Are real-time strategy games your cup of tea? Have you already gone through the entire Age of Empires series and are hungry for more? Well, we got your back! Here is a complete list of 20 best real time strategy titles that borrow a lot from Age of Empires games.
If you’re a newbie to this genre, let us first introduce you to the famous franchise that was launched more than 20 years ago!
About Age of Empires
Age of Empires is a real-time strategy series based on historical events, developed by Ensemble Studios.
The game was released in 1997 and since then seven titles and three spin-offs have come out. Some of them are available offline only, for PC, but there is also an online version.Each of the instalment focuses on a different era in the human’s history.
The idea is to erect buildings, upgrade them, create military units, find resources, expand your controlled area and further develop a chosen civilization. It is a mix of military and economic strategy that requires a lot of logical thinking and a broad perspective to succeed.
|Stronghold Warlords||2021-03-09||Simulation||Firefly Studios||76%|
|The Settlers 4 Gold Edition||2002-05-21||Strategy||Ubisoft Blue Byte||47%|
|The Settlers 7 Paths To A Kingdom||2018-11-15||Economy||Ubisoft Blue Byte||40%|
|Halo Wars Definitive Edition||2016-12-20||Strategy||343 Industries|
|Banished||2014-02-18||Economy||Shining Rock Software LLC||58%|
|Command Conquer Red Alert 3||2008-10-28||Strategy||EA Los Angeles||54%|
|Age Of Mythology Extended Edition||2014-05-08||Economy||Ensemble Studios||11%|
|Stronghold Crusader HD||2002-07-31||Simulation||FireFly Studios||65%|
|Stronghold Crusader 2||2014-09-22||Simulation||FireFly Studios||86%|
|Anno 1404 History Edition||2020-06-25||RTS||Related Designs, Ubisoft Blue Byte||50%|
|Anno 1800||2019-04-16||Economy||Blue Byte||70%|
|Anno 2070 Complete Edition||2011-11-17||Economy||Ubisoft Blue Byte||13%|
|Anno 2205||2015-11-03||Strategy||Blue Byte||31%|
|Starcraft Remastered||2017-08-14||RTS||Blizzard Entertainment||51%|
|The Settlers History Collection||2018-11-15||Strategy||Ubisoft Blue Byte|
|Total War Rome II Emperor Edition||2013-09-02||Strategy||Creative Assembly||81%|
|Total War Warhammer II||2017-09-28||Strategy||Creative Assembly||81%|
|Total War Shogun 2 Collection||2011-03-14||Strategy||Feral Interactive (Linux)||78%|
|Rise Of Nations Extended Edition||2014-06-12||Strategy||Big Huge Games||51%|
|Homeworld Remastered Collection||2015-02-25||Adventure||Gearbox Software||96%|
|They Are Billions||2017-12-12||Strategy||Numantian Games||5%|
|Becastled||2021-02-08||RTS||Mana Potion Studios|
|Bad North Jotun Edition||2018-11-16||Indie||Raw Fury||61%|
|Surviving The Aftermath Founders Edition||2020-10-22||Simulator||Iceflake Studios|
|Sid Meiers Civilization VI||2016-10-20||Economy||Firaxis Games||95%|
|Ancestors Legacy||2018-05-22||Strategy||Destructive Creations||90%|
|Halo Wars 2||2017-02-21||Action & Shooter||Creative Assembly||75%|
Historical Eras Covered by Age of Empires
AoE series consists of various titles that take place in different historical eras and on various continents. Let’s look at some of the games and the setting of their campaigns:
- Age of Empires: period from the Stone Age to the Classical Period in Europe and Asia,
- The Rise of Rome DLC: the Roman Empire’s times,
- The Age of Kings: the Middle Ages in Asia and Europe,
- The Age of Kings expansion called The Conquerors: the Middle Ages in Europe and Asia as well as the Spanish conquest of Mexico,
- Age of Empires III and The WarChiefs DLC: the colonization of both Americas by Europeans,
- The Asian Dynasties expansion: the rise of Asia in the times of the European colonization of the Americas,
- Age of Empires online version: the Egyptian and Greek civilizations in the ancient times,
- Age of Mythology spin-off and its Titans DLC: the Bronze Age but with a focus on mythological events rather than historical ones.
