What are the best strategy games on PC? Some would say StarCraft II, others Civilization VI while yet more still would say “actually, Civ 4 was the better civ ga-” but at that point we’d stop listening because who cares. Join us as we explore a curated collection of the genre’s greatest hits, from modern newcomers to classic titans.
Fun fact: the strategy game genre was first invented back in 1938, when Winston Churchill looked out an aeroplane window over France and thought, “Hey, this would make a really cool videogame, whatever that is.” Probably. Since then, there have been about a hundred million different strategy games, simulating as many different kinds of fighting as we humans have had reasons to fight one another, and then some.
Turn-based or real-time, grand strategy to tactical… this genre is as diverse as they come. But which are the absolute top strategy games on PC? 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. We have a strategy editor on our team, we can’t be wrong.
The best strategy games
The best strategy games on PC are:
- Crusader Kings III
- Offworld Trading Company
- XCOM 2
- Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
- Total War: Three Kingdoms
- Civilization VI
- Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
- Endless Legend
- Starcraft II
Crusader Kings III
Talk about a murderous bastard of a grand strategy game. While only time will tell whether this dynasty spanning, emergent-storytelling successor claims the throne of its now free-to-play predecessor Crusader Kings 2, it’s certainly kicked off its reign with royal excellency.
Crusader Kings 3 has massively overhauled the series’ formerly byzantine interface, making it a welcome proposition for new players, while retaining much of the depth the series is known for. It may look like a traditional grand strategy map-painter, and while it certainly features in-depth systems for waging war, the heart of Crusader Kings 3 lies in its personal, often hilarious stories.
Related: Check our our guide to the best grand strategy games
Will you seize power through military might, wealth, religious influence, diplomacy, or subterfuge? Each character you play as has their own personality and lifestyle focus, and each member of your dynasty will shape their empire, for better or worse, before bequeathing it to their next in line. It’s a game that makes personal plots hatched behind close doors just as important as battles involving dozens of nations and tens of thousands of troops.
Don’t forget to check out our Crusader Kings 3 review if you’re still undecided. For tips, there’s our Crusader Kings 3 starting characters guide, our Crusader Kings 3 beginners guide, and our guide to the best Crusader Kings 3 mods.
Offworld Trading Company
Offworld Trading Company is right at the other end of the strategy games spectrum from Civilization, though its designer, Soren Johnson, also worked on Civ IV. While Civ spans the history and some of the future of humanity, chronicling the progress of mankind, Offworld Trading Company is all about making a fortune by exploiting our red neighbour, Mars.
It’s an RTS crossed with the intricacies of the best management games, one in which victory is not achieved by throwing tanks at enemies, or demolishing their bases. Instead, your weapons are resources and cash, which you use to manipulate the marketplace not just to simply get rich, but to completely screw over your competitors. That’s if you haven’t made a temporary alliance with one of your rivals, of course – though you might end up closing deals with one hand while holding a dagger in the other.
You might not expect an economic strategy game to be very aggressive, but Offworld Trading Company encourages you to be just as hostile as a warmonger. When you’re eyeing up menus, planning what to build next, what to sell, which company to launch a hostile takeover against next, it’s easily as thrilling as when you’re sending infantry across artillery-pummelled fields or launching sneak air attacks against an enemy stronghold in Company of Heroes or StarCraft II.
XCOM 2 is one of the all-time greats of the tactics genre, and we gave it a really good score in our XCOM 2 review. It takes the best bits from the series so far – the savage struggle, the ragtag group of heroes, the devious aliens, the tight tactical battles – and throws improvement after improvement on top.
It’s a toss up as to whether the War of the Chosen expansion is objectively better, but there are plenty of excellent XCOM 2 mods that can bring the vanilla game up to scratch. Both offer distinct, but equally rewarding experiences.
Related: The best turn-based strategy games on PC
Regardless of which variant you choose, you play as a group of struggling survivors fighting against a tyrannical alien regime. It’s all about guerrilla tactics, covert missions, and dissidence. The battles are challenging and varied, full of horrific adversaries with tricky, surprising abilities, but the biggest changes are found on the strategic layer. You will travel all over the world, setting up cells, infiltrating black sites, hunting for more resources so you can field more powerful weapons and tools – it is compelling, rather than an afterthought.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Blackbird Interactive has done the seemingly impossible with Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. And that’s to transpose the elegant, minimalist space wars of the original Homeworld games to a single planet, making for one of the best RTS games in the process. Somehow it works. Really well.
It’s a journey across a vast desert directed by your mission to save a civilisation. Each battle is connected to the last as well as the ones yet to be played. Every unit that survives will live to fight another day in another mission in a persistent war for survival.
Related: The best RTS games on PC
Kharak itself, despite being a giant desert, is a fantastic planet-sized battlefield that does for the ground what the originals did for space. The addition of terrain and elevation replicates the three-dimensional battles of the previous games, with the sand dunes providing cover, hiding spots, and high ground from where you can unleash devastating attacks.
Like its predecessors, the game is blessed with some of the best art design you could hope to find in an RTS, meaning you can take beautiful Homeworld screenshots. Add with its incredible sound design, and a genuinely interesting narrative, Deserts of Kharak is a classic.
Total War: Three Kingdoms
The historical line of Total War games had been lagging a bit in recent years, but that all changed when Total War: Three Kingdoms burst onto the scene. Fulfilling a long-held desire by Creative Assembly to do a strategy game set in China during the Three Kingdoms era, this quickly established itself as the best historical Total War to date (if not the best Total War game, period).
Drawing on the improvements made in Total War: Warhammer’s strategic layer, 2nd Century China is brought to life in stunning detail, with colourful, larger-than-life terrain features and careful modelling of the country’s diverse landscape. Add on to this a return to form for the series’ real-time tactical battles, and an almost Crusader Kings-like character system that allows for all the political intrigue and drama you’d expect for a game in this setting. It’s truly a marvel and definitely something you should check out, even if you don’t know much about the history. If you’re not convinced, check out our Total War: Three Kingdoms review for more.
If you’re already a fan and looking to expand your horizons, there’s plenty of Total War: Three Kingdoms DLC to consider. The most recent release, Furious Wild, was especially good. There is also a healthy Three Kingdoms mod scene to spice up your next game as well.
A quick shout-out to the previous entry on this list – Total War: Warhammer II. It’s easily the studio’s most creative work to date, and the ultimate expression of the long-lost Warhammer Fantasy universe.
You would find plenty of debate about which modern Civilization game was better, Civ V or Civ VI (we even had a whole thing about it), but with the release of Gathering Storm expansion this sixth entry of the series is finally able to stand proud as a great strategy game worthy of note.
Still epitomising the ideal of ‘one more turn’ that makes these kinds of games so addictive, Civilization 6 offers a lot more mechanics to bring the world to life around you. It’s not just about schmoozing this civ or declaring war on that civ – you’ve got to pay attention to how you’re impacting the world and working towards your goals – of which there is a wide variety.
The changes aren’t all monumental either – little things, such as how roads are actually only built via the use of trade routes, help try and capture the more dynamic growth of a civilization over time. It’s not all about peace and love, of course – eventually you’ll have to fight someone – and the combat systems have been tweak to give a little bit more character, as well as harking back to older Civ-entries that allowed for more flexible army management.
There’s plenty to dive into with Civilization VI, whether its the healthy amount of Civ 6 DLC available to buy, or the vibrant and creative collection of Civ 6 mods. This is a definitive strategy game for modern times.
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; in our Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault review we found that it’s one of the best RTS games you can play.
The US forces and German Oberkommando are fighting over control of the Ardennes in a campaign inspired by The Battle of the Bulge – in true war games style. That sets it apart from both Company of Heroes and the sequel alongside its non-linear single-player 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.
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 captured province.
This is the first time the battles in Company of Heroes have had real weight to rival the very best WW2 games. Previously, winning was all that mattered. Finish the mission and you move on to the next one, starting fresh. Ardennes Assault is a persistent campaign, though, and losses in battle can bring down a company’s veterancy and manpower. There is even a risk of it being wiped out entirely, leaving the other two companies to face the Germans alone.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
There’s a lot to love about Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. From the ludicrous unit types to the corny FMV cutscenes, you will struggle to find a strategy game with as much personality and charm as this RTS. It may not be as wild as the sequel, which managed to cast J.K. Simmons, Tim Curry, and George Takei, but there’s a degree of sincerity amidst the bombast.
And if you’re just looking for something with solid strategy gaming chops, then Red Alert 2 hasn’t aged a day in the two decades since its release. You’ll find two varied campaigns to barrel through – one from the US perspective and one from the Soviet Union – and a tightly balanced multiplayer offering with a couple of endlessly addictive modes. No other strategy game lets you pit democratic dolphins against Soviet squids, and for that alone we’ll always adore Red Alert 2.
While you’re here, check out our Command & Conquer Remastered Collection review, and our interview with iconic Kane actor Joe Kucan.
In our Endless Legend review, we lavished praise on a game that blends fantasy and science fiction seamlessly, throwing stranded spacemen against magical dragon people in absolutely the most striking hex-based world there is. Diverse, gorgeous, it looks almost tangible, like you could reach out and pick up one of the elaborate cities and cradle it in your hands. “Don’t worry, citizens. We won’t let the horrible man-eating insects devour you and your families,” we whisper into our cupped palms.
