If you are even a light gamer, you have probably come across strategy games somewhere down the line. If not, I suggest you go through this article and pick one to play today!
Strategy games are usually wargames, and real-time strategy games are ones that allow us to control everything in real time.
The opposite of a real-time strategy game is a turn-based strategy game, where you will only be able to do certain things in each of your turns—in between you'll have to wait for the opponent to react in his or her turn. Personally, I prefer real-time strategy to turn-based games because it feels more natural and gives the ability to control everything in the moment.
Games That Have Defined the Industry
Strategy games comprise a few of the earliest games ever released. These original strategy games were "simple" and did not require much processing or computing power. Age of Empires ran perfectly in 256MB VGA and 512 RAM. That processing power would not be enough for modern-day strategy games due to the significant improvements in realistic movements, natural dynamics, 3D rendering, and artificial intelligence. But still these games require less processing power than modern-day FPS games like Call of Duty or Battlefield.
It is sad to see that there is a declining trend in real-time strategy games among modern gamers. Game manufacturers have even reduced their output of new RTS games.
But enough of the chit-chat. Let's get down to the top five real-time strategy games the world has ever seen.
#01 - Age of Empires
After much internal debate, I decided to give Age of Empires the coveted number one position among top real-time strategy games of all time. This is not merely because I love this game so much but also because Age of Empires laid the foundation for later RTS games.
Age of Empires is a game where you have to conquer your opponents in a given map. For that, you need an army, and to build an army, you need food, buildings, and training camps. This is where the fun begins. You have the absolute freedom to do anything you like with the resources that are available, keeping in mind that resources deplete. So use your resources effectively, build an army, and take on the world!
There are three major versions of the game, namely; Age of Empires, Age of Empires II, and Age of Empires III. After the third edition and its expansions, no more versions were produced.
AoE III Trailer
Age of Empires (1) is really not that good, but it was the first installment of the series. It had minimal graphics and was quite tough to navigate and control. But the second edition, Age of Empires II (2) was a hit. Graphics had been drastically improved and navigation was perfect.
Age of Empires 2 included two expansions as well: Age of Empires: Age of Kings and Age of Empires: Conquerors. These two were the games I played most as a kid. You've been warned: This game is highly addictive.
Age of Empires III (3) was again a significant improvement over the second edition. The game was made to look more realistic with 3D rendering. This required a little more computing power, but nothing that modern machines cannot handle. Age of Empires 3 also had two expansion packs, namely Age of Empires III: War Chiefs and Age of Empires III: Asian Dynasties.
Age of Empires III
#01.5: Age of Mythology
I have put this at number 01.5—yeah, that's right, between 01 and 02.
Age of Mythology is another massively popular RTS game brought to you by the developers of Age of Empires—Ensemble Studios.
It has all the functioning of Age of Empires; the differentiating factor is the type of factions it has. There are three main ones, each an early civilization with rich mythological beliefs: Greeks, Egyptians, and Norse. The mythological creatures and heroes from each culture are available in the game. Although it is RTS, it's a whole new experience.
Age of Mythology came with one expansion pack named Age of Mythology: Titans. It isn't a huge improvement over the standard game, but it is worth having the whole package.
#02 - Warcraft
Warcraft is yet another massively popular real-time strategy game gamers have come to love and adore. The concept is same as that of Age of Empires and Age of Mythology, but Warcraft has more of a fantasy nature. Instead of using "real" mythological creatures found in world history, Blizzard, the producers of Warcraft, ran wild with imagination when it came to character development.
There are three main editions of Warcraft named Warcraft 1, 2, and 3. But there are quite a few expansion packs available to these editions.
Take a look at the Warcraft factions available in the picture below.
Warcraft 3 is undoubtedly the best one out of the lot and has two expansions to it: Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. The Frozen Throne is one of the best RTS games ever.
World of Warcraft is their online multiplayer version of the game, which is one of the largest online gaming communities in the world.
Warcraft III with Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne expansions
#03 - StarCraft 2
After the massively popular StarCraft I game, Blizzard Entertainment brings you the sequel, StarCraft 2. In the 1980s StarCraft I was highly appraised as one of the best real-time strategy games. And the goodwill has remained with StarCraft II.
The game was released in 2010 and has been one of the top-selling video games since.
StarCraft II has three expansion packs:
- StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty
- StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
- StartCraft 2: Legacy of the Void
To read the full plot of the game visit the Wiki link for StartCraft 2.
