The 25 Best Real-time Strategy Games in 2017 (PC)

RTS games real-time strategy, real time strategy, PC games, war games
Many classic RTSs are getting remakes and expansions such as Age of Mythology's Tale of the Dragon

The Best RTS Games To Play Right Now

Real-time strategy (RTS) games are the current evolution of strategic board games such as chess, Risk, Stratego, and Settlers of Catan. Many gamers love playing all of these in addition to RTSs. It’s no wonder since they combine all the tactics, planning, and meta-game of traditional analogue strategy games with aspects as diverse as gathering resources, economics, training armies, countering units, and managing different battle zones and bases of operations.

Real-time strategy is almost entirely a war-themed genre. Whether you lead squadrons or entire battalions, you’re always the one in charge of something. If you’re looking to commit mass murder or war crimes, or just see some large-scale destruction brought on by the click of a button, this is the genre for you!

While some of these might not be purely real-time strategy games, all of them have a significant portion of their gameplay made up of RTS qualities.

25. Dawn of War II

Dawn of War II gameplay

Despite its release in 2009, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is still being played and appreciated (perhaps unsurprisingly, as its follow-up apparently isn’t a hit with gamers). Anyone familiar with the grim Warhammer universe can expect to play through brutal science-fantasy battles with four different factions (six with DLC). Interestingly, besides online matchmaking skirmishes, you can play through campaign missions with a friend.

Developed by Relic Entertainment, the studio responsible for other Warhammer 40K games as well as the Company of Heroes series, Dawn of War II does away with the base building found in its predecessor and many other RTSs to focus on commanding finite squads of units in a non-linear campaign. The game even has elements of RPGs in that units can level up on the battlefield, gaining buffs and abilities.

Looks just a little like StarCraft versus Warcraft, doesn’t it?

What’s Blue Falcon doing in Warhammer?

This squad should be an indication of the microing involved in Dawn of War II.

24. Total War: Warhammer

Total War: Warhammer gameplay

Combining the gameplay of Total War and the high fantasy universe of Warhammer Fantasy, Total War: Warhammer continues the turn-based empire building of its gameplay franchise while bringing five unique Warhammer races to life. As usual, there’s the macromanagement of cities and mobilization of armies, and the micromanagement of units and heroes in combat, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t lead to utterly epic battles. Be sure to play this one before Total: War: Warhammer II is released later this year and ready yourself to embrace a new trilogy of RTS fantasy games since a third game is planned as well.

Is it me or do those little guys look like they’re about to get slaughtered? Or are looks deceiving?

Defending a wall from siege and invasion.

23. Age of Empires II HD

Age of Empires II HD - 1 Player vs 2 Hardest AIs

Few games equal this timeless classic, which must be why it’s been played nonstop since its original release in 1999. The high definition graphical update is nice, but the stability on newer gaming rigs and especially the new content means a lot more. Being available on Steam makes a big difference too, as online play is much simpler and expansions have been adding a lot to the game—not to mention the Steam Workshop making modding much easier for noobs.

But for those that didn’t grow up incessantly quoting the units in this game (as many players are wont to do with several RTSs), you’ll see where many newer games got their ideas. From base building and resource gathering to unique race bonuses, unit counters, and intense microing, this one can get pretty technical—not that this was the very first game to do it all.

What’s more is a surprisingly educational experience given by the campaigns; after playing through the original version years ago, I didn’t have to study at all for my world history class in high school! I even made a few virtual dioramas in the scenario editor!

Don’t let the 68 on Metacritic fool you; most critics were just disappointed with the game’s price upon release. Now that it’s $30 bundled with three packs of DLC, it’s certainly a steal.

The new building set for the Italians.

The new building set for the Slavs and Magyars as shown in the Dracula campaign.

They’re gonna need a bigger force if they want that castle standing for more than a minute…

22. Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes gameplay

Many would call this 2006 game a modern classic. Set in World War II, players will liberate France from Nazi occupation starting with the Battle of Normandy, going through several other major battles as well. Why listen to granddad’s war stories when you can play this?

