Top 10 RTS Games [Best Recommendations]

The PC, the personal computer, is the most powerful, technologically advanced and versatile gaming system out there, and no amount of console iterations or consoles with the word “Pro” can beat it. In fact, the PC is so advanced, the PC 2 has yet to come out. Jokes aside, this is not an attack on console gamers out there -- the PC is factually the most capable system and it’s an essential system for every gamer… Actually, you own one right now… Where else do you browse the internet, write your homework, research for an essay, and start flame wars in forums? That’s right, a PC. Some use laptops but they’re technically portable PCs!

Before we veer off to Off-Topic-ville, the PC is an all-in-one system with its many controller options ranging from the classic joypad controller to VR headsets, and to motion or touch controls. And another advantage of PCs is you have access to a game genre that is essentially exclusive to PCs -- the Strategy genre, especially the unit and resource management of Real Time Strategy games or RTS for short. For this type of game, the mouse and keyboard are essential tools for they give the player precision targeting, fast unit management, accessing menus with ease and specific commands are bound to any key on the keyboard. You can’t do any of these things with just a joypad controller.

For this topic, we’re going to list the Top 10 RTS Games that helped define PC as a gaming platform. We’re looking for RTS games that were influential, innovative, has tons of features for gamers to tinker around, games are still being played by gamers despite the game’s age, and most importantly the games are fun to play. Calibrate your mice and light up your keyboards because we’re checking out the 10 best RTS games PC has to offer!

10. Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty

  • System/Platform: PC, Amiga, Sega Genesis, Acorn Archimedes
  • Publisher: Virgin Interactive
  • Developer: Westwood Studios
  • Release Date: December 1992

Also known as Dune II: Battle for Arrakis in Europe, the player is a military commander from the three available House or clan of their choosing. And as commander, you are tasked to conquer the planet Arrakis and seize control of this spice called melange, that also acts as currency in the game. Developed by legendary Westwood Studios, Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty is a unique strategy game and RTS games today, still take inspirations from.

You probably never heard of Dune II, and that’s because this game is very old and probably much older than most of the current generation of gamers. But by today’s standards, Dune II is hard to play due to its now outdated visuals and controls, but make no mistake, if you play Dune II now, you will immediately grasp its gameplay. And that’s because Dune II is the very game that created the RTS genre. It was Dune II who pioneered gameplay mechanics that are still being used in today’s RTS games like the Fog-of-war, base management, resource management, and unit micromanagement using the mouse as the primary input. Back then, most strategy games or PC games, in general, rarely made use of the mouse.

If you wanna see and experience RTS gaming from its old roots, go play the granddaddy of the RTS genre, Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty.


9. Total War: Shogun 2

  • System/Platform: PC, Linux, Mac, SteamOS
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Release Date: March 15, 2011

War grips Japan once again as the once unified nation is divided into warring clans vying for control. You take on the role of a clan leader and use economics, politics, and military force to reunite Japan and be the ruler of the land of the rising sun.

Total War: Shogun 2 is a hybrid between turn-based strategy and real-time strategy, and it’s often known as a Grand Strategy Wargame with gameplay mechanics that involve lots of time management, nation-building, diplomacy, trading, send out spies to sabotage neighboring nations, etc. along with actual RTS mechanics of unit micromanagement and tactics. In short, Total War: Shogun 2 is a MASSIVE and intricately complex game with tons of things to do that boggles the mind. However, with careful planning and patience, and uh, practically try to be a politician, Total War: Shogun 2 is an immersive experience that lets you be a shogun conquering Japan, not with military force, but with diplomacy as well.

The game has longevity with a suite of DLCs, a multiplayer component that will add a few more hundred hours to your game time, (or even longer) and a huge community continuing to breathe life by introducing new tactics and new ways to conquer your foes in both singleplayer and online.


