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
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
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
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.
15. Master of Orion 2: Battle at Antares
Publisher: MicroProse, MacSoft, Wargaming Labs
Platform(s): PC, macOS
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
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…
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