Along with science fiction, fantasy is one of the most common settings chosen for strategy games. However, fantasy typically includes a greater diversity of hybrid games that crosses role-playing or adventure with strategy.
Ever since the development of tabletop fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, fantasy strategy games have done their best to capitalize on the setting’s design tropes. Here are the best fantasy strategy games of all time, with one entry per franchise, that will immerse players, young and old, in their incredible worlds and gameplay.
One of the main areas high-quality fantasy strategy games focus on is immersing the player in the game’s world and setting to help them feel like they’re part of a grander universe filled with wonder. There are many ways of approaching such immersion and Triumph Studios’ approach in Age of Wonders 3 is to give the player as much flexibility in character creation as possible.
For a 4X strategy game, Age of Wonders 3 boasts one of the most expansive and in-depth character customization systems that may even trick you into thinking that this is a full-on role-playing game. The game’s awesome strategic campaign and tactical battle layers, reminiscent of Total War, albeit with turn-based combat, give the player plenty of opportunities to realize and test out various character builds and tactics.
Despite this incredible variety and flexibility, Age of Wonders 3 suffers from a franchise issue where the strategic campaign feels shallow in comparison to the characters, heroes, and tactical battles. But if you’re looking for a fantasy sandbox experience where you can realize yourself as any fantasy leader, Age of Wonders 3 has that in spades.
14. Warlock: Master of the Arcane
Developer: Ino-Co Plus, 1C Entertainment Publisher: Paradox Interactive Platform(s): PC
Taking a step away from characters, role-playing, and adventuring mechanics, Warlock: Master of the Arcane focuses on a compelling strategic experience and unique mechanics. On the surface, Warlock looks like one of the Civilization games, simply with reskins of fantasy units and devastating spells for good measure.
Looking closer, Warlock takes the idea of fantasy worlds and the power of magic in an interesting direction by not only substituting the science tree for magic spells but also introducing the ability to travel to multiple worlds, which the sequel dives deeper into with mixed results. In addition, Warlock’s city-building system brought up a version of the district mechanic to specialize cities and give additional strategic flexibility in empire building.
Unfortunately, the game hasn’t aged too well in the graphics department and the UI can feel clunky and inefficient. Warlock wins out as a solid fantasy strategy game though, with its innovative mechanics and fantasy twist on the 4X formula.
Developer: League of Geeks Publisher: League of Geeks, Soedesco Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, Android
Great success in strategy game design doesn’t always have to come from grand or massively ambitious projects. Sometimes a solid board game with a great gameplay loop can do the trick and League of Geeks’ Armello does just that.
Armello sees the players choose an anthropomorphic animal character who’s vying to take the seat of the dying lion king in a Game of Thrones-esque world. The game’s key point of attraction is its charming art style and cerebral gameplay that balances out strategic choices, while the randomness of card game mechanics and dice-rolling adds just enough tension and uncertainty to elevate excitement all the more.
Though Armello may offer many different characters and the map is randomly-generated, it may feel repetitive after some time due to a lack of modes. Nevertheless, Armello’s razor-sharp focus on its core adventuring and card management gameplay system gives it a spot as one of the best fantasy strategy games of all time.
12. King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame
Developer: NeocoreGames Publisher: NeocoreGames, Ubisoft, Paradox Interactive, E Frontier Platform(s): PC
Another area of immersion that many fantasy strategy games explore is morality and its effect on grand strategy and tactics. This is a central theme in NeocoreGames’ modern adaptation of Arthurian legend, King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame.
As the title suggests, players will try themselves out as rulers tasked with improving their lands and facing geopolitical challenges, as well as adventurers who must personally go on quests to develop themselves as characters, define their moral and political philosophy, and attract companions who will aid you in your struggles. Just as Armello found a balance between randomness and perfect information, King Arthur balances out the strategic gameplay with role-playing supremely well to provide a well-rounded experience.
NeocoreGames did include a tactical battle mode, though this is where the game falters somewhat with its clunky camera controls, unbalanced map design, and limited scale. Nevertheless, despite the small development team and humble production values, King Arthur: the Role-playing Wargame provides some of the most immersive quests and role-playing opportunities of any strategy game out there.
11. Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth 2
Developer: EA Los Angeles Publisher: Electronic Arts Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
No discussion of fantasy gaming would be complete without mentioning the backbone of modern fantasy, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Luckily, the acclaimed film trilogy spawned a series of strategy games that adapted the source material while adding to it in interesting and respectful ways.
Battle for Middle-earth 2’s narrative takes place in parallel with the main events of the War of the Ring, following the efforts of Elves, Dwarves, and Dark Forces in their attempts to gain dominance in the lesser-known regions of Middle-earth. Structurally, the game combines classic RTS tropes, like base-building, with powerful character and magic abilities alongside unit formation fighting, giving greater tactical flexibility and a sense of scale in its combat engagements.
Fantasy settings do provide a wondrous opportunity to add powerful abilities and magic energies, though these can mess with the game’s balance, and Battle for Middle-earth 2 suffers from this. As an attempt to adapt Tolkien’s seminal work into a strategy gaming context, Battle for Middle-earth 2 certainly succeeds with flying colors.
10. Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith
Developer: Illwinter Game Design Publisher: Illwinter Game Design Platform(s): PC
After taking one look at Dominions 5, you may get the impression that this strategy game was developed on some old computer, in parallel with the original Dungeons and Dragons, due to the pixel art and old school interface and engine. Yet, Dominions 5 is very much a modern strategy game that harkens back to the old aesthetic and at the same time entices players with its deep gameplay.
There’s no other game on this list that goes to such detail in modeling its huge variety of civilization, split over three distinct technological ages, and magic that would make any fantasy game master’s jaw drop. The flexible, albeit clunky, command system for characters and units gives players an inordinate amount of control in preparing their tactics and strategies to fight whatever aggressive opponents on their borders.
The flipside of this depth and old-school-looking engine is that Dominions 5 has an incredibly steep learning curve that doesn’t help with learning the obtuse combat system and the AI’s auto-battling behavior. Though just like with any difficult problem, once you’ve climbed over the mountain of learning through trial-and-error, Dominions 5 will open up to be one of the deepest and most engaging fantasy 4X strategy games with great replayability.
9. Heroes of Might and Magic 5
Developer: Nival Interactive, Freeverse Inc Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC
The visual component is one of the most crucial ways to realize fantasy worlds, while at the same time distinguishing factions for an easy strategic read. This is where Heroes of Might Magic 5 succeeds so well that the visual design, vibrancy of color, and memorable aesthetics mask its venerable age.
Such a colorful visual symphony works wonders for Heroes of Might and Magic in the game design department as well, since as an adventure-strategy game, distinct visuals help with easily reading the battlefield, terrain, and units. This makes combat and exploration on the strategic map, in particular, all the more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, its world and character leveling system are quite convoluted that don’t match up to the quality of the visuals and combat. Despite these issues, Heroes of Might and Magic 5 remains a top-tier adventure-strategy game that has yet to be matched.
Speaking of adventure-strategy games, CA’s foray into the fantasy universe with the first Total War: Warhammer saw the Total War franchise incorporate more adventuring systems into the traditional empire-building mix. This has finally come to a head in the final installment of the eponymous trilogy with the release of Total War: Warhammer 3.
Of the Warhammer installments, the third one has some of the most interesting factions including the tentpole Chaos Daemons, as well as newcomers like Grand Cathay and a reimagined Kislev. Safe to say, there’s a faction for every playstyle that will invite players to sink dozens if not hundreds of hours not only into the single-player campaign but also in the expanded multiplayer modes in 8-player campaigns and new competitive battle modes.
Such size and ambition do lead to some cracks in Warhammer’s quality, mostly seen in its bugs, shallower empire management, and aging engine that limits balancing flexibility. However, just like the anticipated ending to any long-running story or series, Warhammer 3 succeeds where it matters most – source material adaptation and sheer variety, and is one of the biggest fantasy strategy games currently out on the market.
7. The Banner Saga 3
Developer: Stoic Studio Publisher: Versus Evil Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
There are few fantasy games that truly succeed in creating a distinct world with rich lore, unique peoples and cultures, and an aesthetic to match the narrative. The Banner Saga 3, and its two predecessors, are some of the few games to hit the nail of world-building right on the head.
The Banner Saga has a one-of-a-kind visual aesthetic style that harkens back to Cold War-era animation that’s combined with an inspired world that takes elements and cues from Norse mythology. What elevates the presentation even further is the apocalyptic narrative that affects the major characters to their very core and players get to role-play through these well-realized character arcs.
The combat is where the Banner Saga gives a bit of ground, especially in the first installment of the trilogy due to repetitive and grindy mission design that luckily does get better in the future titles. Altogether, the Banner Saga is the closest any game series has come to feeling like an amazing adult animated series come to life.
6. Endless Legend
Developer: Amplitude Studios Publisher: Sega, Iceberg Interactive Platform(s): PC
It’s definitely hard for fantasy games to stand out with their worlds, as it’s quite easy to fall into tropes or stray too close to an original source of inspiration. This can’t be said for Amplitude’s science-fantasy title in their multi-genre Endless universe, Endless Legend.
Amplitude has really made a name for itself as a developer of 4X strategy games that are able to introduce clever twists into various parts of their game – faction design, aesthetics, and the setting. Endless Legend has some of the most interesting factions of any fantasy strategy game, both from a presentation perspective, but also in their strategic behavior where each faction legitimately functions in a distinct manner on the campaign map.
Endless Legend also introduces a tactical system that many similar 4X strategy games can only dream of. Its implementation leaves much to be desired in that it doesn’t let players actively command their units, though this system did get a massive facelift in Amplitude’s own Humankind. When push comes to shove, Endless Legend knocks it out of the park with its clever faction design and trope-bending science-fantasy world.
