What is the best PC strategy game? The genre was first invented way back in 1938 when Winston Churchill looked out of an aeroplane window over France and thought hey, this would make a really cool videogame, whatever that is.
Since then there have been about a hundred million different strategy games, simulating about as many different kinds of fighting as we humans have had reasons to fight one another. From the all-encompassing broad strokes of the Civilization series to the individually rendered blades of the Total War games, and from the unflinchingly realistic depictions of Europa Universalis to the far flung fantasy tech of StarCraft, the genre is as diverse as they come.
But which are the absolute top strategy games on PC? Which are the best strategy games on Steam. Are any of them free? Well just drag a selection box over our bodies and right-click on the horizon, and we'll all be on our way to finding out.
Total War: Shogun 2
Total War means exactly that: running an entire empire, while fighting every battle they face on the road to domination. One minute you’re tinkering with taxes and building baths, and the next you’re firing cannons and charging headfirst into the enemy.
It takes place in two distinct modes: up-close, real-time tactical battles and more removed, turn-based empire management. The key is the interaction between the two modes: holding the line in a siege, knowing that if a castle falls, so too will your forward line. Ordering a cavalry charge against an enemy army, knowing that it’s led by your opponent’s king and killing him will cause his empire to crumble.
Whenever two armies meet, the game switches into a tactical battle. This is where you get to play as the general, the hero – you command your units, build formations and strategies, and fight your enemy to the last man. The best bit: it’s not completely down to the stats – with the right terrain, the right tactics, a small outnumbered force can withstand almost any odds, and the mightiest army can be felled by a decent ambush.
Total War: Shogun II, is the best in the series so far. If the period it covers, 16th century feudal Japan, is no to your taste, try Napoleon: Total War - it’s a focused look at the famous general’s campaigns. There's a ton of updates too. Check our guides to the best Shogun 2 mods, DLC and user-created maps.
Total War is deep, tactical and thoughtful: expect a campaign of Total War to last a week or so.
Buyer’s Guide: Sega often does Total War deals, and you can grab Shogun 2 and its expansions on Steam.
The Civ games are about human history: you’re guiding a race of people from the Stone Age through to modern times and beyond. This is ‘4X’ strategy (expand, explore, exploit and exterminate) at its finest - you will start off with nothing, and grow into a global power. Or die trying.
The decisions you face are many: political, economical, military, even social. You can be a friendly neighbour or conqueror. A hub of trade and tourism, or an industrial powerhouse. Freedom of choice is the game’s best asset - where do you go? What do you do? Which path will be your path to victory? There are over 20 playable factions now, and each lends itself to a particular playstyle, but you’ve still got a lot of flexibility.
Civilzation V is as streamlined as the series will ever get and the perfect place to jump in. It’s got a strong set of tutorials, tooltips that guide you through every decision. Combat is as good as it’s ever been thanks to a rethink of Civ’s grid system, and Steam Workshop support means there’s a never-ending flow of mods and maps to tinker with.
This is the series that invented the term “one more turn” — it is addictive, compelling, and absorbing. Essential playing.
Buyer's Guide: Pick up the ‘Gold’ edition, or any bundle that includes the first expansion: Gods and Kings. Don’t worry about the DLC, especially the map packs. Check out Civ 5 Brave New World review, to see why it is a must buy.
Crusader Kings 2
Crusader Kings II is a murderous bastard of a grand-strategy game. You play a medieval lord, trying to gain more power, influence, and territory in a historically accurate medieval Europe. It offers complex game mechanics in lieu of fancy graphics. You’re managing economies, armies, and people.
It’s this personal element that makes CKII so compelling. You are in charge of a family dynasty, not an abstract nation. You will marry and have kids, you’ll die, and then your heir will take over and the whole thing begins again. In between all this, you can use intrigue or brute force to increase your holdings, but the key is that you develop a real personal connection with your characters, you avatar. You will mourn their death, you’ll cheer their every triumph.
Betrayal should be expected.
