Base-building, deploying armies, and crushing your foes – these are some of the most satisfying aspects of RTS games. RTS stands for “real-time strategy,” emphasizing the way you command your forces in real-time. There’s almost always no time-crunching mechanic because every second counts. The fast-paced environment and combination of multiple strategies are the real gems of RTS games.
In many ways, playing an RTS game can improve your ability to think laterally and critically. You can’t just head straight to battle without understanding counters, formulating a movement plan, and creating a ‘pivot plan’ whenever things go sour.
So, if you wanna flex your commander’s hat, you should start checking out the hottest and most popular RTS games on Steam!
1. Age of Empires II
For many years now, Age of Empires II has remained the top-selling RTS game of all time. Several contenders arrive close such as Starcraft, Command & Conquer, and Warhammer. At first glance, you may think that AOE2 is a really old game. Well, yes, you’re right! Despite being old, AOE2 guarantees deep gameplay that will put your strategist’s hat to the test.
Age of Empires 2 is a slow build – it won’t take you from a civilization that utilizes iron to another that builds nuke. Instead, you will be able to experience the ancient struggles of kings and medieval conquerors. From Attila the Hun to Saladin, there’s rich history that you get to explore. Some gamers are even torn between Age of Empires 2 and Rise of Nations. Both are deeply satisfying games, but AOE2 ensures consistent immersion. Plus, you won’t be overwhelmed with tons of game mechanics right away.
Why You Should Play Age of Empires 2?
If you’ve had a blast with the first Age of Empires game, then you will love the crunchiness of AOE2. Prepare to field dozens of cavalry archers, camel riders, or well-decorated war elephants against your foes. Control the seas with your terrifying war galleys, and build your empire’s magnificent walls – one stone section at a time. AOE2 takes the large focus away from the ‘booms and blast’ of modern weapons to the resounding stories of human history. Perhaps you can even learn a thing or two from the campaigns and skirmishes.
2. Total War Series
In the RTS category, you’re bound to encounter one of the greatest series ever: Total War. Some will argue that Total War is turn-based and not pure RTS. Don’t be fooled though – Total War incorporates both aspects in order to provide deep mechanical gameplay with remarkable strategic depth. Some of the popular Total War titles are Total War Medieval, Shogun: Total War, Napoleon: Total War, and Rome: Total War. Also, Total War: Warhammer and Total War: Three Kingdoms have recently dominated Steam charts.
Why You Should Play Total War?
Almost all RTS games are condensed in a fast-paced, macro-managed version of actual warfare. Total War changed that system and even expanded it. You can now see the nitty-gritty of commanding battalions of units against your foe’s armies. Overhead, you’ll see your victory (or defeat) unfolding. Total War is about war, and it’s supported by politics, administration, and the backdrop of empire-building. Think of it as Europa Universalis reversed. If you want long wars that can drag for many game years, you should give Total War a spin.
3. Warhammer 40K Dawn of War: Soulstorm
In the 41st millennium, there’s nothing but war. Such is the popular opening sentence of the legendary tabletop game, Warhammer 40K. Due to the game’s popularity and strategic depth, Warhammer 40K was developed for PC through the Dawn of War Series. Among the highly anticipated Dawn of War games, Soulstorm holds a decent position.
Soulstorm puts all 40K’s carnage-hungry factions to the bells of war. You can choose from the Imperial Guard, Space Marines, Orks, Eldar, Necron, Chaos, Dark Eldar, Tau, and the zealous Sisters of Battle. In Soulstorm’s campaign, you get to lead your chosen faction through a Risk-style strategic map. So, prepare your guns and expect for dozens of combat in the war-torn system of Kaurava.
Why You Should Play Soulstorm?
Being a Warhammer 40K fan should be an automatic reason to play Soulstorm. Every faction plays out differently because of a balance of strength and weaknesses. The Imperial Guard, for example, is the classic human faction. Its starting soldiers are weak and can barely hold up individually. However, amass them, upgrade their gear, and support them with bulky war machines and they will dominate the battlefield. The general gameplay also hinges on map control. The player who controls many critical points and strategic points can deploy a huge army fast. If you love war, ‘grimdarkness,’ and units that can be customized or upgraded, Soulstorm will keep you happy.