StarCraft 2 is based on three types of species. There are:
- Terrans: human exiles from Earth
- Zerg: a species of super powers and capabilities
- Protos: a highly advanced species with special mental abilities
Wings of Liberty is based around Terrans, whereas Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void are based on Zerg and Protos respectively. So Legacy of the Void will be a really really awesome expansion.
In the game, you can fully control your units and are tasked with making the best strategies with the available resources. Different units have different abilities, and combining these will give you the best chance of survival against enemies.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Collector's Edition
#04 - Command & Conquer
Command & Conquer is another massively popular RTS game. There have been many editions of the game and expansions to these editions.
Command & Conquer is the world's all-time best-selling RTS game. Command & Conquer has a range of settings from the industrial revolution to a futuristic cyber age. There are many factions in each game, and these change according to editions. Sometimes campaign mode plays out real events from the history, and sometimes it's totally fictitious.
The basic goal is to collect resources (which consists only of gold in most games) and build an army to conquer the opponents. The campaign mode gives you more diverse goals.
The Command & Conquer bundle pack below includes the following 17 games from the series:
- Command & Conquer
- Command & Conquer The Covert Operations
- Command & Conquer Red Alert
- Command & Conquer Red Alert Counterstrike
- Command & Conquer Red Alert The Aftermath
- Command & Conquer Tiberian Sun
- Command & Conquer Tiberian Sun Firestorm
- Command & Conquer Red Alert 2
- Command & Conquer Red Alert Yuri's Revenge
- Command & Conquer Renegade
- Command & Conquer Generals
- Command & Conquer Generals Zero Hour
- Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars
- Command & Conquer 3 Kane’s Wrath
- Command & Conquer Red Alert 3
- Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 Uprising
- Command & Conquer 4 Tiberian Twilight
Command & Conquer Ultimate Collection
#05 - Rise of Nations
Rise of Nations is another massively popular RTS game, in which you have to develop your nation to become the best in the world.
As your civilization progresses through ages of development (dark ages, industrial revolution, IT era, space age, etc.) your rivalry factions develop through those ages as well. Either you can rush to the most modern era first (before others) and attack others with better weapons and conquer them, or you can have continuous battles to weaken the progress of other factions or even turn them to dust.
Unlike in most other RTS games, in Rise of Nations you have the chance to get your civilization through ages of development and reach the space age. But the game is more complicated than others as well. There are various types of resources, and not all of them are under your control. A new feature may be the ability to dig for oil as you reach industrial revolution, and for ages after. So it is not a walk in the park. A must play for all RTS fans.
Rise of Nations has two expansion packs:
- Rise of Nations: Thrones & Patriots
- Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends
I haven't played 'Rise of Legends, but by the look of it, it seems like there are some mythical creatures of sorts. So it could be a whole new experience.
Rise of Nations with Thrones & Patriots expansion pack
The above list is based on my opinion, and yours may be different. If so, please leave a comment of your revised order or any other games that you would have included in the top five real-time strategy games.
Voice Your opinion
There Are a Lot More Great RTS Games Beyond The Top Five
Scribbling Geek from Singapore on April 18, 2017:
It was such a pity AOE went bust. I used to dream about AOE 4 and 5 and how those might feature WWII, the Viet War, etc.
vio on June 01, 2016:
No mention here on warzone 2100
One of the first RTS, still getting updated today with an open source community.
One of the few games i still come back to play very often
Hades on January 05, 2016:
The golden horde is a sweet little game
SEA on May 14, 2015:
How can u still play aoe or aom online?
arsi on December 26, 2014:
Age of mythology the titans expanaion
Nimesh De Silva (author) on July 26, 2014:
Well, Warcraft is great
arpit on June 29, 2014:
i m thinking of buying another strategy game .. which yall suggest?
Nimesh De Silva (author) on April 27, 2014:
This is interesting. Is there any way I can join as well?
Naveen on April 25, 2014:
Age of empires is the best game in the world. I am ready for the match @vaibhav
arpit on April 18, 2014:
I would sure play vaibhav if i hadn't the gold edition of aom... Aom's gold edition doesn't support multiplayer (on Internet) becoz microsoft makes copy of product codes of gold edition's ...I would love to ply on LAN ....
Nimesh De Silva (author) on April 11, 2014:
Vaibhav on April 11, 2014:
Hey anyone up for an aom match
Tassen on March 11, 2014:
Guess my memory of it have been somewhat glorified:)
Nimesh De Silva (author) on March 11, 2014:
it looks pretty badass.
