RTS games are quite simply delightful. There are few things as satisfying as simply throwing your enemies over like a river over stones, erasing their existence as swiftly as a click. This list is all about real-time, where you cant hide behind the security of turn-based strategyspace.
Although Starcraft and Age of Empires are the mainstay of the genre, independent games like Northgard and Driftland have demonstrated that there are plenty of other voices to be heard. There are also plenty of reasons to celebrate in games that are technically real-time, but not strictly considered RTS.
The rise of MOBAs has radically altered the RTS scene over the past decade, but this has not stopped some worthwhile games from establishing themselves at the top of the hall of fame. Here's our take on the best RTS games on PC, though we're skewing more towards newer releases because, honestly, we all know how good Homeworld is by now.
The best RTS games on PC are:
- State of Survival
- Age of Empires IV
- Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun
- Ashes of Singularity: Escalation
- Driftland: The Magic Revival
- Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
- Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
- Supreme Commander
- Starcraft 2
- Europa Universalis IV
- The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth
State of Survival
State of Survival puts you in the shoes of someone leading a community of survivors amidst the ravages of the undead.
The most common type of battle in this game is a tower defense strategy, where you have to move your units around in order to be the best equipped to fend off those nasty brain munchers. But then, there are also occasions where you're putting your armies against your opponents, which is a more traditional RTS battle.
State of Survival is a free game that allows you to play it for free.
Age of Empires IV
A list like this may be somewhat unusual, considering that Age of Empires IV is in many ways a remake of Age of Empires II. However, the newest entry in the legendary RTS series has recently launched on Steam, and merits a mention in its own right.
Age of Empires IV is by no means a sluggish RTS game due to its ability to stand the test of time and its current release. Its upgraded engine, new graphics, and a different approach to civilization design make Age of Empires a contemporary AOE game for the modern strategy gamer. It even expanded its coverage of history to 11 with hours of real-life documentary footage.
The campaigns are enjoyable, although it's unclear what the RTS community thinks of the multiplayer and faction balance. We've got many Age of Empires IV civilisation guides to check out as well.
Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun
Blade of the Shogun is one of the finest examples of modern RTS games. You control an elite group of five players, all of whom have different abilities and abilities. Your crew is skilled killers, but they are no match for a fort full of samurai.
With each new level of the campaign, you'll be presented with a new stealth puzzle to solve using your five very different soldiers. Will you silently slay with your ninja, clear out small groups with your samurai, or use traps and decoys to sow chaos? Sometimes it's the sheer amount of options that makes things challenging.
After a brief stint in Early Access, this innovativeViking game has arrived on our strategy shores mid-2018. Ever since, it has occupied its own quiet corner of the genre in a very stoic and extremely competent manner. Set in a fictional world, each match of Northgard takes you on a journey to discover and expand into an island you must help your people.
You do not build buildings and recruit individuals, instead you must assign your limited population to various jobs accessible via buildings. Even combat following a guide model will not leave you alone on the island, as others will also seek new homes for themselves. Some Vikings simply want to earn money or summon a kraken.
There are many paths to victory, and every procedurally generated island has unique and NPC monsters to contend with. There is also a survival component as you need to ensure you have enough food and supplies to survive the winter seasons. Most of the major updates that have included several new game modes have been free.
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation
Ashes of the Singularity began at a strange time, with a fairly simple campaign and a lack of unit options, but it matured in a significant way through a long cycle of continued development and optimisation. It is now one of the most innovative large-scale RTS approaches in modern times.
Ashes of the Singularity takes nods from Total Annihilation-style games, Company of Heroes' squad-based light vehicles, and interconnected resource nodes that function in many ways identical to territories from Relics' seminal World War 2 RTS.
Ashes is shaping up to be a serious contender in the large-scale RTS space.
