Warning: Some of the video games listed below are not suitable for younger viewers. Please use caution and check each game’s ESRB rating before allowing children to play it, especially those rated M for Mature. M-rated video games may contain content that is inappropriate for children and/or unlabeled content that exposes younger viewers to explicit messages and themes.
Big fan of real-time strategy play? Loyal to the StarCraft universe, but ready to see what else is out there? Buckle up. We’re throwing you a list of the top five RTS games you need to play in 2019.
There will be magic, there will be intergalactic warfare. Above all, there’ll be some pretty sweet teasers that’ll make you check the bank to see how many out of these five you can afford to try out.
First things first, what is RTS?
Real-time strategy (RTS) is a subgenre of video games that, as you might have guessed, depends on calculated decision-making in the essence of time.
To be successful in RTS games, you need to think and act quickly. That sort of heart-pumping pressure is what RTS junkies crave. The genre is an expansive one, and defining RTS can be slightly difficult to pin down. Matters are made more complicated now that developers are introducing RTS elements and modes in standard role-playing games (RPG), allowing you to toggle back and forth.
At the heart of it, real-time strategy players are tasked with collecting resources, building their units, defending their stronghold, and attacking their enemy. In RTS games, you collect resources, create a base, and launch surprise attacks; all while your opponent scrambles to do the same.
Sometimes called RTS war games, these are normally played from a third-person overhead perspective. You direct from a bird’s eye view as you move your troops in real-time, like a conductor and their orchestra. You are the commander. You create your own storyline. Youf orge or break alliances, build your empire, and always stay on the lookout for the next competitive edge. Real-time strategy gives you unmatched gaming control.
Calculated RTS gameplay
Now that you have a better grasp of what RTS is, it’s easy to understand that the gameplay breaks down to micro management and macro management.
Micro management in RTS games deals with a player’s need to constantly maintain individual resources and units on a small scale. It also includes the use of combat tactics which are employed in the present moment.
Macro management looks at the game on a larger scale. It considers economic expansion, strategic maneuvering, and warfare decisions to better predict the future of the game.
The real-time element (versus turn-based play) creates added pressure and adrenaline that gets heart rates rising. You rush to proactively build up your base and anxiously anticipate that moment your opponent drops a surprise attack, racking your brain quickly for how to respond.
Semi-autonomous combat and strategic decision-making allows RTS players to get creative with their tactics. You’re in control of which tasks to prioritize, where to allocate your resources, and how to execute your offensive.
If you mess up, guess what? Time to develop a new strategy and try again. So much room for so many possibilities means that you can play RTS games for hours on end without feeling bored.
Let’s take a look at some of the best RTS games in 2019 that are sure to keep you glued to the screen, listed by level of difficulty.
It’s been a long time since Total Annihilation dropped the first RTS 3D units in 1997, and developers have made leaps and bounds with their current capabilities.
1. Age of Empires (AoE): Definitive Edition by Ensemble Studios
Originally published on Microsoft Windows in 1997, the Ensemble Studios
® game finally made its 2013 resurrection twelve long years later, and fans are ecstatic. AoE
begins by expanding an ancient civilian population and building an army to protect it from invaders.
The concepts are simple but effective. A new player can easily understand the game’s objective, but complexity arises from the wide variety of strategies that take tons of practice to master.
Twenty years after its initial release, AoE: Definitive Edition
boasts all-new graphics, remastered sound and music, and a buttery smooth user interface (UI) experience.
Nonetheless, this classic still breathes an air of nostalgia from the legendary RTS that started it all.
- Why it’s unique: AoE puts an original spin on real-time strategy by placing the game in a setting that’s close to historically-accurate.
- Experience level: Beginner. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition moves at a snail’s pace when compared to other popular RTS games. Plus, you can get a lot of play in without having to shell out any money, making it the perfect beginner-friendly choice.
- Where to play: mobile device, online, PC (Steam)
2. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos by Blizzard Entertainment
From the same makers who brought you the insanely popular World of Warcraft
, Blizzard Entertainment®
, comes the trilogy in this RTS Warcraft
Even though the release date was 2002, this ever-popular game is nonetheless atop our list. In addition to the familiar Human and Orc factions, two new races are introduced: Night Elves and the Undead.
- With classic 3D graphics, sound, voice acting, and storytelling, you’ll collect resources to fight against a demon army known as the Burning Legion intent on destroying your fictional world of Azeroth.
