The Best 4X Strategy Games

By Admin 06 Oct 2018 9

At its core this type of game allows the player to do four things, “eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate, and eXplore.”. 4X games can end up giving players an incredible story, satisfying gameplay, and a long journey to the finish line. Many even relish the more-tactical focus as it allows players to think before each move, and yet still allow control over vast empires and globe-spanning endeavours. 

If you're looking for the cutting edge, our guide to the best Early Access Strategy Games might help.

Here are some essential 4X strategy games that you should consider adding to your game library. If you've been reading our other guides, you'll have noticed we're skewing more towards modern titles, as we don't think yet another list touting MOO2 as the grand 4X daddy does the gaming community any real service.

Aggressors: Ancient Rome (Review)

Publisher: Slitherine
Developer: Kubat Software
Buy From: SteamDirectGOG

aar best 4x

While this game skirts the boundaries between 4X and historical strategy, Aggressors never-the-less is a very strong counter-offering to those looking for something akin to Civilization, but with more depth and purpose.The game mainly takes place in an abstraction of Roman times, allowing the player to choose among 20 period-appropriate factions. Besides Rome and the standard big players -- Carthage, Egypt, and the Greek states -- Aggressors allows you to choose small tribes and peoples like the Antigonid, Ardiaei, or Pontus. Each has its own economy, population, and starting territory, offering a bit of variety.

One of the big strengths of the game is, surprisingly, the tutorial: it portrays information in a way most strategy games don't. Aggressors features a basic and advanced tutorial that efficiently eases you into the game, first with a hand-holding series of tasks on basic and then a free-form list of objectives during advanced, getting you up to speed at your own pace. Being a small studio, there is a decided lack of polish, and the visuals arn't exactly modern, but this is a great transitional title between the mainstream to the hardcore.

Warhammer 40,000 Gladius: Relics of War (Review)

Publisher: Slitherine
Developer: Proxy Studios
Buy From: SteamDirectGOG

gladius best 4X

A more polished counter-point to CivilizationGladius attempts to answer the question as to what would happen if you take Sid Meier's classic series, and through it into the warp so that it emerged in the Warhammer 40K universe. Proxy's debut endeavour was another 4X called Pandora: First Contact, which was essentially a more war-focused version of Civilization: Beyond Earth (even though it came first). Gladius, staying true to its IP, is also more concerned about war than it is diplomacy, trade or culture. Victory comes through only a single means.

While we thoroughly enjoyed our romp across Gladius Prime, it remains to be seen whether a land-based 4X title can really survive the long-game with only only focus. Gladius is never-the-less a master-class in clean, concise UI, and the tutorial was one of the best I think we've ever encountered in a strategy game. It's also incredibly pretty, which makes Aggressors lack of investment in the visuals all the more a shame. Still, a worthy addition to the list and if you're looking for something that gets straight to the point, you might enjoy this.

Distant Worlds Universe

Publisher: Slitherine Ltd.
Developer: Code Force
Buy From: Steam, Direct, GOG

Distant4X

If you’re looking for a hardcore 4X strategy game experience, look no further than Code Force’s Distant Worlds Universe. The complexities and inner-workings of the game are unprecedented and would be suggested to players who are looking for a challenge. While this challenge may seem unfair, it’s the tactile enjoyment of the game that keeps its many players going.

The complexities found here are ones which nourish a feeling of accomplishment that isn’t found with any other strategy game to date. If you want to play games in a quick and dirty fashion, you can customize it to fit that way. Or, if you want to create an experience that has you exploring every nook and cranny of the galaxies that Distant Worlds has to offer, you can set that up for yourself as well. This is is a defining experience for 4X strategy game fans, and one not to be missed.

Endless Space 2 (Review)

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: AMPLITUDE Studios
Buy From: Steam

ES2 best 4x

If you’re looking for an easy way to get into the 4X strategy game genre, there aren’t any better places than with Endless Space 2. The user interface is easy to wrap your head around, and the game balances itself to ease players into the game’s systems. There’s a vast number of races in the game as well, and plenty of diverse gameplay options which will be sure to keep players busy.

Not only that, the soundtrack for Endless Space 2 is beyond comparison to the other games on this list. Mixing synthesized beats and ethereal orchestra samples to a tune which you won’t get tired of even when eclipsing your 100th hour. Endless Space 2 is a complete package which is a must have whether or not your looking to make your first dips into the 4X genre or are a genre veteran. We recently reviewed the game's latest expansion, Supremacy, which gives a glimpse as to where this 4X is at now in terms of features and potential. 

