Real Time Strategy (RTS) games seem so easy at first. You acquire resources, upgrade the base, recruit more units, and attack the enemy.
Easy to learn, hard to master – this expression perfectly applies to RTS mechanics. Making a quality RTS game is not easy either. A good RTS gameplay has to take into consideration multiple elements.
Here are the RTS games that have made gaming history. They are regarded as the best RTS games of all time.
1. Dune II
We wouldn’t call them real-time strategy games if it hadn’t been for Brett Sperry, the co-founder of Westwood Studios. He came up with this term in the nineties to label their new strategy game.
Dune II was not the first RTS game ever made, but it was the game that set the development trend for the upcoming strategy games.
Gameplay features resource gathering, tech tree, base building, and different factions with distinct units. A remake that eventually turned out to be a new game, Dune 2000 was released in 1998. Another game followed in 2001.
If you are curious to see how early RTS games looked like, you have the chance to play these games for free.
Perhaps the most popular RTS game series, StarCraft needs no introduction. These are some of the games that defined competitive gaming and established e-sports as in industry. The franchise lost some of its popularity over the years but it’s still worth playing.
The single-player campaign is amazing. The multiplayer is well balanced. The game has an easy learning curve but don’t count on becoming a master too soon. It’s a challenging game, especially when played against a skilled opponent.
The game series that spawned the behemoth of the MMORPG genre, Warcraft is a high fantasy RTS series with some RPG elements. The gameplay is built on Dune II features.
There are three games in the series. Give them a try if you’re curious to discover Azeroth’s history pre-WoW or Dota era. Warcraft III is available in a remastered edition.
4. Age of Empires
This is another name that cannot be left out when talking about the best RTS games of all times. It’s a historical themed game but don’t count on it to be too accurate.
It’s the gameplay that made this series so popular. There are seven games and some spin-offs.
Some of them got a remastered edition so you don’t have to suffer through vintage graphics anymore. Just like Dune II, this series was an important influence for many RTS games.
5. Total War
The games in this series combine RTS mechanics with turn-based gameplay. The first game, Shogun: Total War, was released in 2000.
The newest, Thrones of Britannia, is available since May 2018.
The earlier Total War games are set in a historical setting but there is also a Total War: Warhammer series set in the well-known Warhammer fantasy universe.
6. Ancestors Legacy
A new entry on the RTS games list, Ancestors Legacy was released in 2018. It’s a squad-based RTS game set in a medieval European setting. Players have praised the base building feature and graphics.
Some call it too casual for a hardcore RTS player but it’s a great starting RTS experience for beginners.
7. Medieval Kingdom Wars
Medieval Kingdom Wars blends RTS with grand strategy. We cannot say that it’s the best of both worlds, but looking at the very positive reviews on Steam, it comes pretty close.
Unfortunately, the game has been in early access for over a year. We are looking forward to the full release.
“Food stocks are dwindling, my liege!”, “Lions are attacking, my liege!”. We never get tired of hearing that. Slightly annoyed, maybe, but not tired. The Stronghold series focuses on military expansion and on economic development.
There are several games including a free to play MMO, Stronghold Kingdoms. The most recent one is Stronghold Crusader II. It was released in 2014.
9. Knights of Honor
More than 10 years after it was released, Knights of Honor is still going strong. It has very positive reviews on Steam and plenty of active players. The game is set in Medieval Europe.
It has more than 100 playable kingdoms. You can develop your kingdom through warfare, diplomacy, or both. This is one of the hidden gems of the RTS genre.
10. Command and Conquer
Command and Conquer is a distinguished name of the RTS genre. The series was originally developed by Westwood Studios, the same company that worked on Dune II.
Command and Conquer series draws inspiration from Dune II but don’t expect a clone. The campaign has great single-player content but the game encourages multiplayer. In fact, older Command and Conquer games included two CDs in the box so you can share it with a friend and start playing immediately.
11. Company of Heroes
Another gem of the 2000s, Company of Heroes is a World War II themed game. A sequel was released in 2013. Players have the chance to fight in some of the most iconic WWII battles.
The game features a single-player campaign and multiplayer that supports up to eight combatants. In the sequel, players have more multiplayer factions including the Russian and the German armies.