- Why it’s unique: An innovation that makes Warcraft III one of the best RTS games is the change in the role of the hero units. Before, they were merely powerful variants, but they’re now unique with their own special abilities that normal units can’t access.
- Experience level: Beginner to intermediate. If you have familiarity with the sequel and original Warcraft, this RTS game should be no problem for you to master.
- Warcraft does allow you to customize your difficulty level for when you do want to up the ante.
- Where to play: PC (Blizzard Battlenet)
3. Total War: Warhammer by Creative Assembly
Welcome to the Warhammer universe, where fantastical armies clash across war-torn worlds to stave off the bloodthirsty forces of Chaos.
You'll need to strategize two maps: the campaign map and the battle map. The campaign map is turned based, so economic prosperity doesn't depend on who can build faster (as in Warcraft). The campaign map comes down to who can balance their economy against the money required to maintain a standing army, and who can defend their territory while preventing rebellions in newly conquered cities.
When it comes to the battle map, you'll experience the best portrayal of medieval warfare that's ever been made in an RTS game, especially if using a PC with a preferred graphics processor
- Why it’s unique: Too much excitement; Warhammer introduces magic for the first time.
- Conjure a flaming skull to blast your enemies’ front line, put your archers to flight, or place your knights on the backs of winged horses for an epic battle unlike ever before.
- Experience level: Intermediate. Compared to Warcraft, Total War is much more about macro strategy and requires large-scale thinking.
- Where to play: PC (Steam). You can also play Warhammer 40K as a physical RTS tabletop game.
4. Company of Heroes 2 (CoH2) by Relic Entertainment
It drops you on the battle line of the Russian Front during the Second World War, filling the shoes of a Soviet soldier fighting to repel the German invasion.
The latest CoH2 and its Eastern Front campaign is more intense and engrossing than before, featuring busier battlefields that are extremely hectic and fast paced. They also made refinements to better perfect the already legendary CoH formula.
Relic stays busy by keeping on top of regular CoH2 updates, fattening it up with new features, and releasing two hefty expandalones: Western Front Armies and Ardennes Assault.
In terms of brand recognition, CoH2
is truly one of the most enduring and best RTS games on the market.
- Why it’s unique: CoH2 is an RTS game that has a robust player vs player (PVP) mode. In PVP mode, each player assumes a role on opposing sides of conflicts and skirmishes to control the battlefield.
- Sieges are methodically-paced, so this RTS war game is approachable, not solely about actions-per-minute.
- Experience level: Intermediate to advanced. There’s a high learning curve in CoH2, but basic gameplay challenge is enjoyable at all difficulty levels.
- Where to play: PC (Steam). New players can also watch and learn on Twitch.tv.
5. StarCraft II (SC2) by Blizzard Entertainment
Introducing StarCraft II
from Blizzard Entertainment®, the end-all, be-all of RTS games. When SC2
was release in 2010, it signaled to audiences across the world that a new era of real-time strategy has arrived.
It’s visually exciting, extremely well-polished, smooth, and logical. It’s also ridiculously fun, filled with super-fast clicking and hotkey management. Factor in the stunning sci-fi theme, and you can’t ask for much more.
Hundreds of spectators flock to SC2
tournaments while millions more tune in and watch from home as elite pros wage war across sprawling galaxies. It features both single player and multiplayer mode, packed to the brim with exhilarating campaigns and co-op missions. Although there’s a steep learning curve, don’t be too intimidated to get in on this beast of an RTS game.
Choose one among the Terran, Zerg, and Protoss factions, steal a build, refine your mechanics, and you will be well on your way to the leaderboards.
- Why it’s unique: Whereas other developers focus on storytelling in RTS games, StarCraft delivers an unprecedented fluent and balanced game play.
- The quick speed and high intensity make it an incredibly fun eSport to watch, since most early pushes take place with 4-5 minutes.
- Experience level: Advanced. SC2 is super complex and takes tons of practice to master.
- Blizzard® has made large portions of single-player and multiplayer modes accessible for free so you can start practicing without spending big bucks.
- Where to play: PC (Blizzard Battlenet)
RTS video games are both thrilling and fun, but they’re also good for you. They force you to challenge yourself. You’re required to perform critical thinking while working under pressure, thereby honing your analytical skills.
If you’re stuck in an RPG world, give one of these RTS titles a go. You won’t be disappointed.
About the Author: Kaelee Nelson is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Kaelee is an experienced writer based in Southern California and specializes in creating informative content related to technology and digital culture.