UPDATED: We’ve added Civilization: Beyond Earth into this list.
Set in the distant future, players will take to the stars and explore an alien planet—a new home for humanity—in Civilization: Beyond Earth. It’s one chapter of the Civilization franchise you don’t want to miss.
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The vastness of space has inspired countless minds to imagine worlds beyond our world, on planets like—and unlike—the one we live on, where the presence of life is in question, or imagined as something so otherworldly that they can only live in fiction and dreams.
A few few of these minds have attempted to imagine what it would be like for us to encounter beings from space—aliens, if you will, in the far-flung future of humanity when space travel is no longer a distant possibility, but an every day reality.
To that end, there are games in which players are urged to take on the roles of spacefaring humans, or those of other races who come into contact with humanity’s finest. This article serves to showcase ten of the best strategy games that tackle the subject of space either beyond our planet, or right here at home, where aliens may simply see fit to invade—just as they’ve done so in the realm of our imagination.
Civilization: Beyond Earth
Civilization: Beyond Earth is one of the best space-themed strategy games of all time. The various factions and Affinities will ensure multiple, robust playthroughs, each presenting unique scenarios that will encourage the player to strategize in challenging new ways with each file.
Few real time strategy games contain the uniqueness offered by Homeworld. Even with gameplay that plays out in three dimensions and being the first RTS of its kind, it is the singularly well written narrative and accompanying gameplay mechanics that make it a memorable experience.
As you start the game, you can choose to play as either the Kushan or Taiidan fleets, both of whom seek out the planet of Hiigara, the ancient homeworld of both species. The planet from which you emerge is soon destroyed and your only choice is to venture far across the galaxy to find sanctuary at your destination. Along the way, you meet enigmatic alien races that either seek to help, or hinder your journey and uncover the mysteries of your species’ past.
Fans of Battlestar Galactica will feel right at home with Homeworld in both its setting and frantic space combat.
Released in 1999, Alpha Centauri is a thinking person’s strategy game. Melding Civilization with the depth of subjects like philosophy, geopolitics and the customization of Master of Orion 2, Alpha Centauri is aeons better than its earthbound predecessor.
Alpha Centauri takes place in the Civilization universe after the advent of the Space Race victory in Civilization II, in which a shuttle travels to the distant solar system of Alpha Centauri to colonize the planet Chiron. Precursor aliens conducted experiments on the planet, leaving behind remnants of their civilization in the form of monoliths much akin to those in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. During transit to the planet, the colonists split up into seven different ideological factions that serve as the game’s civilizations. The player must choose one of the factions to lead it to dominance of Chiron and uncover the planet’s secrets.
Starcraft is easily one of the most well known games ever made. With its popularity as a video game unsurpassed, it has become one of the biggest athletic phenomenons in Korea, which regularly broadcasts live matches across three separate TV channels for millions of viewers.
Though its single player campaign is memorable for its events, the heart of Starcraft lies within its multiplayer mode, which has been played by millions of players worldwide. Players choose between three unique races to play as: the bug-like Zerg; the alien Protoss; and the human Terrans, and engage in online skirmishes.
No other RTS, not even Blizzard’s own Warcraft III has managed to surpass the competitive balance of Starcraft.
Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty
Sequel to the best known RTS of all time, Starcraft II is a strong contender for being one of the best real time strategy games ever made. With a lengthy single player campaign and an equally strong multiplayer mode, Starcraft II plans to take the competitive edge of Starcraft to the next level with its revamped Battle.net matchmaking service and forthcoming expansion packs.
Taking off after the events of the original Starcraft, players take on the role of Terran hero Jim Raynor as he seeks to liberate his fellow humans from the iron grip of the autocratic Terran Dominion. He meets up with old friends like the protoss Zeratul and makes new ones to aid him in the rebellion. He also learns that his love interest Kerrigan has plans of her own as the queen of the Zerg.
Regarded as one of the most complicated games ever made, X3: The Reunion is part of the ongoing X Universe. Although designed as an open ended space trading game, X3 features lots of strategy , players are dropped right into the cockpit of a ship and are tasked to building a corporate empire that extends towards the far ends of the galaxy.
Although players can opt out of the game’s strategic aspects to engage in its plot, the heart of X3 remains in its open ended setting and market driven economy.
Master of Orion 2
Designed as a 4X turn-based strategy game (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate), Master of Orion 2 is one of the genre’s finest titles. Noted for its complex gameplay, Master of Orion 2 places its emphasis on the development of an alien civilization, through economic, technological and social development.
Players can choose between various predetermined races or design their very own race with a set of strengths and weaknesses. Players could even choose to design their own warships based on the technology they researched. All of these choices allowed for an extremely complicated game. Although complex, it always remained accessible through its well designed systems.
Sins of a Solar Empire
Sins of a Solar Empire is a real time strategy game that incorporates some aspects of the 4X genre. Featuring a scale larger than any other strategy game, Sins plays out in a 3D web of planets and other celestial objects where various space civilizations compete over dominance of a multitude of solar systems spanning several galaxies, linked together by wormholes.
Most of the game’s social and technological aspects are simplified in contrast to Master of Orion 2 as the game places a heavier emphasis on its real time combat. The game is best played with a group of friends over many hours, and sessions can be saved to be resumed at a later date.
Galactic Civilizations 2
Sequel to the first Galactic Civilizations, GC2 is its superior in every way. As with other 4X games, your job is to dominate the galaxy planet by planet, through force, diplomacy, culture or technology. GC2 is highly notable for its AI, which plays according to the game’s rules and poses a challenge to the player without cheating. It may surprise you to know that even the best strategy games out there give the AI a competitive edge.
It may also surprise you to know that Galactic Civilizations 2’s backstory is based on a series of short stories written by its creator, Brad Wardell. While it’s not exactly the most original setting, it provides an interesting backdrop for a great strategy game.
Disclosure: The author is acquaintances with Stardock CEO Brad Wardell.
Endless Space positions the player in role of an nascent space-faring civilization, and provides you with the opportunity to cultivate your space empire through a variety of ways and means that support your playstyle.
The core of the game will be familiar to anyone who has played a 4X strategy game before. You research technology from a large, categorized tree. You manage your systems and planets with development projects. You build fleets, colonize the reaches of space, engage in diplomacy, and wage war. Endless Space boasts several features and mechanics that set it apart from its competition, and production values that rival any AAA-budget game.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Firaxis’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a true successor to the turn-based strategy game series by Microprose. XCOM: Enemy Unknown sees the invasion of our cities by an extraterrestrial force that seeks, it seems, to purge mankind from the face of the planet.
Players are tasked with controlling a squad of earth’s finest soldiers to take on the alien menace head-on in turn-based combat in locations ranging from dense urban environments to labyrinthine alien structures.
Revived by the makers of Civilization, the new XCOM streamlines everything that made the original title a little annoying to play through and improves upon all of its best qualities for a modern, turn-based strategy game that’s like no other.
If you’ve yet to be convinced, be sure to read the five reasons you should play XCOM: Enemy Unknown.