Top Ten Real-Time Strategy Games of All Time
Point. Click. Kill.
By Dave "Fargo" Kosak | February 4, 2004
Every gamer wants to get something different out of a real-time strategy game: Some love massive battles, others love small tactical skirmishes. Some love quick, action-filled pick-up games, others prefer lengthy epic struggles. Some love building! Some love destroying! Some love the reflexes! Some love the strategy! The real-time strategy genre is as popular as it is because it offers a little something to everyone.
Of course, for that reason, it's tough to make a list of the ten "Best" games. Opinions are as varied as the gamers who play. But if you step back and frame the question as, "What were the ten most important or interesting real-time strategy games for their time?" ... well, then you can start to be scientific about it. You can look at developments in gameplay, advances in storytelling, technological innovations and more. That makes creating a list of the Top 10 RTS games of all time possible.
...but still not easy! Our forum thread on this topic quickly exploded, and (barring a ridiculous flame-war that started on about page 20) it's filled with insight into what makes these games great. But still very little agreement among game fans.
For OUR list, we looked at the game's contribution to the genre for its time. And we also narrowed our selections down to choose only one game from each series. But before we begin, there's just one thing we have to get out of the way:
Honorable Mention: Dune II Westwood Studios, 1993
You can't really talk about the real-time strategy genre without giving a nod to Dune II, the title that kicked off the phenomena. Now, it wasn't the first real-time game: that honor typically goes to Herzog Zwei, released for the Sega Genesis in 1989. But Dune II was the first RTS for the PC, and the genre that boomed in the decade that followed traces its roots back to this title (see our Hall of Fame from December '99).
While there's no reason to go back and try to play the game today (assuming you could even find a legal copy that would run on modern PCs), it established the conventions that are the heart of the genre. All the action takes place on a single gameplay screen. Base-building was a major part of the game, with a building heirarchy you had to follow. You used your base to create units that you ordered around in real-time to destroy an enemy. There were multiple sides with different units.
Westwood knew they were on to something big, and they followed the success of Dune II with the next-generation RTS Command & Conquer. But they were't the only ones who thought Dune II had memorable gameplay: nearly all of the PC RTS games that followed borrowed from it. Honorable mention? You bet.