The graphics don't look very great.
Again, I haven't played those games.
Tassen on March 11, 2014:
farooq ghaffar on February 18, 2014:
you people shoud play stronghold legends.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on February 08, 2014:
Will do. (Y)
arpit on February 08, 2014:
Aftr u try spartan be sure to form n alliance betweeen us.... my username of tht game is lonav ...find me out there
Nimesh De Silva (author) on February 06, 2014:
We have similar tastes. :)
Sarah Forester from Australia on February 05, 2014:
Rise of Nations is the best RTS in my opinion (after Age of Empires of course). As far as game like Age of Empires goes AoM is the winner there.
I'm also actually a fan of the Warhammer 40k series of real time strategy games.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on February 04, 2014:
I think you said everything perfectly.
I will try out Spartan Wars. I'm currently playing Castle Clash.
Arpit on February 04, 2014:
Yes.. Other games doesn't provide the facility that strategy does.... Once we play games like action, after we completed we donot have any choice and can't play as we will be bored but strategy is different we can design our own scenerios and play them so getting bored is far away.
U should try spartan wars.. Its a mobile strategy games... Believe me its the best strategy mobile game (for me)... U can download it frm play store
Nimesh De Silva (author) on January 30, 2014:
I love strategy games as well. I like game like Call of Duty as well. But CoD has a certain limit to it's gameplay. Strategy games have no limits to it's flexibility - the way we want to play it.
I haven't heard of Red Angel.
Arpit on January 30, 2014:
Strategy games lack no words....I like them more than any type of other games....My friends do not like that type....But for me they r awesome....Did u heard of the game Red Angel?
Nimesh De Silva (author) on January 27, 2014:
Thanks for the ideas. These games were all played years ago. Now I'm stuck trying to earn some bucks online.
nav on January 27, 2014:
Hey , you should try
1.company of heroes 2
2. Empire earth 2
you will surely enjoy that .
Nimesh De Silva (author) on January 22, 2014:
This list was made by the games I have personally played. Even if it wasn't the case I could not include all real time strategy games to this list.
Arpit on January 22, 2014:
where's age of war, age of gods and civillization iv in this list?
Arpit on January 22, 2014:
I have aoe 3 nd aom and aomtx......I like aomtx....but star track lack no words...Its really a good game.....
Nimesh De Silva (author) on January 21, 2014:
You are right. I dunno how I missed that - I mean the StarCraft thing. Thanks for clarifying. :)
nao on January 21, 2014:
Dunno about AOE 3, but both the first and the second only had one expansion. For instance, age of kings in the name of the main game (AOE2) while conquerors is the expansion.
Also, Starcraft 1 was made in the late 90s or the early 2000s. Do you realize that the 80s were the age of Pong & pac man ? Bring starcraft to a gamer in the 80s and he would have a heart attack.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on January 21, 2014:
I think Age of Empires and Age of Mythology are the best!!!
Arpit on January 21, 2014:
Hey I don't agree with u... I think age of empires and mythology is awesome. especially d titans expansion
Nimesh De Silva (author) on January 08, 2014:
Thanks for the clarification.
Duckeenie on January 08, 2014:
Rise of Legends wasn't an expansion, it was a new game with totally different mechanics etc.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on January 05, 2014:
Thanks for the awesome review about the Earth series. I'm sure it is a great real time strategy game.
fate on January 05, 2014:
I think the earth series would fall into one of the best.
Were both brilliant and well
is sorta the twilight of the series cool ideas done horriblely killing it.
The fact weather,temp,landscape ect effected tanks,aircraft,weapons and buildings was awesome but then add customizeable tanks and aircraft and able to build underground tunnels and mould the land to help in warfare makes it one of the best rts of all time.
Don't believe me go and give Earth 2150 a go and tell me if you notice any of these things.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on December 23, 2013:
Yes, but a new Warcraft is coming soon.
I do agree Age of Mythology was pretty short.
buzz killington on December 23, 2013:
Warlords battlecry was an amazing one. But like age of mythology it was just too short. WarcraftIII was awesome, just too bad world of warcraft caught on and blizzard dropped the creation of the expansion pack for it.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on December 21, 2013:
Srsly on December 20, 2013:
Did a child write this
Nimesh De Silva (author) on December 12, 2013:
I have not played them rk. Maybe I should try them sometime.
rk on December 11, 2013:
What about Axis and Allies!?
I still play that games multiple times a week!