As a Count or Duke, you can stage coups and rebel against your Lord for more power. As a King, it’s quite easy to lose the Kingdom through invasion or uprising. But as long as there’s a member of your bloodline still alive, you’ll always have a chance to win it all back. Don’t be put off by its apparent complexity - it may rely a lot on stat-screens and number crunching, but the more you play the more you learn.
Buyer’s Guide: Pick a bundle with the most expansion packs, including the latest (Old Gods), which is a must buy. Don’t worry too much about any skin packs you see. And look out for Horse Lords - on its way.
Starcraft II is sci-fi strategy game about armoured cowboys versus xenomorphic aliens and space elves. It’s a classic base-building RTS where you gather resources, build armies, and kill your enemy before they kill you with quick decisions and even quicker mouse clicks.
Multiplayer is a huge part of Starcraft II. Your enemies will be human; they will be able to click faster than you, issue orders quicker than you. You will probably lose a lot, but you will get better the more you play, and there is a small but dedicated competitive player-base to compete against at the eSports level.
The single player is also interesting - Blizzard have combined frantic action with an RPG like backdrop as you follow the exploits of Terran Mercenary Jim Raynor. You will fight through a series of missions, many of which will have unique objectives – like trying to harvest resources on a map that periodically fills up with lava, defending against waves upon waves of Zerg for a set period of time. In between missions you’ll explore an RPG-like hub, where you can talk to people, research new techs and decide where your next destination will be. Story is hard to do in RTS, and many resign themselves to cutscenes or in-mission dialogue, but SCII actually makes you interact with the world outside combat, and so it’s more interactive story.
Buyer’s Guide: Blizzard is one of the few companies that doesn’t really ‘do’ DLC. Starcraft II has one expansion out at the time of writing – Heart of the Swarm, with a second expansion (Legacy of the Void) due out at some point in the future. The expansions in general add a few new units and tweaks to multiplayer, but mainly advance the single-player story. In the vanilla game, you played as the Terrans. In Hearts of the Swarm you play as the Zerg. You play Protoss in Legacy of the Void.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM was a surprise hit, but it deserves all the praise it gets. It’s a turn-based strategy game that sees you fending off an alien invasion in a dynamic single-player campaign. It’s a remake of the classic X-Com games, and as remakes go, it’s one of the best.
You send teams of up to six special forces soldiers into battle against everything from little grey aliens, to robots, to the occasional scuttling insect thing. It’s a tactically dense set of skirmishes set in fields, towns and aboard alien ships, and it’s all held together by a light strategic layer. It’s presented like an ant farm, and you’ll research new tech, perform autopsies, and beg for funding from a shadowy government agency.
In a word, it’s fantastic.
It’s the customisation that really hooks people in. You can give your troops names and faces, but as you play through the campaign they grow in your mind, they get backstories, fake accents. You care whether these soldiers live or die, and you experience their every move, feel every plasma bolt they get to the face. When they fall, you feel it, and the new guy they send as a replacement... well, he (or she) doesn’t get a name, not until they’ve earned their wings.
The tactical combat is really what makes the game, and if you ever fancy trying your skills as a commander against real people, XCOM also has online squad vs. squad multiplayer.
Buyer’s Guide: There hasn’t been much DLC for XCOM, so just keep an eye out for the main game.
Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault
Company of Heroes 2 was great, but it didn't quite match the magic of its predecessor. Then Ardennes Assault came along. The US forces and German Oberkommando are fighting over control of the Ardennes, in a campaign inspired by The Battle of the Bulge. What sets it apart from both Company of Heroes and the sequel is the non-linear campaign that plays out across a strategic meta map. The Germans are dynamic, being reinforced by retreating forces, changing the challenges posed by both story missions and the dynamic skirmishes.
A single battle can replayed many times, with each fight offering new obstacles.
While the campaign is only played from the American point of view, the US forces are split into three companies, all with unique specialities covering air, support and mechanised roles. These companies all have special officer abilities and upgrade trees, and any can be used to tackle a mission. Even if you focus on one, the other two will still be on the map, and can provide assistance by blocking the enemy retreat out of a capture province.