Age Of Empires’ impact on the gaming world and beyond
The series was hugely successful – it sold over 20 million copies worldwide. It was also critically acclaimed. The classic, first title has consistently high ratings from numerous respected publications.
The impact of the series is clearly visible with many other strategy games – both with and without fighting, crediting Age of Empires as their creative influence.
But the game’s impact reaches out much further – beyond the gamers’ universe. Bruce Shelley, the co-designer of the Age of Empires, in 2005 stated that
“[Parents] tell Ensemble Studios that their kid is reading books about ancient Greece because they enjoy playing with the triremes so much, or that they want to check out books about medieval history because [the] game taught them what a trebuchet was.” [i]
The wide success of the series established its original developer, Ensemble Studios, as masters of strategy games.
Age of Mythology (AoM)
What differs it from the AoE is the fact that it revolves around mythological stories and characters, not historical. The game is loosely based on Greek, Norse, Egyptian mythology.
The gameplay is similar to AoE. The campaign focuses on Arkantos, an Atlantean admiral who travel the territories of three cultures during a hunt for cyclopes.
The game’s goal is to build towns and military units, train villagers for combat and then conquer enemies and take over their lands. There are four Ages of development of a civilization: Archaic, Classical, Heroic, Mythic.
With reaching each level, new technologies and units get unlocked.Bear in mind though, that doing upgrades require specific amount of resources and prerequisite buildings that you have to construct beforehand. Age of Mythology has very popular multiplayer mode. The game sold 870,000 copies in the USA alone till 2006, becoming the 10th best-selling game of the country between 2000 and 2006.
Stronghold 1 & 2
A series of real-time strategy games (three titles released so far plus one DLC and three spin-offs) that is taking place in the historical reality of the Middle Ages. The player has the possibility to become a lord and take control of a town.
The game is focused on two aspects: military and economic, just like AoE. The main task is to defend your land, conquer enemies’ territories and provide resources required to develop the town and train an army.
Quite important is building a stronghold – hence the title of the series. There are many various elements of a stronghold to choose from, so that each player can create something unique.
Mechanics of the game are based on simple rules: recruited forces have different levels of strength and durability, but the higher they get, the more expensive they are. The first Stronghold sold 1.6 million copies globally by 2004.
Anno Series 1404, 2070, 2205
This real time strategy series has strong city building elements and business simulation. A few titles were released in the series and each of them takes place in a different setting and different time in the history or in the future.
Anno 1404, also called Dawn of Discovery in the North America, is based on events like crusades. The building part of the game involves creating cathedrals, whereas economic elements are similar to Hanseatic trade and early capitalism.
Anno 2070 on the other hand has a scenario set in the future, when global warming melted the Arctic ice cap, causing floods. As a result, countries, races and religions don’t play a role anymore, all that matters is how to produce energy.
Anno 2205 goes even further into the future and is mainly a building game, in which the player becomes the protagonist who has to create various metropolises on the globe and then fulfil their citizens’ needs.
A military science fiction real-time strategy game set in the 26th century. It puts greater attention to the fighting rather than building aspect. There are four species, of which three are playable: Terrans, Zerg, Xel’Naga and Protoss who all fight for power in the galactic universe.
Terrans are mobile and highly adaptable, Protoss – powerful and a bit mysterious, Xel’Naga have god-like status, whereas Zerg are always evolving. There are 2 main titles in the series and four DLCs. In 2017 a remastered version of the original StarCraft game was released. The gameplay remained intact, but the graphics and sound were vastly improved. Soundtrack and sound effect were re-recorded and graphics were revamped to 4K resolution.
