The best 4x games on PC 2023

It's time to explore the best 4x games, with our expanding list of the top turn-based and real-time strategy games in this rewarding genre of videogaming

4X games - a four armed hooded figure, with insectoid creatures behind them

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. There’s something great about this niche strategy subgenre, which features slow gameplay and rewards long-term planning. It’s satisfying to start out as a small and powerless people, in an unknown and scary world, and end up a conquering behemothic empire, able to shape your surroundings to your whims.

Here we’ll cover some of the all time best 4X games. Naturally, there’s a lot of overlap here with the best turn-based games . If you’re furious we missed your favourite title, perhaps make sure it’s not on that list first. And 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.

4X games - Endless legend screenshot showing boats crossing the sea to a city.

Endless Legend

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.

4X games - Age of Wonders Planetfall screenshot showing a city.

Age of Wonders: Planetfall

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 Age of Wonders: 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.

4X games - a screenshot of Stellaris, showing a red sun.

Stellaris

Straddling the line between a 4X game and grand strategy, and the only ‘turnless’ title on this list, 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.

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

Old World

Everyone knows that the early stages of Civilization, before troublemakers invent confusing, newfangled 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.

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.

4X games - Civilization Vi screenshot showing a city and units

Civilization VI

Speak of the devil! We could hardly leave this one off our list. Civilization VI is the most popular, most prestigious 4X game in the world, by a wide margin. 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.

best 4X games - a Warhammer adeptus mechanicus vehicle facing off against a horde of cultists

Warhammer 40k Gladius – Relics of War

Warhammer 40k games can be somewhat hit and miss, so it’s pleasing to get a fine example of the 4X genre in Warhammer 40k 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.