The best RTS games – Real Time Strategy games – can seem a bit old hat since the rise of the MOBA, but you’d be a fool to miss out on them. There’s a primal joy and thrill in imposing click-commands from above; amassing immense armies to crush your foes; and zooming in to micro-control each crucial combat, gradually dominating your opponents. This guide profiles what we think are the best real time strategy games available in 2023, across every theme and subgenre.
Some are focused on tactics and the heat of combat – closer in pacing to the best tactical shooters than to their more cerebral cousins, the turn based games. Others lean into base-building, and some benefit from elements of the best miniature wargames. A fair few also feature among the best WW2 games. All, however, are absolutely ace.
The best RTS games on PC in 2024 are:
- Company of Heroes 3 – best WW2 RTS
- Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition – best Age of Empires RTS
- Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2 – best Warhammer 40k RTS
- Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin – best AoS RTS
- Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 – best C&C RTS
- Age of Empires IV – best for history buffs
- Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – best stealth RTS
- Steel Division 2 – best mil-sim RTS game
- Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines – best vintage RTS
- Northgard – best survival RTS game
- Wargame: Red Dragon – best modern warfare RTS
- The Great War: Western Front – best WW1 RTS
- Iron Harvest – best dieselpunk RTS
- Starcraft 2 – best Esports RTS
- Company of Heroes 2 – in Soviet Russia, RTS game plays you
1. Company of Heroes 3
The best WW2 RTS game is Company of Heroes 3.
If you want a gripping, visually stunning World War 2 RTS game with both a deep well of single player content, and the promise of an active multiplayer scene – CoH3 is unquestionably the game for you.
Relic Entertainment and SEGA’s squad-based RTS series has been going since 2006, and it’s always been a front runner in the genre (heck, CoH2 still holds a place on this list, check it out below) – but CoH3 tunes up and improves on its predecessors in a thousand tiny ways, to make it the pre-eminent WW2 real time strategy.
Battles are tense and pacy, with a good variety of missions and modes, while heavily upgraded graphics, particle effects, and destruction physics makes your engagements feel absorbing, impactful, and occasionally chaotic. Base building remains relatively light, but always just important enough to play a role in your game plan.
WW2 tread-heads can revel in Relic’s new graphics systems that painstakingly animate wear and tear, battle damage, and even environment-specific mud and sand collecting on your vehicles throughout the game. It’s a Bolt Action model maker’s dream.
Company of Heroes 3’s solo campaign also builds on the success of CoH2’s excellent Ardennes Assault DLC campaign, having you coordinate the allied invasion of Italy not just in real-time firefights, but also at the operational level, making decisions and directing troops in a turn-based campaign map.
It’s only one of the two campaigns included with CoH3 at launch – and it’s nowhere near at the level of Creative Assembly’s Total War games. But it works well and, married to CoH3’s splendid core gameplay, makes for an essential single player experience for RTS fans.
2. Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition
The best Age of Empires RTS ever made is Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition.
It simply had to be given a place on this list. Age of Empires 2 long ago established itself as the definitive historical RTS, but, far from complacently relying on players’ memories of their halcyon childhood days spent cavorting across colourful isometric maps, it continues to hold up as refined, engaging, and instantly enjoyable.
Combat isn’t overly complex, but extends beyond simply building the biggest army roster to overpower your opponent. Construct a variety of units to rock-paper-scissors your way to victory, and make good use of civilisation-specific units – from samurai, to elephant archers, to mamelukes – to bring the pain.
Mixed with naval warfare, siege tactics, defensive fortifications, and continuous base-building, skirmishes quickly develop into an onslaught of furious micro-management. You’ll often find yourself heroically commanding your cavalry to push through to the opponent’s town centre, while desperately creating more swordsmen to fend off the enemy archers making mincemeat of your defenceless villagers back at base.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition’s charm comes from its malleable playstyle. Some love to hyper-optimise their progression, knowing precisely how much food and wood to gather before advancing to the Feudal Age, the exact number of houses that should be built during the first five minutes of gameplay, when to launch a harrying raid to stunt the enemy’s economy, or the optimum number of villagers to create at every moment. But others can enjoy a more laissez-faire style of play, languishing in the game’s smooth flow and consistent action.