StarCraft series is hugely popular all over the world, especially in South Korea, where tournaments are organized. In the year of its release – 1998, StarCraft has become the best-selling PC game of the year. Since its launch, Blizzard’s platform Battle.net has recorded a 800 percent surge of users. StarCraft has sold 9.5 million copies so far.
The Settlers Series
|Developer:||Blue Byte Software|
A strategy series with eight instalments, that has sold 5 million copies worldwide until 2004. The player takes on a role of an ancient or medieval ruler whose tasks include upgrading their own kingdom and conquering other lands.
Rulers of other lands can be AI-driven or other players in the multiplayer mode. What distinguishes this title from other city-building games is a very unique method of creating buildings and roads that are needed to develop the kingdom.
Though a great emphasis is put on building aspect, it is not a game without a fighting element. The player develops the road system and buildings to have optimal resources for completing an army. The better the system of roads is, the faster trade between various towns and flow of resources and produced items is.
Age of Wonders Series
Turn-based strategy series with elements of an RPG. Age of Wonders is set in a high fantasy universe. The player becomes a military leader whose role is to explore the world, build new villages and towns and conquer lands.
The gameplay is 4X-based – explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. The main task is to build an empire using military, diplomacy, construction and resource acquisition. The further the player advances in the game, the more experience their character has.
Spells, new abilities and items are also unlocked along the way. Age of Wonder III offers a campaign in which the player’s protagonist has an opportunity to choose one of the sides: the Elven court of High Elves or the Commonwealth Empire. There are also other races like Orcs, Dwarfs, or Goblins. Merlin makes his comeback as a highly important figure.
|Developer:||GSC Game World|
A real-time strategy series set mainly in XVII and XVII century in Europe. The player has 12 nations to choose from: England, France, Spain, Austria, Poland, Venice, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Algeria, Sweden and Prussia, plus Denmark and the Netherlands in the Days of Brilliance DLC.
Cossacks 3 is a remake of a 2001 classic, the first title of the series, and the latest offering of the franchise.
Apart from 12 nations the player has at his disposal 70 unit types, 140 historical buildings, 100 technologies. Combat is conducted on land and water and can reach a scale of 10 000 soldiers fighting at once.
Apart from fighting, the main element is economy – gathering resources, building villages. All of that is done on randomly generated maps. In the multiplayer mode up to 8 players can compete against each other (Cossacks 3).
Total War Series
Total War mixes turn-based strategy elements with management of resources and real-time battles. The first game released in the franchise was Shogun: Total War that appeared in 2000 and spawned a series rich in many games.
Shogun revolves around a samurai in Sengoku period in Japan – around 15th-17th centuries. As the Japanese soldier the player tries to conquer the country using military might, espionage, trade, diplomacy, and religion. The other notable instalment of the series was Rome II that has a campaign stretching for 300 years from 272 BC.
Total War: Warhammer II has a campaign set in fantasy word – a dark Warhammer universe, with four races: High Elves, Dark Elves, Skaven and Lizardman. Exploration and conquest, as well as diplomacy and managing settlements, are the main gameplay elements.
Warhammer II was ranked tenth spot in Eurogamer list of top 2017 games. It also seized an award for the Best Strategy Game in PC Gamer’s Game of the Year Awards 2017. The game had some rave reviews upon release with VGames stating.
(…) It takes the familiar and beloved formula and polishes it even more. The result is not only one of the best games in the Total War series, but an excellent game in itself.”[ii]
Rise of Nations
|Developer:||Big Huge Games|
A perfect combination of turn-based strategy, like in Civilization and real-time strategy dynamic, as in AoE.
There are 18 nations, 10 of them can be chosen to play as. The player can take care of all the aspects of the country’s development, including economy, science, diplomacy, army, and territorial expansion.
