The 11 best strategy games on PC in 2021 – GamePlay2
Time to conquer the best strategy games on the PC, from the finest RTS to the greatest turn-based strategy
- CRUSADER KINGS III
- OFFWORLD TRADING COMPANY
- XCOM 2
- HOMEWORLD: DESERTS OF KHARAK
- COMPANY OF HEROES 3
- FALLING FRONTIER
- TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER III
- AGE OF EMPIRES 4
- BATTLESTAR GALACTICA DEADLOCK
- STARCRAFT II
- ENDLESS LEGEND
- COMMAND & CONQUER: RED ALERT 2
- COMPANY OF HEROES 2: ARDENNES ASSAULT
- CIVILIZATION VI
- TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER II
What are the best strategy games on PC? Some would say StarCraft II, others Civilization VI while yet more still would say “actually, Civ 4 was the better ga-” but at that point we’d stop listening because nobody cares. Join us as we explore a curated collection of the genre’s greatest hits, from newcomers to classics.
Fun fact: the strategy genre was first invented back in 1938, when Winston Churchill looked out an aeroplane window over France and thought, “Hey, this would make a really cool videogame, whatever that is.” Probably. Since then, there have been about a hundred million different strategy games, simulating as many different kinds of fighting as we humans have had reasons to fight one another.
Turn-based or real-time, grand strategy or tactical… this genre is as diverse as they come. But which are the absolute top strategy games on PC? Well, just drag a selection box over our bodies and right-click on the horizon, and we’ll find out. We have a strategy editor on our team now, so we can’t be wrong.
THE BEST STRATEGY GAMES
The best strategy games on PC are:
- Crusader Kings III
- Offworld Trading Company
- XCOM 2
- Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
- Battlestar Galactica Deadlock
- Starcraft II
- Endless Legend
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
- Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault
- Civilization VI
- Total War: Warhammer II
CRUSADER KINGS III
Talk about a murderous bastard of a grand strategy game. While only time will tell whether this dynasty spanning, emergent-storytelling successor claims the throne of its now free-to-play predecessor Crusader Kings 2, it’s certainly kicked off its reign with royal excellency.
Crusader Kings 3 has massively overhauled the series’ formerly byzantine interface, making it a welcome proposition for new players, while retaining much of the depth the series is known for. It may look like a traditional grand strategy map-painter, and while it certainly features in-depth systems for waging war, the heart of Crusader Kings 3 lies in its personal, often hilarious stories.
Will you seize power through military might, wealth, religious influence, diplomacy, or subterfuge? Each character you play as has their own personality and lifestyle focus, and each member of your dynasty will shape their empire, for better or worse, before bequeathing it to their next in line. It’s a game that makes personal plots hatched behind close doors just as important as battles between nations.
Don’t forget to check out our Crusader Kings 3 review if you’re still undecided. For tips, there’s our Crusader Kings 3 starting characters guide, our Crusader Kings 3 beginners guide, and our Crusader Kings 3 mods guide while we wait for more Crusader Kings 3 DLC.
OFFWORLD TRADING COMPANY
Offworld Trading Company is right at the other end of the strategy games spectrum from Civilization, though its designer, Soren Johnson, also worked on Civ IV. While Civ spans the history and some of the future of humanity, chronicling the progress of mankind, Offworld Trading Company is all about making a fortune by exploiting our red neighbour, Mars.
It’s an RTS crossed with the intricacies of the best management games, one in which victory is not achieved by throwing tanks at enemies, or demolishing their bases.
Instead, your weapons are resources and cash, which you use to manipulate the marketplace not just to simply get rich, but to completely screw over your competitors. You might not expect an economic strategy game to be very aggressive, but Offworld Trading Company encourages you to be just as hostile as a warmonger.