8. Supreme Commander

  • System/Platform: PC, Xbox 360
  • Publisher: THQ
  • Developer: Gas Powered Games
  • Release Date: February 20, 2007

The Infinite War has raged for 1000 years. Billions of lives have been lost. But now the actors are assembled and the final act is about to begin. It is time for the Infinite War to end. There are a few games that let you actually control large armies across large maps against 7 more enemy commanders with equally large armies of their own, Supreme Commander is one of the best examples of truly massive battles.

The battles are so large that the user interface lets you fully zoom out the map and plan your moves with ease. If you have a low-end PC or a toaster, you can still play Supreme Commander by keeping the camera zoomed out. But if you do have a good PC, you can zoom in very close to these surprisingly well-modeled units. Supreme Commander is visually striking and technically impressive with its truly large scale battles, but be careful because the learning curve is steep. Mastering the capabilities and shortcomings of your units is key and you need to keep them in proper formation, or otherwise, a nuclear strike will turn your vast armies of mechs and tanks into rubble. Thankfully, Supreme Commander’s controls and management system is tailor-made to controlling vast armies around gigantic maps with ease.


7. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War

  • System/Platform: PC
  • Publisher: THQ
  • Developer: Relic
  • Release Date: September 20, 2004

Adapting the popular tabletop wargame Warhammer 40,000 to video game format was, at the time, very hard. There were some strategy games, turn-based games, and even a first-person shooter game, but none of them truly captured the essence of Warhammer 40k’s large-scale urban and planetary combat until the RTS game Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War came out.

Dawn of War has brought many innovations that made it stand out to other RTS games. Units come in squads instead of single units, special abilities, hero units, there is a morale boost system, a cover system and a ton more. Gone is the staple resource management and focus more on capturing and holding strategic points thrown across the map instead of fortifying your main base. This gives Dawn of War a more aggressive gameplay and feels like the tabletop games where controlling the map is vital. Does it feel like a Warhammer 40,000 game? Absolutely. The single player campaign is lengthy and surprisingly character driven where you follow the Blood Ravens led by Captain Gabriel Angelos battling across the war-torn world of Tartarus against the Orks. The internal conflicts, the stellar voice acting, the grim setting, and 3 major expansion packs, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War has brought the tabletop game to life.

And it’s not just the campaign that made Dawn of War good. It’s the little details that make each campaign and battles memorable. You can fully customize the color scheme of your army, enabling persistent bodies in the settings will keep the corpses of the fallen on the map, making each battle really bloody and leaves a mark on the map that a major battle happened on the spot you’re stepping on. Dawn of War is one of the few games that lets you zoom in on the action with detailed unit models and animations and watching them getting splattered, decapitated, maimed and blown across the fields will bring out the sadist in you. In the immortal words of Captain Gabriel Angelos: “Walk slowly and carry a big gun.”


6. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings

  • System/Platform: PC, Mac OS, PS2, Mobile
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Developer: Ensemble Studios
  • Release Date: September 30, 1999

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings sets in the Middle Ages and relives the conquest of the Celts, Franks, Saracens, Teutons and the Mongols. Your armies start out small and you must progress by advancing the technologies and gain advanced units and structures. To a lot of RTS gamers, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is considered an RTS classic and a must-have game for any gamer. The gameplay is pretty standard with basic resource gathering, building up your army, fortifying your bases, and so on, but Age of Empires II has a unique and attractive charm to it thanks in part of its detailed 2-D graphics and some rather silly sound effects and unit banter.

The game has a heavy emphasis on resource gathering and tech advancing and tries to fend off invaders as you wall off your villages and erect defensive towers. The game has a few more civilizations to play with, but sadly they almost play the same save for a couple of unique units and certain attributes and unique structures representative of that certain civilization.

Out of the Age of Empires game series, Age of Empires II is the best one with very large maps, elevated terrain for flanking and other tactical opportunities that other games lack or not well too implemented. Plus with the HD remake, you can play this classic on higher resolutions and sharper 2-D graphics. And as a classic, The Age of Kings will continue to be played by thousands of fans thanks to the HD remake additional features like a map editor and community modding support. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings may not be the most technically advanced game, but it’s a game that’s one of kind and is still being supported by fans now and in the foreseeable future.


