Have you ever dreamed of becoming the ruler of the entire world and imposing your will upon all its inhabitants? Of course, you have, you just clicked on an article about grand strategy games. In many ways, grand strategy games are the ultimate power fantasy as they allow us to shape to our liking not just a character or a faction, but an entire world. Depending on what game you’re playing, that world can be based on history, fantasy, or sci-fi.
While grand strategy games can sometimes be found on other platforms, the subgenre is most often associated with PC gaming. And it’s easy to see why. These types of games usually require you to simultaneously maneuver multiple armies or sometimes even nations while also managing diplomacy, economy, espionage, and various other systems. It’s a bit hard to do all of that with a controller.
Needless to say, these games tend to be very complex and quite challenging, more so than most other genres. But that’s exactly what makes them so fun and rewarding for players willing to learn all their intricate little mechanics.
If you’re one of those players, we invite you to check out our list of top 10 best grand strategy games available on PC right now.
10. Age of History II
Previously known as Age of Civilizations II, Age of History II is an ambitious one-man project created independently by Polish developer Łukasz Jakowski. Most grand strategy games are developed by large teams so simply seeing one made independently is pretty impressive. Even more impressive is the fact that the game is really good, provided you can get past certain technical problems and geographical anomalies.
The main selling point of Age of History II is its smooth learning curve. Generally speaking, grand strategy games require you to bang your head against the wall for countless hours just to try and wrap your head around the core systems. That’s not the case here at all.
Age of History II provides players with a detailed map of the world featuring hundreds if not thousands of countries, provinces, and tribes. You can take control of any of these nations and try to conquer the world through warfare or diplomacy. Or a little bit of both.
The concept behind Age of History II is very simple and works not unlike a Paradox game, albeit greatly simplified. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re new to grand strategy games.
Judging by the Steam reviews, Age of History II hasn’t received any new updates in almost a year now. Sadly, it looks like support for the game has been completely discontinued. Still, the game only costs $5 and for that price, it’s definitely worth picking up.
9. Imperator: Rome
Imperator: Rome is one of Paradox’s least successful titles but the game has enough redeeming qualities to make it worth checking out. The setting alone is a big selling point as there are only a handful of other grand strategy games set in ancient Rome.
Imperator: Rome takes place between 304 BCE and 27 BCE, a period of time that roughly corresponds to Rome’s transition from a Republic to an Empire. Just like its name suggests, the ultimate goal is to become the first Roman emperor, though most of the game centers around the events leading up to the creation of the Empire.
Although Rome sits at the center of everything, the map actually spans from the Iberian Peninsula in the west all the way to India in the east. And you don’t even necessarily have to play as Rome since the game lets you take control of any nation or tribe present at the time.
Paradox paused support for the game in April of 2021, which is a shame because the developers managed to create some pretty good DLC up until that point. The DLC adds extra content centering around the Punic Wars, the Greek city-states, and the heirs of Alexander the Great.
8. Hegemony III: Clash of the Ancients
Hegemony is a series of historical grand strategy games taking place primarily during Classical Antiquity. The third entry in the franchise focuses on the civilizations living around the Mediterranean in the 5th century BC. Such as the Greek, Gauls, Latin, Illyrians, and Sicilians.
Hegemony III shares quite a few similarities with the Total War series, including real-time tactical battles. But it also has enough original features to allow it to differentiate itself from the vastly more popular franchise. For one, Hegemony III: Clash of the Ancients is a lot more focused on long-term planning.
Resource management is a lot more intensive here, with the creation and maintenance of supply lines being one of the core mechanics of the game. Combat is a key aspect as well but you can also achieve the ultimate goal of securing hegemony for your civilization through other means like culture or economy.
Hegemony III: Clash of the Ancients came out in 2015 and only received one expansion so far. A new expansion called Isle of Giants is set to launch sometime by the end of the year.
7. Victoria II
Victoria II is over a decade old at this point but don’t let its age fool you because the game still holds up great to this day. Of course, games like this are all about sifting through menus and that never gets old as long as the core management systems are solid. Which they definitely are in this case.