Gameplay focuses on capturing and holding resource points as you push into enemy territory to claim it for yourself. You can take control of civilian buildings for extra unit production as you make your way through maps and even station infantry inside them. Combat is mainly conducted through the usual line-of-sight arrangement present in most games, but Company of Heroes makes use of artillery and mortars to bombard the enemy from long distances as well.

The German Wehrmacht, who are playable in the game.

Gotta hope that village is evacuated right?

21. Company of Heroes 2

Company of Heroes 2 gameplay

It’s always hard to follow up an amazing game with a sequel, but Company of Heroes 2 did not disappoint. Company of Heroes 2 has many of the same gameplay elements as the first one, but adds way more content in a wholly updated package.

The base game’s singleplayer campaign puts you in command of the Red Army—fighting against the Wehrmacht Ostheer in Mother Russia. The Ardennes Assault DLC features the American USF at the Battle of the Bulge in a nonlinear campaign. The multiplayer expansions give player the option to fight as the Oberkommando West in The Western Front Armies and the British UKF in The British Forces.

Many gamers are quite unhappy with having to pay for all the DLC, but the gameplay is still solid if the reviews (from players and critics) are any indication. Newcomers should know that while the base game is only $20, the singleplayer expansion is another $20, and two more multiplayer expansions are another $20 each—and that doesn’t include the three mission packs, which are $5-10.

It seems that this one is a pick-and-choose game with the DLC depending on your play style, so don’t be discouraged by the numerous pay-to-play offerings; it’s a ton of content very worth checking out. Just wait for a sale on the bundle!

A Nazi camp attacked by the Red Army.

An example of all of the info that can be on the HUD.

20. Age of Mythology: Extended Edition

Age of Mythology: Extended Edition gameplay

Another legendary classic from the developers of Age of Empires, Ensemble Studios made an amazing game in 2002’s Age of Mythology. The graphics are a huge step forward compared to Age of Empires II (released just three years earlier), but the game is played very similarly.

Anyone who grew up on this one (particularly The Titans expansion) can probably remember the awesome feeling of using gigantic titans to crush their enemies and level their towns. Whenever titans meet on the battlefield, it ends up looking like a kaiju battle in a monster movie!

The Extended Edition is an overall update that includes The Titans expansion and makes it all run smoother on current gaming setups. New features include taking advantage of the Steam Workshop, Twitch compatibility, and an updated observer mode. This new edition also gave way to a new expansion, Tale of the Dragon, which introduced the Chinese to the game’s civilizations, and a new campaign and more maps.


The Greek and Atlantean titans duke it out!

A Chinese army and fortress.

19. Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance gameplay

Taking place after the Infinite War of the previous game, Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance introduces the Seraphim, a race bent on destroying all of humanity. This forces the United Earth Federation, Cybran Nation, and Aeon Illuminate to band together to stop their own race from extinction at the hands of their new threat.

A standalone expansion to Supreme Commander, Forged Alliance can be played without owning the base game. It continues the story of that game and adds a fourth faction to the mix. Official multiplayer servers have been down since 2011, but fans have made the Forged Alliance Forever client to keep multiplayer alive.

The Supreme Commander series (commonly considered the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation) has players creating armies through the Armored Command Unit, an enormous walking mech. The series is also notable for doing away with heavy microing of other RTSs in favor of much larger scale battles and mobilization. And in addition to the usual fare of land, air, and naval battles, intelligence warfare is also an option.

If Steam player reviews are any indication, this one is fan favorite with many calling it one of—if not the best RTS games they’ve ever played.

Battles by land and sea are very possible in Supreme Commander.

This HUD and unit selection is looking a little intense!

18. Stronghold Crusader HD

Stronghold Crusader HD gameplay

Stronghold Crusader is another fan favorite. Play through the First, Second, and Third Crusades in four historical campaigns. Either claim the holy land as Richard the Lionheart leading the crusaders, or free it of invaders as you lead Saladin’s armies.