4. Starcraft 2
Starcraft is considered one of the best RTS games of all time – seriously. You can’t claim a gamer’s badge if you don’t know about Starcraft. This game is an action-packed space opera which shows the eternal struggle between three civilizations: Terran (humans), Protoss (advanced metaphysical aliens), and Zerg (squishy, hive-mind aliens).
The very first Starcraft game introduced the concept of balance in base-building games. Terrans are known for their mobile marines, anti-swarming firebats, and Yamato-firing battlecruisers. The Protoss are light-years away from Terrans in terms of technology but their units are more expensive and shield-reliant. Lastly, the Zergs are champions of rushing – they can field a horde of zerglings and hydralisks in just minutes. Yes, Zergs are squishy but they are a major threat in any map.
Starcraft 2 expanded everything. The first edition, Wings of Liberty, outlines the rebellious struggle of Jim Raynor against the tyrant, Arcturus Mengsk. The expansion, Heart of the Swarm, is all about the Queen of Blades and Raynor’s love interest, Sarah Kerrigan. And last but not the least, the Legacy of the Void, follows the story of Artanis as he reunites the Protoss to fight against a common foe.
Why You Should Play Starcraft 2?
If you love extensive 3D detail, lots of boom, and dynamically changing strategies, Starcraft 2 is meant for you. The game offers a wide range of options now – both in micro and macro scales. But keep in mind that Starcraft 2 has become more fast-paced than its predecessor. Base-rushing is common, especially with highly competitive games.
The maps are also more interactive and lively. You can see terrain improvements, environmental effects, and destroyable assets to improve immersion. Take five seconds to enjoy the space scenery, and then rush back to micromanagement as soon as you can. Otherwise, you’d lose the match.
Starcraft 2 is filled with high-octane moments that will scratch your RTS itch. Play this game and you’d be busy for the coming weeks!
5. Rise of Nations
The RTS category is a thriving battlefield with lots of contenders trying to carve their own niches. Nowadays, it’s common to see big titles like Age of Empires, Starcraft, and even Empire Earth. But there’s a game that resonates among hundreds of nostalgic gamers: Rise of Nations.
Rise of Nations is highly similar to Age of Empires because it lets you climb from one epoch to another. However, there are some poignant differences. For example: a successfully built city center (town hall, colloquially) will last throughout the game years. They are virtually indestructible but can be captured and assimilated. City centers are the hallmarks of your power, and they represent your empire’s budding greatness. Natural resources also don’t run out but they can be monopolized by ambitious players.
As your empire grows, your territory expands. Enemies cannot build in your territories, and their units will suffer from attrition damage. Roleplay-wise, attrition damage is like getting stranded in foreign territory with dwindling supplies and consistent persecution. Thus, it’s fair to say that Rise of Nations hinge on total map control. The bigger your control, the greater your chances of winning.
Why You Should Play Rise of Nations?
If you love deep and complex RTS that allows you to make diverse strategies, Rise of Nations is meant for you. It has a variable learning curve that can be affected by your experience of playing RTS games. And if you love slinging nukes like a mad world dictator, you won’t be disappointed with Rise of Nations. Just don’t send the world in a state of eternal nuclear winter!
6. Company of Heroes 1 & 2
World War II is a major turning point in history. It’s a dark period which led to millions of death from different parts of the world. But if you set aside its horrors, you will see the grand strategic development of which unfolded from this terrible war. The game series that will let you experience the full gist of WW2 is Company of Heroes.
Company of Heroes is all about full map control. You need to use different types of units such as brave soldiers and tough tanks in order to destroy enemy positions. Understanding counters is a must because every unit is precious. Also, if you control many territory points, you will get resources faster.
The sequel, Company of Heroes 2, is critically acclaimed. The game mechanics were slightly modified, and environmental effects are better. As for the campaign, you will now experience the Red Army’s struggle in the Eastern Front.
Why You Should Play Company of Heroes?