The definitive edition of the game is exactly as it sounds. Bundling all previously-released content alongside new campaigns, 4K graphics, updated artwork, sweet new tunes, regular updates, and new DLC, it’s never been better, or easier, to jump into the Age of Kings. Impressive for a game that launched over 20 years ago.
3. Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2
The best Warhammer 40k RTS game is Dawn of War 2.
In a huge shift from the first game in Relic’s acclaimed Warhammer 40k videogame series, Dawn of War 2 dispenses with base-building and resource-gathering to focus solely on the action. The original Dawn of War has a permanent cult following of hardcore base-building RTS fans who really dislike it when people claim DoW2 is better. But those people are wrong, and it is.
Rather than commanding huge swathes of infantry and gradually building a force to overwhelm the enemy, you start with nought but a central squad of valiant Space Marines to gun, slash, and melt your way through hordes of alien adversaries.
And those few Space Marines are all you need. Weapons, armour, abilities, and more can be discovered, upgraded and specialised across a non-linear campaign that explores the depths of slimy wastelands and the decaying core of industrial cities, and formidable squad customisation mechanics allows you to consistently switch up your methods of play.
Make strong use of cover and bottlenecks to rain hellfire upon the hordes of Orks and Eldar beelining your units, and plan defensive positions, while drawing upon potent special abilities to lay waste on the field.
Its emphasis on unit customisation and squad management better simulates the tabletop mechanics than any base-building would, and relentless violence and gore adequately recreate the exaggerated, exultant action of the Warhammer universe. If nothing else, it’s a joy to watch waves upon waves of hollering Orks fall at the barrel of your heavy bolter.
4. Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin
The best Age of Sigmar RTS is Realms of Ruin.
OK, so ‘Warhammer Age of Sigmar RTS’ isn’t a competitive category – there’s only really one of them. Besides which, Realms of Ruin sold terribly and attracted some very poor, even sneering reviews.
But we include it in our RTS hall of fame proudly – not only is it a landmark PC game release for the Warhammer Age of Sigmar universe; it’s also a slick, good-looking, smartly designed, and properly enjoyable real time strategy in its own right.
The gameplay is largely an amalgam of mechanics from Relic’s Dawn of War and Company of Heroes games. You’ll train up specialised squads of various types at your home base; dispatch them to hold resource-generating strongpoints across the map; then spend your accumulated juice on more troops, and tech tier upgrades to unlock beefier units as the battle progresses.
Its four playable factions – the indomitable Stormcast Eternals; sneaky Kruleboyz orruks; ethereal Nighthaunt; and magic-wielding Disciples of Tzeentch – are brilliantly represented and offer distinct, rewarding playstyles. They’re all gorgeous, supported by superb animations and sounds – as well as preposterously detailed army customization tools.
Maps are very strong, and there’s not only a full map maker, but even a in-engine animation photo mode, allowing you to shoot your own Age of Sigmar dioramas, should you wish.
Where Realms of Ruin turned many RTS purists off is in its (deliberate) design simplifications. There’s next to no base building, with all units spawning from your single, home Realmgate portal; the only building choices you make are between types of outpost to set up on your objective points: whether to boost certain resources, or hold the ground with damage-dealing defensive towers.
And developer Frontier has actively cut micro-control out of combat: most units are quite slow-moving and, once two units clash in melee, they’ll fight to the death unless one player hits ‘R’ to auto-retreat their dudes to base. Classic RTS lovers with expertise in close-up micro-ing and kiting will find those skills mostly useless here.
The old, faithful rock-paper-scissors dynamic governs unit match-ups, and, although specialised units’ activatable abilities can make impressively powerful tie-breakers, they often have high costs in resources, making them crucial tactical trade-offs.