The game looks similar to Age of Empires II, but focuses on besieging strongholds in the Crusades. This HD remake obviously updates the graphics, but now lets players zoom out much further (to view the whole map, even), giving them control of more units than ever.

And if that wasn’t enough, Stronghold Crusader HD includes the Extreme edition of the game, which increases the unit cap from 1,000 to 10,000, letting players command veritable armies! The game also features new abilities called “Tactical Powers” and adds new buildings as well.

Who would you put your money on?

A zoomed-out view of a map.

A crusader stronghold during peacetime. How long will that last?

17. Homeworld Remastered Collection

Homeworld Remastered Collection gameplay

Another classic series from Relic Entertainment, Homeworld has the Kushan race on a quest to reclaim their first homeland from the Taiidan, who overtook it and destroyed their new one, thus forcing them into space in a mothership they built to arm themselves. The sequel has the Kushan dealing with a new threat on their original homeworld, Hiigara.

The Homeworld Remastered Collection includes both the classic and remastered editions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2. It seems like 1999 was a prominent year for RTSs because the original Homeworld was its most acclaimed PC game according to Metacritic. The 2003 sequel also received strong reviews, as did this collection.

One thing unique about this series is being able to fly your ships all around the sphere of space the level takes place in, thus adding another dimension to strategy and gameplay.

The Remastered Collection also comes with mod support and a new multiplayer mode optimized for Steam, allowing the races of each game to be played against each other.

Reminds me a bit of Halo’s aesthetic.

A mothership used to create and upgrade fleets.

There are resources to be collected in space.

16. Sins of a Solar Empire®: Rebellion

Sins of a Solar Empire®: Rebellion gameplay

The third overall and first standalone expansion to the Sins of a Solar Empire series, Rebellion shows the developments of the war told of in previous games, which lead to the factions’ disagreements on the way that things should go. As a result, they each split further into loyalist and rebel sides, thus continuing the conflict in the series.

Rebellion adds news ships to the different unit classes, new victory conditions, and new factions for each race to highlight the developments in the games’ story.

As usual for the series, RTS gameplay is combined with the complexity of 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) gaming. Gamers are also known to make use of many significant mods, including ones that change the game to host the universes of other sci-fi franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek.

These ships in this franchise look quite unique,

This one reminds me of a boss fight in Star Fox 64! Way cool.

15. Grey Goo

Grey Goo gameplay

Despite being released in 2015, Grey Goo is being hailed as a return to classic RTS gaming by critic and gamer alike. Based in part on the eponymous apocalyptic hypothetical, it features three factions: the Humans, the Beta, and the Goo, with a fourth, The Shroud being released for multiplayer in DLC.

Grey Goo tells the story of how humanity and the Beta came into conflict, and how the Goo ended up attacking both. The Shroud looms in the background lore as the impetus for driving the Beta into exile, where they encounter the Humans and later the Goo.

The game features matchmaking, a map editor, game replays, and an observer mode, and touts an “emphasis on large-scale decision-making.”

The influence of StarCraft’s Terran is evident here, though the developers have mentioned their attempt to inject innovation into their game regardless.

14. Ashes of the Singularity

Ashes of the Singularity gameplay

Recently merged with its formerly standalone expansion Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, this game is large scale. Leaning more towards macromanagment than micromanagement, gamers control thousands of units and can play in 16-player battles. The game aspires such epicness that developer Stardock Entertainment created the Nitrous game engine just to put 64-bit quad-core processors to work on handling the game’s vastness.

The story revolves around humanity’s struggle for survival against the Substrate, who want to eradicate them entirely. You can play as either faction as they fight to control the galaxy.

Coming from Stardock, who are also responsible for the Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire series, Ashes of the Singularity has a strong heritage. Their continued support for the game should prove it worthy of many gamers’ attention.

