Real-Time Strategy is one of the oldest genres in the video game industry and also one of the most challenging. RTS masterpieces like StarCraft have already made history, changing lives and in some cases, entire countries. These days, RTS games have a lot of competition from other genres, such as Turn-Based Strategy, First-Person Shooter, or MOBA. But they’re still loved by millions and in this article, you will learn more about them.
The 5 Best RTS Games on Steam
These are, in my opinion, the 5 best RTS Games on Steam:
5. Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2 is a superb mix of RTS and TBS elements, and you’ll absolutely love it if you’re a fan of either of these genres. If you’re old enough, you might have played the original Shogun: Total War, which was released in the year 2000. Both titles are absolute masterpieces but the 2nd one, from 2011, is arguably better. Here are its most important traits:
Even though outside of battle it is played on a map that you get to explore with your generals, diplomats, and assassins, the battles themselves are fought in a realistic manner. If you’re fighting in a forest, your units will be displayed in an actual forest. If the battle takes place near a bridge, you will get to utilize that element during the confrontation.
Just like in a real battle, you can hide some of your troops to catch your enemy by surprise, and give orders to each of your army units. You’ll get to maneuver cavalry, archers, No-Dachi samurai, monks, and many other types of soldiers. In Total War: Shogun 2, there are clear distinctions between unit types and each of them is unique, having both weaknesses and strengths that you will get to experience.
Perhaps the most fun type of battle that you can engage in is a siege. The horror of being showered with hundreds or thousands of arrows is truly intense. And only great tactical skill will save your troops from getting decimated by the enemy.
In Total War: Shogun 2, generals become increasingly skilled as they fight and win battles. After a number of victories, their reputation is so legendary that the morale of their troops is greatly boosted. But if they happen to die in combat because of your poor decisions, this might cause panic and your entire army will start fleeing the battlefield. Add to this elements like fatigue and equipment quality and you will realize that the game’s battles are extremely realistic.
Total War: Shogun 2 is quite challenging and you get the option of making it even harder. The AI is truly clever and will force you to make excellent decisions if you want to succeed. You need to constantly survive enemy attacks, find the right balance between the size of your army and the taxes that you impose on your population, and so on.
The game is set in feudal Japan and your objective is to unite the country under your rule and become its Shogun. There are many factions striving to achieve the same goal, so you will need to be clever both in diplomacy as well as on the battlefield. If you make one wrong move, your enemies will destroy you. Sometimes, the solution consists in crushing an opponent directly. Other times, a ninja might be the right choice – if you assassinate a powerful general before engaging its army, your chance of success will be much higher. In some situations, it might be a good idea to let your opponents fight each other and take advantage of their bloody battles.
Because of its large number of clans, each with its own army units, map position, and other characteristics, Total War: Shogun 2 is highly replayable. You could easily spend hundreds of hours playing this game and you will not get bored of it. In fact, the more you play it, the more enjoyable it becomes.
Closely Based on Japanese Culture and History
If you love Japanese culture and have had any exposure to it via films like The Last Samurai, games like Ghost of Tsushima, books like The Book of Five Rings, or perhaps traveling, this game will give you a much deeper understanding of it. And in particular, of what it was like to live in feudal Japan. From its music to its visuals, the game is absolutely stunning. Playing it for just a few hours will help you understand why it got such positive reviews on Steam.
4. They Are Billions
They Are Billions is a survival RTS game that gives you a glimpse into what it was like to be Leonidas at Thermopylae. Except you’re not fighting the Persians, you’re fighting zombies. Large numbers of them, hence the name of the game.
They Are Billions is on this list because of how well it’s designed to give you the feeling that no matter how well you’ve prepared for what’s coming, it’s probably not going to be enough. There’s a brief moment of peace, which is the game’s way of saying “enjoy it while it lasts”. Of course, the first time you play it, you have no idea what’s in store, so you make casual preparations and experiment with the available options, just like an 18-year-old who goes to medical school and takes it easy, not realizing that surviving the first year is harder than it seems.
The zombies come in small numbers at first and you just handle them with a few archers. But then they start the assault in waves of hundreds and thousands, and any defensive mistake will cost you the game.
Some of the key qualities that make They Are Billions a great RTS title are the following:
The Feeling of Urgency
From the moment you start a session, you feel compelled to start doing things right away. This creates a highly enjoyable RTS experience because that’s what you want to feel in these types of games – every action matters, and the more things you can do per minute, the better.
The Joy of Making Technological Progress
In some games, because the challenge is not that difficult, making progress does not feel as rewarding as it should. But in They Are Billions, every fortification and every new type of gun you get your hands on makes you feel like “boy, this might save my life 15 minutes from now”. The zombies are relentless and mowing them down is genuinely exciting.