5. Age of Mythology: Extended Edition
Developer: Ensemble Studios, SkyBox Labs Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios, Xbox Game Studios, MacPlay, MacSoft Platform(s): PC
You definitely can’t go wrong with the classics and Age of Mythology, brought to you by the developers of the highly influential Age of Empires series, is the premier fantasy classic RTS. It takes the successful Age of Empires formula of mixing base building and army command and throws in a healthy dose of fantasy elements to create an equally riveting experience.
While the factions aren’t anything to write home about, it’s the mythological deities and powers from various pantheons, such as Egypt, Greece, and Scandinavia, that really liven each match up. In fact, the godlike powers added so much to the core loop of resource gathering, constructing fortifications, and skirmishing with the enemy that a version of them found their way into the previously mentioned Battle for Middle-earth 2.
Age of Mythology’s quality is proof that the right setting can help modify or even elevate an established game dynamic with the right mechanics and features, in this case, the variable gods and their divine gifts. Of the fantasy RTS games, Age of Mythology is undoubtedly one of the best.
4. Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Studios, Sickhead Games Publisher: Red Hook Studios, Merge Games, Degica Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS Vita, Switch, Xbox One, iOS
The right source of inspiration can act as an infinite well of potential game design and aesthetic ideas that will stay with players for years to come. This is the exact situation with Red Hook Studios’ Darkest Dungeon – a Lovecraftian-inspired horror war simulator dungeon crawler.
Players take the role of an unnamed protagonist who must lead the effort of cleaning out the mess left by their predecessor and discover the secrets to the titular Darkest Dungeon. Just like with Banner Saga, Darkest Dungeon has an immediately recognizable style that emphasizes the dread and despair the player and their characters will feel as they fight the most horrific enemies in snappy and engaging tactical combat.
The flipside of the long haul war simulator approach to the core loop is that it can leave any individual expedition feeling grindy, unrewarding, and meaningless. However, even these apparent downsides inadvertently feed into Darkest Dungeon’s narrative themes of existential dread and psychological pressure, which elevates the game’s high status even further.
3. Final Fantasy Tactics
Developer: Square Publisher: Square, Sony Computer Entertainment Platform(s): PS1, Android
The Final Fantasy franchise is known for its bombastic style, intricate lore, and incredible visuals. So it comes as a surprise that Final Fantasy Tactics, a spinoff of the main franchise while retaining the high quality of the best installments, subverts many of Final Fantasy’s tropes to create something original.
One thing Tactics maintains is the central role of its main cast characters in the story and that players are experiencing a gripping tale of complex politics, relationships, and motivations that stray away from simple binary answers of good and evil. This character focus also feeds into the tight tactical gameplay, while small in scale, giving plenty of opportunities for players to experiment with classes, builds, and squad compositions to tackle different challenges.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the game’s tactical combat, as there are some balancing issues that not only break immersion but also make a number of the mission challenges meaningless. At the end of the day, Final Fantasy Tactics wins out with its narrative quality and squad customization.
2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo Games Publisher: Nintendo Platform(s): Switch
A kind of modern update to Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem: Three Houses perfects and builds upon many of Tactics’ best elements, most prominently the characters. If Tactics had a bit more of a linear approach to the player’s relation to the characters, Fire Emblem expounds upon that by opening the door wide open in terms of character interactivity and relationship-building.
The characters are also at the center of Fire Emblem’s extensive customization system, which has such a deep feature set that it can easily overwhelm many new players. It also works to the game’s benefit that the anime-inspired visual design accents character differences, but also gives life to the world and dynamic energy to the combat.
There are so many options for character interactivity and customization that it may end up feeling a bit like busy work or even content bloat for the sake of content, but on the whole, players won’t notice these issues much, due to how much the characters matter to your enjoyment of the game. Fire Emblem: Three Houses has little competition in the strategy genre on the Switch and is easily the best fantasy strategy game on that platform.
1. Battle Brothers
Developer: Overhype Studios Publisher: Overhype Studios, Ukiyo Publishing Limited Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X & S, Switch
Though at the outset, Battle Brothers may not look like a fantasy game, due to its low fantasy setting, and instead more like a Medieval 2D budget rip-off of Mount and Blade, it contains all the hallmarks of a great fantasy strategy game that will last for years to come. Chief among these elements is the game leaving the door wide open for players to fully immerse and realize themselves as mercenary leaders in a living, dynamically-evolving world filled with secrets to discover.
Another highlight of Battle Brothers’ quality is that the low fantasy elements, such as magic, otherworldly creatures, and special abilities serve as challenge elements to force players out of their comfort zone, particularly in combat. Speaking of combat, Overhype Studios did an incredible job of making all kinds of weapons, perks, and equipment have legitimate and useful effects in combat, which further emphasizes the freedom players have in developing their own tactics.
Finally, Battle Brothers finds the right balance between its inherent level of challenge that may intimidate some and the incredibly addictive gameplay loop that will hook most players, as you will tangibly grow and learn with every playthrough. Overhype has made something truly special, a game that’s not only the best that fantasy games can offer but a standard that all strategy game developers can look to for guidance and inspiration.
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