If you want to understand the struggles of our heroic war veterans on a grand scale, Company of Heroes is your best shot. Every battle will let you see the hardships of war and the positive effects of a well-planned victory. Multiplayer battles are even better, and the best players will definitely put you to the edge.
Small independent games have become more popular lately. Some of them can even go side by side with AAA RTS games, attracting thousands of players worldwide. Northgard is one example. This game focuses on the survival of Vikings as they discover a new land known as Northgard.
Northgard is an RTS game with a twist. You’re not just pitted against enemy commanders and bases that are poised against your existence. Instead, you have to complete challenges and puzzles – all the while trying to survive the environment’s perils. Multiplayer games are also awesome because you get to work with others in achieving a certain goal.
Why You Should Play Northgard?
Northgard doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it polished the wheel and added more embellishments. Plus, it’s not taxing to any modern or mid-modern computer. The game is still on active development phase, so you should expect for interesting updates over time!
8. Age of Mythology
The legacy of Age of Empires can be felt all over the RTS category. Dozens of games were created under such game template. Microsoft Studios, the creator of AOE, launched another phenomenal game that reflects AOE’s greatness: Age of Mythology.
As you probably guessed, Age of Mythology has a fantasy flavor. Try to imagine a pantheon of gods and goddesses willing to help mortals in their wars. You can still deploy a base-stomping army but the stakes are even better with the introduction of god powers. Steam’s Age of Mythology Extended Edition has the base game and all its expansions, providing a real treat to RTS aficionados.
Why You Should Play Age of Mythology?
Age of Mythology is a strategic-fantasy delight. The game is a bit old, but it still retained a widespread appeal – just like Age of Empires 2. So, if you want to field large armies with the possibility of getting supported by god powers, now is your chance. Age of Mythology is just one click away from Steam!
9. Warlords Battlecry
Fantasy RPGs have flooded the marketplace year after year. There’s always something to fill the gap such as Everquest, Elder Scrolls, Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Diablo, and Sacred. But have you encountered many RPG-RTS games? Probably not! This is how the Warlords Battlecry Series carved a lively niche that will grow for years.
Beginning as a turn-based strategy game, Warlords shifted to the RTS scene to serve a hungry market. After all, gamers are always clamoring for something new. Whether it’s a mechanic to exploit or new races to explore, there’s always a room for more. In Warlords Battlecry, you’ll be prompted to make a main hero character that has the potential to level up and become great. Your hero will level up through hundreds of battles – either campaign or skirmish.
Now, here’s the fun part: Warlords Battlecry allows you to build bases according to the race that you’ve chosen. Do you want to play as the vanilla humans? You can choose between the Empire and Knight races. Or maybe you have the desire to field dinosaurs and insects? The Swarm and the Ssrathi will do the trick. Traditional elves, dwarves, undead, and orcs are also included in the whole Warlords Battlecry repertoire.
You should also know that units under your command can level up. Veteran units can rake XP and go from one battle to another. Your trusted generals will get stronger over time, or they will die an honorable death – kited by a more competent or overpowered enemy hero.
Why You Should Play Warlords Battlecry?
The answer can be summarized in two words – diversity and replayability. Every game is unique because of the strategies that you can implement. Base-rushing is common in multiplayer games but you will also encounter longer matches where players just want to level up their heroes. Warlords Battlecry is a real fantasy slug-fest with magic and macro-management. Loyal players are divided among Warlords Battlecry 2 and 3. These games are almost the same, except for some UI aspects and game design.
Note: you can always try the standalone mod, The Protectors. It’s free, and it combined the best elements of Warlords Battlecry 2 and 3. The best of both worlds!
10. Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance
Have you ever dreamed of building a large robot army to crush your foes? Very likely, you can’t do that in real life. But in PC, such feat is possible with Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance. This game is a bit straightforward: build a thriving economy, capture resource zones, build robots and war machines, and destroy all of your enemies. Despite its simplicity, there are numerous strategies you can make – depending on your chosen faction.
