Top 10 Best Real-Time Strategy (RTS) Games

The top ten best real-time strategy games of all time.
The Top Ten
1 StarCraft

There is a reason why Starcraft 2 is rated on every single games rating website on earth. This game is easy to play, but impossible to master, even for the pros. It's not complicated. Blizzard counts every single inch of the game's quality, including graphics, UI, story, gameplay, balance, and connectivity (for multiplayer).

Don't believe me? Go buy the 3-day card provided for Starcraft 2, play it, and you're going to feel like a fool for spending the penny to buy the 3-day card after you buy the game itself.

Amazing game! I grew up watching my uncle play it before I took it up myself. Even back then, I was amazed at the huge variety of gameplay options, the general quality of the game, and - most importantly - the storyline. In my opinion, StarCraft has the best storyline of any game I have ever played. All those complex characters, tons of action, and plot twists really make this game the best RTS ever.

2 WarCraft III

Not as revolutionary as StarCraft, WarCraft III is one of the most unique RTS games of all time, if not the most unique. The factions are highly differentiated, and the introduction of heroes adds a new dynamic to traditional strategy, enhancing depth and replayability. Additional features such as the superb system and the accessible yet powerful world editor make WarCraft III a transcending classic. Topping it off with one of the greatest storylines in gaming, WarCraft III definitely deserves the title of 'best RTS game'.

3 Company of Heroes

You need tactics and strategy in this game. In Starcraft, anywhere on the map is just anywhere on the map, but in Company of Heroes, the map can mean your direct counters lose to their counter because of the map. Cover matters. If you like strategy, you'll like this better than Starcraft. If you are a gamer and like games before you like war or strategy, you'll prefer Starcraft.

The RTS that reinvented the RTS genre, still, 8 years later after release, the king of the RTS throne.

We all hoped the sequel, COH2, would lead the charge for RTS onward to glory, but this aging king still stands supreme. Now we are just waiting for someone to take over the lead... It's about time!

4 Age of Empires III

Best RTS of all time, hands down. The only reason it wasn't more popular than AOEII is that the graphics were ahead of their time. It took a beefy machine to run this game, and not many people could play it unless all of the effects were turned off. The graphics are still ahead of most RTSs that have been released in the last 3 years. That is an amazing thing.

There still is not an RTS that even comes close to touching AOEIII in any way, especially with the Asian Dynasties expansion pack. If you didn't rank this first, it's likely only because you haven't played it yet and have no clue what you are talking about.

Microsoft were complete and utter fools to close Ensemble Studios. The only bad thing about this game is that it will ruin any other RTS experience for you. Nothing else measures up to date. I'm not interested in playing any other RTS, though I've tried almost all of them. Truly sad is Microsoft's lack of foresight on this. Even more sad that they are holding onto the rights.

5 Empire Earth

Empire Earth is a real-time strategy game from Sierra, where you build your civilizations not through ages but epochs. Select from 14 epochs in world history, including the Bronze Age, the Renaissance, the Imperial Age, World War II, and the Digital Age, and establish an empire for the ages. Contained here are links for both Empire Earth and its expansions.

In most RTS games, you can end a match in 30 minutes. In Empire Earth, a match may last for hours and maybe days. The game also is the only one that has 15 epochs, while other RTS games don't have more than 4. That's why it's the best RTS game of all time!

6 Age of Empires II

Yes, Age of Empires II is the best RTS and one of the best games of all time. Why? Because it was the true definition of an RTS game series, which started before Starcraft. It boasted 13 civilizations. Although similar, each civilization has unique units and abilities like faster work rate, stronger infantry, and stronger cavalry. It is loaded with variety that changes your approach to strategy with each civilization.

Terrain variety includes sand, dirt, water, different forest types, and later snow and ice. This game had great graphics, not only for its time, but it still looks great today. Even though I have Age of Empires III running on a great computer, I still consider Age of Empires II's graphics superior because of the smooth gameplay and uncluttered feel.

Not to put Starcraft down, but I just do not like it. I have made myself play it so many times just because everyone makes it seem so good that I want to experience that joy, and I only end up with a headache and slight wanting-to-puke feelings. Not only do I feel Age of Empires 2 is my favorite RTS, but I honestly feel it is the best, and for good reason. If you haven't played this, don't watch videos and read about it, go get AoE2 with the Conquerors expansion, and just play it.

7 Supreme Commander

While today's RTS games tend to reduce the old idea of base-building to just a few aspects, and the decision of whether a match is won edges closer to the tactical level, Supreme Commander and its expansion Forged Alliance steer in the opposite direction. Sporting armies that easily number in the hundreds, players have to focus on the rather 'Grand Strategy' part, deciding where to put their resources to good use. Unlike most games at this level of strategy, the player is supported by its UI, not obstructed, allowing for a rather relaxed management style unlike some click-fests.

