7 of the best strategy games you can play right now
When our robot replacements finally toast our extinction, they’ll point to a single victory as the moment the tide turned in their favour – we’re not talking about chess or Go, but the day Google’s DeepMind beat the best of us at Starcraft 2.
Luckily, a (hopefully) large expanse of time separates us from that end – so why not fill it with some of the best strategy games?
And if your idea of a good time doesn’t involve memorising scores of hotkey combinations and build orders only to see impossibly fast opponents Zerg rush you in Starcraft or pepper you with 20 archers in Age of Empires, fear not – the strategy genre is wide and deep, with a rabbit warren of subgenres. Perhaps a more leisurely turn-based pace would suit you? Or a game melding in some RPG leveling? It’s all here! And while the genre is undoubtedly best suited to the PC, there’s a lot to keep console players busy, too.
In comparison to its dominance in the 90s, Real Time Strategy (RTS) games are now a relatively niche genre, dominated by 90s games, remakes and remasters. Starcraft 2, which came out 11 years ago, remains the most high profile in the genre, particularly, of course, in Korea, where it and its predecessor are huge esports draws. Choose one of three alien civilisations – Terrans, Zerg, and Protos – and see them gather resources, assemble your forces and defeat your opponent. Starcraft 3 isn’t on the cards anytime soon, but the second version remains very popular, with healthy online servers and a wealth of campaign expansions.
Total War series
With its focus on controlling armies the strategy genre is where we find many of the great historical games. The pedants can feast on the historical inaccuracies, while we send Genghis Khan galloping through the Yucatán. The Total War series is up there with the best of these historical games, and could very well have a ranking list of its own. There’s the revolutionary Rome Total War (recently remastered), the newer, more refined releases such as Shogun 2, and even the Warhammer iterations, arguably the best games in the series. Whichever version you go for, it’s hard to go wrong with Total War’s classic gameplay – you switch between a turn-based strategy mode viewing a vast map and real time control of thousands of battling soldiers.
Age of Empires 2
Another mainstay classic of the RTS genre, Age of Empires 2 sees you controlling a medieval civilization from the Dark to Imperial age, and ultimately doing battle with grand armies. There have been so many expansions and remasters and rebuilds of this game that it’s hard to keep track (fans often mock the developers for claiming that the latest civilization or iteration will be the last). Nevertheless, the gorgeous definitive edition, released in 2019, is currently the way to go. Playing online remains intimidating – some of the community have been playing for close to 25 years – but playing the AI in skirmishes or historical campaigns is still compelling fun. Age of Empires 4 comes out sometime this year, and we will all pray for an Age of Mythology remaster after that.
Europa Universalis IV
For those who enjoy their games with a tad more historical accuracy, try Europa Universalis IV, which sees players viewing a Risk-like map, and growing their empire from the late middle ages through to the 1800s. This isn’t to say it’s totally historically accurate: historian Brett Deveraux actually subjects the game to a pretty thorough historical critique on his blog, a nice primer before you play. It’s also worth visiting Reddit to find some recommendations for the game’s best expansions – the vanilla game can be quite weak.
Sins of a Solar Empire
Sins of a Solar Empire is a hidden gem in the strategy genre – fans of the older RTS classic Homeworld will find a lot to love here. Released back in 2008, it still holds up well today, largely thanks to multiple expansions, the most recent being 2012’s Rebellion. You take control of one of three alien races, the TEC, Advent, or Vasari, each bent on colonising space: guide your fleets between huge military space stations and scattered planets. Though the game can be forbidding to new players, it’s worth it for its quietly beautiful depiction of space: there is something strangely calming about all-out war against a pink bed of stars.
Console players, fear not – you can enjoy fine strategy games too, in the form of turn-based tactics classic XCOM 2. A hammy sci-fi story hides a fiendishly difficult and deep game, where players control marines fighting against an alien occupation of earth. Battles take place from a top down perspective, where players are given a limited number of moves to tactically cross a map and blast a batch of colourful alien foes. Your marines level up as you play, but if they die, they die forever. We recommend naming them after your friends and family for added flavour and drama.
Sid Meier’s classic series doesn’t need much of an introduction – take it in turns with your enemies to advance through history, dodging barbarians in prehistory and firing off nukes with Gandhi in the near future. Civilization offers a more leisurely style of play than real time strategy, and every new playthrough remains endlessly varied. Each entry built on the previous game’s quality, adding new systems like religion, espionage and deeper city building. Civilization 6, the most recent, was also ported fantastically to consoles, so there’s now no excuse not to conquer the world.
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Published at Sun, 30 May 2021 05:00:00 +0000