Nimesh De Silva (author) on December 06, 2013:
I haven't played or heard about Battlecry. Is it the online game?
Maybe you should also try out some of the RTS games mentioned here. They are all really good.
Z on December 06, 2013:
Warlords battlecry 1,2, and 3 2 is my favorite but they are amazeing rts games
Nimesh De Silva (author) on December 05, 2013:
I haven't played Star Wars Galactic Battle. I'm sorry it's not in the list. I'm sure it must have been great. But old games that we played when we were very young sometimes hold an emotional value than just the gaming experience. The same way Age of Empires does for me. Anyway thank you for your input.
According to the polls,
First poll is lead by Age of Empires with 47% votes and second poll is lead by Lord of the Rings with 21%
Crystal on December 04, 2013:
Even though its old , i think Star Wars: Galactic battle grounds is my favorite for the year it was made. Sure StarCraft II or Empire at War is better, but it deserves a mention for sure. I bet no one has really played it in forever.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on November 30, 2013:
I just looked at videos and pics of Star Wars: Empire at War and I must admit it looks very good. There certainly are some interesting characters and graphics looks pretty awesome.
Personally I don't appreciate Sci-fi stuff a lot. Maybe that's why I didn't come across Star Wars RTS series.
Thank you for your input.
Thanatos on November 30, 2013:
i still believe that Star Wars: Empire at War was one of the best RTS out there. with graphics that were a little ahead of the game for '06 and gameplay in both land and space, its just as expansive as Warcraft and as Detailed as AOE
Nimesh De Silva (author) on November 30, 2013:
Yes, I loved all of them. Not sure about Stronghold though.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on November 30, 2013:
Thanks a lot for the valuable input. I will have to recheck the release date of Starcraft, but the game certainly is better than AoE. But somehow Age of Empires is more popular.
If we look at the votes on this hub;
46% Age of Empires & Age of Mythology
17% Command & Conquer
12% StarCraft 2
15% Rise of Nations
This is out of 1195 votes, so pretty substantial. Although Starcraft is in another level many people have not come across the game it seems.
Marko Vucinic from Cuprija, Sebia on November 30, 2013:
I'm big fan of Command and Conquer, Red Alert, Stronghold....
Jon on November 30, 2013:
Starcraft 2, hands down. Oh, and Starcraft was not released in the 1980s, just saying (as I remember it was 1997). I loved Age of Empires 2 (great game, but no decent hotkey system and imbalanced races) and played it for years. Heck, I gave it as a gift to my dad 15 years ago and he still plays it daily.
However, Starcraft 2 is on a different level. You have much more creativity in strategies, great hotkey system(s), and a balance no other game can match (because this is an E-sports game and Blizzard keeps buffing and nerving stuff till it becomes perfect).
I highly suggest this one.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on November 26, 2013:
It's like I said, the list was made out of the games I have played. I couldn't review about something I haven't played. But if you are an Empire Earth fan feel free to leave a comment about it. It might help others a lot.
Joe on November 25, 2013:
Wow, no love for Empire Earth?
Nimesh De Silva (author) on November 15, 2013:
Take a look at the results of the poll I have given above. Clearly Age of Empires and Age of Mythology combined destroys all other real time strategy games. Out of 489 votes, AoE and AoM has got 47% and 17% for Command and Conquer and 15% for Rise of Nations.
Pretty surprised to see that WarCraft is lagging behind.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on November 08, 2013:
Agree with you. Age of Mythology was pretty awesome. But I think more people have played Age of Empires II than any other game. Also the latest release in Age of Empires II was a remake of the original with just better graphics (HD). Even all the scenarios and characters are the same. It definitely looks beautiful, but wondering if it would be worth buying it.
paulb on November 08, 2013:
Age of mythology killed age of empires, theres a new DLC came out for age of empires 2 7th nov 2013 but nobody ever plays it why? because of mythology.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on October 29, 2013:
Thanks for pointing out the error. I've corrected it. StarCraft 2 is an awesome RTS game that deserves a top spot.
Nimesh De Silva (author) on October 13, 2013:
Damn, you are right. It never occurred to me. Thanks for pointing that out.
Dakota on October 12, 2013:
Civilization isn't a real time strategy it's a turn based strategy -facepalm-
Nimesh De Silva (author) on October 11, 2013:
Yes, me too. Warcraft is one of the top strategy games, which won Game of the Year, as I can remember.
J Antonio Marcelino from Illinois, USA on October 11, 2013:
I'm a big fan of Warcraft II and III.