Driftland: The Magic Revival
Driftland was in Early Access for a couple of years before it was finally released in April 2019. This innovative RTS follows the classicMajesty franchise, where indirect control is the order of the day. You are a mage whose realm is on one of many shattered pieces of the world floating around, and you must deepen your holdings and expand on other ones by connecting them together.
It's not for everyone, and there are a few minor flaws that will need to be worked out over the years, but Driftland's willingness to be bold and experiment does it justice, and anyone looking for a new fantasy RTS game should look no further.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Deserts of Kharak, a beautiful, haunting, powerful, and violent journey that takes place before the original Homeworld, is a fresh take on the classic series mechanics. While we were initially apprehensive about how the six degrees of freedom RTS would perform on a flat plane, Blackbird Interactive has packed Deserts of Kharak with nuance and warmth.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak has been sadly overlooked by the wider RTS community, but this week it is available as part of a bundle with Homeworld Remastered, which might also be worth checking out if you liked the original classic games.
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
The first Age of Empires II is, undoubtedly, a breakthrough in the realm of RTS games. The Definitive Edition is a remake, updating not only the art, but also unit AI, as well as new civilizations.
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition (buy here) has a slew of combat, civ development, construction, and resource-gathering that keeps you busy clicking away on something. Combat is more advanced than two sides smashing away at one another until one or two lucky warriors emerge unharmed There are fortifications to navigate, siege tactics to employ, and all sorts of problems that can cause your assault to collapse.
If you want more AoE goodness, you can read our review of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, and we even have a dedicated guide to other games like Age of Empires if you want something similar.
Supreme Commander is set amongst a big old war known as the Infinite War. You'll have to use every last brain cell to triumph against the AI and their deadly weapons.
Supreme Commander is a fantastic example of an experimental branch of units that can be used to destroy major enemy bases. It also has one of the coolest map systems around, with the ability to zoom out and in seamlessly so you can always anticipate your next move.
Starcraft 2 is a massive RTS title, which many new players fear to even try out because theyll likely find themselves torn apart online before figuring out the camera controls. Even if you are playing as Zerg or Protoss, you have unfettered freedom of choice.
Blizzards' balancing abilities shine throughout the games impressive esports legacy. Winning is a constant, tireless effort to try and outwit your opponent, scouting out their facilities, and attempting to counter it almost a decade later.
Europa Universalis IV
Even if they are often referred to as fancy strategy games these days, Paradox's iconic brand of strategy games is, technically, real-time strategy in terms of design. However, as an experience they are worthwhile and since weve included medieval madhouse Crusader Kings III on our best strategy games list, we thought wed hold up EU4.
Europa Universalis IV is eight years old, and it is still getting new DLC expansions. It's an excellent example not only of how to maintain a strategy game over the long term, but also how complicated and difficult it can be to maintain it. The amount of new content that the game has received, especially the free patches, is often underappreciated.
Plus, it's a great game. You begin in the mid 15th century, and you'll have to navigate any country through several hundred years of turbulent history as you have to contend with the growth of empires, colonialism, and religious conflicts. There are also a lot of EU4 mods to help spice things up.
Battle for Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings
Renata noted that this game was not only a fun RTS, but it was also one of the best Lord of the Rings games to date. Not necessarily in terms of the main characters from the books, but generally on how EA Los Angeles (who would later develop Command & Conquer 3 & 4) crafted the experience from the original source material.
Renatafavours the second installment from 2006, many repeaters mentioning that they actually liked the first game from 2004. Neither game was approved by EA in 2010, thus youre left with searching for second-hand discs or other means. Playing online is best done via services such as GameRanger or the t3aonline.net website, which has preserved them for play insolo and multiplayer.
- Stronghold: Warlords
- Command and Conquer Remastered Collection
- Empire of Sin
- Ancestors Legacy
- A.I. War 2
- Homeworld Remastered
- Offworld Trading Company
- Tropico 6
- Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition
- Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault
Jason Coles provided the original list, as well asAlex Connelly and Joe Robinson's suggestions.