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 civ ga-” but at that point we’d stop listening because who cares. 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.
There’s always lots to do – from managing civilisations and dealing with politics to planning out battles turn by turn, strategy games deal with both peace and conflict. Whether you’re into round-based combat, real-time management, or grand strategy, on this list you’ll find only the best strategy games to play right now.
We’ve compiled this list based on what we think are the best games to play in 2021.
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 closed doors just as important as battles between nations.
XCOM 2 is one of the best turn-based strategy games. 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.
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.
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.
As much as I don’t like to admit, Total War: Warhammer 2 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. There’s a modest, but equally creative as of 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.
You would find plenty of debate about which modern Civilization game was better, Civ V or Civ VI, 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.
The changes aren’t all monumental either – little things, such as how roads are actually only built via the use of trade routes, help try and capture the more dynamic growth of a civilization over time. It’s not all about peace and love, of course – eventually you’ll have to fight someone – and the combat systems have been tweaked to give a little bit more character, as well as harking back to older Civ-entries that allowed for more flexible army management.
Company of Heroes 2 was great but it didn’t quite match the magic of its predecessor. Then Ardennes Assault came along and 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.
This is the first time the battles in Company of Heroes have had real weight to rival the very best WW2 games. Previously, winning was all that mattered. Finish the mission and you move on to the next one, starting fresh. Ardennes Assault is a persistent campaign, though, and losses in battle can bring down a company’s veterancy and manpower.
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 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. Or, if you would rather watch the action, there’s a small but dedicated esports playerbase.
We’re throwing in a new entry 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.
If you like XCOM, there is really no reason you wouldn’t like Mutant Year Zero. It’s the same brand of round-based tactics, with a dash of post-apocalyptic weirdness in the form of your usual broken-down city environments and… anthropomorphic animals?
Yes, Mutant Year Zero’s absolutely unique selling points are its mutated protagonists, who can learn new skills through further mutations, and who drive the interesting story. Add to that a good (and at times absolutely necessary) stealth system and you get a game that successfully combines old and new. It’s also a real challenge, mildly unfair at times, but definitely worth a try for all who already know XCOM like the back of their hand.
With the slow death of the popular SimCity franchise, developer Colossal Order and publisher Paradox Interactive stepped in to take over the city building crown. The simulated cities you can build here will be teeming with life, and building itself is intuitive if you’ve ever played a similar game and easy enough to grasp if you haven’t.
Like most Paradox games, Cities: Skylines wants you to be in for the long haul, with an astounding amount of DLC and excellent mod support, to make sure you can make a city uniquely yours. If you’re looking for an old school city building experience with awesomely large cities, there’s still nothing better than this.