In this article, we’re going to discuss the top 10 most realistic strategy games that are available to play in 2023.
Realism in strategy games can mean beautiful graphics and an overall engrossing and immersive gameplay experience grounded in history. It can also mean economic and political simulations that are so intricate and complex they are likely to make your eyes water.
Some games on this list are classics of the strategy genre, while others use current computer technology and modern game design sensibilities to carry the genre forward.
Maybe you want to lead an army into a battle where tactical understanding and skillful micromanagement will carry the day. Or maybe your goal is to lead your civilization to prosper through skillful management and political maneuvering while remaining peaceful.
Either way, there’s something for you on this list.
So get ready for grand sweeps of history while you put every aspect of your civilization under a microscope, trying to fine-turn your efficiency to outplay your opponents.
A Total War Saga: Troy is a turn-based strategy game by developer Creative Assembly Sofia. It was released in 2020 and currently has a mostly positive review rating on Steam.
The game is set in the Bronze-Age Mediterranean and makes that world come alive with beautifully done map graphics and period-inspired mud-brick houses. Additionally, its ancient battlefields lack the numerous bows and cavalry common in historically based strategy games set in later time periods.
This has the effect of giving lighter and more agile armies the advantage of positioning over their slower, more encumbered counterparts.
Mythical creatures and heroes also make their way onto the game’s battlefields. This doesn’t earn the game any realism points but does root it in real-world mythology and add some fun and magic in the process.
A Total War Saga: Troy lacks some of the historical grounding and detailed societal systems of some of the other games mentioned in this article.
However, it’ll win you over with its enchanting graphics and artistically rendered ancient Greek-inspired UI. All of this comes together to make a beautiful and immersive game world and land it a spot on our list as one of the most realistic strategy games out there.
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is a remake of the classic real-time strategy game by developer Forgotten Empires. It was released in 2019 and has a mighty rating on OpenCritic, with 91% of critics recommending it.
The game has been updated with high-definition graphics, improved AI, and better quality-of-life features than the original Age of Empires II. The overall feel and gameplay have, for the most part, remained the same.
There are over 30 playable civilizations, each with one or more unique units and multiple unique technologies. This gives varied gameplay to the classic RTS gameplay loop of building a base, harvesting resources, and amassing an army to take on your opponents.
Furthermore, the game has four distinct ages that you progress through as you go. You begin in the dark age, herding sheep and hunting animals like wild boars and deer.
By the fourth and final age of the game, the Imperial Age, you will have seen your civilization transform dramatically, with new technologies and units, the ability to construct a “Wonder” and access to gunpowder.
When it comes to realistic real-time strategy games, it’s hard to think of any that do it better than Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. With units, factions, and technologies inspired by the real world and a great sense of balance, pacing, and fun.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is a mixture between real-time tactics and turn-based strategy games by developer Creative Assembly. It was released in 2019 and has an OpenCritic rating of mighty, with 93% of critics recommending it.
Set in China during the Three Kingdom period, the game features “Romance” and “Records” modes.
The Romance mode gives you a mythologized version of the game in which the generals you command are powerful to the point of being nearly superhuman. For instance, one generally has the potential to take out whole formations of enemy combatants.
Records mode, on the other hand, offers a more historically accurate version of the game in which generals have their powers removed and take on a more believable role in combat.
The game starts in 190 CE with the Han dynasty teetering on the edge of collapse. Its campaign is set in the historical conflict generated out of this tumultuous era, with warlords arising to pursue their aims and ambitions.
Each character has its own set of likes, dislikes, personality traits, and motivations, adding realism and nuance to the game’s political and interpersonal dynamics.
Total War: Three Kingdoms offers a modern tactical game with new, creative, and rewarding systems. The flexibility and personalities of the characters in the game, when added to its attractive graphics and historical setting, take this game’s realism to the next level.
Rise of Nations is a real-time strategy game with turn-based elements by developer Big Huge Games. It was released in 2003 to a strong critical reception, winning multiple game-of-the-year awards. Rise of Nations: Extended Edition was released on Steam in addition to improved visuals and new game features.
The game spans from ancient times into modern times across eight ages of human history. This makes it the most historically expansive game on our list in terms of time covered.
In addition, the game has settings to allow you to choose to remain in a certain age, though, just in case you aren’t feeling up to spanning all of human history on every playthrough.
There are also 18 playable nations, each with their own abilities and unique units. Combat allows for different unit formations, although the lack of formation options and somewhat clunky unit control and micro do show the game’s age a bit.
Rise of Nations is a now classic strategy game that tackles huge swaths of history while managing to maintain both fun and balance. It allows for non-military victories and uses stages of technological development across cultures to ground its enjoyable gameplay in history, putting it at number 7 on our list of the most realistic strategy games.
6. Victoria 2
Victoria II is a grand strategy game by developer Paradox. It was released in 2010 and currently has a very positive review rating on Steam.
In Victoria II, you can play as over 200 different countries, working to expand your sphere of influence and curry favor with other governments. The game is set in the time between 1835 and the start of WWII.
It features in-depth systems of production, economics, and population simulation. All citizens have different jobs and specializations. Your population even has a literacy rating, which will affect your ability to industrialize effectively.
The production systems in the game involve the building and management of factories. These factories are used to create dozens of different goods for use in production or trade with other countries.
