The 5 Best 4X Strategy Games To Compete & Play In Today

TJ Denzer,

January 8, 2018 10:00 AM

Will you plot world domination, scientific utopia, or peaceful diplomacy? This feature puts the spotlight on the 4X games that keep you plotting against your opponents over 100 turns later.

Strategy games have been an integral part of PC gaming for the longest time. From the early days of games like XCOM, Civilization, and Warcraft, we’ve taken on all sorts of worlds built and determined to push our minds and make us think so many moves ahead. 4X is particular sub-genre of the strategy library that goes even further, asking us to think not only of conquest, but of prosperity, diplomacy, and sabotage when it comes to our opponents and the pieces in play on the board. In 4X strategy, we are often tasked with building our own flourishing worlds while undermining that of our foes. In this way, 4X has always gone well beyond the norm of strategy, offering turn after turn of options for play throughout the decades. Though the golden age of PC strategy has waned a bit, some developers and their dedicated fans happily keep the cause alive and ensure there are still plenty of wonderful games to choose from. These are games that will have you going “one more turn” for one hundred more turns. These are the best 4X strategy games to get into today.

Stellaris

Space-themed 4X wasn’t a relatively new thing by the time Stellaris came out, but it undoubtedly pushed the playbook to an incredibly player choice-driven system. Every game starts the player with a race that has just discovered interstellar travel and a goal to build a vast galactic empire, but each race has drastically different goals. You want to be humans spreading through the universe in an aggressive vie for galactic dominance, an aquatic species with a penchant for peace and diplomacy, or rogue AI robots that desire to assimilate the universe to their whim? Whatever your personal play preference, Stellaris provides, and that’s just the pre-made races. One of the greatest strengths of the game is the ability to craft your own race with its own look, playstyle, traits, and governing philosophies. The sheer amount of freedom and choice might seem overwhelming at first, but fortunately enthusiastic content creators like Arumba and Martin “quill18” Glaude have spent plenty of time streaming and creating let’s play videos that do well in exploring the far ends of the game. Whether you’re looking for a breakdown of playstyles or just want to see an experienced player pursue the various venues in the game, these folks deliver and showcase some of the best that Stellaris has to offer.

Total War: Warhammer I & II

Total War has been around for more than a little while and offered its fair share of deviations on strategy both real-time and turn-based, but Total War: Warhammer is something altogether amazing. The classic tabletop game has decades of lore to draw from and Creative Assembly faithfully draws from that lore in crafting the units, lands, and narratives that play out in this epic game of alliances, magic, treachery, and conquest. Whether you seek to unite the human or dwarf empires or tame the magic of an epically powerful vortex of energy as elves or lizardmen, what’s even more amazing is that you can combine the campaigns between the first and second games into a supermassive grand strategy map. There are a ton of faithful Total War players out there as well, offering communities that engage constantly in the game and also build mods in the Steam Workshop to constantly better it. Moreover, folks like Heir of Carthage and Nick “Turin” S. have made careers on producing exciting videos exploring campaigns and online play of all Total War games while people like Party Elite are creating informational offerings that will guide new players into these vast and interesting games. Wherever you look in game and outside of it, Total War: Warhammer has a lot to offer anyone with an affinity for strategy and fantasy-fiction.

Endless Space 2

When it comes to stories in strategy, few crews handle it better than the crew at AMPLITUDE Studios. Endless Legend and the first Endless Space were masterworks of narration and meaningful objectives mixed with strategy and 4X play and Endless Space 2 continues the pedigree with lessons learned from both. Not only does each race play differently, but they have a story to explore that will keep your journey towards your race’s goals feeling meaningful in every turn. All this comes in addition to a galaxy full of its own stories, surprises, allies, and foes. Learning all of the unique races in the game would take time and practice, but fortunately for newcomers there are plenty of great streamers and let’s players out there willing to impart knowledge. SB is a fellow who has been making Endless videos since Endless Legends and offers a wealth of information for Endless Space 2 through his “Let’s Learn” video tutorials. Meanwhile, players like Waevryn offer a more lighthearted approach, combining some light knowledge with a passion to explore and have fun with what Endless Space 2 has to offer. Endless Space 2 has a lot to offer for people who enjoy strategy and a bit of light roleplaying and it’s a rewarding experience whether you’re exploring its universe yourself or checking it out through the eyes of a pro.

Age of Wonders III

Age of Wonders is sort of like the little, lesser-known brother to the Civilization games. It may not have as much clout, but don’t let that deter you from thinking it doesn’t have a lot of its own unique qualities. Age of Wonders explores a fantasy world full of monsters, heroes and treasure. Besides the races, players can also engage in RPG class style of leadership. Will you lead as a wise sorcerer that values knowledge and magic or a treacherous rogue that lusts for riches, favoring intrigue as he shakes the hands of his allies with one hand while holding a knife in the other? Age of Wonders III bridges the gap between RPG-style mechanics and a 4X exploitable world with fair gusto. The Age of Wonders III community has a fair amount of love and respect for the game, producing an impressive collections of mods out there for the game, featuring everything from rule changes and complete overhauls to new class and race creation and new units, just to name a few. There are quite a few fine tutorial videos out there to get you into the game from folks like iHunterKiller, but for our money, some of the best viewing on the game comes from the community-organized tournaments for the game, hosted by Bishman and featuring many other solid and knowledgeable players. If you want to explore a world of original fantasy, craft your story from an extremely flexible foundation, and engage in some fantastic 4X strategy based upon your choices, Age of Wonders III is a fantastic attraction with a wonderful fanbase.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

We couldn’t possibly have a list here without the 4X game that almost single-handedly keeps the subgenre constantly in the public eye. Civilization has been a banner series of 4X for decades. Between changes to units, additions of countries and leaders, balance of mechanics that allow for various victories, and strategies as varied as the world itself, Civilization VI has brought all of the best the series has to offer into play and made beautiful looking to boot. Will you build a massive religion with Phillip II in Spain or rely on your spy network with Queen Victoria in England. If you have a desired play style, Civilization VI likely has a nation that caters to it, allowing for games that go on forever and can truly feel different every time. And it’s hard to deny the effect it’s had on the gaming landscape as well. In 2016, esports organization Team Liquid opened up the gates considering the first professional Civilization VI player when they added Stephen 'MrGameTheory' Takowsky to their team and in an interview with PCGamesN in November 2017, Lead Designer Ed Beach admitted that while he’s not so sure the game is at that level yet, it was nonetheless exciting that the possibility is there. If any 4X game could bring the subgenre to the competitive level, it would almost have to be the so-far-undisputed king of them all.



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