The result is an RTS where tactical precision takes a back seat, and victory depends on map awareness, forward thinking, and planning strategically to outpace and overpower your enemy, rather than outmaneuver them. If that sounds good – and you fancy a strategy outing in Games Workshop’s Mortal Realms fantasy setting – Realms of Ruin is well worth it.
For a full run-down, read our Age of Sigmar Realms of Ruin review.
5. Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2
Among a huge field, the all-time best C&C RTS game is Red Alert 2.
Few videogame series are as relentlessly tongue-in-cheek as Command & Conquer, and even fewer live up to the hilariously fanciful Cold War antics of C&C: Red Alert 2. Charting a hypothetical Soviet invasion of the US, Red Alert 2 hands you control of both nations to defend the superpowers with cartoonish ideological fervour (and missile-armed zeppelins).
But this isn’t an ordinary alternate-history simulator – far from it. Every nation, every character, and every unit presented across the campaign is an obtuse caricature of its real-life counterpart. What starts as a slightly drab, sincere take on heated Cold War tensions, quickly develops into a silly pastiche of overzealous superpower struggles.
Your conventional armoured vehicles are joined by electricity-firing prism tanks, your battleships backed-up by hardened battle dolphins, and there’s a cast of colourful characters that are as silly as they are hilarious.
All of these theatrics are made even better by FMV cutscenes (pre-recorded videos of real-life, non-CGI, full-flesh actors) played between missions. The crazed Soviet scientist Yuri and the hot-headed American commando Tanya are loving imitations of the best (and worst) 80s B-movie characters. It’s a near-miracle how much life Westwood Studios was able to breathe into a strategy game.
And the gameplay is a joy to behold. Skirmishing across carefully-constructed maps to fulfil varied objectives, regularly unlocking new units, and facing additional enemy threats at a consistent pace keeps things fresh. Unit paths leave a lot to be desired, and the game’s economy encourages much laboured resource-gathering, but its sheer silliness is enough to keep you engaged.
6. Age of Empires IV
The best RTS game for history buffs is the excellent Age of Empires IV.
It may not have ushered in a new Golden Age of the RTS in the way superfans hoped, but 2021’s AoE4 is still a stellar return to form for a series many thought dead.
Despite several upgraded re-releases of the older games, intermittent new content drops for AoE2, and a string of unremarkable mobile games and free-to-play experiments, Microsoft’s legendary strategy series hadn’t had a true, numbered instalment since 2005’s Age of Empires III. Delivering a sequel to one of the most famous computer games of all time after a 16-year break had a lot of folks worried.
Luckily, they needn’t have been – AoE4 is an absolute corker. It’s unapologetically a direct modern evolution on the AoE2 formula – generally taking an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach – but it still stands up in its own right, and the graphics, while far from revolutionary, are still a big step forward for the series.
More importantly, instead of experimenting with a bunch of new features, Age of Empires 4 plays to its strengths, excelling in both gameplay variety and historical insights. Its ten playable civilizations (ranging from England and France to the Delhi Sultanate and Malians) each play noticeably differently, and its five single-player campaigns are a remarkable merging of gaming and real history.
See, in between well-designed strategy levels, you get meticulously produced cut scenes that meld in-engine animation with live footage, filmed on location all around the world, while the voiceover explains the true historical context to the battles you’re fighting. It’s pretty much unique, splendid, and arguably worth the price of entry on its own.
If you enjoy RTS games and like learning about history, you need to play Age of Empires IV; it’s as simple as that. It’s also now available on Steam and consoles in the ‘Anniversary Edition’, so you can conquer from your couch.
7. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
The best stealth RTS game is 2016’s Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun.
In a refreshing shake-up, Blades of the Shogun blends real-time strategy and deadly stealth gameplay in a beautifully rendered Feudal Japan.
It’s a real-time tactics game, in which players control an elite team of deadly warriors – including a ninja, samurai, rogue, and more – with which you’ll be infiltrating strongholds and mastering stealth. Move your team members across labyrinthine maps and select how to dispatch enemies, as you inch closer to that mission’s objective.
