The Eight Strategy Games I've Played the Most (And What They Mean't to Me)04 Nov 2019 1
I couldn’t tell you why I enjoy strategy gaming as much as I do. It’s by no means my only gaming related love - I play a lot of Rainbow Six Siege in my personal time, but that’s only because I have a group of friends and we team up together. Still, Siege is a very ‘tactical’ shooter - it’s not about running around and fragging all who come before you - it requires planning, coordination… strategy.
I’ve been writing about videogames for over ten years now, and my main ‘beat’, if it were to be anything, would be strategy games. I’ve been playing strategy games for as long as I can remember. My go-to answer is Warcraft 1 or 2 as my first, but it could have been a number of games from around then.
Naturally, if you sort my Steam library by time-played, Strategy games are dominant. Doing what I do means that I’m not really able stick with games for long for the most part - usually I have to move on to the next thing. The games that I do have a lot of time spent playing, then, represent the core of what strategy gaming means to me.
Since it’s a slow day and I’m in an experimental mood, I thought why not delve quickly into that list and offer some commentary of my time with each game.
Europa Universalis 4 - 420 Hours
For a long while, EU4 was my go-to grand strategy game. I say ‘was’ - I haven’t actually logged in since May this year. Still, it’s the one I’ve put the most time into and while I enjoy the other GSG for different reasons, this one was able to bring me back consistently. Being able to explore such a wide breadth of history was very appealing, and I think it’s been the most successful at adding and revising game-features over time.
Like CK2 the past year or two have felt like they’ve started to run out of ideas a bit in terms of DLC, but I’d argue that most of the game’s diverse regions now have a pretty compelling case for a game-run. I’ve spent the most multiplayer time in EU4 as well, I believe. It's not on the priority list to return to - but there is a European shake-up on the way as well as a new DLC, so I imagine I'll want to check that out.
Sword of the Stars 2 - 133 Hours
Considering I haven’t played this game since January 9th, 2013, it amazes me this still holds second place, although only by an hour, now. Sword of the Stars 2 is a very bitter-sweet memory for me - it was supposed to be the ultimate space 4x game. I played a ton out of the original game (for how long I don’t know, it was one I had linked to Steam), and I remember being very excited when they announced SOTS2.
Between the improved strategy layer mechanics and the absolutely GORGEOUS graphical fidelity in the tactical battle engine, this should have been the last word in Space 4X strategy gaming. The fact that I have 130 hours in it shows that it definitely had something, but it was a very troubled game… the launch build was pretty trash, and even when the free expansion dropped things like the Strategic AI and other late-game concepts were just lacking. And then Cerberos off and left, so the game got very little support. It recently had a fan-patch, which I’ve yet to try out.
Civilization V - 132 Hours
Civilization was never one of my staples growing up. In fact, my first Civilization game was Civilization 4… and that was only after Civ 5 has been announced. I needed to bring myself up to speed for the Civ 5 review. I rather enjoyed it as a relative newcomer, and I suspect that was its purpose. A lot of Civ 4 fans hated it, but it was never a game for them. It still isn’t, and neither is Civ 6 although I haven’t been quite as taken with that game as I was Civ 5.
I haven’t played this one since 2015 (I’m beginning to sense a theme with my top-played games) and it’s doubtful I’ll go back. It’s not that it’s not enjoyable anymore, it’s just that I have other newer games that can scratch a similar itch.
Hearts of Iron 4 - 111 Hours
I go through phases with Hearts of Iron 4. I love the idea of a sandbox wargame, and as more updates and expansions get released HoI4 is consistently an attractive prospect to play. I especially love the alt-history options available. It’s still a problematic game in many ways, however.
For starters, I find the Focus Trees a bit stressful - as they get more and more elaborate, I find them increasingly hard to navigate. They also kind of make entire portions of the game slightly pointless, like manual diplomacy. Secondly, I tend to rush things to get to ‘the war’, but in a very passive sense. Once the war starts, I find myself increasingly more frustrated with how quickly the frontlines mechanic breaks down on fast-moving fronts… rinse and repeat a few more times as I try out different nations, and then I’m generally good until the new expansion comes out. I’ve been meaning to try out some mods, as there’s some great ones out there.
Kerbal Space Program - 105 Hours
I both love and fear KSP. I love space - I love the idea of it, I love the reality of it… I want mankind to go into space and do space things. Being able to do this in KSP is pretty much all my childhood dreams come true… except it’s a game that rewards people the most if the know anything about orbital mechanics and delta-v, and I often find I don’t have the time or inclination to learn that stuff.
It’s another game I go through phases with - I’ve never actually had a successful Mun mission (I could land, but not return safely). I find building rockets a bit stressful, like a puzzle I can’t quite figure out. It’ll be interesting to see what KSP 2 does to try and make the game a bit more accessible for idiots like me who just wants to explore the solar system.
Stellaris - 101 Hours
The third grand-strategy game to grace the list, I’ve always loved the idea of Stellaris but I’ve found its execution to leave much to be desired. The early game is still pretty fantastic - getting out there, exploring your environment and meeting your first races… I think Stellaris has individual elements that should become a standard for the genre as a whole.
Recent design decisions though have tried to make it more like ‘EU in Space’, and I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet. It also still has some issues going into the late game, and there can be long stretches where nothing happens. I haven’t played it since September 2018 and I suspect I won’t until the Federations update drops.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within - 88 Hours
Firaxis’ re-imagining of XCOM is a game that revolutionised what it means to be a turn-based tactics game. It managed to walk a very tricky tight-rope of offering depth and challenge, but also being accessible and easy to understand. It had wonderfully touching mechanics in terms of squad management, a base-building interface that was never boring… I won’t say it was the ‘perfect’ game but many have tried to take on the lessons of XCOM, and few actually succeeded (not even the sequel, which I’ve barely played by comparison).
I’ve not touched XCOM 1 since 2015, and I doubt I’ll play it again - I had a great time with it, completed it once (the ending is naff), checked out the Long War mod, and then I was done. The sequel is in a better place now so I’m overdue spending some more time with it.
Empire: Total War - 82 hours
Today’s final entry is another oldie - I haven’t touched Empire since October 2015. I suspect that was only to remind myself what it was like, because Napoleon: Total War was out by then and my last play of that was a couple of days later.
I actually made my first ever custom PC just so I could play Empire when it came out (my laptop wasn’t going to cut it). I reviewed it, too favourably given it was a technical mess, but I enjoyed enough that it lasted me until Napoleon came. I watched a lot of Sharpe growing up so I had a lot of time for NTW’s theme and it was technically the better game, but I do remember missing Empire’s scope.
What are your most played games, and why? Let us know in the comments!