Victoria II takes place during a very interesting period in history spanning a full century from 1836 to 1936. This was a time of great turmoil as absolute monarchies were starting to become obsolete and much of Europe was transitioning to more democratic systems of government.
At the same time, colonization and slavery were still commonplace in some parts of the world in the 19th century, though these too would (mostly) become a thing of the past in the decades to come.
Although major wars were going on at the time as well, Victoria II focuses primarily on the political and societal changes occurring in the world. Warfare is a fairly important part of the game but it takes a backseat to diplomacy and economics.
Earlier in 2021 Paradox Interactive finally confirmed that Victoria 3 is more than just a meme. The game is indeed in development, however, we don’t have a release date just yet.
6. Total War: Three Kingdoms
The Total War series delivered a lot of great games over the years but Three Kingdoms stands out as a pretty unique example of historical fiction. There have been other games based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms in the past but none that felt as grandiose and epic as this one.
In some ways, Three Kingdoms plays exactly like most other Total War games. You’ve got a turn-based strategy layer coupled with real-time tactical battles and settlement management. Sieges are once again a big part of the gameplay loop but they’re certainly not one of the best parts. In spite of Creative Assembly’s attempts to introduce some innovations here and there, sieges in Total War are still not great.
The main highlight of Three Kingdoms is the Romance mode, which focuses on characters and storytelling more than you might expect from a Total War game. The Romance mode is based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel and thus provides a more fantastical look at the events surrounding it.
If you’re looking for a more historically authentic experience, you can try the Records mode instead.
Creative Assembly came under fire earlier this year after choosing to end support for the game without explaining why. Three Kingdoms received seven pieces of DLC since its release in 2019 but fans were expecting at least another expansion to fully flesh out certain parts of the game. Despite that, however, the game is definitely still worth playing, if just for the Romance mode alone.
5. Hearts of Iron IV
World War II is a pretty popular setting for grand strategy games and it’s easy to see why. The genre is based on tabletop wargames which, in turn, were originally inspired by military strategies used in real-world conflicts. There are quite a few WWII-themed grand strategy games out there you could try, but if you want to play the best of the best look no further than Hearts of Iron IV.
Hearts of Iron IV takes place over a much shorter timespan than most Paradox games, and understandably so. At the earliest, you can start off in 1936, though some scenarios will have you start in 1939. Normal matches are designed to end by late 1945 but you can keep playing beyond that if you really want to. Especially if you’re using mods.
Similar to other Paradox games, Hearts of Iron IV lets you take control of any nation in the world, provided it was around in 1936 or 1939. You can expect to have a lot of advantages by playing as one of the big powers of WW2 such as Germany, the Soviet Union or the United States. However, starting as a minor power and changing the course of history is arguably a lot more fun.
Hearts of Iron IV received over a dozen expansions and DLC packs over the years and Paradox is still not done supporting the game. In fact, a brand new expansion called No Step Back is set to launch later this month. If you were considering giving HOI IV a shot now would be as good a time as any.
If your ambitions go beyond mere global domination you may want to kick it up a notch and try ruling an entire galaxy. There’s a surprisingly limited amount of grand strategy games that allow you to do that, but luckily you can become galactic emperor in Stellaris.
Stellaris is a Paradox game set in the distant future that puts you in the shoes of a space-faring civilization bent on galactic conquest. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to impose your will on the galaxy via diplomacy or military force.
Paradox’s first foray into science fiction was met with some mixed feelings at first but most players eventually grew to admire the game’s scope and ambition. Without needing to keep things grounded for the sake of historical accuracy, the developers went all out and created a fascinating universe filled with procedurally generated planets to explore, bizarre species to meet, and even more bizarre stories to uncover.
One of the coolest things about Paradox games is that you can port your save state from one title to another. And, in the process, play a so-called “mega-campaign”. These usually go something like this: Crusader Kings III -> Europa Universalis IV -> Victoria II -> Hearts of Iron IV and ultimately culminating with Stellaris.
