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The best 4x games on PC 2024

Explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate - from Civilization 6 and Stellaris to Endless Legend, these are the best 4X games on PC in 2024.

Best 4X games on PC - Humankind screenshot showing various ancient era combat units on the campaign map

4X games  so named because they allow you to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate – are one of the most enjoyable genres in all of gaming. The best 4X games deliver slow but addictive gameplay and reward long-term planning – you’ll start as a small, puny faction in a scary world, and end up a conquering empire. We’ve played a ton of them – and this guide contains our top recommendations.

Naturally, there’s some overlap here with our guides to the best turn-based games and the best grand strategy games on PC – so, if you don’t find a winner here, check those out.


Civilization 6

The best 4X game overall

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Civilization 6 specifications:
Release date October 21, 2016
Developer Firaxis games
Publisher 2K
Reasons to buy
  • Tried-and-tested, super accessible gameplay
  • Absurdly addictive turn-taking
  • Oodles of DLC adds extra strategic depth
Reasons to avoid
  • Cartoony art style is distracting for some
  • Graphics are beginning to show their age

There’s more variety to come, but there’s no question about which game wears the crown. 2016’s Civ 6 is still, by a wide margin, the most popular, most prestigious 4X game in the world. Dangerously compelling, to the point where it can be hard to step away from your PC, there’s something oddly hypnotic about guiding a real life nation from mud huts to skyscrapers.

Some fans of the series took a while to learn to love Civilization VI’s cartoonish graphics and gameplay tweaks, but now its player base regularly puts it in the top 20 most played games on Steam. It’s Civilization but with more cities and more mechanics – especially with all the DLC, which adds everything from loyalty to global warming.

For the full run down of Civ 6’s triumphs and tribulations, read PCGamesN’s original Civilization 6 review.

Endless Legend

The best asymmetric 4X game

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Endless Legend specifications:
Release date September 18, 2014
Developer AMPLITUDE Studios
Publisher SEGA
Reasons to buy
  • Each faction plays radically differently
  • Genuinely surprising range of mechanics to differentiate from Civ
Reasons to avoid
  • Tactical battles can drag down the pace

A turn-based fantasy 4X game by Amplitude Studios, Endless Legend stands out as much for its interesting, asymmetrical factions as it does for its innovations in gameplay.

Each faction plays dramatically differently – from the eerie Cultists, converting minor factions from a central uber-city, to the Roving Clans who can move whole settlements in a nomadic playstyle, to the Necrophages, who just want to eat everyone up.

Each has its own story questline, and completing yours can win you the game. Colourful and surprising, no game does the explore part of 4X quite like Endless Legend.

The new mechanics are interesting too, from the periodic ravages of winter, to the influence system, Endless Legend brings plenty of new features to the table. Its combat system is a bit marmite-y: some love the tactical battle system, while others find it slow and ponderous, especially in multiplayer.

For the full, unabridged tale, read the Endless Legend review on our sister site, PCGamesN.

Shadow Empire

The deepest multi-layered 4X game imaginable.

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Shadow Empire specifications:
Release date December 3, 2020
Developer VR Designs
Publisher Slitherine
Reasons to buy
  • Procedurally generated worlds make each game wildly different
  • Terrifyingly deep game systems to explore and learn
  • Spectacular emergent storytelling
Reasons to avoid
  • Managing many interconnected systems can be overwhelming
  • No graphics to speak of – this is a 2D hex wargame

In our review, we called 2020’s Shadow Empire “the best 4X wargame you’re (probably) not playing” – and that’s just as much the case in 2024 as it was four years ago.

Perhaps the very epitome of a ‘hidden gem’ in the genre, Shadow Empire is a preposterously detailed, luxurious, epic strategy game, packing in elements from half a dozen genres, from hardcore computer wargames,  to grand strategy games, to CRPGs.

Every game starts by procedurally generating an entire planet for you to conquer, randomizing conditions from a massive array of possibilities to produce a radically different game world every time.

Best 4X games guide - Shadow Empire screenshot showing a partially completed tech tree

Your first playthrough might be a tiny, featureless, waterless rock; your second an irradiated hellscape; your third a teeming jungle paradise. It all matters to gameplay, too – adapting to the randomised riches and pitfalls of your environment will shape your whole playthrough, from science and economy to warfare.