Because better technology gives you an edge, gathering the resources required for it feels much better than you might expect. Absolutely nothing in this game leaves you cold, because your base is extremely close to hoards of zombies and the danger of getting killed is palpable from start to finish.
Excellent Variety and Replayability
They Are Billions features around 50 missions or scenarios that you can enjoy, as well as 90 different technologies that you can research and utilize against the zombies. The number of resources you need to gather is also quite high even for an RTS game, which forces you to think, explore the map, and take risks. You can play the game for dozens of hours without getting bored. And the challenge is great enough to make you want to constantly optimize your strategy.
If you love zombie games, check out our detailed guide about zombie games.
Despite looking a bit cartoonish, Northgard manages to capture many key elements of nordic culture and the harshness of life under tough conditions. The game was published in 2018 and has sold over 1 million copies. Some of its best features are the following:
You Can Win in Many Different Ways
Northgard is not the only RTS that gives you the opportunity to win without crushing your adversaries, but the way in which it does it is quite impressive. I won’t spoil it for you but I will say that the implementation of this idea is very good.
You Can Play With Several Unique Clans
Northgard excels when it comes to replayability, thanks to its well-differentiated factions. Each clan leans towards a different set of win conditions and must be played accordingly. If you’ve played games like Hearthstone, you’ll know exactly just how rewarding this can be. In essence, if you Fenrir to Heidrun, your entire mindset must change dramatically and this only adds to the replayability.
In the real world, winter used to be a tough season for people who lived centuries ago. Northgard incorporates this fact and makes it harder to gather certain resources during this season.
Northgard is in part a fantasy game and it was built to incorporate part of the Viking culture. Those who love this culture will enjoy it a lot.
2. Company of Heroes
If you love World War 2 games, Company of Heroes will provide you with one of the best RTS experiences ever. This title was released in 2006 but it is so well made that it has stood the test of time. The series sold more than 4 million copies and won numerous awards for its original gameplay and superb depictions of bravery.
Here are several things that I think you’ll love about Company of Heroes:
In terms of how you need to think to be victorious, Company of Heroes feels a lot like chess. The game revolves around capturing and holding key positions to gain precious resources, and at the same time prevent the enemy from doing the same.
In Company of Heroes, the environment changes as it gets damaged. In a lot of games, no matter how many tanks shoot at a house, it never collapses. But in this case, you can cause great destruction in your path, which allows you to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Company of Heroes is brilliant and gives you the feeling that you’re actually fighting the war, not just witnessing it.
This RTS captures the essence of WW2’s biggest battles. Among many other things, you will get to fight in the battle for Normandy and be part of the famous D-Day Invasion.
1. Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition
Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition is one of the best and also one of the purest types of RTS games ever made. It will give you the quintessential RTS experience, so if you don’t know anything about the genre, this is the perfect place to start.
AoE 2 Definitive Edition is the new and improved version of the original AoE 2, which was released in 1999. The game was a sensation at that time and sold millions of copies. The Definitive Edition brings the game up to date with smooth graphics, more campaigns and civilizations, a Co-Op mode, and more exciting features.
Some of the qualities that make AoE 2 DE a great game are the following:
A Complete RTS Experience
In Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition, the player needs to multitask between gathering resources, creating buildings, training army units, exploring the map, defending, attacking, upgrading his civilization, and so on. The entire experience is intense and requires you to have at least 150 APM to excel. Every second counts and utilizing your time properly is quite challenging. In turn, this creates one of the best PvP experiences in all of gaming.
Beautiful Visuals and Sounds
AoE 2 DE has an addictive look and feel that will make you want to play for hours. Even though everything is miniaturized, there’s something magical about its visual design that keeps players coming back for more.
High Strategic Complexity
RTS games are supposed to excel in the strategy department and Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition, thanks to its staggering number of civilizations (42!), provides a wide range of strategies and tactics that make it very difficult to master. Even after thousands of hours of play, you will still encounter novel methods of defeating opponents.
Each civilization is unique and as a result, each clash between 2 civilizations has its unique features. The power spikes of the Franks differ significantly from those of the Mongols. This makes AoE’s PvP extremely challenging. Perhaps not as challenging as that of a MOBA game like Dota 2 or League of Legends, but certainly more challenging than that of almost every other game in its genre.
One of the features that make Age of Empires 2 such a memorable RTS game is the age progression. The player starts each game in the Dark Age and slowly advances to the Feudal Age, the Castle Age, and finally, the Imperial Age. Each of these ages requires different amounts of key resources and the construction of certain buildings, and going from one age to the next one provides great benefits. So the competitors need to create their strategies around this age progression if they want to be successful.
To learn more about Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition, you can check one of our other Age of Empires guides about this game.