The factions that you can choose from are United Earth Federation, Cybran, Aeon Illuminate, and the alien Seraphim. Each faction has unique unit and technology trees that you can explore. However, the game really shines once you’ve unlocked the Experimentals. These are powerful, game-changing units that take an obscene amount of time to build. Small, fast-paced multiplayer games won’t reach the Experimental stage because everyone’s busy killing each other. Some Experimental units are an artillery station that fires constantly, a giant, beastly land tank that can produce robots, and a Star-Trek inspired ship that can level enemy bases with one bomb.
Why You Should Play Supreme Commander?
A simple answer: pure diversity. There’s no shortage of explosions, carnage, and choices in a Supreme Commander game. It all depends on how you manage your army and how you intend to survive the rage of your enemies. Supreme Commander FA is underrated, but it shouldn’t be! This RTS game will give you a remarkable experience, especially if you’re keen on winning battles with your friends.
The real beauty of the RTS genre is its capability of simulating everything – even the farthest and deepest reaches of space. Stellaris represents this statement, and it even takes the concept of interstellar discovery to a whole new level.
Another gem from Paradox Entertainment (the studio behind Europa Universalis), Stellaris is designed to keep you glued for hundreds – if not thousands – of gaming hours. You can take your ships to explore distant planets or build uninterrupted trading lines. Diplomacy is very important because one wrong decision can lead to interstellar warfare. Sometimes though, you just can’t avoid the trappings of war. In this case, your empire has an enormous array of devastating weapons that can punish your enemies. Whether you bring an olive branch or a sword, the style is definitely up to you.
Why You Should Play Stellaris?
No good RTS player should miss Stellaris. You should read that statement again. If you want to become a Master Strategist, Stellaris should be your training ground. This game will teach you about patience and the intricacies of building an empire. You will also learn about the mechanism of diplomacy and the rigors of pure space warfare. But more than these factors, Stellaris will help you understand the value of decision-making. Try out this game – you won’t regret it!
12. Offworld Trading Company
What waits in Mars? We’re still decades away from colonizing the red planet, but you can now catch a glimpse of Martian possibilities through Offworld Trading Company. This economic RTS game is all about market domination – not bombs, guns, and tanks. Your weapons are business strategies, hostile takeovers, and immense economic planning. The major thrill of this game is figuring out which resources to acquire and what deals you have to make.
Seeing your corporation grow is the locus of Offworld Trading Company. The apex of this growth is represented by your capability to ship your goods off-world, away from the barren and hostile landscape of Mars. If you can achieve this, then your corporation will become a testament of power in the stars.
Why You Should Play Offworld Trading Company?
Profits and market domination – these are strong reasons that will make you love Offworld Trading Company. It has a steep learning curve, so the rewards are also great. Every game is unique because you can take different types of challenges. And if those challenges are not enough, you can test your skills in the game’s multiplayer arena.
13. Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds
What would happen if you combine the best-selling space opera and the legendary game engine of Age of Empires 2? Well, you’d get Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds! This game has the same mechanics of AOE2 but its flavor, strategies, and unit composition is entirely different. You can play out different factions – all hailing from both sides of the Force. And yes, lightsabers are included!
The bulk of Galactic Battlegrounds’ story is focused on the galaxy-spanning Clone Wars. Through different chapters, you can experience different sides of the story.
Why You Should Play Galactic Battlegrounds?
If you’re a Star Wars or AOE2 fan, that reason is more than enough. Instead of experiencing small pieces of the story, Galactic Battlegrounds will let you see the big picture. Fight monumental battles and bring down the evil clutches of the Galactic Empire. Or you can side with the Empire and take down the Rebellion. The choice is entirely yours!
Steam’s top RTS charts are periodically changing. Some of the games on this list may end up on different spots, but they will remain as people’s favorites.
Try out any of the mentioned games and take the road to RTS mastery!
Recap: Looking for the best RTS games on Steam? Sit back and relax – check out our list today and make your decision!
- Age of Empires 2
- Total War
- Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War Soulstorm
- Starcraft 2
- Rise of Nations
- Company of Heroes
- Age of Mythology
- Warlords: Battlecry
- Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance
- Offworld Trading Company
- Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds