Science fiction is one of the most common settings for strategy games to explore. Since Space Invaders took the gaming world by storm in 1978, sci-fi has captivated the minds of video game developers. Just as technology and space exploration are limitless frontiers for humanity, this setting has just as much potential for innovation and clever design in the strategy genre.
Currently, there’s a smorgasbord of sub-genres and titles to choose from ranging from detailed tactical ship combat all the way to managing vast space empires. In fact there are so many sci-fi strategy games out there that it can be overwhelming simply looking at what’s available. To give new players a start and for veterans to revisit, here’s our list of the best sci-fi strategy games of all time.
The Best Sci-Fi Strategy Games
20. Star Wars: Empire at War
Developer: Petroglyph Games Publisher: LucasArts Platform(s): PC, macOS
Starting off our list is arguably the best Star Wars strategy game currently available, though there really isn’t much choice in that regard.
Star Wars: Empire at War stands out simply for its originality and attempt to fulfill the potential for awesome strategy games in popular licences (where are the Star Trek, Expanse, and Warhammer 40K grand strategy games?). Of course, one of the strongest parts of the game is its license being brought to life on a grand strategic and tactical scale, with Empire at War covering the Legends version of the Galactic Civil War and post-Endor shenanigans.
From a gameplay standpoint, Empire at War was ahead of its time due its excellent space battles that effectively combined the grandeur, excitement, and complexity of starfighter and capital ship warfare. On the flipside, however, the ground combat, while introducing many cool units unseen in the films and other expanded content, is generic, small-scale, and painfully tedious.
Empire at War may be dated in its mechanics, but it’s had a recent rebirth with an explosion in the modding scene, making it one of the most customizable sci-fi strategy games.
19. Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock
Developer: Black Lab Games Publisher: Slitherine Software Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Going for a smaller scale approach, Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock did for its franchise what the previous entry did for Star Wars – explore the license from the unique perspective of strategy gaming.
Deadlock, however, focuses almost completely on tactical ship combat ( an evolution of Empire at War’s space combat) presented through a compelling narrative campaign (canon to the universe, mind you) covering the bloody First Cylon War. If Empire at War is notable for the fame of its license, then Deadlock stands out for its adaptation of the highly underrated Battlestar Galactica universe.
The tactical ship combat can’t be beat in Deadlock due to the wide variety of ships and large number of tools players have at their disposal, ranging from small fighter squadrons and different types of ordnance, all the way to defensive flak fields, power shunting, and hacking. Unfortunately, Deadlock can get quite repetitive in its campaign due to limited mission design, which keeps it from being higher on the list. Nonetheless, the methodical, tactical gameplay and lengthy story make Deadlock one of the best sci-fi strategy games of all time.
18. Nexus: The Jupiter Incident
Developer: Mithis Entertainment, Eidos Hungary Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games, THQ Nordic, HD Interactive, Handy Games Platform(s): PC
From flotillas of ships down to single ships, Nexus: The Jupiter is a one-of-a-kind starship command real-time tactics game. It’s more like a Star Trek: Bridge Commander in its approach than a Battlfleet Gothic, and as such focuses more on the intricacies of being a ship captain.
Nexus veers much closer to hardcore sci-fi in its setting with realistic physics, maneuvering, and weapon behavior taking center stage. This attention to detail and realism gives the game a compelling gritty feel, despite the presence of (literally) outlandish aliens and fighting amongst the stars.
The flipside of this grounded approach is that Nexus can feel very intimidating and inaccessible on top of a clunky UI and somewhat dated graphics. But behind that clunk and debris is a game with an intricate and engaging tactical system that’s yet to be succeeded.
Developer: Harebrained Schemes Publisher: Paradox Interactive Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
Essentially, BattleTech is Mount and Blade or Battle Brothers, but with awesome battlemechs. Though it may be far more obscure than Battlestar Galactica, the BattleTech universe makes a splash with its eponymous mechanized warfare that’s barely been touched in the strategy genre at this scale and quality.
The highlights of the game are of course its mech-related gameplay, in particular loadout customization and the tactical turn-based combat, which involve a huge amount of items, biomes, terrain features, and pilot abilities. The game does suffer a similar degree of tedious repetition as Deadlock due to the grindy nature of BattleTech’s mercenary management style of gameplay.
What tedium there is isn’t enough to knock down the game’s solid combat and diverse modding scene, giving it a guaranteed degree of longevity.
16. Endless Space 2
Developer: Amplitude Studios Publisher: SEGA Platform(s): PC, MacOS
Returning to the 4X sub-genre, Endless Space 2 immediately captivates with its incredible visuals and asymmetric faction design — a speciality of Amplitude Studios. The Endless Space franchise is an interesting example of modern strategy gaming as it shows both the best and the worst practices of sci-fi grand strategy games.
