Best RTS Games (Updated 2020)

Summary List

PC gaming gets lumped into the broader gaming genre a lot, but there is actually a unique subculture within it, particularly around the types of games that become popular on PC. Real time strategy games, for instance, are complex and require far more than what the inputs of a traditional controller can deliver. The best RTS games utilize these controllers effectively and implement great mechanics while doing so.

RTS games are great for people who love micro-managing tasks, city-building, and strategic combat. They also provide a nice challenge since the AI you’re facing works in real time rather than turns. Today, we are celebrating the best RTS games across the years.

StarCraft II may feel like a weird step-sibling in the Blizzard lineup of games, but it is still incredibly well supported and played all around the world, particularly in Korea. In fact, the game got an additional expansion pack just a few years ago. So if you’ve been on the fence about trying it out and are afraid no one will be online, just know that there is nothing to worry about. StarCraft II is still well supported, and for good reason. StarCraft II is one of the finest RTS games ever made, and it’s one of the best games in Blizzard’s library, period.

StarCraft II has a pretty compelling single-player campaign across it’s three expansions. Each expansion lets players control one of the three main factions. Wing of Liberty takes place four years after Brood War, and previous Terran hero Jim Raynor has organized a rebellion to overthrow the Dominion Emperor. Heart of the Swarm focuses on the Zerg, and the trilogy of plots ends with the Protoss focused Legacy of the Void. The original game has 29 campaign missions, making for a lengthy and enjoyable campaign that is further fleshed out by the expansions.

The real action comes with multi-player, though. The servers are still alive and robust, so you can still easily jump in play anyone from around the world. You’ll need a lot of practice to make it into the upper echelons, though. StarCraft II’s players are fierce and experienced, but that’s what makes it so challenging and fun. That’s why StarCraft II is one of the best RTS games you can get.

Key Features
  • Lengthy single-player campaign
  • Multiplayer servers across the globe
  • Three distinct factions to play
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single/multiplayer
  • Rating: T
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Pros
  • Multiplayer is still alive and well
  • Includes a robust and engaging campaign
  • Great animation, especially for the time
Cons
  • New players will likely get owned in multiplayer matches

Warcraft, along with the Command & Conquer series, helped popularize the genre in the 1990s. Eventually, Blizzard would take its universe in a new direction by popularizing the MMO with World of Warcraft. Of the RTS titles, though, none are looked back on more fondly than Warcraft III. The game was the culmination of all the experimentation and refinement of the prior two titles, and it’s massive success and popularity are what made the mediocre remaster of the game a few years ago such a disappointment.

However, Blizzard’s bungled remaster aside, the original Warcraft III is still an excellent title that is well-worth any player’s time.

Warcraft III is a prime example of the RTS genre is all about as players explore a large map, build up their compounds, and use troops to fend off and attack opposing faction. It also introduces new elements that would go on to become staples of the genre.

Creeps, for example, are enemies that are dangerous to all factions, and they add a nice wild card element to the encounters. Warcraft III also introduces heroes, super-powered units with special abilities, which melded well with the high fantasy setting and plot of the game.

The game expands a lot on the world of Azeroth’s lore, and each of the game’s four playable factions adds a different perspective to the conflict. All in all it makes for a game that still plays well, and it is perfect for old and new fans alike.

Key Features
  • Lengthy and lore heavy campaign
  • Four playable factions
  • Powerful hero units
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single player
  • Rating: T
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Pros
  • Introduced genre staples like creeps and heroes
  • Story is engaging and packed with details for fans
  • Still plays surprisingly well
Cons
  • Graphics are a bit dated, but remaster is underwhelming

The game Total Annihilation is a fan favorite in the RTS community, so naturally Supreme Commander was well-received as a spiritual successor to the landmark title. Supreme Commander isn’t just a rip-off of the prior game, though. It has its own unique mechanics and style that separate it from its roots, and it is still a favorite for RTS fans even today.

Supreme Commander is unique because - rather being a faceless commander - players actually assume the role of a giant mech that is tasked to build its base, upgrade units, and defeat its opponents. Like Total Annihilation before it, giving the commander a unique presence in the game adds to the depth and stakes of combat. If the Supreme Commander is destroyed in combat, the game is over.

The game also has a decently complex technology system, with every building and unit being broken into one of four tiers. Players can upgrade these units into different tiers over time or invest resources into unique experimental technology.