5. Red Alert 2

  • System/Platform: PC
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Westwood Studios
  • Release Date: October 21, 2000

The biggest appeal of Red Alert 2 is it’s very, very simple to play. Anyone without prior experience in RTS games can pick Red Alert 2 up and win a few missions. However, the simplistic gameplay is also the game’s weakness -- battles are always bum rushes of tanks, troops or both, or even do bomber raids targeting your opponent’s command center and stop them from building. While the gameplay is alright in single player, the flaws show up during multiplayer (and assuming you can find a multiplayer match) where players turtle with defensive structures and amass powerful units like Prism tanks or the Apocalypse tanks to bum rush. Added to the fact the traversed areas remain visible and the allies have a structure to reveal the entire map, there are no surprise attacks.

But with that said though, Red Alert 2 truly shines in single player and its overall presentation. Red Alert 2 takes place, well, obviously after Red Alert and the Soviet Union declared war on the United States and invaded New York City. Huge tanks, giant squids, dolphins, time travel, tanks that fire light, massive airships, the cheesy story, dialogue and characters, Red Alert 2 is remembered as one of the silliest RTS games out there. You have to experience it first hand because Red Alert 2 is nothing you’ve played before. It’s charming, brimming with personality, and fun to play, Red Alert 2 is perhaps Westwood Studios’ swansong before they were devoured along with other beloved gaming studios by the corporate juggernaut Electronic Arts.


4. Homeworld

  • System/Platform: PC
  • Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
  • Developer: Relic
  • Release Date: August 31, 1999

Homeworld was very unique when it came out because it was the first game to introduce true 3D gameplay instead of the usual flat battlefields of other RTS games. You, the player, command the mothership and her forces in a fully 3D space where you ambush enemies from up high or from below. The transition may be jarring after playing tons of RTS games, but thankfully Homeworld’s controls and user interface is capable enough to monitor, command, manage, and execute attacks. The gameplay is slow, but it gives you this feeling the ships you command the universe you explore are truly massive and takes time for them to move… and obviously, gigantic ships don’t turn on a dime like a jet plane or something.

The game’s overall presentation is simply impressive that you’re watching a space opera with a gripping story of a civilization finding their place in the universe. To deepen the immersion, you can zoom into your very detailed ships, or even enemy ships and watch the battle unfolds like you’ve seen in movies like Star Wars with laser blasts hitting the hull of capital ships, explosions, and debris hurled through beautiful backdrops full of stars and planets.


3. Company of Heroes

  • System/Platform: PC
  • Publisher: THQ
  • Developer: Relic
  • Release Date: September 13, 2006

Company of Heroes is the highest rated RTS game of all time and one of the best games of all time for good reason. Developed by Relic, the same game studio that made Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War -- Company of Heroes share the same core mechanics like territorial control by controlling strategic points in the game for resources but with added tweaks that it won’t feel like you’re playing a Dawn of War reskin. You still control squads of troops instead of individual units, but the new changes include taking advantage of elevated terrain, attacking weak points of tanks by going behind them and hit their engines, troops can garrison buildings, and the maps are fully destructible, making each skirmish unique as the changing landscape presents new tactical opportunities.

To compliment all of that is the impressive graphics, story, and sound design. The graphics are more realistic than Dawn of War’s cartoony look with very, very, very detailed models that they look good when you zoom in. The sound design adds to the immersion with explosions, gunfire, tank motor whirring, and the sound of building collapsing so realistic that it almost feels like you were watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan. Company of Heroes doesn’t glorify the Allied advance into Europe, but rather the game shows you how terrifying it was for soldiers to fight in a foreign land and against a well-entrenched German army.


2. Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne

  • System/Platform: PC, Mac OS
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Release Date: July 1, 2003

Even by 2003 standards, the visuals of Warcraft 3 is average with blocky character models, but on the flipside, the game has lower system requirements so the game is more accessible to a wider user base with low-end machines like potato machines and toasters. The story of Warcraft 3 is a continuation to the Warcraft lore and a story of a human paladin straying off the wrong path and new forces has arrived to bring chaos to the war-torn world of Azeroth. You command your army across the land building bases, sap the resources, and lead your army to victory.

Blizzard changed up the formula in Warcraft 3 by introducing hero units, RPG elements like leveling up and use special abilities to aid your forces to victory. Each multiplayer skirmish is unpredictable because the players can pick any hero they want and equip them with powerful items found in the maps. Apart from the RPG-RTS combination, Warcraft 3 is a direct sequel to the Warcraft franchise with an engaging story that leads up to the timeline of the MMORPG World of Warcraft.

What makes Warcraft 3 special however is the massive user-generated content thanks to the robust world editor that was included in the game. The world editor enabled users to create maps, custom scenarios, and most importantly it created a new gaming genre in the form of the most popular mod in existence -- Defense of the Ancients. Defense of the Ancients All-Stars paved way to the Massive Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre and games like League of Legends, Smite, Heroes of the Storm and Dota 2 rose to prominence in the gaming scene that popularized e-sports. The future of gaming as sports is among us.


1. Starcraft: Brood War

  • System/Platform: PC, Mac OS
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Release Date: November 30, 1998

Man has finally traveled and settled amongst the stars. Free from the influences of Earth, the spacefaring humans created their own government and named themselves as the Terrans. The Terrans soon discovered that humans aren’t alone in the universe and these alien races aren’t friendly neighbors. Mine those minerals and extract vespene gas. War is upon us.

Starcraft was criticized as a clone to Blizzard’s Warcraft series and Starcraft often mocked as “Warcraft in Space.” That assumption soon faded as Starcraft boasted new graphics, three playable races that play very differently unlike Warcraft’s two playable races, and tighter gameplay. And Starcraft made even better with the Brood War expansion that added new units, balance tweaks, and a more robust campaign editor where users can create custom maps and custom scenarios, one of which, Aeon of Strife, was the stepping stone to the creation of the popular Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients.

What makes Starcraft special is the competitive multiplayer community all thanks to extremely well-balanced units with gameplay that is smooth as silk. The community grew and the game found itself in the internet cafes of South Korea, and soon after, Starcraft has become the country’s unofficial national sport with televised matches and paved the way to pro-gaming and eSports. Starcraft is still being played today despite the game being released almost 20 years ago. Starcraft is the pinnacle of RTS gaming with gameplay that has aged very well with a massive online community. Though…

Your multiplayer experience mileage in Starcraft may vary. If you fight against a South Korean, you’d better forfeit the match because there’s a very high chance your opponent will kick your ass long before you start erecting tier 2 buildings. Or play the custom maps with your friends like the custom map “Mercenaries 2.” And the recent patch made Starcraft available to download for free! There is no reason not to try out this RTS classic!


Final Thoughts

A game doesn’t need cutting edge technology or pretty graphics to be popular. Time and time again, what matters is how the games play. If the game handles great, fans will love it and will support it through user-generated content. Starcraft has done all of those and that’s one of the reasons while Starcraft is no longer a village, that, and with the coming of the remastered version,

The RTS genre has come a long way and it gave us an experience cannot be found on any gaming platform -- The experience of being a commander leading an army to defeat and conquer against the alien or the orcish horde.

And that’s our list of the top 10 RTS games. What do you think? Have we left out an RTS game? If you do, please tell us by leaving a comment below!

Antoine Rizal

Writer

Author: Antoine Rizal

I've been an anime fan for as long as I can remember. Actually, anime is very much a part of me now for I have extended my reach beyond just watching them. I am a fansubber for more than 8 years now and contributed a lot to the anime community. Me and my group has translated shows, manga, drama CDs and doujinshi. Right now I'm learning Japanese so I can better serve the community and read interesting stuff about the Japanese culture as well.

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