When you’re eyeing up menus, planning what to build next, what to sell, which company to launch a hostile takeover against next, it’s easily as thrilling as when you’re sending infantry across artillery-pummelled fields or launching sneak air attacks against an enemy stronghold in Company of Heroes or StarCraft II. The same developers have just released their own take on 4X games/Civilization, called Old World – check it out.
XCOM 2 is one of the best turn-based strategy games, and we gave it a really good score in our XCOM 2 review. It takes the best bits from the series so far – the savage struggle, the ragtag group of heroes, the devious aliens, the tight tactical battles – and throws improvement after improvement on top.
It’s a toss up as to whether the War of the Chosen expansion is objectively better, but there are plenty of excellent XCOM 2 mods that can bring the vanilla game up to scratch. Both offer distinct, but equally rewarding experiences. There’s plenty of other XCOM 2 DLC as well.
The battles are challenging and varied, full of horrific adversaries with tricky, surprising abilities, but the biggest changes are found on the strategic layer. You will travel all over the world, setting up cells, infiltrating black sites, hunting for more resources so you can field more powerful weapons and tools – it is compelling, rather than an afterthought.
HOMEWORLD: DESERTS OF KHARAK
Blackbird Interactive has done the seemingly impossible with Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. And that’s to transpose the elegant, minimalist space wars of the original Homeworld games to a single planet, making for one of the best strategy games in the process. Somehow it works. Really well.
It’s a journey across a vast desert directed by your mission to save a civilisation. Each battle is connected to the last as well as the ones yet to be played. Every unit that survives will live to fight another day in another mission in a persistent war for survival.
Kharak itself, despite being a giant desert, is a fantastic planet-sized battlefield that does for the ground what the originals did for space. The addition of terrain and elevation replicates the three-dimensional battles of the previous games, with the sand dunes providing cover, hiding spots, and high ground from where you can unleash devastating attacks.
Like its predecessors, the game is blessed with some of the best art design you could hope to find in an RTS, meaning you can take beautiful Homeworld screenshots. Add with its incredible sound design, and a genuinely interesting narrative, Deserts of Kharak is a classic.
COMPANY OF HEROES 3
Announced in July 2021, Relic are pushing every boundary to deliver the ultimate Company of Heroes sequel. The headline feature is a brand new campaign layer, which is essentially the developers going “sod it, let’s stick Total War on top”. The ambition of this game is staggering and we hope it pays off as there are a lot of new elements Relic will need to master.
The RTS side of things is still looking good however. The changes here are more subtle, but just as powerful. Now you can hot-breach occupied buildings to clear them out, and the interaction between height and cover has also been improved, allowing for more diverse maps and realistic tactics as you fight up and down the Mediterranean, a first for mainstream strategy war games, let alone the series in general.
Don’t take our word for it though, you can check out a pre-alpha build right now (until early August 2021), although note the system requirements are pretty hefty at the moment. We can’t wait for this one to release over a year from now sometime in late 2022.
To be honest, there’s a ton of really interesting strategy projects on the horizon over the next year. We’re going to update this section of the list to rotate upcoming indie projects that look cool. Previously we featured Terra Invicta – which is the new game from the creators of XCOM’s Long War.
Now we’re going to highlight Falling Frontier. This is a space RTS that looks gorgeous, and attempts to strike a balance between hard-science and logistics-based gameplay, and the high-concept sci-fi that gives us cool looking ships and pew-pew lasers. It’s got a bit of an old-school mentality to it, with the original design inspired by the likes of Age of Empires and Starcraft in its skirmish-based structure, but there is a more narrative driven campaign planned now to really flesh out the lore and give the gorgeous environments life and a sense of purpose. One to watch, we have no doubt, and its targeting a late 2021 release.
TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER III
We all knew this was coming, and the third instalment in Creative Assembly’s Warhammer Fantasy strategy game franchise was confirmed in February with a pretty bad-ass trailer that we broke down in excruciating detail, because reasons.