Fascinating factions vie for dominance over the apocalyptic world. Each is blessed with unique and interesting mechanics that set them apart and inform how they’re played. You have got the horrible aforementioned flesh-eating insect race, the Necrophage, for instance, who are so foul they cannot make alliances with other factions, forcing them to always be the opposition. And there are the bizarre Cultists, a faction of peculiar zealots that can only construct one city, and must rely on swallowing up other factions if they want to expand.
Related: The best 4X games on PC
Endless Legend is also blessed with a strong narrative that lends it a strong sense of place. Every faction has a set of story quests that will inform many of your decisions without backing you into a corner. There is also an abundance of side-quests and stories that make it feel like you’re managing a world where a genuine roleplaying adventure is taking place.
What’s not to love about a game that pits armoured cowboys against xenomorphic aliens and space elves? StarCraft II is a classic base-building RTS that tasks you with gathering resources, building armies, and killing your enemy before they kill you with quick decisions and even quicker mouse clicks.
StarCraft II is one of the best multiplayer games on PC. Your enemies are human; they’ll probably be able to click faster than you, issuing orders quicker than you. You’ll probably lose a lot, but you’ll get better the more you play, making this one of the best RTS games for anyone with a competitive streak. Or, if you would rather watch the action, there’s a small but dedicated esports playerbase.
The PvE campaign is also interesting – Blizzard has combined frantic action with the backdrop of some of the best RPGs as you follow the exploits of Terran mercenary Jim Raynor. You’ll 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, or 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 tech, and decide your next destination. Story is hard to do in RTS games, and many developers resort to cutscenes or in-mission dialogue, but StarCraft II has you interact with the world outside of combat.
Upcoming strategy games
While you’re here, why not check out some other strategy games that we think have potential that have yet to be released.
From the creators of Endless Legend (above), this is set to be the studios magnum opus, their Civilization-killer. Spanning the breadth of human history much like Firaxis’ flagship series, Humankind will let you guide a civilization through the ages.
On paper it has a lot in common with Civilization, but you’ll also see plenty of elements taken from Amplitude’s ‘Endless’ range as well. Combat takes place in a semi-separate tactical layer that draws from the surroundings in the strategic space. You don’t pick a single civilization to play as, rather you’re given a choice of civilisations from each era that will define your gameplay, meaning that as your nation grows and evolves it’ll possess the legacy and history of a diverse range of previous national personas. We’ve already taken it for a spin, and we can’t wait to get our hands on it for real.
Empire of Sin
To paraphrase that extremely ill-advised Daikatana advert, John Romero’s About To Make You His Mook. Empire of Sin is an upcoming strategy and management game set in 1920’s prohibition-era Chicago. Think Tommy guns, bootleg rum, and sharply dressed mobsters wearing hats that can’t possibly make gunfights any easier.
Game design legends Brenda and John Romero join strategy powerhouse Paradox Interactive for this one, so we’re about as excited as a lineup of this calibre suggests. It’s currently slated for release December 1, 2020.
Age of Empires 4
“it is absolutely not past the time for RTS,” World’s Edge told us in our recent Age of Empires 4 interview with the Microsoft-backed team, and if the level of detail and enthusiasm they brought to the table is any indication, we’re not going to argue.
We’re expecting an updated release date by the end of 2020. Until then, you can keep up with all the latest Age of Empires 4 details right here.
Total War: Warhammer III
If you’re looking at the above image and trying to imagine what sort of revenge the beheaded chaos warrior was planning moments before he met the sharp end of Gotrek’s axe, you’re likely chomping at the bit as much as we are for the third instalment in Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer series. If the way the Mortal Empires map looks at the moment is any indication, this next game looks to take us to where (to quote the fox from Von Trier’s Antichrist) Chaos reigns.
We’re still not sure when exactly to expect updated news, but until then, here’s the centrepiece monsters we want to see in Total War: Warhammer 3 and our take on how Three Kingdoms’ timeline could work in Total War: Warhammer 3. Plus, our Total War: Warhammer 3 wishlist.
To be honest, there’s a ton of really interesting strategy projects on the horizon over the next year… but if we were to hone on just the one (apart from the big’uns above), it’d be this one.
From the creators of the Long War mods for XCOM 2, this is shaping up to be a bonkers-grade grand strategy game. You must take control of a faction on a near-future Earth – one that’s discovered it’s going to be invaded by aliens at some point – and lead humanity into the solar system. You’ve got to develop a space-based economy, develop a space fleet, all while trying to stop humanity from tearing itself apart on the ground. Fascinating stuff, and wonderful hardcore to boot.
So, there you have it: the best strategy games on PC, as decided by us in a Totally Legit(TM) manner. While you’re here, check out the best PC MMOs for a similar set of mind-blowing proclamations. And if you’re after the very cream of the crop, check out the best PC games of all-time.