Albeit the learning curve is rather steep at the beginning, those looking for a more "strategic" game are rewarded.

8 StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

Everything about this game is great, but a few things stand out. First, it is simple but can be turned into something complicated for more advanced players. Second, there are so many different types of completely unique strategies instead of the plain old build and attack and hope you built faster than the other guy. And third, YOU CAN BUNCH UP YOUR UNITS. This might seem trivial, but the main thing I notice about other RTS games that annoys me is that the units are so spread out and don't follow a direct path. They just kind of walk around in circles a couple of times trying to get to the objective, or they won't get into a small space so you can control them easily.

9 Stronghold: Crusader

It's an RTS game mixed with a castle simulator. There are so many ways you can approach any one situation. The enemy has a large castle? Sneak in a bunch of slaves and burn his crops to the ground! What, his gates are always locked? Send in some knights to attack the walls, and then send in assassins to open the gate from the other side!

Not to mention the genuine feel of running your own castle! The characters are fun to play against, and the dynamic market system was a feature that not many games bothered to introduce into their games yet.

10 Rise of Nations

While other games may have better graphics and smoother mechanics, Rise of Nations has the nostalgia feel that no other game can match for me. Plus, the stability of it on pretty much any system makes it a must-get for any RTS gamer, especially for those who don't have top-of-the-line systems.

Huge variety and complexity, beautifully crafted and presented, this is a cracking, immersive game. Full of subtle touches as you progress and constantly varying dynamics. This is my all-time favorite game by a mile. On the surface, it may seem like AOE 2/3, but in my opinion, it is far better and more interesting.

The Contenders
11 Total Annihilation

Best game ever - hundreds of different units allow for true strategy. Having to defend against air, sea, and land attacks just makes it all the more awesome. Epic online battles with shared resources allowed strategy of a type not seen in other online Real-Time Strategy games. In this game, each player can play their part - some people farming resources, others concentrating on defense or attack, not just for themselves but for their team.

For its day, Total Annihilation had huge maps on which to battle your enemy. It also featured everything you could want: from an airforce to a navy complete with submarines. The economic system was beyond its time as well. Easily the pioneer of the grand scale RTS genre. Need I remind you, TA was released around the time of C&C, yet you'd never guess that from its superiority in every possible way.

12 The Lord of The Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth

This game is very simple, but each race's distinct units and abilities balance everything out and make every game wide open for anyone playing. It has a very accurate campaign to the movies and includes all the heroes from the films. In one moment, you can go from being attacked by archers to having a Balrog knocking down your gate and destroying everything. This game gets crazy fast. If you're looking for an RTS that focuses more on combat and units than city building, give this game a try.

Personally, I like the sequel a bit more. But I own the whole anthology collector's edition, which is in one case, so I can vouch for all of them. This is a great game, despite the lack of multiplayer support nowadays from EA. (On another note, this also completely killed LOTR: Conquest for me, which needs the serial key to be verified online by their guys...) The sequel was fantastic, and the expansion to that was totally kickass. And even without EA, I've run many a LAN party with these games, creating great memories.

13 Command & Conquer Red Alert 2

It's 2015, I'm 16, and believe it or not, I've been playing this since I was about 4. I still play it even today (well, the expansion) and it never gets old. It's an amazing game. Also, if you ever feel you're getting bored of it, there are hundreds of AMAZING modifications for this game. The gameplay never ends. If you love RTS games and don't have this, get it right now. Be sure to pick up the expansion pack as well.

A C&C game is not in the top 10? Worst list ever! This game had it all. Though its story is nothing to write home about, its music is a memorable selection of techno tunes, its graphics look good for 2.5D standards, and its multiplayer was top of the class. I prefer Yuri's Revenge, only because it balanced characters such as Tanya, added new units, a whole new playable faction, and team-based skirmishes. But that doesn't stop Red Alert 2 on its own from being worth your time and money.

14 Command and Conquer 3

Yuri's Revenge was my favorite childhood RTS game. I would be on the computer for hours, playing against up to 6 other computer-controlled enemies in the skirmishes. You can choose your country and the others, or have them chosen at random, and alter the difficulty to suit what's best for you. It's fast-paced, keeps you moving, and has you staying on the defense or offense. An amazing saga!