From there, things only get more complex and interconnected. To properly achieve the four ‘X’es, you’ll have to manage the different ‘bureaus’ of your imperial government – which means maintaining good personal relations with your ministers, RPG style, in the manner of Crusader Kings. Let things slide, and they’ll plot, embezzle, or even rise up against you.

At peace, Shadow Empire plays similarly to a Paradox grand strategy title, balancing government, populations, technology, and economy to generate progress. When war finally breaks out, however, a whole other game unfurls from the, er, ‘shadows’ – powered by the meticulous interlocking systems of the full-bodied, hex-and-counter wargames Matrix is famous for.

Best 4X games guide - Shadow Empire screenshot showing a war taking place on the game map, with multiple different military units

Winning wars isn’t just a matter of smashing stacks of units together – if you want to successfully expand and exterminate in SE, you’ll need to set up and manage everything from communications, logistics, and weapons development to keeping every last division supplied with food and ammo.

If you’re into really crunchy strategy games, this is by far the best 4X for you; maybe the best game for you. We’ve only scratched the surface here – for a more detailed analysis, read our full Shadow Empire review.

Age of Wonders: Planetfall

The best 4X game for tactical combat

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Age of Wonders: Planetfall specifications:
Release date August 6, 2019
Developer Triumph Studios
Publisher Paradox Interactive
Reasons to buy
  • Welcome economic gameplay to complement the combat
  • Distinctive science fantasy theme
  • Mod Slot system for customizing unit loadouts is fun
Reasons to avoid
  • We miss the classic magic system from AOW3
  • Misses some of the main series’ fantasy charm

It’s hard to decide whether Age of Wonders 3 or Planetfall should make this list, but since we just did a fantasy game, let’s switch gears to sci-fi. Age of Wonders: Planetfall is an experimental departure from the tried and true formula of this series, and it shores up a lot of its shortcomings.

Though the brilliant magic system, and some of the personality is lost in this newer title, it’s a more well-rounded game overall, not purely focused on combat – you can play an economic or diplomatic game in Planetfall.

It’s no slouch on the combat front either, though. Particularly worth a shout out is the mod slot system, which lets you equip your units in all sorts of ways, drastically changing their role on the battlefield.

To ensure a safe landing, you’d be well advised to read the full Age of Wonders Planetfall review on PCGamesN.


Spoilers: the best space 4X game is still Stellaris.

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Stellaris specifications:
Release date May 9, 2016
Developer Paradox Development Studio
Publisher Paradox Interactive
Reasons to buy
  • Huge variety of strategic options
  • Roleplaying as weird, diverse alien species is a blast
  • Multiple DLC pile on even more storytelling, and more toys to play with
Reasons to avoid
  • Graphics were never world class, and feel very outdated these days

Straddling the line between a 4X game and grand strategy, and the only ‘turnless’ title on this list, Paradox’s 2016 mega-hit Stellaris does an amazing job of taking a galaxy-full of content and making it relatively accessible.

It might not have the sheer depth of something like Distant Worlds 2 or Terra Invicta, but it definitely doesn’t lack for varied and interesting gameplay, particularly with all the mods and DLC available. It’s a great strategy game to while away some relaxing hours, a map painter where you can gaze at the stars – bliss!

If you’re somehow not sold on becoming an interstellar emperor, PCGamesN’s Stellaris review can offer a little more depth.


The best alternate history 4X game

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Humankind specifications:
Release date August 17, 2021
Developer AMPLITUDE Studios
Publisher SEGA
Reasons to buy
  • Mixing and matching cultures is a delicious twist on Civ
  • Turn based battles are smoother than Endless Legend’s
Reasons to avoid
  • It’s still fundamentally just Civilization 6 with tweaks around the edges

Released to some fanfare in 2021, Humankind is a quite compelling riff on the classic Sid Meier’s Civilization 4X formula, which – though it doesn’t quite impress in all areas – deserves a place on this list for its innovations, undeniably addictive gameplay, and gorgeous graphics and animations.

You’ll still be shepherding an empire from the dawn of humanity through to the space age – but, instead of picking from a pre-set list of real-world civs to lead, you’ll get to mix and match elements from different cultures, traditions, aesthetics, and gameplay styles as you progress through the game’s six historical eras.

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You might enter the Ancient era as Egypt, enjoying bonuses to your industry, building pyramids and whatnot; transition to Romans in the Classical age (unlocking the badass Praetorian Guards unique unit); go all Aztec during the Medieval era; become the Venetians in the Early Modern; cosplay as Austro-Hungary in the Industrial Era, and close out the game’s Contemporary Era as the Soviet Union.