Combat in Supreme Commander is also varied and massive in scope. Players can create land, air, and water based units, making full-fledged skirmishes epic to watch play out. Supreme Commander also lets you enjoy this combat thanks to its relatively hands off approach to micromanagement.

Supreme Commander is still running today, and for good reason. It’s stellar mechanics, unique plot and visuals, and it’s accessibility make it one of the best games of the genre.

Key Features
  • Three unique factions
  • Land, sea, and air combat
  • Map and mission editor
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Multiplayer
  • Rating: E10
  • Publisher: THQ
Pros
  • Excellent use of terrain and fog of war
  • Combine economic management with military management
  • Lots of varied and fun encounters
Cons
  • No story to accompany campaign mode

The Command & Conquer series is one of the major reasons the genre took off in the 1990s. The franchise perfectly blended the complex management of the genre with flashy action to make a game that was accessible and appealing to a wider audience. For many fans of the genre, Command & Conquer was their first foray into the genre. As such, the series also has a lot of nostalgia surrounding it.

Luckily, Command and Conquer Remastered holds onto everything players loved about the games while updating the visuals for a modern aesthetic and improving the flow of the UI. That makes for an experience that is at it’s core the original game but fine-tuned for a modern audience. It really is the best of both worlds.

Command & Conquer Remastered compiles the first two games and the three expansion packs. Everything about the game has been remastered. The visuals are tweaked for 4K, making the individual sprites more legible and coherent. The music has also been remastered for a fuller experience. Even the full-motion video has been upscaled, but that has only heightened the goofiness rather than improved it.

If you are hankering for the old school look and feel, though, that is available to you. Simply tapping the space bar switches the visuals for a truly original experience. The setting are also robust so you can combine features from the original and remastered versions to create the ultimate experience for yourself.

If you’re aching for a nostalgia trip or trying the franchise for the first time, Command & Conquer Remastered is an excellent experience either way.

Key Features
  • First two Command & Conquer titles
  • Remastered in 4K
  • Built-in modding support
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single player
  • Rating: T
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
Pros
  • Play the first two Command & Conquer games in 4K
  • Visuals, music, and full motion video have all been up scaled and remastered
  • Can toggle between the classic and remastered visual style
Cons
  • Full-motion videos seem odd (well, more odd) in upscaled resolution.

There are plenty of iconic games in the RTS genre, but few are as iconic as Age of Empires. This series was one of the top games in the height of the genre, and even today has plenty of hardcore fans. Age of Empires II is widely considered one of the best in the series, and the new definitive edition brings the classic game into the modern era with a 4K resolution and remastered soundtrack.

There are plenty of reasons why this is the definitive edition of Age of Empires II. It gets the usual remaster treatment with improved visuals and sound, but content is king in this remaster. Not only does the definitive edition bring together all the original expansions, but it also includes the new The Last Khans expansion with four new civilizations and subsequent campaigns. That means you get all the content fans know and love, plus more to entice new and old fans alike.

The AI has also been greatly improved from the original game. The original AI had to break the rules to get ahead, whereas the definitive edition has a more sophisticated algorithm to keep up with players. Players can choose between the classic and new AI based on their preferences.

Age of Empires II is a massive game, especially with all of its expansions. If you’re looking to get the entire game in one place or give a try for the first time, there is no better option than the definitive edition.

Key Features
  • Remastered in 4K
  • New Content
  • Digital Download
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single player
  • Rating: T
  • Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Pros
  • Greatly improved art design
  • User interface has had a face lift
  • All the Age of Empires II content in one place
Cons
  • Difficulty balancing is a bit off

Plenty of RTS games are based on history and do their best to accurately depict historic conflicts. However, very few come close to the level of detail found in Relic Entertainment’s Company of Heroes series. Specifically, Company of Heroes 2 is an impressive RTS game based on World War II and takes players to the Eastern and Western fronts of the conflict. Players will use realistic tactics to out-maneuver their enemies, and the realistic engine has incredible physics and destructible environments to make the conflict all the more real.

Resources in the game are a little more streamlined than other RTS titles, but add to the central focus of war. Players will collect munition and fuel credits to create troops, capture strongholds, and pushback their enemies.

The combat is more or less standard RTS affair, though Company of Heroes 2 introduces some interesting new elements. The game features TrueSight, a new line-of-sight feature to create realistic visibility for combat. Weather also plays a huge role as well and can negatively affect units in certain conditions.