This is the first time the battles in Company of Heroes have had real weight. Previously, winning was all that mattered. Finish the mission and you move on to the next one, starting fresh. Ardennes Assault is a persistant campaign, though, and losses in battle can bring down a company's veterancy and manpower, and there's even a risk of it being wiped out entirely, leaving the other two companies to face the Germans alone.
Buyer’s Guide: Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault, though an expansion, is a standalone. While you don't need the core game to play it, the previous standalone, Western Front Armies, is well worth a look, especially if you're keen on multiplayer.
Age of Empires II
Age of Empires is a classic series – easy to learn, charming, yet the challenge is there if you want it. You’d choose a civilization, build up your city and your army, then fight with the other civilizations on the map. You’d also advancing through various ‘ages’ or tech levels for better troops and buildings.
It’s half resource management, half tactical combat, like Warcraft or Starcraft. You’d always start with your Town Centre and a few civilians, but by the end of a match you could have a sprawling metropolis, with walls, fire-shooting towers, with a large army to go with it. Age of Empires pre-dates the internet-fueled multiplayer era, so the main draw of these games are the single-player campaigns and AI skirmishes. These were often a series of specifically crafted maps (with customised objectives), that the player had to fight through, which usually covered either a famous person or group of people from history. These missions aren’t meant to be historically accurate, but they do engage you in the history and each one presents unique scenarios to overcome.
Age of Empires 2 covers an abstracted time period that starts in the Dark Ages, and goes all the way to the early Renaissance era. Celtic woad raiders duke it out with Persian elephants and medieval pikemen near Japanese fortresses. And for those that know the cheat, there's always that sports car with machine guns to play with.
Buyer’s Guide: In January 2013, Microsoft released a ‘HD’ version of Age of Empires 2, which includes the main game and its expansion. It’s well worth getting.
Wargame: Airland Battle
This is a wargame. It removes all other concerns and lets you focus purely on the battle, on victory. You command your own customisable battlegroup, of tanks, infantry, artillery, even helicopter gunships and jets, and you’ll be fighting in highly detailed slices of European countryside that can reach up to 150Km2 in length.
Attention to detail - it’s what drives wargames, and it’s what makes WarGame a brilliant example. Your tanks can storm up highways or trample across fields of miscellaneous farm crops, your infantry can creep through forests or hold a vital crossroads... but tanks need fuel, and weapons need bullets. If you don’t keep your forces supplied through the crucial (but simple) logistics system, your battlegroup will literally be stuck. Maybe even in some mud.
For a game about high-level strategy, there’s also a high amount of atmosphere. If you zoom right down to ‘ground level’, the camera will actually shake as artillery rounds slam into the ground. Forests will burn around you, and if things go wrong you’ll be retreating over the gutted, blown-out husks of fallen tanks and APCs.
There’s something for everyone in WarGame - the dynamic single-player campaign is brilliant. You can choose to play as either NATO or the Warsaw Pact, and you essentially have to fight for control of Scandinavia, using pre-existing battlegroups, off-map support... even randomised political events. If you prefer player-stomping over comp-stomping, there’s a great online community as well. WarGame’s multiplayer has plenty of maps, and you can even fight in 10 vs 10 matches which are, to use a word, crazy.
Buyer’s Guide: AirLand Battle has only recently been released, so there’s no DLC out for it yet. If the previous entry in the series is anything to go by however, most, if not all, of the DLC will be free when released. The game itself typically retails for £29.99.
Tropico is essentially a city builder, but what makes it great is it’s charm. You play as the dictator of Caribbean-themed Banana Republic, and your job is guide your island from humble beginnings into greatness.
How you do that is up to you. You can exploit the natural resources of your island and turn it into an industrial powerhouse, or you can tap into the island’s natural beauty and try and become THE holiday destination for ignorant white tourists. Or both. There are a lot of choices in Tropico, from where to place that apartment complex or that factory, to whether or not to institute pensions, or conscription. You’ll attract immigrants to the island, and they’ll all need housing and jobs, and you’ll need to build up your economy and services. Throughout everything, your actions are wonderfully narrated by the talk show host of Tropico’s only radio station, who makes even the most dickish of moves seem like benign intervention.