Small in scale but grand in ambition, Shadow Tactics sumptuously marries stealth with strategy, as you leverage the disparate abilities and skills of your team to knock out guards and run around sentries. But be careful not to draw too much attention.
If you find yourself in an outright brawl, you’ll soon after land back at the loading screen with your tail between your legs. Paced stealth is the key here, encouraging well-thought battleplans rather than rushed violence.
The game verges on a stealth puzzler at times, challenging you to most elegantly and swiftly overcome linear challenges and choose from the wealth of possible solutions available.
Distract enemies and sneak past camouflaged, pick off opponents from a distance using expert marksmanship, or go in for the killing strike, carefully lining up your targets to dance between, in the illustrious rhythm of death. You will feel like a ninja.
8. Steel Division 2
The best military simulation RTS is Eugen Systems’ Steel Division 2.
If realism and authentic simulation of World War II battles is your bag, then make sure to check out Steel Division 2. Taking command of Soviet forces in Operation Bagration, you’ll fight across 1:1 scale battles in kilometre-spanning maps, commanding units so intricately detailed you’ll wonder if you’ll accidentally stumbled into a time-travelling phone box and enlisted in the Red Army (we’re kidding, you would have been conscripted).
On the field, you’ll be overseeing the movements of battalions and supplies from far above the fray. Command amour, infantry, and aerial forces to seize objectives and rout the enemy, paying careful attention to terrain bonuses or hidden enemy forces that may scupper your forward advance.
With such large maps, there’s a lot going on, and you’ll often find one battalion has unexpectedly taken a beating while you were busy concentrating on another section of your force, leaving you to desperately regroup.
But Steel Division 2 isn’t purely an RTS. It plays more like a series of real-time battles within a dynamic turn-based campaign – a little like Creative Assembly’s Total War series.
Before setting one caterpillar track on the field, you’ll be shifting battalions across its sprawling grand map, connecting supply depots with your front lines to keep troops fresh for the fight, and poring over scores of stats provided for every enemy unit – internalising the strengths of their weaponry and pitfalls of their training.
Steel Division is the soul of hardcore hex-and-counter wargame, converted to the fluidity of a fully-realised 3D on-screen battlemap, and spruced with some real-time flavour. Its emphasis is on the operational battlefield, though, and functions as a perfect mid-point between hardcore wargamers and traditional RTS-lovers.
9. Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines
The best vintage RTS game (that’s hard as nails) is the beloved classic Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines.
We couldn’t mention real-time tactics without picking out the godfather of tactile squad-scale shooters: the venerable Commandos series. Taking control of a crack team of WWII Allied special operatives sneaking around the enemy camp, you’ll be shooting, crawling, stabbing, grenading, rolling, falling, and crawling some more as you infiltrate enemy strongholds to steal intel and blow up strategic points of interest. Oh, and kill lots of people.
Your units are continuously out-gunned and out-manned, having to rely on their tactical wits to evade or stealthily dispatch combatants. Its gorgeous isometric environments span everything from castles to U-boats, and the array of commandos in your squad each bring different abilities to the mission – the Spy can equip enemy uniforms and waltz around as an officer to enter covert areas or provide a distraction, while the Marine can dive underwater and pilot boats for aquatic infiltration.
It’s old and doesn’t have the same smooth pizzazz as many of its modern counterparts, but its isometric art style helps preserve an aesthetic attraction, and the Steam version of the game still supports online co-op play.
The best survival RTS game is 2017’s Northgard.
There is one eternal truth – not enough videogames centre around Vikings (yes, we’ve seen Assassin’s Creed and Valheim, but the point stands). Which is odd, because the Norse people’s mythology, aesthetic, and penchant for overseas settlement are ripe for a rollicking adventure across an icy tundra populated with deadly magical beasts.
Shiro Games’ Northgard gets this, challenging you to settle and build a colony on an uninhabited island, provide resources to satiate your Vikings’ demands, expand your settlement, and keep watch against all that lurks in the snow.