In the C&C series, RA 2 Yuri is the best for me. You can outwit others within 5 minutes. It has a lot of fast-paced and long-game strategies, a good storyline, and good music. The downside is too many mods and bugs, and the map always reveals after explored, making it hard to sneak in. From an entertainment perspective, I would rank RA2 Yuri only after Warcraft 3, only because Warcraft 3 has tons of custom options and a large number of players online.

15 Halo Wars

Extremely awesome, I love Halo Wars! Halo Wars is like a tower defense (except for the campaign mode) combined with a Halo game. Very good! I would really recommend trying the Halo Wars demo on the Xbox 360 game marketplace or buying the full version.

Halo Wars is one of the best RTS games out there! It is very unique and creative to create an RTS based off the Halo series, and it totally rocks! Vote for Halo Wars!

The best RTS ever! It combines HALO and strategy games! You can't ask for more!

16 WarHammer 40000

I agree with everyone else's opinion about the game. This one game opened the doors to Games Workshop's fantastic and lore-rich universe that is the 40k universe. After playing the game, I started to read books like Hellsreach and Fall of Damnos. Both are fantastic books in my opinion. But of the strategy games I have ever played, this series is the best. I am not saying that the games in the top list are not good, but in my opinion, this series deserves a place in the top ten.

17 Homeworld

After so many years, Homeworld still looks fine to me. In very few space strategies do you see those excellent mechanics of rockets and other stuff dealing damage to enemies upon impact, not just ugly and stupid animations like those in Sins of a Solar Empire. This always made the game look and feel great to me. An epic storyline, based on the original Battlestar Galactica series, combined with an excellent soundtrack (Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber especially) and voice acting, makes this game the most epic experience of my gaming life.

18 Command & Conquer Generals

Good graphics and exciting gameplay. Campaigns are great. Challenge mode in Zero Hour is my favorite as well. Spent hundreds of hours playing this game in my college.

Truly an amazing game, I've played it since 2003 and I still LOVE it! There's so much to do and the campaign is really large. It is the most fun RTS game in my opinion.

Best game ever. It still feels current with everything that is going on in the world. Fun and simple gameplay too!

19 Shogun: Total War

Very good game. Much better after playing Napoleon Total War. However, Rome: Total War is much better in my opinion. It's a must-play if you like RTS based on history. Good turn-by-turn game.

20 Tom Clancy's EndWar

Most fun RTS I've ever played in my life! Take this with a grain of salt because I've only ever played this on Xbox.

I understand this isn't like a lot of RTS games out there, but that is what makes it so great and my favorite. The fact that it is all about utilizing strategy on the battlefield and not on resource gathering.

21 Age of Mythology

AoM is by far my favourite RTS game ever. The second best for me is Warcraft III, which says a lot. AoM is extremely balanced, has near-perfect game mechanics, a fun story mode, and I could spend hours with the map editor! It's such a shame that it didn't get much recognition. I would've loved to see even more expansion packs including other civilizations and mythologies.

I love Age of Mythology! It improved on the AoE formula with three unique races and nine major gods which acted as subraces. It's a shame that while games like Warcraft 3 (which was released at the same time) have remained popular, Age of Mythology was forgotten. Oh well, if you go to AoM Heaven games, it still has a small but strong community. And AoM online matchmaking is still working, even though it only has like 50 people playing it.

22 Shogun 2: Rise of Samurai
23 Heroes of Might and Magic III

How can it be ranked 33? It must be in the top ten at least. Yes, it doesn't have good graphics, but it does have great strategic gameplay.

Just amazing. I still play this game today. It's just so amazing. If you haven't tried it, give it a go at once!

Best strategy game ever made. No strategy game since then has even come close to its brilliance.

24 Rome: Total War

Honestly, this is the most satisfying RTS game and also one that uses true brains and strategy rather than just producing more than your enemy can. Unit placement and movements are key, and morale is what makes this game a true strategy game.

A totally different approach to RTS than other games. If you are looking for a realistic RTS, then this is the best. Battles and affairs of state are kept separate in the game, allowing for battles to be extremely realistic.

Simply amazing game that occupied much of my time. I absolutely cannot wait for Rome: Total War 2, set to release sometime this year. But be sure to play the original – you won't regret it.

25 Command & Conquer

Obviously the king. No question about that. This game, as stated before me, is the standard to which all RTS games need to live up to. Whenever I get an RTS game, I'm looking for one that will recreate the same level of fun I had when I first fired up C&C.

The original Command & Conquer wasn't only a great game, it had a spirit that most newer games lack. Sure, it had its problems, but the feeling this game produced is completely unique, with the first Red Alert being the only one that can even compare.

Simple, effective, and still the most enjoyable RTS series. Beautifully balanced and distinctive units. Most other RTS games rely upon an excess of massed non-distinctive units. Less is more.

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