The real-time strategy genre has always been near and dear to my heart. Red Alert 2 fights on LANs, plays Herzog Zwei head-to-head on my friend’s Sega, takes the time to paint my 40,000 figs to play Dawn of War – it’s always been a big part of my gaming diet. However, it hasn’t always been easy to be a fan. By the time Starcraft 2 came out in 2010, enthusiasm for RTS games had fallen to an all-time low. While strategy games in general are experiencing a wonderful renaissance, it’s been a long time since the real-timers had a reason to celebrate.
There may be cause for optimism, as it appears that the RTS is back from the brink of death. With both established studios and newcomers coming out on top, we’re in for some exciting times. In the meantime, though, I’ve got a list of some obscure classics from my lizard brain’s vault to help you out. From time-travelling tanks to magical ninjas, here are five real-time strategy games the world has forgotten about.
Developed by a small Czech studio and released in 2001, Original War follows the story of American and Russian troops sent back through time to secure an alien mineral called Siberite. While it offers the usual base-building and resource-gathering you’d expect from an RTS, it also focuses on the personnel you’ve brought – after all, it’s not like you can bring new recruits out of Fort Bragg two million years into battle. educate. Past. Your people level up as Soldiers, Mechanics, Scientists or Engineers and get better at different tasks as they progress. However, if you lose them in battle, they are gone forever. You can train the sadly named prehistoric ape-men to do their jobs, but they’re never that good.
Original War has some innovative systems. Supply crates are smuggled in from the future and increase the pace of missions as you race to keep them safe from the opposing faction. Vehicles can use a variety of energy sources, from oil to solar energy to strange crystals, each with pros and cons (there’s even a system for getting out and pushing your jeep when you run out of gas). These features, combined with a fascinating concept and the fun of developing your team of doomed time travelers, make this one worth playing through even decades later.
Have you ever played an RTS and found yourself yelling at which bastard was driving that tank because his path led him the wrong way and killed him (and his entire squad)? Or have you watched helplessly as your siege tanks were torn apart by zerglings because they took a wrong turn?
In Battlezone 2: Combat Commander, this becomes much less of an issue. You play from the cockpit of a space tank, and while there’s still base building and resource gathering, the emphasis is mostly on hands-on vehicular combat.
There aren’t many games that combine real-time strategy with shooter or action elements, but how satisfying they are when they work. The same frantic excitement I got all those years ago playing Herzog Zwei, scrambling in jet form to defend a base while simultaneously trying to macro my production, I felt here. By building up your base, you can start producing Sasquatch walkers while trying to keep an eye on your suicidal scavengers so your brain goes a million miles an hour in the best way possible. Check out the remaster at Steam (opens in new tab)confusingly just called Battlezone: Combat Commander.
Battle Realms gives me everything I’ve ever wanted all in one package: ninjas and werewolves vying for dominance, evil dragon charmers, beautifully ripped low-poly FF7 lookin’ dudes with giant hammers.
This 2001 RTS explores a battle between ninja clans in a system that feels familiar, yet manages to explore unexplored territory. Resource gathering is limited to rice, water, and horses, all of which are grabbed by auto-generated farmers. These also form the backbone of your fighting force – put a farmer in the dojo and you get a spearman, put a spearman in the archery range and you get a samurai, and so on. This means you have to strike a careful balance between upgrading farmers to make an army and maintaining your logistics, as there is no other way to create units.
Armies collect Yin or Yang energy as they fight, depending on their actions, and hero units can be summoned by spending them. With four factions, charming sprites, and plenty of time spent learning your lowly worker units that cut you in the face, not jutsu, this game is an underrated gem. There is a remaster on Steam (opens in new tab) also, in early access right now.
When Command & Conquer first came out, the RTS genre exploded like a tac nuke. In his fallout we got tons of clones, of which Dark Reign was arguably the best. With two asymmetrical factions, cool things happening with line of sight and terrain, and a soundtrack by the best man in the business (Jeehun Hwang, who also did MechWarrior 2), it stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries.
Dark Reign and its excellent expansion, Rise of the Shadowhand, are available at GOG (opens in new tab). Even if you’re a multiplayer purist, take a moment and play the campaign. You command a force that seeks to gain the trust of a surviving group of humans as they determine the best choice to go back in time and save. itself from destruction.
Speaking of obscure games, if you’re like me and beloved the SNES classic EVO: Search for Eden, this one is for you. Impossible Creatures, Relic’s second game after Homeworld, is an RTS about merging animals and creating gigantic armies. Tigers with crab claws? Flying lobsters? Kanga moose? Yes please.
The campaign puts you in the capable hands of Rex Chance, a disgraced war reporter whose father happened to develop a revolutionary technology that allowed two animals to split into one organism. With this Sigma technology, you create chimeric creatures and fight against the evil tycoon Upton Julius to avenge your father and ensure that this dangerous technology does not fall into the wrong hands.
Immediately Steam release (opens in new tab) in 2015 it might be possible to find a multiplayer match here and there. However, the campaign itself is the main draw. It’s a fun romp through different environments as you unlock new creatures to experiment with. Fun fact: the engine they built Dawn of War on was developed for this game. Without anteater zebras and wolverine fish, we might never have had one of the greatest RTS series of all time.
If you’re a fan of the RTS genre, check out these games. They’re all worth your time and keep you on your toes in combat and base building into what will hopefully be the next great real-time renaissance.
Read more: The best strategy games on pc