The Best Strategy Games On PC

The PC is home to just about every type of video game under the sun, but few are as quintessentially PC as strategy games.

Because it's such a popular (and important) type of game for the platform, and because I've spent way too much time playing them over the past few years, I thought I'd help folks out by putting together a list of what I consider to be the very best strategy games for the very best system to play them on.

So what counts as a strategy game? That's a good question. One that, thanks to video gaming's ceaseless drive to remove all meaning from its genre names, we may never be able to settle on. The lines blur so much between "strategy" and "RTS" and "grand strategy" and "management" and "simulation" that I've tried to restrict this list to games that, well, most people would simply agree (through a gut feeling) were OK with being called "strategy games".

Here, then, are the best games to play if you feel like taking charge of something, ruining an economy and/or driving an army across the fields of your enemies.


CIVILIZATION V

What more can I say? A titan in the field, it stands as not just the best Civilization game, but one of the best games ever released on the PC. Whatever your strategic cup of tea, be it war, diplomacy or exploration, Civilization V has you covered.

And yes, I know that Civilization VI is out now and is very good, but I'll be waiting at least a few months (and maybe for an expansion or two) before passing judgement on whether it can unseat Civ V on this list or not.

Civilization V: The Kotaku Re-Review

It's 2016. Bearing this in mind, go play a shooter from 2010. Or a sports game. Or, well, anything else from 2010. Look how (relatively) basic it is! Notice how advances in game design and technology have rendered so many of these former classics obsolete. Now go and play Civilization V. I'll see you in six months. If we're lucky.

Read more


CRUSADER KINGS II

While most strategy games will have you manage wars and economies, Crusader Kings II does more. It also has you manage the heart. When a game can marry the traditional strategic concerns of running a medieval Kingdom with stuff like affairs, assassinations and, well, marriage, it deserves its place in the pantheon of greats.


ENDLESS LEGEND

On the one hand, it's a lot like Civilization! On the other, it's one of the freshest strategy games on the market, building on Civ's foundations with a lot of cool, new and interesting ideas, from its slick user interface to the way its fiction results in some absolutely insane faction characteristics. It's also great to see a strategy game with a genuine sense of style.


Endless Legend: The Kotaku Review

As part of our recent shift in focus, I've been playing (and thus writing) about Civilization even more than usual. And for a while, it seemed every time I did, someone deep in the comments section would be whispering about another game I should try that, *gasp*, might be better than Civ. So I did. And whaddya know, in a lot of ways, they were right.

Read more

COMPANY OF HEROES

For me, the RTS genre died in 2006. Not from a cataclysmic event, but because that's the year Company of Heroes was released and perfected the formula, basically saying "shut it down, we don't need any more of these." No game — even it's own drab sequel — has come close to matching it since. Replacing frantic mouse-clicking and boring build orders with a constant need for actual tactics, its slower pace and more realistic battlefield conditions mean that even ten years on this is still an absolute classic.


The Best World War Two Video Games

It was the most destructive conflict in human history, and one that directly shaped entire generations of both creators and consumers, so it's little surprise that for the longest time the Second World War was maybe the most popular setting in video games.

Read more

TOTAL WAR: SHOGUN 2

The Total War series remains a pillar of PC strategy gaming, and while Empire is my personal favourite, I tend to recommend Shogun 2 first. It's more functional and focused than the Total War games before (or since), and it still looks absolutely gorgeous. Bonus: its big expansion, Fall of the Samurai, is probably the best thing in the entire Total War series.


Total War: Shogun 2 Shows You Can Go Home Again

While easily its most ambitious title to date, 2009's Empire. Total War was also a rather divisive game for fans of Creative Assembly's classic strategy series. Total War. Shogun 2 feels like a direct response to that.

Read more

HOMEWORLD

The art. The music. The way it confronted a difficult control challenge — moving around a fleet of ships in empty 3D space — and absolutely nailed it. The recent remakes really only touched the sound and visuals, because everything else about Homeworld remains almost perfect.


Homeworld: The Return Of A Game That's Almost Perfect

Playing through Homeworld again after all these years is weird. Games are forever changing. Usually, they're advancing. They progress not just in terms of visuals, but design. Shooters, for example, change the way you take cover and recover damage, while stealth games have developed smoother controls and give the player a greater awareness of what's going on around them.