We know that Kislev are going to be one of the stars of the show – that show being a tide of no less than four Chaos Demon factions invading the Old World – but a surprise Warhammer 3 race turned up in the form of Cathay as well. Beyond that, there’s still plenty left to be revealed, but we’ve collected everything we know about Total War: Warhammer III in a single guide, especially the release date. It’s available to pre-order in places if you’re already looking for someone to take your money.
AGE OF EMPIRES 4
“It is absolutely not past the time for RTS,” World’s Edge told us in our first Age of Empires 4 interview with the Microsoft-backed team back in 2019, and if the level of detail and enthusiasm they brought to the table is any indication, we’re not going to argue.
While information has been scarce on the fourth Age of Empires game, we finally got a decent look at the game thank to a fan-facing preview even in April 2021. There’s a lot to be excited about, and the Age of Empires 4 release date has been set for October 28, 2021.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA DEADLOCK
We’re throwing in a new entry to in an effort to help highlight some of the lesser known heroes in the strategy space. There aren’t many games like Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, but it’s definitely an incredible space game, and certainly the best BSG game on the market if you’ve been looking for a 12 colonies shaped hole in your life.
It’s a tactical space combat game at its core, but it’s also what we in the biz call a ‘WEGO’ strategy game. Essentially, both sides take make and resolve their moves simultaneously. You could also think of it as a real-time strategy game with enforced pauses. You give your moves and orders to the ships in your fleet, and then they will follow those orders for a specific chunk of time (typically ten seconds), before the game pauses again. You can then alter orders as you see fit, or leave things alone.
Once you’ve finished a tactical battle, you can watch a replay where the whole thing plays out in real-time without pausing, and the replay camera AI will use shots and visual effects from the TV show. Deadlock also an excellent single-player campaign as well, which brings in fleet building, resource management, even a bit of politics as you try and keep the 12 colonies in line while also beating back the Cylon invasion. Unless you’re really not into Battlestar Galactica, this is definitely worth checking out.
UPCOMING STRATEGY GAMES 2021
While you’re here, why not check out some other strategy games that we think have potential that have yet to be released.
What’s not to love about a game that pits armoured cowboys against xenomorphic aliens and space elves? StarCraft II is a classic base-building RTS that tasks you with gathering resources, building armies, and killing your enemy before they kill you with quick decisions and even quicker mouse clicks.
StarCraft II is also one of the best multiplayer games on PC. Your enemies are human; they’ll probably be able to click faster than you, issuing orders quicker than you. You’ll probably lose a lot, but you’ll get better the more you play, making this one of the best RTS games for anyone with a competitive streak. The PvE campaign is also notable, as story is hard to do in RTS games. Many developers resort to cutscenes or in-mission dialogue, but StarCraft II has you interact with the world outside of combat.
Activision Blizzard is facing a lawsuit filed in July by the state of California alleging years of discrimination and harassment. Since then, CEO Bobby Kotick has called the company’s initial response “tone deaf”, employees have staged a walkout, Blizzard president J Allen Brack has left, and the ABK Workers Alliance has demanded change at the company. The lawsuit is ongoing; follow the latest developments here.
In our Endless Legend review, we lavished praise on a 4X game that blends fantasy and science fiction seamlessly, throwing stranded spacemen against magical dragon people in absolutely the most striking hex-based world there is. Diverse, gorgeous, it looks almost tangible, like you could reach out and pick up one of the elaborate cities and cradle it in your hands. “Don’t worry, citizens. We won’t let the horrible man-eating insects devour you and your families,” we whisper into our cupped palms.
Fascinating factions vie for dominance over the apocalyptic world. Each is blessed with unique and interesting mechanics that set them apart and inform how they’re played. You have got the horrible aforementioned flesh-eating insect race, the Necrophage, for instance, who are so foul they cannot make alliances with other factions, forcing them to always be the opposition. Endless Legend is also blessed with a strong narrative that lends it a strong sense of place. Every faction has a set of story quests that will inform many of your decisions without backing you into a corner.
