage our escape from prison, or avoid it and keep the prisoners happy, distracted, or at least satisfied. Otherwise, they’ll riot, and the housing, security, and recreation systems will explode. No one wants to melt away tied to the electric chair while a court enjoys the execution unless it’s the same person sentencing the execution.

Total War: Rome II (2013)

This game, with a bit of Total War in its essence, is the direct sequel to an absolute hit. Not for nothing, Creative Assembly is one of the major players in this business. What started as a European conquest has been spreading over Africa and the Middle East with new kingdoms: Kush, Sheba, Nabatea, and Numidia.

The care with which the studio recreates the movements of each regiment and how tribes, monarchies, and republics coexist on the stage is amazing. This game is an ideal example to play but also to watch.

Company of Heroes 2 (2013)

Company Of Heroes 2

The first release transformed grandfatherly battles into military lyrics. From a warlike point of view, the game treated destructible environments in 2006 and the most important historical events of the 20th century. Company of Heroes 2, Relic Entertainment’s second edition, raises the volume and the category: more battles, challenges, enemy armies, and the same sense of epicness sifted by the smell of shrapnel and fallen allies.

Anyone who likes the genre needs to move their tanks here. Taking advantage of competitive/cooperative modes from two to eight players, Relic is the perfect plan for a freezing Saturday.

Hearts of Iron IV (2016)

Video games are the best catalyst to spit out certain impulses, either to exorcize anger or to see unspeakable desires come true. Is there anything better than turning the United States into a communist republic? Yes, to do the same with Nazi Germany or to delay the conflict through various trials and alliances.

After choosing 1936 or 1939 as a starting point, in this journey, we will have to change the course of events up to the deadline, 1948, and then read. Because if there’s one thing you’ll enjoy about this unique piece, it’s going through the various wikis and learning all the history you suspended in high school. I still wonder why this saga is not used to illustrate the most boring modern history classes.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (2010)

A free game. If this word does not motivate your interest, perhaps we should say that Blizzard’s is one of the most popular sagas in the history of real-time strategy, and StarCraft II is one of those obligatory stops.

Using a competent AI, controlling the fragile Terrans, invading with the nasty Zergs, or learning from the intelligent Protoss leaves sequels. Don’t forget to try it.

Total War: Medieval II (2006)

We recommend Medieval II twice: as a game, it is splendid in almost all its facets, with well-balanced options.

And as a skeleton on which to create mods, it is inexhaustible: Lord of the Rings, Warhammer, Gothic, or even The Elder Scrolls—the most turbulent era of Western history is more joyful if we manage pop icons of fantasy literature.

The Banner Saga (2014)

Having completed the trilogy, we believe it is the perfect time to revisit Stoic’s games.

The Banner Saga is a hand-drawn Viking role-playing game where the leader’s decisions affect the group and the internal relationships—we can lose allies or keep them fed by fear. With a wide range of decisions, the objective is to turn our village into a prosperous one, with alliances in every corner of the map.

Stellaris (2016)

In Stellaris, we can generate entire galaxies depending on how we approach different strategies, affecting other civilizations with our military or diplomatic capabilities, discovering treasures by accident in the middle of our scientific missions, and other possibilities.

This game has bits and pieces of the economy seen in EVE Online, inherits elements from the cold and ignored Startopia, and drinks heavily from the various Civilization. It will be difficult for you not to find something in it that won’t keep you hooked to the mouse.

FTL: Faster Than Light (2012)

Difficult and addictive. The result of a Kickstarter that raised 20 times what was requested, this roguelike RPG—you lose your progress when you die— became an instant classic. Why?

Justin Ma and Matthew Davis put us in command of different spaceships. Our goal is to avoid being captured, destroyed, or severely affected by the various attacks from the outside while watching over our crew and the various modular subsystems of the craft. It engages and irritates, of course, it does.

Homeworld Remastered (2015)

We keep talking about things with the acronym HD because they can. However, in this case, the review has been more ambitious. The idyll between Relic and Gearbox gave us an inexhaustible piece of real-time strategy.

The game put on the table the tools with which to make any child’s fantasy come true: hyperspace at any time, a three-dimensional circulation system—what was called “z-axis” and which is summarized in ships moving vertically and horizontally during the battle, with the consequent spin-offs— and explosions of all possible colors.

Homeworld Remastered, a 2015 adaptation, takes the minimal interface, the poetry of the journey, and the epic of its single-player campaign, complementing it with support for mods, sick multiplayer, and an even more intuitive navigation system.

Dominions 5 – Warriors of the Faith (2017)

IllWinter designs classic strategy games. They are ugly, confusing, and with quite demanding internal rules, but we are a god. While we set our wizards to cast spells against a titan, we can reanimate fallen troops to create a monstrous army.

We chose the fifth installment for well-defined reasons: each one has been a step forward in the original model, and this fifth iteration is no exception: 86 factions, 200 gods, 3,000 types of units, 500 spells, seven magic schools, and up to 3,000 random events on different random maps. The goal is always the same: keep your domain from dying.

King of Dragon Pass (1999)

Some developers take the painful route, introspection over megalomaniacal scale, moral or even spiritual choices over strict military force. King of Dragon Pass (don’t confuse it with King of the Dragons) proposes what the title relates: to become the most important king of Dragon Pass.

The developers involved are already finishing off a sequel of sorts, Six Ages. Only they could continue their unusual legacy. The best thing about this little gem is that it has Android and iOS versions. So, if you’re up for it, you’ll no longer have to wait to keep playing every time you leave the house.

Endless Legend (2014)

You weren’t expecting this title, were you? Amplitude Studios’ lucid debut deserves a space here.

If Homeworld makes pilots’ dreams of megalomaniacal crafting come true, Endless Legend takes the classic framework and rules of the 4Xs (explore, expand, exploit resources, and exterminate the rival) and turns them on their head with a basic gimmick: an end-of-the-world timer that we see translated environmentally through the planet’s weather, fiercer by the minute.

Each faction has unique properties, no imposing diplomacy on the barbarians (ghouls, in this case). If you ask me as a player, the great virtue of this game lies in its rules, which extend through a trilogy of editions, closing the various story arcs.

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (2007)

To talk about this Wargaming Seattle marvel, formerly known as Gas Powered Games, we must go back to Total Annihilation, the game that put Chris Taylor on the map. Total Annihilation is like the Holy Grail of PC RTS: a massive map with hostile battles and conflicts between flesh and machines. As the intro says, it only accepts a single result: “The complete eradication of the other.”

This game is about death in real-time in an even broader, bolder, and full of small mechanical nuances that allow us to reach victory in so many ways that it is common to feel that we can play it in hundreds of ways.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion (2012)

Back to the stars. Rebellion is the end of a stage, the decline of an empire. For those who do not know this game that acts as an expansion, it is enough to say that it inherits from the masters of the genre (Pax Imperia, Masters Of Orion) its space coldness and incorporates a million variables, a relatively accessible HUD and many bursts of laser beams.

We are in the middle of a major war between three factions (TEC, Advent, and Vasari), and our mission is to survive at all costs. Thunderstorms and gas giants will greet us from time to time to test our nerves.

Civilization IV (2005)

Speaking of holy grails, everything has been said about perhaps the most popular saga in the history of strategy games. Maybe its predecessor was not as complete as its later edition—and much less concerning Civilization VI— but nowadays, it’s impossible to find a more effective and addictive example.

Anyway, they all suck your oxygen: you finish a game, and you are already planning another one with another empire. I’m not going to discuss if Civilization VI is the best of the saga. It probably is, but the fourth edition was the one that culminated in a form and intentions that are still valid today.

In this game of 6,000 years of history, you will hear the voices of Leonard Nimoy in different tones and the main theme in Swahili. This song was the first one in a video game to receive a Grammy nomination.

Europa Universalis IV (2013)

Paradox appears once again on this list. If this studio strives to improve its game to the point of obsession, we can’t ignore the daring. Framed between 1444 and 1821, from pre-Renaissance to Colonialism, this time, we control almost any nation where there is something to tell. Moreover, the players, in their inexhaustible conformism, have recreated almost any province and nation you can think of.

As if taken directly from private libraries, Europa Universalis IV is a story rich in nuances, filled to the brim with historical factors that mark the evolution of a convulsive world.

Each action is part of a larger whole. One of my colleagues defined the game perfectly: “Thanks to the cultural cores, it becomes more important to manage the actions of missionaries, spies, and the rest of our entourage.”

Factorio (2013)

Factorio is full of innovative ideas. Under its innocent framework hides a management game where we build and maintain factories, extract resources, research technologies, and automate production to anticipate needs.

It is also an example of aridity, daunting in its goal: it turns every living space into diagrams where everything is green and brown, where coal and metallurgy dilute any evolutionary dream. Our goal is to achieve perfection in the technological tree that demands the least possible human intrusion.

Desperados III (2020)

2020 was a good year for strategy games, with this title and in Xile Entertainment’s Wasteland 3 coming to life. However, while in the wasteland you stumble over bugs and glitches, in this universe, you’ll just trip over your hat if you’re not paying attention.

Desperados III is so good it’s hard to believe it doesn’t make the covers of magazines.

This prequel to the original features millimetric designs, smooth performance and gameplay, and a character deck that makes you approach each game as something unique and radically opposite, from using two revolvers to casting voodoo spells is an enormous stretch. Its tone and great soundtrack will make you fall in love.

Darkest Dungeon (2016)

It’s roguelike time. If you’ve played Darkest Dungeon, you’ll know that resource management, decision-making, and planning the next step is crucial. In the meantime, we may have broken down crying because a bad tactic has wrecked our party.

The thick stroke of Edgar Allan Poe in the narrative and the gothic charm of a particular old role are seen here through warriors, wizards, and increasingly cretinous monsters. But the morbid desire to survive overcomes any obstacle. We want to be better; we want to be that ultimate master who changes the fate of these poor and tortured lives.