Best 4X games on PC - Humankind screenshot showing the classical era tech tree for the Greeks

As gameplay gimmicks go, it might not be as awesome as we all thought it would be during the spectacular pre-release hype period for this game – but it’s still brilliant fun, and delivers lots of replayability. A relatively shallow, but reliably enjoyable turn-based battle system sees you zoom in to control individual battlefield units on a grid (as opposed to classic Civ’s simple dice-driven ‘stack versus stack’ combat) – and this, too, adds spice.

Basically, if you love Civilization, and want something that delivers much the same experience, with some enjoyable tweaks – try Humankind.

Old World

The best fast paced 4X game

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Old World specifications:
Release date May 19, 2022
Developer Mohawk Games
Publisher Hooded Horse
Reasons to buy
  • Zooming in on one era adds a new, different focus
  • Full playthroughs run much faster than other 4Xs
  • CK3-style Dynasty family trees are well implemented
Reasons to avoid
  • Inevitably lacks the ‘grand sweep of history’

Everyone knows that the early stages of Civilization, before troublemakers invent confusing, new-fangled technology like the compass, is the best part of the game. So it was only a matter of time before someone (someone like Mohawk Games) made a historical 4X game with only one era.

Old World is a rarity in 4X games, in that it respects your time – with a 200 turn limit, and an orders system that means not all your units can move or attack each turn, you can breeze through a game in a mere 15-20 hours.

4X games - a screenshot of Old World, showing a family tree of rulers

There’s a lot of tweaks to the 4X formula under the hood, but perhaps the most noticeable one is the characters. You don’t have some undying avatar representing your nation, instead controlling real people with personalities and stats, who raise heirs and then die, leaving the new blood in charge. To succeed in the Old World, you’ll need to manage, not just an empire, but also a family.

For more parental (and empire-building) guidance, check out PCGamesN’s full Old World review.

Warhammer 40k Gladius – Relics of War

The best Warhammer 4X game

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Warhammer 40k Gladius – Relics of War specifications:
Release date July 12, 2018
Developer Proxy Studios
Publisher Slitherine
Reasons to buy
  • Lots of big Warhammer 40k armies lovingly rendered
  • Continental scale grimdark warring is a treat for 40k fans
Reasons to avoid
  • Not much strategic depth outside of combat

Warhammer 40k games can be somewhat hit and miss, so it’s pleasing to get a fine example of the 4X genre in Gladius – Relics of War. As you’d expect for a game in this universe, warfare is the order of the day, diplomacy is not an option. In fact three out of four of 4X’s Xs are somewhat vestigial in Gladius.

However, if you’re a Warhammer fan, and you want to slug it out in a tactical combat game with some 4X decision-making thrown in, we can definitely recommend picking this up. If it doesn’t ‘load your boltgun’, however, you might find something else you like in our guide to the best RTS games on PC – or perhaps among the best turn based games.

Crusader Kings 3

The best 4X game for RPG lovers

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Crusader Kings 3 specifications:
Release date September 1, 2020
Developer Paradox Development Studio
Publisher Paradox Interactive
Reasons to buy
  • Fully realises the magical roleplay potential of leading a medieval dynasty
  • Gorgeous new graphics, art, and UI are mega immersive
  • Helpful gameplay tweaks make complex systems easier to learn
Reasons to avoid
  • Remains a complex historical simulation with much to learn
  • Playthroughs can take a long time, and require commitment

Combining the best elements of a 4X strategy game and an RPG, Paradox’s Crusader Kings 3 is an immersive medieval ruler simulator that gives you an enormous amount of freedom. True, you’ll often approach the game with the typical map-painting mindset, looking to rise in status and power till you (or more likely, your great-great-great-great-grandson) becomes emperor of the world.

But you can also have fun just larking about in the province of your choice, going on hunts, making pals at a banquet, seducing your vassal’s husband, perhaps idly assassinating a foe or two. It’s easy to get lost in Crusader Kings 3 and discover, when you’re pulled out of its world of fighting and fratricide, that hours have gone by.

There’s also a slowly growing pile of extra content to expand your medieval doings – check out our full reviews of the CK3 expansions Legends of the Dead and Tours and Tournaments for more info.

If you just love thinking with that big noggin of yours, be sure to check out our guides to the best strategy board games and RTS games. You might also want to save some cash with our guide to the best free strategy games.