We all known Starcraft, Warcraft and Age of Empires are the Kings of the genre, but the RTS genre goes beyond these Titans, let’s take a look at some other RTS which may scratch the RTS itch as we await Warcraft 3 reforged and Age of Empires 4.
While not all of the following games have large/active multiplayer communities, I feel they are all worth a play for the narrative aspects alone, even if the gameplay at times offers nothing unique or exclusive to the title.
1) Meridian: New World
Meridian: New World is very much a classic RTS in the vein of supreme commander and Star Wars Empire at War, gather materials, build units, take out enemy bases, the animations remind me very much of the Armymen RTS game.
It’s a solid RTS, but the combat feels on the sluggish side, lacking the high-speed combat of titles such as Age of Empires, and instead of replacing it with the slower-paced combat of games like Star Trek Armada and Battlefleet Gothic: Armada.
Worth a play for fans of the genre, but I wouldn’t pay full price for it, as it’s now a fair few years old and doesn’t provide much that many other RTS don’t.
2) Grey Goo
Grey Goo is one of the saddest failures in the RTS genre, with stunning cutscenes, captivating plot, gorgeous graphics, and creative racial/faction design, this game had it all.. that is except interesting mission design, every mission ends up being the same, with frantic defence/build-up, mid-game lull of defence and resource farm, endgame rush.
I also felt the races swapping every so often in the campaign didn’t work, Star trek Armada pulled this off perfectly, but here I found myself getting annoyed, as each race seemed less interesting than the last, I will say however that playing as the Beta (race) was some of the most fun I have experienced in a modern RTS, sadly the Humans and the Goo felt dull and uninspired in comparison.
One of the only RTS I gave up on due to boredom and looked up cutscenes online
Your mileage may vary, and if you can find it cheap enough, there is a few hours gameplay here for those wanting to experience the story.
Multiplayer, however, is almost entirely dead with a peak CCU of sub 30 most days.
3) Cultures Northland & Cultures 8th Wonder of the World.
The cultures series plays more like the settlers brand of RTS, with distinct sprites that have names, relationships, professions and skillsets, you can equip your units with armour/items in RPG-lite fashion, as well as commission and decommission military units, decommissioned soldiers can be reassigned civilian duties.
Cultures offer a decent length campaign, and while the story isn’t jaw-dropping, it’s mostly on par with games of the era.
Graphically it’s very dated, however on 1080p its bearable and no longer distracting, fans of the genre will want to pick up and play this part of RTS history, a solid game and one that I personally got a lot out of.
Multiplayer relies on third party LAN, and manual matchmaking, no real multiplayer community to speak of.
Warparty is an exceptionally solid retro RTS, in the vein of Warcraft style, with gorgeous sketch art mission introductions reminiscent of Age of Empires 2, and gameplay reminiscent of Warcraft 3, Empire Earth 2, and Age of Empires 3.
Graphically the title isn’t that impressive. It’s a very standard 3D RTS from the last decade. However, the simple to pick up gameplay mechanics and aggressive AI make the graphical shortcomings.
Also, name another RTS where you can ride into battle on a dinosaur?
A surprisingly good game and welcome addition to the genre.
Sadly multiplayer is entirely dead. However, I feel at the steam sales. It’s worth the price for the singleplayer alone.
5) Act of Aggression – Reboot Edition
Act of Aggression – Reboot Edition is a classic RTS in the vein of Command and Conquer and Blitzkrieg, graphically the game is slightly dated as to be expected, but the gameplay authentic classic RTS gameplay more than makeup for this shortcoming.
The reboot edition offers two singleplayer campaigns and a semi-active multiplayer community, that while being sub 125 CCU at peak, is active enough for manual/community matchmaking.
The title is a little on the pricy side for its age, but the quality of the campaign I feel makes this title worth a purchase for fans of the Blitzkrieg Trilogy especially.
At steam sales, it is known to go for 75-80% off, at those prices any fan of the RTS genre will get their money worth from this high-quality homage to the genre we love.
6) Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is a 3D RTS in the vein of Homeworld and Star Wars Force Commander.