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East (2010)

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East

At the beginning of the article, we mentioned Chris Crawford. Well, next to him, we must highlight Gary Grigsby. They practically invented the genre when Sid Meier didn’t even know how to tie his shoelaces.

The difference between War in the East and a hundred other war games lies in its core: it is serious and sober, demands time and money, and each variable opens up a thousand possibilities. This game understands the small and dark nuances of the conflict on the Eastern front in a literal way: you must suffer to win.

Men of War: Assault Squad (2011)

This game and its divine sequel have positioned Digitalmindsoft in the Olympus of strategic game development. Of an almost sick realism—with exact recreations of each unit, diverse types of ammunition and clothing for each bastion, direct control, and overwhelming destructiveness—, playing Men of War is an exercise in perverse historicism.

Anno 1800 (2019)

Are you one of the thousands who have not been able to leave Age of Empires in time and have been playing it since Pentium III? Or are you more of a fan of exploiting resources to the maximum and elevating the epic with, for example, a roller coaster that takes 12 years to complete its cycle?

Whether you’re in one group or the other, what Ubisoft Blue Byte has achieved is colossal.

Anno 1800 has managed to ascend to the podium, on its own merits, of the best city-building simulators of all time. It may be hard to see it here in front of real heavyweights of turn-based strategy. However, the Anno saga has improved with each edition, and this is, without a doubt, the deepest, most sophisticated, and spare version of what we call 4Xs.

Frostpunk (2018)

Imagine an alternate reality circa 1886 where a handful of volcanic eruptions have caused a nuclear winter, a kind of steampunk uchronia where survival is almost impossible.

With the usual touch of Polish sadism, Frostpunk, the new RTS exercise from 11 bit studios, is not only more bloody than This War of Mine, but it is also more savage in its objectives: to survive, most of the time requires sacrificing part of your people. A people that will expel you from their city if you don't do things right.

Frostpunk is not a game to feel like the king of a great kingdom, but the bloody and hostile exercise of building a self-sufficient city.

Into the Breach (2018)

This was a position for They Are Billions, but Subset Games, the same studio that developed FTL: Faster Than Light, stole the place at the last moment. Into the Breach is a title where piloting mechs, with their strengths and weaknesses, becomes a chess game that grows, implements layers, and reminds us that every mistake is up to us. And every error is costly.

Iron Harvest (2019)

Nor can one of the sensations of 2019 be left out of this list, another example of alternative reality developed in the fictional universe of Polish Jakub Różalski, a Europe where giant diesel-powered robots must survive military devastation.

Result of a remarkably successful Kickstarter—tripling the requested goal—, KING Art Games has managed to find its niche and bring to the table an addictive and richly narrative cosmos where Saxony, Poland, and Rusviet share the remains of a cake about to rot.

Wargroove (2020)

What if Nintendo Wars came back? Many players yearned for the return of that game. However, Chucklefish, parents of Starbound and publisher of gems like Stardew Valley, were able to give them something similar. The dynamic is simple: we can take control of one of the 15 commanders, each with its own campaign and different dynamics, or bet on local multiplayer, cooperative, or JvJ.

The best part is a complete campaign editor that has led Wargroove to stand as one of the surprises of 2019.

Gears Tactics (2019)

Following the path of Halo Wars, Gears Tactics comes to light, timidly, as a kind of X-COM full of options and playable meanderings. Because of this, it could be difficult for any user with no experience in turn-based strategy. Three skills per character, four characters per squad, and movement in meters—not in squares— where a guard is as significant as a burst of shrapnel.

It is a game where you can smell the remains of Brink, the failed FPS of Splash Damage, and the wild sense of the scale of The Coalition. A joy in the visuals (with the house’s characteristic executions), a step forward in the narrative (centered on the journey of Gabe Diaz, Kait’s father), and a bold seed on which to take root. The Xbox Game Pass users can play it 100% free.

Gears Tactics

Of course, if you still haven’t had enough, you can always turn to free classics like Warzone 2100 or Dune 2: Battle for Arrakis. Also, to the evergreen Tzar—it took three years of development to get it off the ground— or give Humankind a try. Even let yourself fall for lighter experiences like Tropico, run away from so many military squadrons in favor of a soccer manager, or kill them all in Rise of Nations. The power is in your hands.

Crusader Kings III (2020)

Crusader Kings II has already left an inescapable mark on history. This third release continues with this mission to turn vassalage into a hallmark of identity. Marriages of convenience that mess you up and faithful who break your trust with all possible viciousness. Controlling inheritances and hierarchical struggles is essential, not a simple revolver in a drawer to turn events.

Covering the Middle Ages—from 867 to 1066— and fueling every powder keg of this century (don’t forget that if you try it, you stay). Not for nothing, the average time its buyers spent on the previous edition was 99 hours, and many of them own the $250 in expansions. This pack is limited to four expansions, enough to become your next obsession.

Related | The 47 Best PC Games According to Metacritic

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