It's a great time for fans of strategy games, as XCOM: Chimera Squad is out now on PC, bringing in some new changes to shake up the dynamic, whilst Gears Tactics is dipping its toes into the strategy world for the first time. Will either of these titles reach the heady highs of the best the genre has to offer?
That relaxing vibe slowly ebbs away as the action increases.
Sam | Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
I’m not a big fan of traditional RTS games, and turn-based combat more often than not leaves me pretty cold. There are certain strategy games that’ve really grabbed me, though, enough even to become exceptions to the above.
The likes of Mount & Blade, The Banner Saga and Dungeon of the Endless crossed my mind, but The Bearded Ladies’ Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has to take this mantle. MYZ marries narrative, exploration, RPG mechanics, stealth and direct character control with turn-based tactical battles in the style of XCOM.
It might sound like an impossible hodgepodge of genres and mechanics on the surface, but everything ties seamlessly together in-game. It’s quite similar to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle in many ways - which was definitely another contender for my pick - though with far more depth, likely owing to the older target demographic.
We eventually got more Road to Eden with the release of its Seed of Evil expansion, which picked up right where the main game’s cliffhanger ending left off. It speaks volumes that the shambolic technical performance at launch didn’t stop me from devouring and enjoying the entire expansion over just a couple of play sessions.
Having a pre-existing world to draw from helped Mutant Year Zero pull in fans.
Liam | Kingdom: Two Crowns
Are my walls strong enough to withstand tonight’s attack? Have I hired enough archers? Should I have upgraded my towers? These are the sort of questions that run through your mind every sunset in Kingdom as your underlings hunker down behind your defences in preparation for another onslaught.
On the surface, the Kingdom series might seem like a relatively simple affair compared to other strategic games; you’ve no real direct input, save for ordering the building of structures or recruiting subjects to fill your ranks, and the 2D layout limits exploration to just two directions, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in depth.
Having to carefully cultivate gold resources and strike a balance between daring explorer and cautious defender is great fun and can lead to some incredibly tense showdowns with the troll-like Greed that rock up to your walls every night.
The gameplay might be a little rudimentary, but it keeps things accessible, particularly for casuals and non-gamers. I’ve spent dozens of hours building kingdoms in the series’ two-player iteration, Two Crowns, with a playing partner whose interest in games is almost non-existent. Not only did they quickly grasp Kingdom’s core concept, but revelled in it, proving that a strategy game doesn’t need to be overly complicated to be engrossing.
Sometimes, simpler is better.
James | Red Alert 2
At the end of the 90s, strategy games were on a high. Command and Conquer was finally seeing competition from the likes of Age of Empires, Total Annihilation and Starcraft, which meant industry legends Westwood Studios had to hit back. Their answer? Red Alert 2.
While the first instalment was ground-breaking, the sequel re-defined the series graphically, with a more refined, isometric perspective, and the live action cutscenes having significantly more polish - but just the right amount of cheese.
Whether it was the campaign, which led you on a time-hopping, reality-twisting adventure to further the cause of your chosen side, or the multiplayer, which was my and many others’ first experience of online strategy - which tried hard to get away from the traditional rock/paper/scissors of balancing land, sea and air units, and succeeded.
You could even pick a game type called “Unholy Alliance” which saw you get access to units from both sides. The infantry units in particular packed more of a punch, with capturing a building quickly creating a killbox, even if you fortified your regular GIs in the field to give them access to heavier weaponry.
If you haven’t checked the game out before (or its equally impressive expansion, Yuri’s Revenge) there’s a remastered collection just waiting to be explored.
Is it time for another game-changing Red Alert title?
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