The basics of Northgard will be familiar to old hands of the historical RTS games of the early 2000s. Starting from a humble town centre with a handful of villagers, you’ll collect enough resources to construct a base of operations from which to attack enemy monsters and rival Viking holdfasts, while defending against their advances.
The selection of playable clans each bring particular strengths and playstyles – some hot-headed warriors, others peaceable diplomats – and unique units, including Valkyries or Berserkers. The clans aren’t so distinct as to revolutionise gameplay at every turn, but bring enough variety to keep things fresh.
But Northgard places a bigger focus on base-building and resource management than the Age of Empireses or Settlerses before it. Ensure you have supplies to survive the winter and expand your colony sparingly.
If you spread yourself too thin, your resources might wane and fizzle, leaving you shivering and vulnerable in the chill winter winds. Its cutesy visuals also lend an undeniable attraction, and it’s a joy to watch your cartoonish Viking warriors bound across the fields.
11. Wargame: Red Dragon
The best modern warfare RTS is 2014’s Wargame: Red Dragon.
Serious, intense, and overflowing with operational possibilities, W:RD does a superb job of translating the best parts of the wargaming hobby into a streamlined tactical operation that is as attractive as it is spectacular. The scenarios in its lengthy single-player campaign are large and weighty, tracing an alternate-history scenario in which the Soviet Union doesn’t collapse in 1991, but becomes stronger than ever, wielding the collective might of its extended Bloc against the West.
On the battlefield, it plays much like a typical wargame. Land, naval, and air units are selected and deployed before battle starts, with each opponent lined up at either end of a gargantuan map. Move units to exploit their flanks, and coordinate comprehensive assaults to break enemy ranks.
Bear in mind, Wargame: Red Dragon can be overwhelming. With 17 playable nations fielding a total of 1,450 units, the game is not easy to dive into for quick skirmish, nor is it intended to be. Learn your units’ strengths, understand the combat advantages that terrain may provide, and master (slowly) simultaneously managing your naval, ground, and aerial forces. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best-looking digital wargames around.
12. The Great War: Western Front
The best WW1 RTS game is The Great War: Western Front.
Released in 2023, Petroglyph’s TGW:WF isn’t a pure RTS – it has a computer wargame-style, turn-based overworld for marshalling armies and managing supply lines – but the real-time battles are this WW1 game‘s main event, and they earn it a place on this list.
Be warned, though: this is not a happy fun-time game. True to World War One’s appalling, attritional conflict, you’ll be forced to accept horrendous losses as you command trench-to-trench offensives across the wire-strewn, battle-scarred fields of Europe – which themselves become progressively muddier, more bombed-out and hellish as your campaign wears on.
Spending a pre-battle points budget on extra troops and materiel such as recon balloons, machine guns, supporting artillery, and early tanks, you’ll plot your trench networks strategically before the fight kicks off. Once it does, you’ll have to carefully direct your infantry at your enemy’s weakest points, aiming to capture key locations, gradually winning ground in the greater territory war.
These RTS matches are compelling but grim experiences where there’s never really an outright winner, and victory is measured largely by who loses fewer men in the inevitable carnage, thus keeping their overall morale higher.
It’s not for everyone, but this sobering recreation of WW1 combat is an important achievement in the RTS genre, and worth the time of any historical wargamer.
For more info, check out our sibling site PCGamesN’s The Great War: Western Front review.
13. Iron Harvest
The best dieselpunk RTS game is alt-history mech-fest Iron Harvest.
Not all World War 1 games hold fast to the true, harrowing history of the Great War. 2020’s Iron Harvest takes a very different tack, envisioning an alternative first world war in which the usual massed infantry are joined by bipedal dieselpunk mechs, hulking across fields to level trees and brazenly crush buildings under their feet.
Set in the 1920s alternate history world of artist Jakub Różalski, previously best known as the setting of acclaimed strategy board game Scythe, the game essentially functions like Company of Heroes, but with added mechanical walkers.