The game starts with a small village in the stone age and can end even 5 thousand years later in the modern times. By 2006 Rise of Nations sold 420,000 copies in the USA alone. Apart from a great commercial success, the game had great reviews, Yahoo said about it:
“The maturation of a genre. More “Civilization” in scope, feel, and satisfaction than even the popular “Age of Empires” series, Rise of Nations is the world’s first 4X RTS.”[iii]
Homeworld Remastered Collection
A real-time strategy game taking place in space.
The idea of the game is similar to others in this genre: the player’s protagonist gathers resources and makes use of them to fight enemies and achieve the objectives. There are 16 levels.
Homeworld was a hit when it comes to sales: in first weeks since its release, there were sold over 250,000 copies globally, whereas in first half year this number doubled. The game also gained some very positive reviews, for instance, All Game Guide stated:
“Simply one of those titles that makes you say “Wow.” You’ll have to pick your jaw up off the floor when you experience it for the first time.”[iv]
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
|Genre:||Real Time Strategy|
|Developer:||EA Los Angeles|
Command & Conquer is a series with as much pedigree as Age of Empires, and one of the most famous real-time strategies out there.
In fact, it’s OLDER than Age of Empires, and, if you’d like something lighter in gameplay and nature, then you should take a look at C&C. It’s typically not as deep as AoE, which makes for a lower entry threshold, and there’s a very different vibe to it.
C&C is fully committed to modern technology and doesn’t shy away from going into science fiction regions. The famous Red Alert sub series is known for its rather light-hearted, comedic tone and its Full Motion Video cutscenes starring the liked of Tim Curry, J.K. Simmons, or even David Hasselhoff. If you’re on a RTS binge, definitely check that one out for a change of pace and tone.
How about some Viking action? Viking-themed games aren’t exactly rare, but most of them are action games, not strategies.
Which is why Northgard stands out. It tasks you with creating a self-sustaining settlement on the titular land, newly discovered by brave Norse explorers. There are buildings to find a place for, research trees to climb, enemies for fortify against, and villagers to put to work.
In a way Northgard has a few things in common with Valheim, another Viking-themed game, from a different genre. It has a simple, slightly cartoonish style, and there are very noticeable fantasy elements. If you like having clear goals you can go straight to the campaign, which will take through several chapters and clans, each of which has a different preferred playstyle.
Halo Wars 1 & 2
|Genre:||Real Time Strategy|
The original Halo game was supposed to be a strategy game at first, but then people decided to make it a shooter, and the world rejoiced.
But good ideas live forever, and eventually Halo Wars came to depict a grander scale of conflict. Both Halo Wars were designed for the Xbox consoles, but they are also available for PC, and work perfectly fine with keyboard and mouse, so you don’t need a controller.
Each HW has a story campaign, adding detail and scope to the broader storyline of the Halo universe. Both games follow the crew of a warship Spirit of Fire, and the second game follows up on some loose story threads left hanging after Halo 5: Guardians, but also presents a faction important for Halo Infinite. If you like Halo, science fiction, and real-time strategies, give Halo Wars a chance.
Heaving close to Age of Empires’ historical roots, Ancestors Legacy lets you choose a playable faction (Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and Slavs) and take them on a campaign of conquest and settlement.
Which means, in general terms, lots and lots of brutal fighting on the grassy hills and flammable villages. There’s also some moderate base-building, but you shouldn’t go in expecting to turtle up.
Of course every nation has unique traits making it suitable for a different playstyle. You can familiarise yourself with each faction by playing its campaign, which does a good job showcasing the featured nation. Ancestors Legacy is a solid real-time strategy and if historical/medieval stylings are what drew you to Age of Empires in the first place, give it a shot.
|Developer:||Aspyr (Mac, Linux)|
Is Civilization a real-time strategy? No, it isn’t.
But every instalment of the series features many different historical nations (even if placed in a non-historical environment) with different playstyles, buildings, and units. It’s both slower, and more likely to consume your entire evening, night, and early morning, because the “one more turn” syndrome is always strong.
