Strategy games have been hugely successful long before arcades and home consoles were invented — look no further than classic tabletop games like Chess, Risk, and Catan. As players, we love being tactical and considering our options as we take on skilled opponents in a game of wits. There’s no surprise then, that strategy video games are equally as popular as their traditional counterparts. Whether enjoyed as a solo activity or used as a battleground for fierce competitive play, the strategy genre offers some of the most satisfying victories in all of gaming.
This beloved genre has been providing us with complex and rewarding experiences since the early-80s, so we’re celebrating the best strategy game franchises in the business. From important eras of history to epic sci-fi battles, strategy games have allowed players to dive deep into a variety of conflicts and scenarios. Over the years, the game franchises listed below have evolved with the industry, consistently offering excellent strategic experiences for players to enjoy.
While there are plenty of influential strategy games that helped shape the genre in its early days, these franchises have withstood the test of time, rarely faltering with release after release. If you’re itching to command the fields of battle or want to test your mettle against friends, these are the most popular and best strategy games to play.
The Top 5 Most Popular Strategy Game Franchises Ever!
Age of Empires
The Age of Empires franchise kicked off in 1997 with the release of the first game, which tasked players with successfully building a civilization as it progresses from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. In addition to strengthening your bases and fortifying your armies, Age of Empires included many other strategy elements, such as crafting new technologies.
While the original game focused on the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe, later sequels would expand into other areas and time periods. Age of Empires II took players to the Middle Ages in Europe, while Age of Empires III heavily featured elements of the early modern period, including the colonization of North America.
The series was successful enough to warrant a spin-off titled Age of Mythology, which has garnered its own passionate fan base. With Age of Empires IV currently in development with a 2021 release date, the series is showing no sign of slowing down.
Like the Age of Empires series, the Total War franchise puts players in charge of a developing nation set during a specific time period. This storied franchise mixes turn-based strategy and real-time combat, with a heavy emphasis on army formations. The first game, Shogun: Total War, was released in 2000 and revolved around the feudal era of Japan.
While not initially intended for widespread audiences, the game quickly caught on, resulting in dozens of sequels and spin-offs. Some Total War sequels featured other moments in history, such as the French Revolutionary War, the Medieval era, and the dynasty wars of China. Other titles, namely the Total War: Warhammer games, replaced the real-world elements with a fantastical story, including elves, orcs, vampires, and more.
The Total War franchise is still going strong today, with the most recent release, Total War Saga: Troy, taking place during the Bronze Age. The third and final game in the Total War: Warhammer series is also planned for a 2021 release, so strategy fans can look forward to more strategic battles.
First released in 1991 as Sid Meier’s Civilization, this fantastic series quickly earned a reputation as being one of the best and most content-rich strategy experiences around. While the game features expected elements of the genre such as resource management, base-building, and turn-based battles, it’s the extra bits that set Civilization apart.
The scope of the game is enormous, tasking players with guiding their chosen civilization through thousands of years of evolution. Along the way, you’ll have to make important diplomatic decisions, form governments, and more. As the series progressed over time, these features became more refined and polished with each entry, resulting in an epic experience with limitless possibilities.
The Civilization series has had numerous spin-offs and sequels, with the most recent release being Civilization VI in 2016. Like the rest of the series, Civilization VI received high praise from critics and fans alike, winning plenty of industry awards and nominations. Whether played solo or multiplayer, the Civilization series is easily one of the most popular and well-respected strategy game franchises ever made.
Command & Conquer
The Command & Conquer series was one of the first names in the real-time strategy genre, offering fast-paced battles that tested player’s reflexes and critical thinking skills. The first game in the series, simply titled Command & Conquer, was released in 1995 and focused on a fictional world war between two massive factions.
By harvesting a rare material known as Tiberium, players must build troops and base structures to overcome the opponent in two unique campaign modes. Command & Conquer helped popularize strategy games in the 90s, but it rarely slowed down, with nearly a dozen sequels and expansion packs. In recent years, the Command & Conquer brand has been mostly quiet, with the exception of a remastered collection that was released in 2020. Many fans eagerly await the return of this iconic series that created the foundation for other real-time strategy games to succeed.
Although most people know the Warcraft name from the MMORPG spin-off, World of Warcraft, the original Warcraft trilogy is firmly tied to the real-time strategy genre. In fact, Warcraft is arguably one of the most influential game series of all time, as it spawned several sub-genres that are immensely popular to this day. The first title in the series, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, was a fantasy real-time strategy game that came out in 1994, which helped popularize multiplayer modes within the genre.
The game was praised for its inventive narrative and missions, which played out on a smaller scale. The third game in the series, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, was hugely popular due to its plethora of custom game options, allowing players to create their own maps and campaigns. This resulted in the creation of several sub-genres, most notably the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (or MOBA) genre.
Without Warcraft, we wouldn’t have such hugely popular games like DOTA 2 or League of Legends. Due to both its wide-reaching influence and fantastic design and world, Warcraft easily makes our list of the most popular strategy game franchises of all time. Nope I won’t discuss Warcraft 3 Refund, I mean Reforged…
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