Amplitude has recently released a new historical 4X game called Humankind, which seeks to rival Civilization VI. It’s not quite where it needs to be yet to earn a place on this list, but you can read our Humankind review for more details – it’s still pretty good.
COMMAND & CONQUER: RED ALERT 2
There’s a lot to love about Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. From the ludicrous unit types to the corny FMV cutscenes, you will struggle to find a strategy game with as much personality and charm as this RTS. It may not be as wild as the sequel, which managed to cast J.K. Simmons, Tim Curry, and George Takei, but there’s a degree of sincerity amidst the bombast.
And if you’re just looking for something with solid strategy gaming chops, then Red Alert 2 hasn’t aged a day in the two decades since its release. You’ll find two varied campaigns to barrel through – one from the US perspective and one from the Soviet Union – and a tightly balanced multiplayer offering with a couple of endlessly addictive modes. No other strategy game lets you pit democratic dolphins against Soviet squids, and for that alone we’ll always adore Red Alert 2.
While you’re here, check out our Command & Conquer Remastered Collection review, and our interview with iconic Kane actor Joe Kucan.
COMPANY OF HEROES 2: ARDENNES ASSAULT
Company of Heroes 2 was great but it didn’t quite match the magic of its predecessor. Then Ardennes Assault came along; in our Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault review we found that it’s one of the best RTS games you can play.
The US forces and German Oberkommando are fighting over control of the Ardennes in a campaign inspired by The Battle of the Bulge – in true war games style. That sets it apart from both Company of Heroes and the sequel alongside its non-linear single-player campaign that plays out across a strategic meta map. The Germans are dynamic, being reinforced by retreating forces, changing the challenges posed by both story missions and the dynamic skirmishes.
While the campaign is only played from the American point of view, the US forces are split into three companies, all with unique specialities covering air, support, and mechanised roles. These companies all have special officer abilities and upgrade trees, and any can be used to tackle a mission. Even if you focus on one, the other two will still be on the map, and can provide assistance by blocking the enemy retreat out of a captured province.
This is the first time the battles in Company of Heroes have had real weight to rival the very best WW2 games, but the series won’t be stopping there. Company of Heroes 3 has been announced (see below), and it’s bringing with it a brand new campaign layer that takes the lessons learned from Ardennes Assault, and turns them up to 11.
You would find plenty of debate about which modern Civilization game was better, Civ 5 or Civ 6(we even had a whole thing about it), but with the release of Gathering Storm expansion this sixth entry of the series is finally able to stand proud as a great strategy game worthy of note.
Still epitomising the ideal of ‘one more turn’ that makes these kinds of games so addictive, Civilization 6 offers a lot more mechanics to bring the world to life around you. It’s not just about schmoozing this civ or declaring war on that civ – you’ve got to pay attention to how you’re impacting the world and working towards your goals – of which there is a wide variety.
TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER II
Ok, fine. As much as I don’t like to admit, Total War: Warhammer II is, probably, the best Total War game. It’s easily the studio’s most creative work to date, and the ultimate expression of the long-lost Warhammer Fantasy universe, but there’s also a credible argument to be made that the tactical layer is pretty pants.
Still, the Warhammer Fantasy Total War games in general have done wonders for the strategic layer, offering a more diverse and engaging experience than has ever been seen before. These improvements would go on to inspire the strategic layers of both Total War: Three Kingdoms and Total War Saga: Troy, both of which are pretty decent historical strategy games, and feature tactical battles more in line with the classic games of the series. Read our Total Warhammer 2 review if you need more proof.
There’s a modest, but equally as creative stable of Total War: Warhammer 2 DLC expansions to help round-off the base game’s experience, as well as some excellent Warhammer 2 mods. Let’s not also forget the Mortal Empires add-on – available to owners of both Total Warhammer games – which elevates the Old World to something akin to a Paradox grand strategy epic. All of this is setting us up for the upcoming Total War: Warhammer III (see below), which is looking extremely metal.