A nice, big desert battle with lasers, explosions, and everything!

A map showing where units are stationed.

13. Offworld Trading Company

Offworld Trading Company gameplay

Featuring no warfare in the traditional sense, Offworld Trading Company pits players against rival corporations as you all try to take over the market for Mars’s resources. Choices are to be made in resource gathering, the buying and selling of goods, whether to get involved with the black market, and how to play the stock market. It’s a fun and intriguing take on the almost exclusively war-oriented genre of RTS, with economic counterparts for many of regular RTSs’ units and strategies (such as choosing CEOs according to their unique aspects and abilities).

According to many gamers, this game is being undervalued by those who stick to singleplayer. Multiplayer is the way to go with this one; it changes everything considering the various economic strategies and alliances (and betrayals!) that can be put into play.

The various buildings that make up a resource-gathering operation (under the effects of a radiation storm).

Some of the CEOs available to play as. It looks like there are capitalists, robots, industrial workers, and scientists.

12. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

Red Alert 3 gameplay

Probably due to the alternate history storylines and methods of storytelling, the Command & Conquer series has always been a bit of a cult hit. But that couldn’t happen if it didn’t have the gameplay to back it up, and Red Alert 3 is no exception.

Red Alert 3 introduces a third faction to the series, the Empire of the Rising Sun, in addition to cooperative campaigns, and an increased significance on naval combat. Yes, there are the often-called “cheesy” live-action videos, but can anyone get enough of Tim Curry and George Takei?

As for the game’s story, it’s a three-way conflict between the aforementioned Empire, Allies, and Soviets, and it all stems from a time travel mission gone wrong that results in radically different war technologies. And by "radical," I mean waging war with bears, dolphins, and psychic schoolgirls. Yes, it’s all actually in the game.

The HUD, featuring one of the much-remembered live-action videos.

Tanks focusing fire on a building.

A fleet of ships from the Empire of the Sun with some ground troops.

11. Halo Wars 2

Halo Wars 2 gameplay

One of the few RTSs also released on console, Halo Wars and its sequel have traditional controller support in addition to mouse play (for PCs). Featuring a new race called the Banished as the enemies of the human UNSC, Halo Wars 2 takes place after Halo 5: Guardians. The game’s campaign consists of a dozen missions that can even be played with a friend should you not want to face each other in one of the several multiplayer modes offered.

The campaign has the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire responding to an invasion of the Ark by the Banished, who are led by Atriox. You get the pleasure of fighting them as they try to control the Ark and use it for their own ends.

Like many other RTSs, players can choose heroes that have bonuses and abilities suited to a certain strategy, take advantage of unit counters, and build bases and gather resources, but it’s the Halo spin on things that should make this game aesthetically and narratively appealing to many gamers (even if it’s a “just” spin-off).

The main villain of Halo Wars 2, Atriox, whom developers have said to be unlike any other in the Halo universe.

Something’s going down!

10. Wargame: Red Dragon

Wargame: Red Dragon gameplay

Western nations fight the Communist bloc in this virtual experience of recent history—though that doesn’t mean you can’t rewrite it yourself! This game introduces a third theater of war in Asia, however, and Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand all join in the fray.

Featuring 1,450 units and 17 nations to play as, it’s impressive that this game still earns the compliment of “realistic” from so many gamers. Up to twenty players at once can duke it out in online matches, or you can play through the singleplayer’s new campaign system.

Those are some stats if I do say so myself.

Surveying the map to see all the units.

9. Act of Aggression: Reboot Edition

Act of Aggression gameplay

The Shanghai Crash of 2019 puts the world into a devastating economic recession from which three global superpowers emerge. Pick your side as you fight to rise to supremacy.

The Cartel, an underhanded American private military corporation foists itself upon the many weakened governments of third world nations to gain power and control. The clandestine Chimera comes from the United Nations and works with units equipped for a variety of circumstances. The United States Army prides itself on the experience of its soldiers and effective combat strategies rather than the technological bent of the other two factions.