Endless Space’s design is quite lop-sided in its focus and quality, in that the strategic component, arguably the most important in such a game, is one of the best on the market due to the variety of systems at play in regard to resource production, diplomacy, and research. On the other hand, the combat system is a disappointment and invalidates parts of research and ship design, which are both vital gameplay components (Galactic Civilizations 3 and the recent Master of Orion reboot also suffer from such issues).
However, due to the excellent production values and intriguing lore, Endless Space 2 embodies the best that sci-fi games have to offer.
On the topic of longevity, Master of Orion 2 is the grandfather of all modern sci-fi 4X grand strategy games that still holds up to this day. On the surface, it may look like an ancient, clunky, and outdated sci-fi strategy game, but in this case you need to respect your elders. Only a select few have been able to match the perfect balance of all of Master of Orion’s systems, though many have come close.
It may lack the graphical grandeur and massive scale of some of the more recent 4X titles, but it laid the groundwork for all to come after it, featuring interesting faction design, competent AI, and diplomacy, the latter two plaguing modern titles to this day. While it may not look overly flashy and the UI can be clunky, Master of Orion 2 is still worth a look.
Many legacy and older games are no longer relevant or enjoyable due to technical and design issues in our modern day and age, but Master of Orion 2 is a rare case where such a game still provides enjoyment to be had while remaining one of the best sci-fi strategy games of all time.
14. Infested Planet
Developer: Rocket Bear Games Publisher: Rocket Bear Games Platform(s): PC
One franchise that’s been conspicuously absent from strategy gaming is Starship Troopers, with knock-off titles and Warhammer 40K picking up the slack. Infested Planet is one such game that manages to capture that archetypal dynamic of power-armored badass space marines fighting hordes of ravenous bug-like aliens. In a way, it also feels a bit like a reverse precursor to the popular They Are Billions, only instead of constantly base-building and defending, the player takes the fight to the aliens, all the while cutting through masses of dangerous enemies.
Despite the implied intensity of the game’s setting and premise, Infested Planet is actually a methodical real-time tactics game of breaking up enemy threats and finding gaps to reach the valuable enemy spawn points. The action and artstyle are good and all, but the game can be somewhat shallow in its treatment of the titular power-armored marines.
However, for a small indie game, Infested Planet rises above the rest as an excellent sci-fi strategy game thanks to its neat premise, colorful artstyle, and solid gameplay.
13. Age of Wonders: Planetfall
Developer: Triumph Studios Publisher: Paradox Interactive Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
From galactic grand strategy to planetary grand strategy, Age of Wonders: Planetfall takes the unusual step of shifting the traditionally fantasy franchise into sci-fi, quite successfully in fact. Planetfall is an amalgam of several games — such as Alpha Centauri, Heroes of Might and Magic, and XCOM — that inform its main design features for the strategic and tactical modes. It’s not a revolutionary title, but it’s as solid a sci-fi game as any.
The biggest point of attraction and interest is the flexible secret technology system that inadvertently leads to the game’s insane level of customization, mostly for units and heroes. The drawback is that the strategic and civic component of the game ends up feeling shallow and simple, in addition to the factions lacking a bit of identity and standout features, but it doesn’t negatively impact the game too much.
All told, Planetfall’s intense combat and highly flexible multiplayer system makes it one of the best sci-fi strategy games of all time.
12. Into the Breach
Developer: Subset Games Publisher: Subset Games Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, Stadia
For something even smaller scale, Into the Breach sees the player take command of a time-traveling troop of mech pilots attempting to save Earth from kaiju devastation. As a roguelike, the time travel premise is certainly fitting and gives the game an excellent lore reason for its structure. Into the Breach may be small-scale, but it definitely packs a powerful punch.
The game’s systems are quite simple as players fight on tiny puzzle-like battles, but the complexity from the variety of mechs and ever-evolving kaiju enemies makes every encounter a meaty challenge. Into the Breach isn’t quite as expansive or iconic as Subset’s earlier strategy offering, but has the same level of quality in its execution, especially in the pixel art and depth of tactical gameplay.
Into the Breach’s small scale makes it one of the most accessible strategy games in general and is an excellent place for beginners and anyone curious.
Likely the game to ever come close to repeating Master of Orion’s success in sufficiently balancing all gameplay systems, Sword of the Stars is a grand strategy space opera 4X along the same lines as Endless Space 2. It may be quite old now, but unlike Master of Orion’s aged idiosyncrasies, Sword of the Stars is still worth playing even to this day, especially given the precarious state of its sequel.
