The world of real-time strategy in video games can be an intimidating and challenging one to step into for the first time, often built with endless layers of strategic depth revolving around commanding the units at your disposal. Learning how to properly maneuver your available troops across the battlefield can prove difficult since each move can mean their doom, while expanding your own structures to create more advanced units requires a hefty amount of resource management to pull off without casualties. Back in 2009, Halo Wars successfully managed to bring real-time strategy to consoles with a simple interface and user-friendly control system, and with Halo Wars 2 the same level of accessibility has remained, creating a more comfortable starting point for players interested in the genre. But once you’ve spent enough time mastering the UNSC and Banished and are looking for a few more RTS experiences to jump into, here are some of our favorites.
Star Wars: Empire at War
Released back in 2006, Star Wars: Empire at War is one of the most accessible real-time strategy titles available for gamers on the PC. Even though it doesn’t directly follow the events of the films, Empire at War places you in the middle of the galactic conflict between the Empire and Rebels, allowing you to control heroes like Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi as well as gigantic fleets of Imperial Star Destroyers. Although online multiplayer has since been removed from the game following the shutdown of GameSpy’s servers, you’ll have access to a story-based single player campaign, the infamous Galactic Conquest mode, and the traditional Skirmish engagements with a host of different maps and locations known throughout the Star Wars universe which will keep you locked in battle for days on end.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
Originally available on the PC before being ported over to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 is almost identical to Halo Wars 2 in terms of gameplay with a few added levels of depth for more experienced players to work through. Complete with a fully cooperative campaign and three main factions to choose from, Red Alert 3 is filled with unique units heavily influenced by the alternate reality from World War II where the Allies ended up fighting the Soviet Union, sparking a global conflict between the major factions at the heart of the game’s campaign. While it may seem a bit simple to learn for players looking for a challenging experience with more depth, it’s well-respected stepping stone for players hoping to move into something following their time with Halo Wars 2.
Wargame: Red Dragon
Unlike both Command & Conquer and Empire at War, Wargame: Red Dragon is a title built for players looking for a more realistic experience centered on modern military forces from over 21 countries around the world. Viewed entirely from a top-down perspective akin to something like Risk, Wargame: Red Dragon puts you in command of a set of units which you can deploy on the battlefield throughout each match. Much like Blitz in Halo Wars 2, a deck of unit cards you build before every match determines the units you carry into battle, meaning that taking the time to properly assemble a set of troops who support a specific strategy is key to victory. While base building and territory control aren’t a part of Red Dragon, keeping your units well-stocked with ammunition and fuel is a necessary to success, adding a detailed layer of strategic management to an otherwise action-oriented RTS experience.
Dawn of War II
If you’re looking for a streamlined RTS experience which revolves entirely around controlling your forces on the battlefield, Dawn of War II is one of the best titles available for PC to dive straight into. To make the game more action-oriented like Company of Heroes, Relic Entertainment completely removed the need to build your own bases and manage your control over the map with passive structures in favor of an active, unit-focused system which instills a greater emphasis on strategic positioning. Using cover and maintaining your units throughout a difficult battle may prove more challenging, but with every challenge you overcome your units will become more effective in combat the next time around. Unlike most titles which instill the strategy of throwing units at your opponents, Dawn of War II inspires you to keep them alive, which makes for a much more engaging experience filled with personality and loyalty when compared to Halo Wars 2.
Developed and released by Blizzard Entertainment back in July of 2010, StarCraft II has become the quintessential real-time strategy experience of this generation for gamers interested in commanding legions of military units across dozens of battlefields. Set four years after the original StarCraft, StarCraft II follows the story of Jim Raynor as he leads a sect of forces against the Terran Dominion with a cast of familiar characters seen across the entire Blizzard universe. Since the game launched, it has received two major expansion packs — Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void — which have continued the game’s stellar single player campaign and introduced hordes of new units while balancing out those available in the base game. While it may be intimidating to first step foot into due to the massive community behind it, StarCraft II is one of the most respected real-time strategy games of all time and one which doesn’t disappoint regardless of the gameplay mode you are most interested in.
Photos via Blizzard Entertainment