12. Halo Wars
When Halo Wars came out in 2009, it was an XBox 360 exclusive. Seven years later it was made available as a remastered version for XBox One and PC. The game is set in the Halo universe. The timeline places it before Halo: Combat Evolved.
Players can complete the campaign in co-op mode and compete against each other in skirmish mode.
13. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
The 2000s were great for RTS games. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is one of the notable RTS series that was first released in 2006. The game is set in one of the most popular fantasy universes, Warhammer 40K.
Players become the Emperor’s loyal subjects in the single-player campaign. Four races, including Space Marines, are available. The game features classic RTS mechanics and introduces morale and squad-based combat. Several expansions and a sequel were released.
14. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is another Warhammer 40K RTS game. It is developed by a different company than Dawn of War. The game is a recreation of the tabletop game Battlefleet Gothic. Players are in control of one of the six available factions.
The goal is to gain dominion over the Gothic sector of space. Various spaceships with customization options are available. A sequel, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, was released.
15. Offworld Trading Company
A sci-fi game that takes place on Mars, Offworld Trading Company is an RTS game from Civilization IV lead designer, Soren Johnson. Mars colonization is the theme.
The gameplay features classic RTS mechanics with a strong focus on economic development. A single-player campaign allows players to be in charge of the colonization process. Multiplayer that supports up to eight players is available as well.
Another veteran RTS series that originated in the late nineties, Homeworld became the highest rated computer game in 1999. Almost 20 years later, the franchise is still up and running. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is the latest game.
A story-driven campaign, tactical combat, classic RTS mechanics, and online multiplayer await players in the newest Homeworld installment.
17. Ashes of The Singularity: Escalation
If you’ve frequently seen Ashes of the Singularity used as a benchmark, that’s because it was the first game with DirectX 12 support and one of the first games with Vulkan support.
The fate and the continuity of the human race rest on players’ shoulders. However, this doesn’t mean that they cannot side with the enemy faction as well. Ashes of the Singularity is all about large-scale conflicts, massive battles, and thousands of units.
18. Sins of a Solar Empire
Another Stardock game, Sins of a Solar Empire is an RT4X. That means RTS gameplay with 4X elements. 4X is a strategy sub-genre. It stands for explore, expand, exploit, exterminate.
The game features multiple factions with different ships, play style, and technologies. Several victory conditions (occupation, diplomacy, last capital standing, and more) allow players to win the game in different ways.
19. Battle Realms
Battle Realms was released in 2001. It features classic RTS gameplay with a twist. The basic worker unit is also the basic military unit. And on top of that, this unit is automatically produced for free.
You’d think that this makes the game easier but, in fact, it adds some interesting strategy elements. A single-player campaign that follows the adventures of the last heir to the Serpent’s Throne is part of the game.
Battle Realm is available for a very reasonable price on GoG.
20. Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth
Did you know that there is a Lord of the Rings based RTS game? And it’s pretty good. It was released in 2004. A sequel followed two years later.
The game is based on the movies and it uses scenes from the movies as cut-scenes. There are two campaigns, a good one and an evil one.
For instance, the good campaign allows players to relive key moments from the movies such as the Ents’ raid on Isengard.
The evil campaign has an alternative storyline in which Sauron is victorious.
21. Star Wars: Empire at War
There are many Star Wars themed games including a very successful RTS game. Star Wars: Empire at War follows the conflict between the Rebels and the Empire. Chronologically, it takes place between the third and fourth Episodes.
Players can choose from two factions, Rebels or Empire, in the single-player campaign. A multiplayer mode is also available. The game has overwhelmingly positive Steam reviews.
22. Planetary Annihilation: TITANS
This is a massive-scale RTS game. It includes the base game, Planetary Annihilation, and the TITANS expansion. The gameplay focuses on large-scale battles where players control armies with thousands of units.
The single-player campaign features procedurally generated content. Multiplayer supports up to 10 players. Free for all mode and team-based scenarios are available.
Best RTS games of all time?
We have listed some of the best and most iconic RTS games ever released to the public.
Hopefully you’ll enjoy playing some of them at least.