Graphically Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is what I would call “fair indie” its not groundbreaking and is really showing its age, however, mechanically it’s stunning, and any shortcoming graphically are obliterated by the high-quality gameplay.
Mechanically Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak requires more thinking than a zerg based RTS, each unit has a set counter, and a small strike force of correct units is worth a much larger force of incorrect units, while you can possibly win by a zerg your causalities will be very high.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak offers multiplayer despite the store page only listing singleplayer, the community is small but stable, and community/manual matchmaking is still very possible.
Well worth a purchase, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is a fantastic game for fans of Homeworld, a fresh take on the Homeworld franchise that retains its authenticity.
Foresight is a traditional strategy game in the vein of Startrek Armada.
Graphically its a very indie affair, but the models are in no way distracting and the gameplay mechanics more than make up for their shortcomings, the 2D artwork is hit and miss, and at times the voice acting is atrocious.
I enjoyed the narrative well enough but must admit I didn’t enjoy hopping between factions, just as I got used to a faction I was forced to play another.
Its a very strategic game that allows for more strategic depth than many RTS games, and smaller armies acting in a concise manner could easily beat a far larger force.
I must admit when I played the campaign, it was bug-ridden, and I faced many unpassable bugs and crashes to the desktop, however, the developer has made dozens of patches since then and is very open to feedback, so I assume they are now fixed.
There never was much of a multiplayer community, and what little there was is long gone.
Worth a play for the singleplayer alone, especially as its a $5 title.
Bannermen is a traditional RTS in the vein of Battle for Middle Earth.
Graphically Bannermen is one of the prettier looking RTS in existence, which is to be expected due to it using Unreal Engine 4, the world and characters look vibrant and w3hen playing at maxed graphics are on par with any AAA RTS, a lot of time and attention clearly went into the model work here as every model looks fantastic.
Mechanically it plays very much like Battle for Middle Earth, with a small selection of units fulfilling a rock paper scissors-type function, some hero units, as well as some standard units, also have special skills and abilities, this was an aspect of Battle for Middle Earth I liked a lot, so nice to see another RTS game employ it.
The build and recruitment menu could use some tooltips as its often guesswork exactly what a building or unit does(outside of obvious choices like the archer, etc.).
The singleplayer story is why you want to buy Bannermen, as the multiplayer is almost entirely dead outside of free weekends it peaks around 10-15ccu.
If you want to scratch the battle for middle earth itch, its the closest RTS we have to that, and one which is worth a play.
9) Cossacks 3
Cossacks 3 is in a league of its own and plays more like a “grown-ups” RTS than any other franchise, with in-depth formations and longer time to kill, vast landscapes and historical narratives, the overall feeling of the game feels far slower-paced than Age of Empires, but the crossover between fans of the two franchises must be very large.
Both franchises complement each other perfectly and appeal to a similar audience, fans of total war to a lesser degree may enjoy Cossacks 3 due to the more structure control over units.
Graphically Cossacks 3 is a solid indie title, but nothing jawdropping, mechanically Cossacks 3 builds upon earlier entries in the series, and I personally found it much more approachable than 1 and 2.
The CCU is small but stable at around 500-700, more than enough for stable matchmaking and at over four years old is a testament to the quality of the title and dedication of its community.
10) Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation is node capture RTS in the vein of Halo Wars, and Supreme Commander 2.
Graphically Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation is one of the prettier RTS, with the ability to display an impressive number of units on screen at the same time, battles have a frantic look reminiscent of the Star Wars Prequel movies (1999-2005), I would love to see a star wars RTs using this engine, as honestly there are few games which pull off large scale Sci-fi RTS battles as well as Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation and even the voice acting was decent, something RTS games are not really known for, outside of the Age of Empires series.
Mechanically the node capture focused combat of Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation feels like it was made for Multiplayer, as it reduces the turtle centric nature of online matches, however, for the single-player campaign I feel it slightly weakened the narrative.
The multiplayer community for Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation is small (under125 ccu peak), but manual matchmaking is still possible.
Worth a buy for the singleplayer campaigns alone, the multiplayer is just icing on a very tasty cake.