Read more

PANZER CORPS

Inspired by the classic Panzer General, Panzer Corps is a (relatively) simple turn-based game that still manages to pack an amazing amount of depth (and content) away. If you want to fight the entirety of the Second World War but don't want to spend hours learning complex rules or menus, this is the game for you.


Panzer Corps: The Kotaku Review

Panzer Corps is not a new game. It's been out since 2011 and is a faithful remake (in all but name) of a game first released 20 years ago. None of which matters. In 2014, it's still one of the best strategy games you can get on the PC.

Read more

WORLD IN CONFLICT

This may seem a surprising choice, but World in Conflict is a very good strategy game. It picks a spot in the genre — somewhere between Blizzard's chaotic immediacy and Total War's big-map tactics — and nails it, constantly taxing both your small-scale reactions and broader strategic concerns. It's also got a weirdly goofy, loveable feel to it you don't often get in this most serious of genres, from its over-the-top adherence to its 1989 setting to Alec Baldwin's "Jack Donaghy in fatigues" campaign narration.


XCOM 2

I didn't think XCOM 2 had any wiggle room left to improve on the first game. How wrong I was. Turns out that by adding stealth/visibility systems, honing the strategic metagame and greatly increasing the cinematic flair of the game you can make something great greater.


XCOM 2: The Kotaku Review

I used to be the slowest XCOM player on Earth. Then XCOM 2 happened.

Read more

AGE OF EMPIRES II: AGE OF KINGS

I don't think any game, even up to the contemporary StarCraft II and Deserts of Kharak, has been able to excel at the traditional RTS model — mine, build and deploy — better than Age of Kings. The scale of the maps, and the armies you could build, and the emphasis on fortifications...it all just came together perfectly. If you're curious, the 2013 HD remake is nice and faithful.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

I love these games, and think they're all excellent (and representative of different types of strategy game), but they just couldn't quite make the cut.

Hearts of Iron III, StarCraft II, The Banner Saga, Alpha Centauri, Command & Conquer Red Alert, WarCraft III, Europa Universalis IV, Sid Meier's Colonization.


Comments

    I know I want civilization combined with command and conquer.

    I am so stoked to see world in conflict get some recognition! An amazing game, one that I often replay... Also made by Massive (who made the division) Btw it's on special on uplay at the moment!

      I haven't got it to work on Win7... but as I am Win10 now maybe it will.

    I'd like to give an honourable mention to Cid Meier's Pirates! Not quite strategy in the general sense though requires strategy to maintain morale, manage time and take on larger ships.
    Also Commandos 2: Men of Courage almost falls into the strategy category, planning ambushes, timing movements with enemy vision, pretty much anything done when controlling the spy.

    No Dawn of War? No Starcraft or Brood War? No Total Annihilation? No Supreme Commander? Not even as honourable mentions? Bad list.

    Last edited 28/03/16 9:15 pm

    Just wanted to mention that, whilst Civilisation is technically the correct way to spell it, the game is spelt Civilization.

    This seems like a good place to ask... I've never played a Total War game.
    I've got a hankering to move massive armies of knights around and lay waste to some castles.
    Is Medieval: Total War 2 alright?.. does it still hold up?.. is it an ungodly mess of impenetrable systems?..

    My experience with turn based games is limited to the 2 Firaxis XCom games... but I've been playing RTSs since Dune 2.

      Just started coming back to PC games (strategy games especially) myself. If ...move massive armies of knights around and lay waste to some castles is what you are looking for, it is still a solid choice.
      Personally I think the strategy part of the total war series is overly simplistic and the tactical combat is kind of "samey" after a while. But that's just me.
      I have heard good things (never tried myself but really tempted) about Total War: Shogun 2 if you are willing to trade knights with samurais and more modernised weapons.

      Last edited 29/03/16 10:33 am

    Cross Company of Heroes off your list if you're making one - the AI cheats.
    I caught them doing it on the edge of the shroud, moving their units back and forth to exact spots in direct response to mine that I moved back and forth to exact spots, only mine were deep within my shroud...

    An important one IMO is Warzone 2100. It was the first 3D RTS, included being able to design the units you use (thru a combination of chassis, weapon and propulsion), and had a yet to be matched system of sensors, which could be linked to artillery, which could also be linked to counter battery artillery.

    The game was amazing, and ridiculously ahead of its time.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now