Strategy games have been making a welcome comeback in recent years. After so long with only genre juggernauts keeping things afloat, we now see an explosion of creative brilliance across many platforms. The revival of XCOM especially has led to many innovators and imitators, with Into The Breach and Frostpunk being just a couple of shining examples.
If the world of strategy has ever felt overwhelming to you in the past, worry not, as Trusted Reviews has compiled some of the biggest and best you can play right now. Many of these are friendly to newcomers while still offering a staggering amount of depth for veterans ready and willing to dedicate themselves. Regardless of your knowledge with this long-running genre, it’s time to get started!
Into the Breach
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch
- Ingenious combination of block puzzle and tactics
- Creates stories through its gameplay systems
- Beautiful musical score
- Won’t necessarily convert those who don’t enjoy the genre
Into The Breach takes the world of turn-based tactics and shrinks it down into something small, digestible and immensely satisfying. Confined to an 8×8 grid, you control a series of mechanical robots doing battle with evil insects amidst myriad different environments.
You’ll also need to take surroundings into constant consideration, as the buildings being attacked by our creepy crawling enemies are the very same that power our only means of the defense. This leads to a melodic sequence of movements, attacks and strategic thought that isn’t afraid to challenge the player at every conceivable turn.
Upon failure, you’ll need to start again, although select upgrades and modes of progression will be carried over as you embark on another run. Into The Breach is an addictive marvel, and one of the best strategy games to emerge in 2018.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
- Tight tactical gameplay
- Dynamic and unpredictable
- Wider strategy full of tough, meaningful decisions
- New stealth options work well
- Strong cinematic presentation
- Views don’t always provide necessary information
Where Into the Breach is a tiny perfect snack of tactics, XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is an all you can eat buffet. It’s a gigantic, globe spanning game with dozens of systems layered on top of each other, all combining to make you break your keyboard when your favourite soldier gets nailed with a poorly thrown grenade.
While the first game had you defend earth against alien invaders, the second presumes you’ve already lost, and are now mounting a resistance against an occupying force. The fantastic War of the Chosen DLC adds more to this, with various resistance groups and recurring villain aliens hampering your fightback. Simply the best execution of the venerable XCOM concept yet.
Company of Heroes
Platforms: PC, Mac
- Incredible micro-management depth
- The best RTS to play co-op vs AI
- Amazing levels of tension
- Sometimes overwhelming
The genius of Company of Heroes is to scale the RTS right down. Every squad of soldiers has a massive range of micro-management options, but there are few enough of them that those of us who aren’t professional Starcraft players can use them properly.
When encountering a machine gun a rifle squad will dive to the deck, suppressed by the hail of fire, but by carefully maneuvering them around cover and tossing a grenade, they can take that emplacement out. The Opposing Fronts DLC is a must have, adding two exciting new factions, while the Soviet themed sequel isn’t quite as good as the original.
Platforms: PS4, PC, Mac, Linux
- Terrific aesthetic
- Masterful tension
- New agents play vastly differently
- Very difficult for beginners
Invisible Inc takes the turn based tactics of XCOM and applies it to the tension of the stealth game genre. Each mission involves a team of agents infiltrating an procedurally generated base, with the alarm steadily rising as they become more aware of your presence. This means you’re constantly being pushed forward, whilst also desperately trying to stay unseen.
Worse still, knocked out guards will only stay knocked out for a few turns, meaning you need to get past them and get invisible again quickly. Initially it can be brutally difficult, but eventually you come to understand the games quirks, then you’ll unlock another agent, which changes the way the game plays considerably. Eminently replayable, hyper stressful, fun.
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
- Vast amount of different approaches for different empires
- Constantly being updated with new features
- Full of great mini sci-fi storylets
- Crisis keeps endgame interesting
- Diplomacy not as interesting as war
- Managing large empires can get fiddly
- Generally not as fun to play as a ‘good guy’
Stellaris is the ultimate space opera simulator. It lets you create a custom space empire, fulfilling pretty much any science fiction trope you can think of, and then expand to the stars. Along the way you’ll find little Star Trek-esque nuggets of story, tales of cosmic wonder and horror. You’ll also find allies and enemies, making peace and war over hundreds of years before being forced to deal with an existential threat.
Playing Stellaris is like writing your own sci-fi novel, charting the rise and fall of a strange interstellar community made up of religious mushrooms and warmongering penguins. It’s also constantly being improved and updated, so even if you don’t like one particular system, there’s a good change it’ll change in a few months.