Stellaris

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Development Studios
Buy From: Steam

Stellaris4X

If you’re looking for something more demanding, but equally rewarding, then Stellaris from Paradox Interactive will be right up your alley. Paradox is known for creating incredibly deep strategy games which are complex, and Stellaris is no different. A combination of the developer's classic 'grand strategy' style, mixed with everyone's favourite 4X theme - space. The scale in Stellaris is grand, and there are not many games like it in the 4X genre. With an overt amount of attention to detail and intricacies, look into picking this game if you’re interested in a systems heavy strategy game that will lead you on a grand space adventure.

It's the newest and youngest of all the Paradox grand strategy titles at the time of writing, so it's still largely accessible, even if it suffers some growing pains. Potential is still high though, and the game is set to be introduced to new audiences when it comes to consoles later this year. We've also been digging into some of the upcoming  changes to the 2.2 'Le Guin' update, which looks like it could propel Stellaris is a whole new level.

Galactic Civilizations III (Review)

Publisher: Stardock Entertainment
Developer: Stardock Entertainment
Buy From: Steam 

GalCiv34x

Galactic Civilizations III is a success story that is built upon the developer’s ability to create an incredibly polished experience completely independently. The series was known for its ability to allow a user-experience like no other game, allowing mods that opened the door to hundreds of other science fiction properties. Galactic Civilizations III follows this legacy by not only opening the door to more player agency, but also establishing a core that is continuously built upon. 

Picking up Galactic Civilizations III and a variety of its DLC will be more than enough to keep you busy for years if this is the only strategy game that you manage to pick up from this list. The standard for 4X strategy games have been elevated since the release of it, and the customization for player experience is unparalleled. If you’re looking for a game which allows an unprecedented amount of game variety, look no further. 

Endless Legend

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: AMPLITUDE Studios
Buy From: Steam

Legend4x

A great deal of 4X strategy games take place in space, and a great deal of enjoyment from those games come from being able to roleplay as an empire of galactic proportions. If you’re looking for something that deals with swords and sorcery, then look no further than Endless Legend from the same developers that created the Endless Space series.

Similar game design concepts are transferred to this more colorful and grounded version of the 4X strategy game. AMPLITUDE studios have managed to transfer their talent for creating a diverse and interesting number of races to a fantasy setting, with lore that is satisfying to delve into. If you’re a beginner looking to get into strategy games, and aren’t incredibly into science fiction this may be right up your alley. Of special note should be our recent DLC buying guide for the game - it will help you decided which add-ons are right for you.

Age of Wonders III

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Triumph Studios
Buy From: Steam

AoW3

Another entry in the 4X strategy game ecosystem that relishes its fantasy elements is Age of Wonders III. There are six separate races in the game, ranging from humans to draconians. The story in Age of Wonders III is one of the primary draws however. Following two separate factions, the Commonwealth and the Elven Court. It’s a story that you won’t want to miss out on but be sure you’re already familiar with the mechanics of pre-existing 4X Strategy games because it can be hard to get into.

The game supports up to 8-player online multiplayer, allowing even more fun once you’ve closed off your time with the single-player story. It also has a map generator that is sure to provide endless amount of gameplay variety as well. Be sure to add it to your list, as the presentation for the game exceeds many of the other games on the list. Look to 2019 when Age of Wonders' next instalment, sic-fi themed Age of Wonders: Planetfall, gets released. That's looking incredibly promising.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Publisher: 2K
Developer: Firaxis
Buy From: Steam 

civ 5 best 4x

Ok, so we gave Civ 6 some time in the spotlight, but let's be honest: Civilization V is still where its at. While the design shift from Civ 4 to Civ 5 was equally as controversial at the time, through two expansions this iconic series' fifth entry has grown to become one of the most popular Civilization entries to date. It's attention to detail with regards to UI, hex-based gameplay and distinct playstyles informed a lot of what game after it in the 4X genre, and it's of no surprise it's younger sibling is struggling to take its place in the hierarchy.

Civilization V not only revitalised the genre, it also made the concept a lot more appealing to mainstream audiences. Beyond that, it's a solid title that offers infinitely repeatable experiences that span ages, and the modding community has really stepped up to offer players plenty of alternatives and variants on a standard game. While we're confident Civ 6 will get there eventually, it's got a tough act to follow, and this game probably deserves a spot in everyone's pantheon of strategy greats. If you want some further reading, we recommend our guide to the best civs & leaders in Civilization V.

What would your list of top 4X strategy games look like? Let us know in the comments!

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