The Visual Evolution Of Sci-Fi Real-Time Strategy Games

The Visual  Evolution Of Sci-Fi Real-Time Strategy Games

StarCraft II‘s expansion pack, Heart of the Swarm, is already out in some parts of the world, and it’s launching tomorrow in North America. To celebrate, let’s take the opportunity to examine more than 20 years’ worth of real-time strategy history and see how much the genre has evolved visually. Since the StarCraft games are set in Earth’s 25th century, we’re focusing only on RTS games in sci-fi settings.

Herzog Zwei (1990)


Dune 2: The Building of a Dynasty (1992)


Command & Conquer (1995)


KKnD (1997)


Total Annihilation (1997)


StarCraft: Brood War (1998)


Machines (1999)


Earth 2150 (2000)


Dark Reign 2 (2000)


Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War (2004)


Star Wars: Empire at War (2006)


Halo Wars (2009)


Supreme Commander 2 (2010)


StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm (2013)


Were there any real-time strategy games that blew your mind when they came out? Any great-looking unreleased ones you’re really looking forward to? Tell us in the comments below.

Sources: Avtoandlevan’s LP, RTSGuru, Renegade Forums, Acantophis3rd’s LP, Total Annihilation Wiki,, NostalgicGames,, LucasArts,,, StarCraft Facebook


  • I’m not sure how you missed Homeworld but SRSLY, HOMEWORLD! That game (and it’s addons and sequel) was bloody amazing. Fantastic graphics and an excellently designed control scheme that allowed you to easily command your units in 3 dimensions!

    • Because starcraft 1 was the pioneer and starcraft 2 was a hype sequal? While dawn of war 2 couldnt fit?

        • While pretty, it wasn’t an RTS. There was no large-scale ‘macro’ resource management element to it. At best, you occasionally had more than one tactical-level skirmish happening at once, but even that was rare in my memory.

          It was a tactical real-time RPG, I reckon, as far as singleplayer goes. The multiplayer is as I just described; tactically significant but strategically vacant.

          Besides, it was more popular for the 3-man survival mode than the actual game, at least among my friends…

          • But if that was the case Halo Wars wouldn’t be on there either.

            Personally I loved Dawn of War 2. I was always hoping that the 40k MMO would go in a similar direction and make it so your ‘character’ was a Dawn of War 2 style unit. It’d be a lot more interesting if the raid structure was more like a 40k army list with players running HQ, Fast Attack, etc rather than the classic tank, heal, damage setup.

    How was this missed? And yet we have Dark Reign in the list. Where is HOMEWORLD?

    • You and duzz have both missed that this is only scifi RTSs. Something like Empire Earth could fit though, given that it had a couple of futuristic eras.

  • No force commander? yeah the camera system was buggy but it was a pioneering game one of the first 3d rts’s

    It taught us things that work in RTS and things that don’t as well as the fact that command points have not a place nor will ever have a place in RTS.

    Earth 2140? it evolved the aspect of base building…. a tiny bit but it still changed a lot and introduced what we now see as the standard fog of war

    Command and conquer 4 for showing how you can ruin an entire franchise in one hit.

    Command and conquer P2W – for showing how you can then piss on those ashes by making a ‘free game’ and effectively turning an RTS into an MMO where whoevers wallet is biggest reign surpreme.

  • No Dawn of War 2 or Supreme Commander (SupComm 1 is greater than Supcomm 2 both in gameplay and graphics) but the lists puts in fucking halo wars >

    • Well as previously discussed by others, it’s debateable whether DoW 2 is actually an RTS. Most consider it an RTT/RPG hybrid. And it sucked, too.

      Dunno why SupCom has been left off the list though. They include TA and SupCom 2 but leave out SupCom?

  • Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds was the more memorable star wars RTS. Well, for me at least. Empire at War’s space battles were kinda fun, its galactic conquest was okay, and its mods were cool, but apart from that it’s not what I’d consider the better one. -shrug-.

  • I loved the original Dark Reign. There are still aspects of the AI that are not included in much newer and prettier games today. There was nothing like setting Shredders to Harass with damage set to low so they’d come back and repair the moment they got hit too much. They were the perfect moving scouts.

  • its so sad that this genre is pretty weak for titles now, not only for sci fi insoired but the whole rts genre in general. i was really looking forward to Kings & Castles, probably never see it now.

  • Man, Dune 2 was the BEST! Loved those sonic tanks, fremen warriors, and sardaukar terror troops… I though Supreme Commander 1 was pretty awesome as well

  • Ok so You missed Warcraft (not this silly MMO thing) the original Warcraft and have to back the first comment Homeworld was the one that blew my mind

  • Empire at war is totally misrepresented in that screenshot.
    That game was fugly compared to DoW.

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