Where Endless Space 2 went for the asymmetric approach in its faction design, Sword of the Stars takes a more traditional approach in that the faction’s operate more similarly, but they’re distinct enough in visuals, technology, and specialty to be a highlight of the game. Moreover, Sword of the Stars has an excellent ship builder and solid real-time tactics mode that put the game a head above the rest, even compared to some modern games.
The game’s biggest issue is its steep learning curve due to a clunky tutorial and multitude of poorly presented systems, making the game’s age stand out even more. Once players get past the mountain of learning, they’ll find quite the gem of a sci-fi strategy game waiting for them.
Very much in the same vein as Master of Orion 2, Alpha Centauri is the grandfather of planetary level 4X grand strategy games. Though, unlike the former, which has opened the floodgates to imitators, successors, and competitors, Alpha Centauri more or less stands alone in its particular brand of grand strategy. You’d think that a sci-fi version of the Civilization series would be a slam dunk, especially with the original dev team at the helm, but alas only recently have there’ve been some moderately successful attempts to recapture that magic.
Alpha Centauri’s main highlights include its excellent factions with unique technology and victory conditions, as well as the constant interaction between the player and the planet’s environment, the latter of which feeling like a fully developed player in itself. The game also incorporates meaningful unit customization options that reflect both graphically and on gameplay systems.
Though graphically outdated and featuring a clunky control system that gives the game quite the learning curve, these flaws aren’t enough to hamper Alpha Centauri’s efforts to innovate and push the genre forward.
9. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2
Developer: Tindalos Interactive Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform(s): PC
The first Warhammer strategy game to grace the list, though just like Star Wars, the 40K universe is on the razor’s edge between true sci-fi and science-fantasy. But hey, it has spaceships, space monsters, space marines, and a whole lot more stuff labelled with space so it qualifies for this list (magic is just misunderstood science, don’t you know?).
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 finds itself in a unique position of being not only the sole 40K space combat game, but also the only 40K grand strategy game, albeit a very light one at best. The core of the game is of course its incredible real-time tactical space battles adapted from the namesake miniatures game and they deliver on both spectacle and engaging ship-to-ship action.
The clunky control systems are certainly not enough to get in the way of the overall quality of the game. With great voice acting and lengthy narrative campaigns, it really is quite a shame that the developers surprisingly dropped support for this excellent sci-fi strategy game so soon.
8. Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Developer: Ironclad Games, Stardock Entertainment Publisher: Stardock Entertainment Platform(s): PC
If you like combat but are looking for something of a larger scale, then look no further than Sins of Solar Empire: Rebellion. Though originally released in 2008 with several expansions, Rebellion is a standalone expansion that brings all previous content together, all the while adding massive Titan-class ships, and significantly improving the game’s visuals. Though a venerable game at this point, Rebellion still holds up due to its real-time take on grand strategy and stunning fleet engagements.
Of the grand strategy games, Sins of a Solar Empire is definitely more military-oriented a la the Total War franchise with economics and technology mostly geared towards military production and improving warships, but this definitely works in its favor. Diplomacy and other non-military options for victory obviously do suffer, but not enough to significantly take away from Rebellion’s fun factor.
It also helps that Sins of a Solar Empire has an excellent modding scene, which will keep the game alive for years to come.
For something more grounded, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak takes real-time strategy action to its eponymous sprawling deserts and serves as a prequel to the highly-regarded Homeworld series (also worth checking out). The Homeworld series can generally be classified as classic RTS but with a twist of exchanging stale base-building mechanics for a mothership-style upgrade system with the massive sand-crawling carriers serving as the player’s command center. Safe to say, Deserts of Kharak innovates enough with the classic RTS genre to warrant a spot on the list.
Homeworld’s gameplay, aside from resource gathering, centers on its excellent tactical gameplay and wide range of units with plentiful opportunities for creative approaches and on the fly changes. Though the factions aren’t as memorable or distinct compared to some of the other entries on this list, the competitive balance between them and ample unit variations are enough to counteract the less-than-stellar faction variety.
All in all, Homeworld’s tight gameplay and creative ideas make it one of the best sci-fi strategy games of all time.
6. Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance
Developer: Gas Powered Games Publisher: THQ, Square Enix Platform(s): PC
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is a massively successful standalone expansion to the spiritual successor of the Total Annihilation series. The Supreme Commander series is what classic RTSs want to be: an industrial war simulator with a focus on factories and resource production rather than on tactics and formations. Oddly, just like with Alpha Centauri, Supreme Commander’s legacy remains an enigma with almost a complete drought of successors (Planetary Annihilation: Titans and Ashes of the Singularity are moderately successful attempts), despite the overall success of the game.
Aside from the strategic focus on combat, Forged Alliance’s standout features are its solid faction design, the massive scale of battle, and the complex interaction between air, land, sea, and strategic assets. The game also has a compelling and lengthy campaign, which will consistently challenge players with various scenario setups.