As your island grows, you’ll also have to start dealing with global politics - America, Russia, even China and Europe will all want to exert influence. They’ll offer you money and riches, if only you'd let them maybe build a military base just over there, or let them export their waste to you. If you’re not careful, you’ll have a revolt on your hands, or an invasion. Either way, your regime will be toppled.
Tropico is just a consistently fun game to play: it’s city-management on a manageable scale, with a healthy dose of economy, trade and politics to keep things interesting. You’ll never stop being amused, because remember: El Presidente is always right. Even when he’s wrong.
Buyer’s Guide: Tropico 4 has a Gold edition that includes all of the DLC the game’s had, including a ‘Modern Times’ mini-expansion. You can pick it up at a standard price.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Sins of a Solar Empire focus more on the action then most empire-building games do. Sure, you have planets you can colonise, industry and trade you can develop, but when it comes down to it, there’s always groups of ships throwing bullets, lasers and missiles each other in the never ending struggle for dominance.
It’s challenging, even against the AI. There are three races, each with their own identity, ships and technology. There are always neutral forces that will make early expansion slow, and there’s even a ‘Pirate’ faction that you can bribe to attack your neighbour, which always seems like a great idea until they’re paid even more money to attack you instead. There is a pretty involved diplomacy element as well, beyond the usual trade agreements and non-aggression pacts. Other factions can give you missions, like giving them resources or attacking another player, and you can do the same to them.
There’s a lot of movement in a typical Sins game: your scouts will be zipping from planet to planet in the search for new worlds to exploit. Your trade fleets will be moving goods from place to place, keeping the wheels of economy and your mighty battle fleets will be darting from one crisis to the next, because if it’s not pirates at your door, then it’s another faction coming to claim what’s yours.
There’s no single-player campaign per say: you simply play an infinite number of skirmish battles against the AI using a wide range of map set-ups, each with it’s own quirks and strategy. You can also create your own using the impressive map-making tools, and of course you can take the game online and play against real people.
Buyer’s Guide: Sins of a Solar Empire has three expansions. The latest, Rebellion is a stand-alone expansion that features all of the previous updates and features, so you might as well jump straight in and buy that version. There’s also a piece of DLC out for it called “Forbidden Worlds” that adds new planet types, new techs and a couple of other goodies.
DEFCON is a game about winning the unwinnable - all-out nuclear war. You’re presented with a simple vector-based world map (in the style of WarGames and other classic films), you’re given a bunch of military assets, and as the world slowly ticks down towards armageddon you have to make the best use of them in order to come out on top of soon-to-be desolated world.
Not that you really notice - DEFCON’s simplicity and it’s ridiculous abstraction is its greatest asset. You won’t be able to stop every missile, and you won’t win every clash. Regions will be wiped out, entire fleets will be lost... but all you see are stats on a screen. You get points for killing large amounts of people in one go, you lose points for every percentage of your original population you lose. The player with the most points at the end of it all “wins”. Congratulations.
It’s fascinating, although morbidly so, but what makes it so addictive is that the game really is a battle of minds, like Chess. A match will always start at DEFCON 5, and will count down the threat levels at set times. The closer to 1 you get, the more you’re allowed to do, but it all basically boils down to the best placement of your assets - you’ll have fleets and submarines, bombers and fighters, missile silos, radar. You and your enemies (up to 6 players or AI can play in one match) will all be doing the same thing, so the amount of anticipation and second-guessing is mentally challenging.
A game will take no more than 45 minutes tops on default although you can adjust the settings. It’s a great one for the pure strategists out there, and it’s quick and easy to download. Playing against other players is highly recommended.
Buyer’s Guide: No expansion or DLC, and the game itself is dirt cheap.
Sword of the Stars
This space-based 4X game will throw everything at you - space bugs, slaver raids, asteroids, even alien probes... and that’s before you encounter the other spacefaring empires. It’s a dangerous universe out there, and Sword of the Stars captures this wonderfully while also providing a compelling and challenging game.