Act of Aggression: Reboot Edition not only significantly updates its base game, but makes a lot of additions to it too. The developers claim a “full gameplay overhaul” concerning the resource management, building system, and improvements to the user interface.

Otherwise, though, this has many of the features of classic RTSs and is often compared to the Command & Conquer series. Steam reviews may be “mixed” as of the time of this writing, but that still means that a good bit of the majority is positive. Besides, the Reboot Edition comes with the original too if you think (or know) that you’d prefer that.

Some base defense with missiles.

A base and tank squad.

8. Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne

Warcraft III Frozen Throne gameplay

The expansion pack to another modern classic, The Frozen Throne is not only a great update to the great Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, but its extremely popular and influential mod Defense of the Ancients is largely responsible for inspiring League of Legends, eventually getting a proper sequel of its own in Valve’s Dota 2.

The story continues that of Reign of Chaos, this time focusing on the Night Elves, Humans, Undead, and the new Blood Elves. The Orcs have a campaign separate from the other three as they set up their new homeland in Kalimdor.

If all the significance of its derived games isn’t enough, The Frozen Throne is still a solid game on its own, building upon the story told in its base game. Compared to that, The Frozen Throne adds more units, heroes, races, and reworks certain stats to provide a new experience.

The Undead attack!

One of the levels in the campaign.

7. WARSHIFT

WARSHIFT gameplay

In 2062, humanity’s colony planet Enigma is attacked by an alien race known as Atroid’s, who use tough exoskeletons to withstand all of the planet’s initial defenses as well as any other battle conditions. The Colonial Republic responded to concerns over the loss of human life by creating combat avatars to fight the Atroid threat, which are unmanned robots piloted by telepathic commanders aboard their own command ships, called ARKs.

WARSHIFT does three things at once: RPG, TPS, and RTS. If gamers’ reviews are any indication, it actually gets away with its ambition (for the most part). There’s base building, unit commanding, leveling up, and third-person shooting at any time.

Most gamers are really appreciating the mix of gameplay elements, but some are noticing a bit of glitches and AI imperfections that keep WARSHIFT from reaching its true potential. Considering that the game was developed by a single person over five years, I think most of it can be forgiven, especially since the price tag is only $13 for such an ambitious title. The graphics in particular are very impressive coming from a single person team.

The developer, Cyril Megem even accepts direct contact for technical support and seems to still be updating his game, so personal touch and effort is definitely apparent in this one.

Third-person shooter view.

The upgrade screen for one of the units.

The RTS view of the game.

6. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak gameplay

A prequel to the original Homeworld, Deserts of Kharak focuses on different clans of the Kushan race, the only one present in the game in contrast to the rest of the series, which featured two. There are two factions in the base game and two more with DLC.

Also different from the rest of the series is the ground-based warfare in the deserts as opposed to the space battles in the rest of the series.

A prequel to the Homeworld games, Deserts of Kharak tells the story of Rachel S’jet and her involvement in an expedition to research an anomaly called the Jaraci Object, which was previously investigated by an expedition four years earlier that never returned. As the different clans fight amongst themselves, you get to lead yours to victory as you uncover the mystery of the Jaraci Object.

The deserts of Kharak are unsurprisingly barren.

Several vehicles go at it with each other.

5. Cossacks 3

Cossacks 3 gameplay

Cossacks 3 is a remake of 2000’s Cossacks: European Wars. Like many remakes these days, the game updates the graphics and performance of the game for modern computers, but opens the door for new content as well. The only thing not brought up to standards is the subpar AI, but simply playing multiplayer (or maybe the campaigns?) should fix this.

Set in the 17th and 18th centuries, you can select from sixteen nations and five campaigns to play through, learning history in a similar way to playing Age of Empires. Also like that game, Cossacks 3 not only has an encyclopedia to learn from outside of gameplay, but maps that are randomly generated, and eight players battling on a map together.