Even if it may be timeless in its gameplay design and spirit, Forged Alliance is showing its age with the inability to effectively run on modern systems (it is 32-bit architecture, after all), but it still lives on as a testament to innovative real-time strategy design.
5. Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War
Developer: Relic Entertainment Publisher: THQ Platform(s): PC
The second Warhammer game to grace this list, the original Dawn of War is not only one of the best sci-fi strategy games of all time, but also one of the best real-time strategy games of all time. Including its expansions in the discussion, Dawn of War has a leg up on its competitors due to the excellent faction variety found in the license, with distinct weapons, units, vehicles, upgrades, and playstyles. Though it may be a smaller-scale action-oriented hero-focused take on the series, Dawn of War 2 is also worth checking out.
Aside from its factions, Dawn of War also sticks out by bothering to include a multitude of compelling and fun narrative campaigns that allow players to get to know their faction on a deeper level. And even though it might be dated graphically and not take advantage of modern specs, the game still looks impressive in firefights and unit animations.
While it may contain several outdated RTS design features, there’s very little to fault Dawn of War for as it remains a top quality strategy game, especially with the solid modding scene prolonging its legacy.
Developer: Ludeon Studios Publisher: Ludeon Studios Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
The only true management game to appear on the list, Rimworld has been taking the strategy gaming community by storm over the past few years. Some may think that management games are all about finding the most resource efficient method of establishing a settlement or engine and let it play out, exploiting the game. To an extent, that’s what management games do, but what puts such games on a tier above the rest is the inclusion of role-playing and emergent story-telling as a central gameplay system and Rimworld has this in spades.
Rimworld’s gameplay premise of setting up a colony on a frontier world is plenty of ground for excellent storytelling with players able to choose to be and do anything they want with their colony. What gives the game that extra flair is the inclusion of a varied random events system that can be tailored to the player’s liking, from sensible crises to ridiculous crises and hilarious shenanigans.
This marriage of colony management and emergent storytelling makes Rimworld one of the most engrossing sci-fi games on the list.
3. FTL: Faster Than Light
Developer: Subset Games Publisher: Subset Games Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS,
One of the top three of this list is actually a pretty small game from the developers of Into the Breach, though this came first. FTL has become an indie phenomenon in the strategy market and is still spawning plenty of successors and inpirations. The premise of the game, get away from the rebels and destroy their flagship, is so simple, yet FTL is nearly infinitely replayable and will easily provide hundreds if not thousands of hours of exciting gameplay.
The game’s strength lies in its roguelike structure and challenging gameplay, as well as the massive amount of unlockable weapons and ships. Combat is tense and gets more difficult as players progress forcing them to develop and adapt for every playthrough.
It can get repetitive and unfairly punishing at times due to bad luck, but that only feeds back into FTL’s charm and helps make every run a memorable learning experience.
Developer: Paradox Development Studio, Tantalus Media Publisher: Paradox Interactive Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S
For something truly spectacular in scale, you definitely can’t go wrong with Stellaris, a game that has evolved and reinvented itself with nearly every post-launch update.
Stellaris is the definitive 4X grand strategy experience on a galactic scale. The trademark Paradox real-time take on such strategy games always means there’s something going on and developing, just like in any sci-fi story.
There are too many systems to mention here, but safe to say Stellaris includes all the major features of any 4X game, including research, diplomacy, planetary development, and a ship designer. Probably one of the coolest features is the highly customizable faction designer, where players can go nuts and create interesting or outright crazy races that they’ll take to ascend.
At times, Stellaris may feel and play like a spreadsheet game, but the combination of thematic random events, creative victory conditions, and intricately-woven systems will truly make players feel like leaders of galactic powers.
1. XCOM 2
Developer: Firaxis Games, Feral Interactive Publisher: 2K Games, Feral Interactive Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
XCOM 2 is unequivocally the greatest sci-fi strategy game of all time. Like Master of Orion 2, it’s found that perfect balance of all gameplay systems and has legitimately improved upon its series as a sequel. It may not be as large scale as grand strategy games or as intricate as some of the real-time strategy games, but what it does do with its challenging turn-based tactical combat, lengthy narrative, and resource management can’t be beat.
Considering the overall difficulty of XCOM’s campaigns, it’s likely that players will restart their playthroughs several times, giving the game a roguelike feeling without necessarily explicitly aiming to be one. The game is also highly moddable, cosmetics in particular, opening up even more customization options for additional investment and immersion.
Despite XCOM’s challenge, it remains highly accessible compared to some of its more hardcore brethren, yet still retains the depth and complexity of strategic and tactical decision-making, altogether making it the greatest sci-fi grand strategy game of all time.
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