This living universe really does wonders for those early turns, where traditionally not a lot happens in 4X games as you’ve yet to encounter the other factions. Also, Sword of the Stars does something that not many strategy games do, which is not creating all of the playable factions equal. Sure, everyone starts with the same resources and planets, but each race behaves in unique ways - they have their own unique method for travelling through space. This also ties into the technology system: a player’s tech tree is randomised for each game, and each race has certain biases towards certain technologies.
Ship customization is also a large part of this game, and you’ll spend a fair bit of time simply tweaking load-outs and different ship designs. Like the Total War series, this game loads into a separate, real-time combat engine whenever you encounter someone to shoot. You can give orders to your fleet, set formations, and watch as the two groups of ships pound each other into slag. Glorious.
Buyer’s Guide: Sword of the Stars has been out so long you can find the Complete edition pretty cheap now – that’s the base game and all three expansions.
World in Conflict: Soviet Assault/ Gold
The Soviets have invaded America, and it’s your job to throw them back out again. Gone are base building and resource management, instead there are reinforcement points and rolling objectives. As units are destroyed, more can be summoned in, and you have use your units strengths wisely, along with an impressive array of off-map abilities. Napalm, anyone?
The single-player campaign is very cinematic, and really gets you involved in the narrative. I almost joined the Red Army after seeing the fist-pumping opening sequence as the Soviets stormed West Berlin, and there’s a scene halfway through the game that, well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. You mainly play as a US Army Officer helping to fend off the invasion, but Soviet Assault also slots in missions from the Russian perspective that are crucial to the backstory.
This is a fine example of tactical combat, using the terrain to your advantage, micro-managing your troops,and it gets even better when you take it online. Players can fight in matches involving up to 16 players, and unlike the single-player you have to choose one of four roles to adopt, which affects what units and support abilities you have access to. Some roles will obviously be weak against certain tactics, so you have to make sure you work together with your teammates.
Still, there’s not a problem yet that hasn’t been solved by carpet bombing something.
Buyer’s Guide: World in Conflict only had one expansion – Soviet Assault. It’s recommended you get it with this as the extra story missions make it worthwhile. You can pick them both up in a collection for a reasonable price.
Supreme Commander was the game that broke PC’s, such were the demands it placed on processors. This future war robo-RTS simplifies resource management and focuses more on creating the perfect war machine. You start off with a single irreplaceable command unit, and from there you build factories that will churn out units to wage war on your enemies.
It’s the sheer scale that does it - five years later, Supreme Commander doesn’t so much break PC’s anymore as it breaks minds. A player’s army can potentially reach up to 1,000 units separated out into land, sea and air. You have to orchestrate a careful ballet of production, movement and attack, grinding down your opponent while keeping your command unit safe, and your factories powered and supplied so that they can create more machines of death. It’s brilliant and mind-boggling, and not for the casual strategy gamer.
Funnily enough, this was one of the few games to officially support dual monitors, which means you can have a zoomable map up on the second screen. It’s a godsend, as it allows you to keep an eye on the ‘big picture’ a lot easier, and recommended if you’re going to play this seriously. Few games play to the same scale as Supreme Commander does, and when you take the war online that’s where the real challenge begins. Titles like Starcraft demand quick thinking and quicker reactions, but they only deal with a couple of dozen units at most. Supreme Commander demands all of that, and deals in the thousands. Think about that.
Buyer’s Guide: No DLC for this one either, just a standalone expansion pack called Forged Alliance. If you can, picking up Forged Alliance would be best, as it fixes a lot of the problems the base game had, as well as introducing an additional faction. You can pick it up for £9.99, or the Gold Edition for £14.99.
Star Wars: Empire at War
If you’re a Star Wars fan, this is for you. Empire at War allows you to take charge of the Galactic Empire or Rebel Alliance and fight for galactic domination. You will take charge of mighty fleets and armies; even send notable heroes like Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader into battle. You can also build a Death Star.
The best bit is definitely the tactical space battles. Up to four players can fight on a map (which can have hazards like asteroids or gas clouds), each with their own space station, and the aim of the game is to simply knock out your opponent by destroying his or her base. Empire at War works on a requisition points system, and it’s cool watching a squadron of fighters or a group of Star Destroyers warp into the battlefield and immediately start blazing away. The larger ships have hard points that you can target specifically, which can knock our weapons, or shields, and many ships (and heroes) have special abilities to try and help turn the tide.