If you are a huge history buff and love strategic combat, Company of Heroes 2 is a great option for you. The platinum edition offers a ton of combat, and the game’s realistic engine and strategic combat puts you at the heart of the world’s greatest conflict in an engrossing and thrilling way.

Key Features
  • Two single player campaigns
  • Historically based strategy and combat
  • Destructible environments
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single/multiplayer
  • Rating: T
  • Publisher: SEGA
Pros
  • Tons of attention to detail, making the game realistic and historically accurate
  • Destructible environments add to realism
  • Tons of content in one package
Cons
  • Prepare for a long install

Games Workshop’s insanely popular Warhammer 40k board game has developed an international following, and part of that popularity stems from the company’s commitment to expanding the IP in different mediums. Along with the board game and expansions, Games Workshops publishes fiction and audiobooks through the Black Library, and they have collaborated on several video games in the Warhammer universe.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is one of those games. It’s a streamlined approach to the RTS genre, and it focuses heavily on the violence that Warhammer is well known for. Resources are generated automatically by the headquarters and by capturing key locations, and the player orders squads rather than individual units. This makes for a simpler playing experience, but that doesn’t mean Dawn of War is sparse on tactics. Players must also juggle unit morale to improve their fighting power and push back an aggressive enemy AI.

Dawn of War had three expansions: Winter Assault, Dark Crusade, and Soulstorm, and all of them are bundled together now in the complete edition. Dawn of War also has two sequels, one of which only came out a few years ago. That makes this the perfect series to jump into, as it has plenty of content even up through the modern generation of games.

The plot of Dawn of War is also heavy on Warhammer lore, so if you’re a fan of the franchise looking to get a little bit more of the world of Warhammer, this game is an excellent option for you.

For an engaging and fun RTS that has lots of content beyond it, Dawn of War is a tough game to beat.

Key Features
  • 4 unique races
  • Story driven campaign
  • Combat-focused resource management
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single player
  • Rating: M
  • Publisher: THQ
Pros
  • Game focuses more on combat than resources, making it a great starting point for new players
  • Game of the year edition includes four new maps
  • Packed with Warhammer universe lore
Cons
  • Game feels dated compared to more recent Dawn of War titles

While Warcraft III and Command & Conquer may be better remembered, Total Annihilation was actually the reigning champ of this era of RTS games. Cavedog’s masterpiece is looked on fondly among diehard RTS fans, and for good reason. The game won multiple awards for its innovations in the genre, but unfortunately the collapse of the game’s studio stopped it from becoming a well-embraced IP like it’s competitors.

In Total Annihilation, players are thrown into a far-future galactic conflict between the Core and Arm. The Core is a coalition of humans and AIs that mandate a new process called patterning: transferring the consciousness of humans into machines. In response, a rebel group called Arm emerges to oppose the singularity movement imposed by the Core. It’s a surprisingly complex and interesting plot for a game of this generation.

The gameplay is equally as unique. In Total Annihilation, players start with a single Commander unit that is tasked with building the base, forming an army, and defeating its opponents. The Commander is incredibly powerful and can kill most enemies in one hit, as well as turn invisible for reconnaissance. The game has two campaigns that add to the replayability.

Total Annihilation also had a ton of DLC in the follow up to its release, and it is one of the first RTS games to include multi-player. Unfortunately, those servers are no longer available, but a few games have been made in the spirit of Total Annihilation to keep its legacy alive and well.

The single-player itself still plays well today, though, and is well worth a look.

Key Features
  • Streaming resources
  • In-game commander
  • Epic science fiction plot
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single player/multiplayer
  • Rating: T
  • Publisher: Cavedog
Pros
  • Streaming resources means players can focus more on management and distribution rather than gathering
  • Commander is powerful and stands out in the genre
  • The plot is surprisingly interesting for an RTS
Cons
  • The game no longer supports multi-player

The Total War series has a long tradition of blending real-time and turn-based strategy in its games, and Shogun 2 is the ultimate rendition of that formula. With tons of content and factions, players must maneuver through the political and military dramas of feudal Japan in a game that is nearly flawless in its execution, and it’s one of Creative Assembly’s best games to date.

In Shogun 2, players take control of one of nine clans, each with their own unique strengths and features. Players can also choose between three factions in the DLC. Once players choose a clan, their ultimate goal is simple: take control of Japan and it’s surrounding islands. Players will do this through military conquest as well as cunning political ploys and economic superiority. It’s partly a role-playing game as players interact with the other clans, send spies, and make long-term plans.