A bunch of issues can occur while converting save states but it’s still a neat idea regardless. Provided you have hundreds of hours at your disposal to play through four or five massive grand strategy games.
3. Crusader Kings III
Despite having been around for more than a year at this point, Crusader Kings III remains one of the most recent grand strategy games on the market. These types of games only pop up once or twice per year and half of the time they’re not even very good. But don’t worry because that’s definitely not the case with Crusader Kings III.
Crusader Kings III is essentially a dynasty simulator where your goal is to establish and maintain a powerful bloodline that will last several centuries. Similar to other grand strategy games, you have a huge map with territories and various other things to manage. However, the main focus here is on building a long-lasting legacy.
If you’re looking for a game that mimics the family drama and political squabbles of Game of Thrones this is as close as it gets for now. CK III might be a strategy game but you’ll spend most of your time interacting with characters and creating all sorts of crazy and funny storylines.
Don’t be surprised if CK III requires you to do some unsavory things to keep your bloodline pure. The game is set during the Middle Ages after all. Back then, monarchs were willing to do pretty much anything for the glory of their houses.
Crusader Kings III is still fairly new so no need to worry about having to invest a fortune in DLCs. On the other hand, this also means that CK III doesn’t have nearly as much content as its predecessor just yet. Speaking of, the base version of Crusader Kings II is available for free on Steam. Make sure to check it out if you want to get a taste of what the series has to offer.
2. Europa Universalis IV
Do you think Dark Souls is hard? Try stopping the Fall of Constantinople and restoring the Byzantine Empire in EU IV.
Europa Universalis IV is both one of the most frustrating and one of the most rewarding grand strategy games around. Not to mention extremely addictive once you finally manage to wrap your head around it.
Europa Universalis IV spans several centuries and lets you play as any nation that was around in 1444 or later. Nations will rise, fall and give birth to others over the course of the game depending on a multitude of factors. While each game of Europa Universalis IV starts pretty much the same, every match plays out differently and your actions will have a huge impact on how history unfolds.
Just as its name indicates, EU IV focuses quite a bit on Europe but you can take control of nations from any other continent. If you’re completely new to the game, though, you’ll probably want to stick to nations based around the Mediterranean because that’s where most of the action happens. At least in the base game.
If you want the complete Europa Universalis IV experience, you’ll definitely need to grab some of the DLC. And since this is a Paradox game that came out more than eight years ago, expect dozens of pieces of DLC to choose from. There’s so much extra content, in fact, that you’ll need some sort of guide to figure out what to buy and what to avoid as a new player.
The DLC is easily the most annoying part of Europa Universalis. But if you can get past it, and the very steep initial learning curve, you’ll find an amazing game here that can suck you in for hundreds upon hundreds of hours.
1. Total War: Warhammer II
Total War games don’t fit the grand strategy label exactly but they are roughly in the same category. You still have a large map with lots of armies and territories to manage, however, you’ll also spend a good chunk of time engaging in tactical battles. While there are several other entries in the Total War series that can satisfy your thirst for grand strategy, none of them can compare to Warhammer II in terms of scale and scope.
Total War: Warhammer II is an absolutely massive game featuring dozens of factions to choose from, ranging from Elves and Dwarves to lizardmen, ratmen, several types of undead, and so much more. Each faction has its own campaign and is led by a legendary lord who (usually) brings unique gameplay mechanics to the table.
Some factions are definitely more fun to play than others but they each have some sort of twist that makes them special. If you love strategy games with tons of variety you definitely won’t be disappointed by what Total War: Warhammer II has to offer. There’s really no other game out there with such an impressive roster of factions and units.
There’s just one little drawback you should be aware of. If you want to experience Total War: Warhammer II in all its glory you’re also going to need to own its predecessor. That’s because the game integrates with the original to create something called the Mortal Empires campaign. Which lets you play any of the factions introduced in both games on one ginormous map. Aside from that, it wouldn’t hurt to buy some of the DLC too.
A sequel, Total War: Warhammer III, is set to launch early next year. Keep an eye out for that.
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