Squads must be individually managed to capture resource-generating territory points, and a similar cover system fuels most of the game’s tactical proceedings. Weaponry can be changed and upgraded, but the most focus is on the fight, with base-building taking a back seat.
The game’s primary appeal, of course, are the mechs. There’s the scrawny one that wields a rifle and musket, the spidering one that fires twin sub-machine guns, the stocky one equipped with a gatling gun, and a fair few more. A central campaign provides an enjoyable story, and the opportunity to play each mission with a co-op buddy is a welcome addition to an otherwise competitive-heavy genre.
14. Starcraft 2
The best Esports RTS game is the big dog, Blizzard’s Starcraft 2.
A behemoth of the genre that deserves every accolade placed upon it, it’s difficult to find an RTS game more refined than 2010’s Starcraft 2. Best known for its once-vibrant esports community and international championships that were as grandly obtuse as they were violently serious, its multiplayer scene remains strong today. Although be warned, if you’re jumping in the game for the first time, don’t be surprised to be overrun by Zerglings before you collect even your first barrel of vespene gas.
But the single-player is too often overlooked. The Zerg, Protoss, and Terran all play as wonderfully different factions with enough mechanical differences to match their visual disparities, and sufficient shared content to make mastering each race an enjoyable challenge rather than a cumbersome chore. The game’s ongoing narrative, while not revolutionary for the sci-fi genre, is notably engaging and the best example of an integrated plotline in any RTS game around.
There’s plenty of big guns, alien horrors, and archaic spiritual technology to suit anyone’s sci-fi leanings, and its visuals have retained their pop after ten years.
Even better, Starcraft 2’s Wings of Liberty campaign (the first game released in the Starcraft 2’s trilogy of launches) went free-to-play back in 2017, alongside access to unranked multiplayer. Now you have no excuse not to try this fantastic online game meet the Queen of Blades yourself.
15. Company of Heroes 2
In Soviet Russia, RTS game plays you.
Suffering from a rocky launch beset with balancing issues, bugs, and overpromises, Company of Heroes 2 didn’t receive the warmest of welcomes amongst RTS fans or veterans of the series’ first game. However, after years of refinement, this World War 2 squad-focused skirmisher has become something of a classic, and goes to great lengths to recreate frenzied battlefield assaults through consistently nail-biting moments.
Involving only limited base-building and concentrating on few, powerful units, Company of Heroes 2 plays as a tactical game of territory control. Its simple but robust cover system has you manoeuvring infantry through hollowed-out buildings and cratered rural fields, tweaking unit positions to evade enemy machine gun nests and mortar fire, while pressing forwards in heroic assaults.
Other times, you’ll be establishing a defensive perimeter, sticking a sniper in that nearby church tower to give covering fire to your engineers on the ground, directing your anti-tank riflemen in a pincer movement to make quick work of that otherwise beastly Tiger, and always making sure to angle your armour correctly, ever fearful that the sides of your tanks might meet the wrong end of a panzerschreck.
All of this makes for intense squad management on the smallest level. Every unit counts, and even a single death in a squad might be enough to tip the firefight in the enemy’s favour.
Balance your forces with heaps of unit variety, and pay heed to their crucial abilities and vulnerabilities – no fear is like the fear of seeing your vulnerable riflemen walk directly into the range of a heavy machine gun nest.
Unit upgrades and weapon-swapping provide open customisation, and the game’s central campaign – tracing the Soviets’ defence and counter-assault against the doomed Operation Barbarossa, nicely switches between massive battlefields and smaller, corridor-crawling assaults.
And if you’ve exhausted many hours of fun from the base game, check out 2014’s standalone expansion Ardennes Assault, which expands upon all these elements through additional scenarios, fought across a branching meta-map campaign.
Check out our guide on the best free strategy games for some free strategic fun – or expand your horizons with our guide to the world’s best grand strategy games. Also, if you fancy a break from your screen, get around the table and conquer the world in strategy board games for a change!