However, when conflict does happen, the game switches to a real-time strategy game as the player takes command of entire armies and sends them to bloody battle. The conflicts are suitably large and epic, and Shogun 2’s improved engine makes the combat visceral yet enjoyable to watch.

With the complete edition, players get all three game packs and 11 DLC. That means you will have plenty of content to play and replay, which is what makes Shogun 2 so appealing. It’s a game that will require hundreds of hours to see in its entirety, and it’s mix of real and turn-based strategy makes it a complex mental exercise perfect for any gamer.

Key Features
  • 9 playable clans
  • 11 DLC packs
  • Turn-based and real-time strategy
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single player
  • Rating: T
  • Publisher: SEGA
Pros
  • The most refined Total War experience to date
  • Tons of content available in the complete edition
  • Political and military strategy in one
Cons
  • Long load times

Vikings are all the rage in video games these days, so it is no surprise that one of the best RTS games in recent memories has a Viking theme to it. That’s by no means a bad thing, because Northgard is hands-down one of the best RTS games around, and it’s blend of old school gameplay and modern convenience makes it a delight for new and old fans of RTS games alike.

The game plays like a usual RTS. You take control of a Viking clan, gather resources to expand your units and buildings, and do your best to survive the onslaught of the enemy AI. However, while Northgard is heavily rooted in the classic traditions of Warcraft III and the like, it also makes its own innovations to stand out and even rise up over its predecessors.

For one, players must consider the seasons in their expansion efforts. Winters in Northgard are harsh and unforgiving, and not properly preparing can be disaster out for your campaign. Units can take on multiple roles, switching from army units to workers to farmers on the fly, making the game flexible enough to maximize player resources, which you will need to do to survive. Players can also expand their lore to create warmer clothes, better weapons, and so on to even the odds.

Northgard also has a unique resource called fame, which is accumulated by deeds you do throughout the game. It’s uses vary but ultimately tie some of the game’s more outlier elements together into a cohesive package. The plot is a bit underwhelming, though, however the overall package is more than enough to compensate that.

For the most modern, impressive, and enjoyable RTS experience, there isn’t anything quite like Northgard available.

Key Features
  • Vikings
  • Lots of resources to manage
  • Plenty of multiplayer and single-player options
Specifications
  • Genre: RTS
  • Mode: Single/multiplayer
  • Rating: T
  • Publisher: Shiro Games
Pros
  • Classic RTS game with some modern conveniences
  • The balance of resources and expansion is complex and interesting
  • AI is customizable so players can find an ideal difficulty
Cons
  • Font is too small on PS4 version

What is an RTS Game?

Real time strategy (RTS) games are exactly what they sound like. In the 1980s, strategy games were usually turn-based. However, heading into the 1990s with improved AI, it became possible for players and the game to operate at the same time.

RTS games usually revolve around building structures, upgrading troops, and maneuvering strategically to defeat an AI opponent doing the same thing. However, there are plenty of variants on that, with some focusing exclusively on combat, some focusing on construction and management, and others involving politics as well as battle.

A Brief History

RTS games started to appear in the late 80s, with many considering the game Herzog Zwei to be the first RTS game to come about. There were several other games around the time period that could be seen as a foundation for the RTS genre, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that it really started to take form.

In this period, we got the Warcraft series and Command and Conquer, as well as another pivotal title in Total Annihilation. These games would go on to set the standard for the genre for years to come, and many of them are still looked upon fondly (as you can see in our list).

(Real) Real Time Strategy

Classic titles like Warcraft and Command and Conquer hold a special place for many people, but the transition into 3D is when the franchise really came into its own. It’s also when the genre began to utilize the processing power of computers, creating experiences that gaming consoles of the time just couldn’t deliver. In the 1990s and into the early 2000s, gamers saw some of the most iconic franchises of the genre. Games like Age of Empires, Homeworld, and Age of Mythology. Popular titles like Sim City also came into prominence and fulfilled many of the needs of the micro-managers of the genre.

The Legacy of RTS

RTS games are still released, but they aren’t as frequently and rarely generate much buzz beyond the fandom. However, there are massively popular titles whose roots are based on real time strategy. Games like Dota 2 and League of Legends draw elements from this genre and combine it with role-playing and action titles. If you're looking to get into the RTS genre, the titles above will certainly help you get started in that journey. and possibly find your new favorite game of all-time.

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