As well as space battles you can also fight battles on land as well, leading squadrons of hover tanks or AT-AT walkers as you tear through settings both familiar and new. This game plays a lot like Total War in the sense that there’s a separate campaign interface, where you manage your empire and your forces, and then load into a separate battle environment. The only difference is that everything is in real-time, there are no turns.
This is a pretty great game that’s made even better if you’re actually a Star Wars fan.
Buyer’s Guide: There’s no DLC, and only one expansion called Forces of Corruption – it adds a third faction that plays completely differently to the other two, and adds new units, abilities etc… you can pick them both up in a ‘Gold’ edition.
Europa Universalis IV
Paradox Development Studio’s mighty flagship. The EU series has always had the power to impress, with its massive complexity and sandbox approach to strategy. But with that complexity came a lot of obstacles. Bugs, obtuse UIs and poorly explained mechanics could put people off before they’d annexed their first nation.
Europa Universalis IV changes all of that. It’s still a tough nut to crack and demands a lot of player investment, but it’s by far the most user-friendly game in the series. And while its myriad systems remain daunting, it’s perfectly possible to just jump in and carve out a niche in history.
It’s a game of what ifs. What if Venice formed Italy and swept through the Ottoman Empire with a massive mercenary army? What if England and France became best friends and carved up Europe together instead of fighting each other? What if Scotland ruled the world? What if.
Buyer’s Guide: EU IV already has a lot of DLC, and unfortunately it’s not all been collected together. You can buy it piecemeal on Steam, however. The unit packs and other ancillary stuff can be ignored, if you want, but it’s worth grabbing Wealth of Nations and Conquest of Paradise.
Distant Worlds: Universe
Distant Worlds is huge; mind-bogglingly, overwhelmingly massive. An entire galaxy is simulated from private traders going about their business, to pirates getting up to no good. It’s the most ambitious 4X space game that you’re ever likely to find.
But the beauty of the game is that it’s you, the player, who defines your level of interaction with the galaxy. Everything can be automated, so you can sit back and simply control a single scout ship, charting the galaxy for hours on end, or you can take control of a whole empire, fiddling with economic policy, alien diplomacy and galactic-scale wars.
At it’s core, it’s a tool for creating your own galaxies to play in. Players can curate the game to such a degree that one game could bear no resemblance to the next. Everything from the age of the galaxy to the aggression of pirates can be dictated before a game even begins.
Buyer’s Guide: All of the game’s expansions have been collected in Distant Worlds: Universe, which you can grab on Steam.
Age of Wonders III
Age of Wonders III is a welcome resurrection; a classic series given new life. It’s a fantasy 4X game where the final X, eXterminate, is the most important one.
There are multiple, scripted campaigns to get through, but the meat is the randomly generated maps and customisable factions. Fundamentalist goblins can fight - using holy powered engines of war - industrialised elfs, while armies of dire penguins march through frozen wastes. It’s all delightfully silly.
And damn do the battles get big. Multiple units can be linked together, creating gargantuan armies. Sieges are evocative of Total War in terms of scale, but with thoughtful turn-based combat and magic.
While diplomacy and city management are weak, Age of Wonders shines during conflict. The abundance of magic and special abilities, diverse lists of units and battlefields littered with environmental obstacles make each battle a rewarding puzzle.
Buyer’s Guide: You can grab Age of Wonders III now on Steam, GOG and the like, and some new DLC is due out on September 18th which promises to expand building mechanics while introducing the halfling race.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
Playing Dawn of War now is fascinating. In many ways, it feels like a very traditional RTS, with lots of base building, turtling and resource management. But it’s also a precursor to the likes of Company of Heroes. We see Relic starting to experiment with morale, cover, squads and drastically different factions.
There's an intensity underpinning the whole game. It’s all about pushing forward, then capturing and holding territory. And all the time, resources become more fleeting, as generators and the like decay. But the war machine constantly needs to be fed.