Aside from factories, there are units called artisans who produce specialized goods such as furniture. You’ll need to consider what goods you will produce and what goods you will trade for in the world economy to grow your empire and achieve financial and political success.
In addition to factories, you have to gather raw resources used in the production of your country’s goods. These resources are things like coal, coffee, oil, wool, and iron–that you will need in different stages of the game to succeed.
Victoria II’s focus on national political influence, and sprawling economy and production systems gives it an impressive amount of depth and realism you’re looking for.
Age of Empires IV is a real-time strategy game by developer Relic Entertainment in collaboration with World’s Edge. It came out in 2021, nabbing some video game awards and general critical success.
The game is set during the medieval era and spans nearly into the Renaissance period. You take control of your choice of one of eight different civilizations, including the Abbasid Dynasty, the Delhi Sultanate, the French, the Chinese, and the Holy Roman Empire.
Each civilization comes with unique units, unique buildings, and unique landmarks inspired by their historical equivalents. Examples of these unique units are the “Camel Rider” for the Abbasid Dynasty, the “War Elephant” for the Delhi Sultanate, and Longbowman for the English.
Age of Empires IV uses the tried and true real-time strategy elements of base building, and economy and unit management. The game also features a large single-player campaign that uses historical flashpoints as the basis for its levels.
It’s these sorts of educational nods to history scattered throughout the game’s varied scenarios, and civilizations, that separate it from the pack as far as a sense of realism that’s grounded in history.
Crusader Kings III is an RPG strategy game by developer Paradox. The game was released in 2020 to very positive reviews.
Crusader Kings III is set in the Middle Ages, where you play a fictional ruler set in a realistic, if an alternative, version of historical Earth. This game doesn’t have you seeking out win conditions but rather allows you to create and pursue your own goals. As long as you have an heir to pass rulership of your kingdom to, the game will continue.
In this way, you can tell your own sprawling story with all the battles, deception, and intrigue you might hope for.
Your ruler has to deal with the stress and political maneuvering that being a ruler entails. If they are compelled to go against their personality to achieve the aims of the kingdom, they will suffer from increased stress. This means that your ruler will need to develop methods of dealing with stress, such as taking up drinking.
These choices not only influence the way your ruler behaves but also how they relate to other rulers and the overall story that emerges during the course of your game.
Crusader Kings III is an ambitious simulation that might be off-putting to some new or casual players. However, the UI has been improved since Crusader 2, and you’ll be able to get your feet under you with some practice.
It brings the historical, personal, political, and tactical together with a surprising amount of depth and realism.
Civilization VI is a turn-based strategy 4X game by developer Firaxis Games. It was released in 2016 and has an 88 out of 100 score on Metacritic for PC.
This game uses historical leaders of nations as the template for the game’s rulers. Each ruler has their own set of unique attributes and special abilities, such as different levels of aggression or willingness to use tactics such as spying.
In a change from past Civilization games, there are now “districts” in cities which adds another level of nuance and complexity to how you plan your cities. This means you are best off if you think ahead about where to place everything as your civilization expands.
The game has a complex but approachable research system as well as systems of government that will define how you play and operate your civilization. This means added depth during the course of the game, keeping you engaged throughout.
Civilization VI’s nod to history, as well as its complex system of research and politics, give it a realism edge over many strategy games. Add in city planning, unique ruler attributes, and the fact that military might is not the only path to victory, and this game lands at number three on our list.
Europa Universalis IV is a grand strategy game by developer Paradox Development Studio. It was released in 2013 and has since garnered a large following.
The game offers a huge map of the world, and you can choose to play as any country you would like. Whatever country you choose will have its gameplay defined by the geography of that region, such as if they are an island or placed at the center of a continent.
Additionally, each country has a set of “national ideas”, which are a set of characteristics based on how that country functioned historically. These “national ideas” can provide things such as production and military bonuses allowing for more robust economic and military power and making each country play differently.
Further, the game has a technology progression system that is separated into the three categories of administrative, diplomatic, and military.
Using points in this system is important for unlocking new unit types, building more advanced buildings, and gaining national wealth. Diplomacy, religion, and trade also come into play as part of the game’s complex and sprawling systems.
Europa Universalis IV encompasses almost 400 years of world history, allowing you to play as even the smallest of countries and choose the period you would like to explore. The complexity and nuance of the game systems combine with that of its historical references to achieve a level of realism most strategy games would never even attempt.
And finally, our pick for the most realistic strategy game out there. Hearts of Iron IV is a grand strategy game by developer Paradox Development Studio. It was released in 2016, becoming the fastest-selling Paradox game up to that point.
Set during World War II, the game is staggeringly complex and allows you to play as any nation with either a 1936 or 1939 start date.
To give you an idea of the level of detail provided in this game, there are over 11,000 regions and provinces to move through while playing. Climate, terrain, and weather patterns are modeled in every province. Each of these conditions noticeably affects both movement and combat in those areas.
Production and economy both play a big part in Hearts of Iron IV as they did in World War II itself. You control civilian factories used to create better infrastructure for your supply lines, shipping ports, and most other buildings you may need.
Military factories, on the other hand, are used to create tanks, planes, supplies, etc. Switching a factory from one type of military production means you lose efficiency, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
Hearts of Iron IV takes a moment in history and fills it with loads of historical data and even more game systems to make something that is somewhere between a strategy game and simulation.
This game could take you as long to learn as some less ambitious games may take to complete giving it the number one spot on your list.
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