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
- Deep, engrossing strategy from start to finish
- Fantastic presentation and personality
- Great new additions to the fundamental mechanics
- Refinements and improvements make all of its existing mechanics even better
- Religion can be a little spammy
One of the unique appeals of the Civilisation series is that with each new installment a new lead designer gets to come up with their own interpretation of the classic “take an empire from the stone age to the stars” concept.
Civilization 6 is notable for its use of urban sprawl, with cities growing to take up several adjacent map times. This means that planning your settlements ahead and growing them effectively is incredibly important, you’re fighting against the terrain as much as you are opposing rulers.
Total War: Warhammer 2
Platforms: PC, Mac
- New, faster-paced style of campaign
- A new world and new races to explore
- Big on weird and wonderful unit types
- Stupidly fun, absorbing and addictive
- Hard work to field and support more than a couple of armies
- Requires major commitments in both times and effort
Total War has become a dominant force in the strategy genre, providing players with historical backdrops to wage war across wonderous locations with famous faces at the helm. This trend continues, although Creative Assembly takes a more fantastical approach with Total War: Warhammer 2
Games Workshop’s beloved fantasy series has been translated into the virtual realm with immense love, care and attention as you control an abundance of different races with their own traits and attributes. The conflicts are absolutely huge, requiring a keen eye to best take advantage of the battlefield.
It’s superior to its predecessor is almost every single way, but with a stroke of genius, Creative Assembly has made it possible to combine both games into one huge, cohesive map; allowing you to choose between double the factions and locations.
Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void
Platforms: PC, Mac
- A fitting end to the StarCraft II saga
- Superb campaign missions
- Beautiful design and animation
- More accessible online and co-op play
- Minor difficulty and pathfinding issues
- Still a very traditional RTS game
It feels weird to even call Starcraft 2 a strategy game, it exists on a separate plane from the rest of these games, and can’t really be measured against them. As the top strategy game esport, Starcraft is arguably watched more than played.
But this unique status is what makes it deserve a place on this list. If you enjoy playing strategy games competitively against other humans, there is simply no substitute. By contrast if you don’t, then Starcraft really isn’t for you.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
- Incredible mod scene
- Deep infrastructure simulation
- Strong DLC support
- I hope you like managing traffic
For years Maxis’ SimCity dominated the city building genre, but recently it has been Finnish developer Colossal Order who’ve picked up the flag. Cities Skylines started out as very much a spiritual sequel to SimCity, but over time and many DLCs it has developed its own character, such as a deeply european focus on public transport. The community around the game has also grown strong, with a thriving mod scene even leading to a distinctly different playstyle, which eschews win/loss conditions in favour of studious decorating tiny model towns.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
- Beautiful presentation
- Deep and involving
- Sumptuous atmosphere
- You’ll die…
- … and go insane
- … and die again
Darkest Dungeon arguably straddles the divide between strategy and RPG. You assemble a party of adventurers and then journey into dungeons, engaging in turn based tactical battles that rely enormously on positioning.
But then there’s the twist, which is that you’re not playing as these adventurers but their sponsor, and between dungeon runs you’ll find yourself rebuilding a small town to finance further expeditions. The individual adventurers are interchangeable, and you’ll replace them frequently as they die or simply collapse under the stress of the lovecraftian environment.
Your real focus is the town, and sustaining it, no matter how many characters die in the dungeon below.
Platforms: PC, Mac
- Sympathetically updated visuals
- Superb RTS gameplay
- Well judged difficulty curve
- Epic sci-fi feel
- Camera controls feel clunky
- Changes might upset old fans
19 years on, there is still no other strategy game like Homeworld, which challenges the player to truly 3D space-borne combat. It’s easy to see why, as it’s difficult for us ground based humans to get our heads around, but the result it still spectacular.
That it marries this innovation to a surprisingly touching story about the last survivors of an alien race desperately seeking a new home. Homeworld Remastered‘s tale meshes with the terrific soundtrack and gorgeous visuals to create a real sense of a mournful but majestic cosmos.
- Has a style of its own
- Challenging in a fun way
- Giant mechanical crushing exosuits
- Novices will struggle
- Fiendishly difficult later on
- You have to seek out guides for information
Battletech’s appeal is simple: big honking mechs. An adaptation of the classic tabletop game, it offers an astonishing level of depth to its giant stompy robot suits. The campaign too is deep and complex, as you struggle to get new gear for your mechs whilst constantly risking damage or destruction in missions. It’s full of hard choices and that, ultimately, is what strategy games are about.