Alive and Kicking: Five Top Strategy Games for Multiplayer

By Marcello Perricone 26 Apr 2017 0

The RTS field is as expansive as it is old, and covers pretty much everything from classical land battles to massive spaceships engagements. Due to the unique identities each game builds for itself, most titles garner a fanbase around them that lasts for decades, giving strategy games a unique kind of longevity.

That longevity is great, yet makes for a challenging endeavour when looking for human players to engage in multiplayer conflicts. With that in mind and based off requests from our audience, Strategy Gamer has assembled a list of some of the best Real-Time Strategy games that still have an active multiplayer fan-base. Each entry has at least ~1000 players per day, so you won’t have many problems finding a match. Enjoy!

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Dawn of War Franchise

The only Warhammer 40,000 RTS to break into the mainstream, Dawn of War was the start of a franchise that constantly changed direction, often disappointed, yet never failed to draw interest. Following the tale of the Blood Ravens Chapter, Dawn of War pretends to be about resilient super-soldiers waging eternal war, but actually comes across as very fragile soldiers waging eternal war, except for Dawn of War II, which is *awesome*.

The two titles differ significantly in approach -- the first game is more classic in design, featuring constructible bases and a gameplay quite reminiscent of the Age of Empires games of aeons past, while the second one is more squad focused and prefers to centre around quality units than quantity cannon fodder. Both are loved, and Dawn of War and Dawn of War II each have a very respectable playerbase, especially considering how old they are.

With the impending release of Dawn of War III, expect the playerbase to shift towards the new game for a time. However, given how different the third sequel is in terms of gameplay, eventually people will always flock back to the previous entries. Fans of base building will stay with DoW, fans of squad combat will stay with DoWII, and fans of crazy MOBA-style quick clicking will hang on to DoWIII.

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Company of Heroes Franchise

The most recognisable World War II RTS franchise has two sides: on one of them, it is an awesome tale of brotherly combat during the Western offensive against Germany; on another, it is a sacrilegious retelling of history that forsakes every ounce of historical accuracy in the name of unnecessary drama and unfortunate design decisions. We’re talking, of course, of Company of Heroes and Company of Heroes 2.

Company of Heroes was the last member of the age of classical RTS, where base building was part of the fun and turtling was a viable strategy. The multiplayer modes featured a great assortment of factions, where each particular nation has a specific focus that made it much better at something at the expense of something else. The British Forces, for example, could hold the hell of a place with their emplacements and artillery, but fell behind on infantry attack sorties when compared to the American Army. The balance between factions created a shifting game of strengths and weakness, while the tactical approach to terrain, like hedges and destructible bridges forced strategies to be adapted on the fly.

Company of Heroes 2, on the other hand, is a pathetic affair, focusing more on micromanagement and quick clicking than proper tactical awareness and strategic planning. It does some pretty stupid decisions in sake of “balance”, like creating a whole defensive focused faction in the shape of the British, then denying them the ability to build tank traps and making emplacements costly enough that you can’t build more than one. However, its clear micromanagement and Starcraft-leeching game design means it is highly popular with people who like e-sports multiplayer and possess more clicking speed than brains. Both entries remain very popular RTS games -- Company of Heroes has over a thousand players in-game at the moment of writing, while the sequel has nearly twice that amount -- and should be your go to WWII RTS if you want a bit of clever or stupid multiplayer fun.

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Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion

A modern classic, Stardock’s space RTS is actually a 4X, but it thinks like an RTS. Unlike Sid Meiers's Civilization or Stellaris, Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion has one of the most brilliant names in the world of video games while placing a strong focus on small scale engagements and proper tactical control.

A selection of capital ships, from corvettes to gigantic Titans, are yours to build and command, creating the stage for massive interstellar battles. When not entering the fray of war, the units can all be upgraded into different variants and roles, deepening the pool of tactical options and significantly expanding the scope of your fleets.

On the less tactical side, you got army battles and planet government -- including the construction of buildings and orbital stations --. While everything that happens in space is visible and tangible -- you command space battles in real time, choose where to build space constructions, and etc -- every non-celestial thing is not viewable in 3D and mostly handled via buttons. That streamlined approach considerably reduces Sins’ complexity, and helps push it further into the RTS genre than other 4X games.

Featuring three races and their respective loyalist or rebel factions, the game boasts various victory conditions to guarantee your supremacy amongst the stars. Each faction has it’s own technologies, UI, and playstyle, providing a lot of variety and replayability. Although you can engage in diplomacy, the core of the game revolves around combat, lending a dynamic and fast paced approach to Sins of a Solar Empire and making it a favourite among RTS fans.

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Age of Empires II: HD

The best known entry of Microsoft's eponymous RTS series, Age of Empires was always simple, featuring no fancy mechanics like cover systems or logistics. You built a building, trained some troops, and dished out with the enemy until one of you came out victorious. It was simple, it was easy, it was glorious.

Re-released in 2013 with remastered graphics and audio, Age of Empires II: HD has an amazing 8,645 players at the moment of writing, making its playerbase bigger than Company of Heroes 1 and 2 and Dawn of War 1 and 2 combined. Certainly, one can suspect the lack of micromanagement is a major factor for Age’s success; there was a good mix of units and all of them could take some punishments, unlike in recent games where there is always one high-end unit while everyone else are stupid paper-frail soldiers. Besides that, there is the classic Shelby Cobra that fires boulders and the priestly wololo folk, who undoubtedly are responsible for 99% of the game’s success if the internet is to be trusted. Which it isn’t.

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Supreme Commander Gold Edition

A real man's RTS, Supreme Commander:Forged Alliance is the closest thing you get to exciting logistical warfare without delving into wargame territory. Set in the 37th century, this amazing sci-fi RTS allows players to build bases and armies unlike any other strategy game, frequently featuring dozens of buildings and hundreds of units on screen at the same time. Taking the overall idea behind RTS and running with it, Supreme Commander gives you full tactical and strategical control of navy, army, and air force units, allowing you to turtle or rush as your heart desires.

The game welcomes virtually all play styles, with nary any restrictions and a fantastic array of buildings and units separated by tiers, with each of the game’s three factions possessing unique art styles and statistics. From satellite weapons to nuclear ICBM’s, from long range artillery to giant mechanised spider-robots, and from submersible aircraft carriers to laser-wielding UFO’s, Supreme Commander boasts one of the most expansive and concrete game designs in the strategy genre.

What do you think? Do you know of any awesome multiplayer RTS we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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