But Cossacks 3 isn’t just an Age clone; up to 32,000 units can exist on a map at once! There are 80 units and over 180 buildings to use. The developers have even promised much more content through DLC to keep players busy, such as six more campaigns and eight more nations, so there’s a lot to keep players interested.

Two of the formations usable with soldiers.

Look at all those farmers! You’re gonna need them to feed that army of ten thousand!

4. Steel Division: Normandy 44

Steel Division: Normandy 44 gameplay

Like Company of Heroes, Steel Division: Normandy 44 takes place exclusively in Normandy, France during World War II, fight through the battles following the Allied invasion of Normandy. Push through French countryside as the Allies or hold your positions as the German Armed Forces.

Steel Division: Normandy 44 prides itself on historical accuracy. Players get to command up to 400 units of infantry, tanks, planes, and more, each designed with attention to historical detail. Even the mobilization and availability of units has been made to be historical, and the game makes use of virtual environments designed directly from reconnaissance photos of Normandy in 1944.

The game features eighteen playable divisions from six different countries, half for the Allies and half for the German Armed Forces. Just as numerous are the 10-on-10 multiplayer battles, which promise to necessitate team cooperation.

Lines on a map—or, more like a battle plan—are drawn for a reason!

3. Northgard

Northgard gameplay

Northgard centers on a clan of Vikings settling in the eponymous newly found continent. There are many obstacles to their conquests, however, and you’ll have to lead them against wolves, the undead, deadly winters, and giants (unless you can ally with them).

Comparisons to Age of Empires are understandable, as the game features a similar aesthetic, albeit with a Norse mythological bent, and different ways to achieve victory, among the rest of the mainstays of RTSs (e.g. resource gathering/management, exploration, etc.).

While it’s still in early access, the game does have multiplayer, and the developers are apparently eager to respond to gamer feedback in order to polish their game as much as they can.

A Viking settlement.

Northgard features a slightly cartoony style.

One of the many threats settlers have to deal with!

2. Men of War: Assault Squad 2

Men of War: Assault Squad 2 gameplay

Men of War: Assault Squad 2 mixes in real-time tactics with real-time strategy, even going so far as to let players control individual units as if they were in a third-person shooter. The game features more than 250 vehicles and 200 soldiers, 65 multiplayer maps, in-game video recording, and five factions, not to mention the developer tools. Games can have up to eight players even for co-op mode and Steam fully takes care of matchmaking and the social aspects of the game.

The developers, Digitalmindsoft, promise regular patches and free content updates, and to listen to community feedback. Gamers also talk of much Steam Workshop activity, which—coupled with the variety of maps available—make for a very fresh experience each play session.

Just a few of the vehicles available in the game.

German tanks moving out.

1. StarCraft 2

StarCraft 2: INCREDIBLE Zerg vs Terran - ByuN vs Dark!

Here’s a game that shouldn’t need an introduction. The sequel to the 1998 classic that’s still played alongside it, StarCraft 2 was a long awaited and worthy successor. A free trial version of the game has been around for a while, and now that the original is free too, you have no excuse not to be playing at least one of them if you haven’t already.

StarCraft 2 continues to tell the stories of three races, the human Terran, the monstrous evolving Zerg, and the psionic alien Protoss. It’s had three expansions so far, the latest being Legacy of the Void.

StarCraft has always been praised for its storytelling as well as its multiplayer gameplay, so be sure to play everything in order if you can to get the full experience. Like I said, with the originals being offered for free and a remastered edition on the way, there’s no better time to start playing than now!

The Zerg attack a Protoss base.

Protoss defend against a Terran fleet.

A Protoss HUD.

Twenty-five quality RTSs for you to consider! Whichever ones you play, it should be a blast working out strategies and choosing your units, characters, bonuses, and abilities. Let’s hope you have the time for them—not to mention the brainpower!

You may also be interested in:

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10 Best Medieval Strategy Games for PC

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