Of course, this being Civilization, military conquest is not the only way to victory, and if you want to pursue a scientific domination or diplomatic solutions CIV6 caters to these desires. Civilization VI is so far the latest game in the series, and since launch it has been updated and expanded by several DLCs adding new nations and new systems, so there’s a lot to check out after you’re done with the core game.
Surviving the Aftermath
Surviving the Aftermath, as the title itself suggests, takes place after an apocalyptic even ravaged Earth.
Your tasks are what they always are in this type of story: build a safe base, recruit survivors with useful skills, defend against threats, but environmental and more active. You should always be ready to fend off other humans keen on taking your land and resource for their own gain.
Instead of being no-name villagers, your fellow survivors have names, traits, and motivations. As a result it’s easier to get attached to one of them and feel bad when they you lose them. In addition to managing your base and allies, you’ll have to react to new crises and story events, and the live with the consequences, good or bad. And when you’re inevitably discovered… turtling works well.
Warcraft III Reign of Chaos
A complete classic, this one, and one of the most beloved RTS games out there.
Base-building is there, and quite integral to the experience. Setting your peons (of all kinds) loose on nearby resources is there. You get to recruit units and set up a web of dependencies affecting your recruitment options. It has it all, what else could you need from a real-time strategy?
Of course, unlike Age of Empires Warcraft takes pace in a fantasy setting with magic, monsters, and several fantastical warring factions. The core conflict is between the Alliance (of humans, dwarves, and elves), and the Horde (or orcs, trolls, and minotaur-like tauren), but other factions enter the fray over time in the campaign. Or you could skip the campaign and go straight into multiplayer, of course.
|Genre:||Indie, Real Time Strategy|
At first glance, Bad North looks like a cutesy, casual game that barely requires attention.
And then Vikings keep on coming, your defenders are spread thin. Eventually the tiny island you’re supposed to hold falls to the invaders, because you made a mistake that seems avoidable in retrospect. Start over, prepare for the worst, increase efficiency, and learn the proper tactics. Make a mistake, start over.
The campaign map is randomly generated, and you get to decide which island you’re going to defend next. You also get to upgrade your troops, developing new types of fighters and unlocking new manoeuvres. Bad North ios excellent if you want a game with engaging tactical real-time gameplay, but you don’t always have a lot of time to spare or don’t want to play something too serious.
|Genre:||Real Time Strategy|
|Developer:||Mana Potion Studios|
Did you like turtling in Age of Empires? Here’s a game about building a fortress and enduring sieges in a fantasy world.
Much like Bad North above, Becastled looks more silly than engaging, closer style to games like Totally Accurate Battle Simulator than to AoE, but it has all the necessary gameplay elements and even in its (at the time of writing_)Early Access state it’s very fun to be besieged.
You build an army and pay attention to keep it developed enough to be effective. You get to design the layout of your castle and watch as your workers make it a reality. Enemies attack you with their own trrops and siege equipment, trying to ruin your day. If you love playing defensively to the point where you’d never pursue other playstyles, Becastled is very likely to appeal to you.
They Are Billions
Who would win: a fortified city or untold thousands of various zombies?
Well, it’s up to you, but They Are Billions tasks you with making the odds of survival more agreeable. Design the layout of defensive walls, put down steampunk-ish, automated turrets, and guide your workers as they try to gather resource fort you without drawing the attention of the zombies.
There are two main ways to play the game: a survival mode, which gives you a randomly generated world, and a campaign, which will take you on a pre-made journey from city to city as you try to fight back against the swarming zombies. Although the missions play out in real time, you can always pause them for a bit to issue order, so you can worry about being overwhelmed by zombies, not the pace
[i] Allen ‘Delsyn’ Rausch (October 14, 2005). “Art & Design: The Alternate History of Age of Empires III”, GameSpy.
[ii] Vgames, (October 16, 2017): https://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/total-war-warhammer-ii
[iii] Yahoo, https://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/rise-of-nations
[iv] All Game Guide, https://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/homeworld