Expansions fleshed the game out, introducing more factions built around unique mechanics. There’s the sneaky eldar, waaargh-hungry orks, the massive Imperial Guard - each faction offered different ways to play the game. By the end, there were nine factions in total.
Dawn of War II ended up changing just about everything, making battles smaller and focusing on tactics over strategy. It was still great, but the move away from the traditions of the genre made it lose some of its magic.
Buyer’s Guide: The base game and all the expansions have been gathered in the Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War Master Collection.
Anno 2070 bid farewell to the historical setting of Ubisoft’s venerable economics strategy series, kicking it into a post-ecological disaster future. It’s still all about making money and expanding your influence across various islands, but instead of being a medieval or colonial power, your dabbling with eco-factions and polluting industrialists.
An uneasy feeling of desperation permeates throughout the game. The world is struggling, and to survive and - hopefully - turn a profit, decisions have to be made that might put the world in an even worse position. Social and environmental concerns add a new dimension of complexity to the proceedings.
Technology, similarly, has a massive impact. Factions aren’t restricted to their island homes, and can build on or under the sea, creating algae farms or dirty oil rigs.
And damn, is it pretty. Even when you’re wrecking the planet.
Buyer’s Guide: It’s a Uplay game, unfortunately. There’s quite a bit of DLC, adding new missions, buildings and vehicles. The Deep Ocean add-on drastically changes the Tech faction, as well. Luckily it’s all collected in the Complete Edition.
Infested Planet places you in charge of a single squad of marines on a planet teeming with alien bugs. Literally thousands of them. You'll work through the campaign by burning the aliens' hives and building outposts on the scorched earth.
What makes Infested Planet stand out isn't its Starship Troopers setting or its levels which fill with swarms of bugs, it's how it throws out so many traditions of the real-time strategy genre and becomes one of the best examples of it. You don't collect resources, build bases, or research technology; there's no cost to losing units besides losing ground; and, the aliens won't wow you with their sharp AI.
Julian's review covers the finer details but it's safe to say that this will play like nothing else.
Buyer's Guide: You can pick up Infested Planet cheaply through Steam. While there's no DLC, each week four new levels are added to the game.
Order of Battle: Pacific
The Panzer General-style of wargame has been re-created and re-invented many times over the history of the strategy genre, but no game has quite done it with as much success as Order of Battle: Pacific. An intricate-yet-approachable wargame, with logical rules and a distinct eye for detail. Each move becomes a series of puzzles. The game rewards making pacey decisions and refusing to dawdle. Yet extending your grasp for side-missions can also provide bonuses further down the line. Each decision expands into new opportunities and further questions.
It’s also a game that finally succeeds at naval transportation and combat, which is pretty vital considering the Pacific setting means much of your time will be set at sea. It’s approach to naval is exceptionally strong, and makes sailing from port to port as interesting as battles themselves.
Our resident war expert Rob pegged it as the best wargame of the year in his review.
Buyer’s Guide: As a recently released title, there’s no real deals on at the moment. But you can easily grab it from Steam.
Close Combat: Gateway to Caen
Gateway to Caen serves up a memorable, coldly-detailed portrait of a campaign that casts our familiar adversaries in unfamiliar roles. The British find themselves waging a Soviet style campaign of attrition and overwhelming force, shattering German positions at the costs of hundreds of dead, while all the German forces are trapped in one do-or-die defense after another.
It’s not a traditional Close Combat game, where the courage of individual soldiers and the tactical savvy of their commanders will usually carry the day. It is a trench-less World War 1 game, complete with stalled tank assaults, piles of dead infantry, and glacial advances from one end of a farmer's field to the other. It was grim mathematics as two armies waged a war of annihilation rather than maneuver.
Gateway to Caen brings this harsh reality to life in a way that few wargames ever do. We focus on the "turning points" of the war, but they were few and far between. The daily reality was often closer to the kind of brutal, methodical grind on display in Gateway to Caen. The overall outcome of the war may have been a foregone conclusion, but there was a long and bloody road to get there.
That's it. Phew. 23 of the best PC strategy games. But I bet we missed some of your favourites. Let us know in the comments.