The roots of the RTS genre can be traced back to 1981, and with refinements and evolution of technology, we now have Northgard.
Northgard is rooted in the Norse Viking mythology, where you command one of the three clans and its people to a new unexplored and harsh world. The player must start with building a settlement for the Vikings that have landed and ensure the settlement stands till the objective is achieved. The winning goal depends on which clan you are playing as; it could be fame, wisdom or trade. A lot of games like Northgard feature similar mechanics of survival and warfare.
As if venturing into the unknown wasn’t enough hardships, there is a weather mechanic, and when winter comes, there’ll be no abundance of food growing in the wild, and your villagers will need wood to keep themselves warm. Oh yeah, there’ll also be your biggest foe, a rival clan, who will try to encroach on the land you’ve rightfully claimed, followed by a bloody battle and one victor, but that was just the battle; the war isn’t over.
Northgard has pleasant to look at visuals even when providing information keeping the game aesthetically pleasing and makes the player digest the stats in a more accessible fashion. In addition, the graphics and soundtrack are top-notch. Northgard is a masterpiece of the RTS genre, but it’s not the only one.
Here are ten games that are similar to Northgard.
Frostpunk begins the game in a similar fashion, with settlers arriving at a new place. However, they are not here to venture out to the unknown. The world is dying, and perhaps this is humanity’s last stand. As the last ruler of the known world, it is up to you to decide what resources are more critical and what decisions are to be made.
Frost punk features a brilliant soundtrack (and sound design overall) coupled with great graphics and a story that will make your heart ache. It’s a beautiful tale with the player at the helm. It’s all up to the ruler to provide humanity with one last chance.
Frostpunk is a really cool colony-sim game however, where it differs from Northgard is the replayability or lack thereof. Frostpunk has a series of scenarios that are linear in nature, and as such, all problems or decisions that the ruler faces will be the same every time. As such, this may kill the replay value of the game, but the campaign is of a good length, and there is DLC to extend your experience.
2. Age Of Empires
Can we talk about RTS games without mentioning this gem? Some might question why not Starcraft 2? Well, put simply, Age Of Empires still has a massive player base and even has its 4th instalment announced.
Age Of Empires like Northgard starts with a group of travellers settling down in an unknown world, but unlike Northgard, it has no society happiness or hunger stat; the food income of a villager or soldier is a one-time investment. For example – A villager can cost 50 food, that is the only time you’ll have to invest in that villager, and he’ll not require any more food. I believe this is so the players can focus more on battle but also losing units has a big impact on the economy.
Surrounded by the fog of war, most matches start with 4-5 villagers and some resources spread around; as all players race to improve their technology at the cost of food, wood and gold, all players will make an army that will raid the opponent and threaten their progress.
Age of Empires (specifically AOE 2) is the true tried and tested formula for competitive RTS and deserves a try if you’re looking to get into the genre.
3. They Are Billions
They Are Billions is Frostpunk meets The Walking Dead. You start off with a small settlement, and as you expand to get more resources, you will have to defend your city from zombies.
The twist is that even if only one zombie invades your city, it’s most probably a game over, players can lose hours of progress to just one zombie infecting a building, and the infection spreads, and your city goes to hell, Raccoon City style.
It features both a linear campaign mode and a sandbox-style survival mode which adds a ton of replayability.
4. Siege Survival: Gloria Victis
Siege Survival is a simulation of the end game of an Age of Empires match. You are trapped in a city under siege, and your job is to survive (obviously). Scavenge within the city to keep your army and livestock fed at day, at night scavenge behind enemy lines or an enemy-occupied city.
Scavenge as much as you like; there are never enough resources, as there are multiple things that need to be invested in. Will you utilise your resources for the army or for your villagers? The game strikes the perfect balance of pressure and calmness in the first part of the game. However, calmness dies down soon as you run out of resources and more issues demand your attention.
This is not an RTS to pick up and relax; it’s a siege survival, a defence of a lost cause.
5. Company of Heroes
Yet another popular RTS, Company Of Heroes, sees you take control of the Soviet army as you battle it out against the invading Nazi Germany. Company of Heroes starts off like most games on this list, with a small encampment, the player must send out their troops to various capture points around the map that help establish a battle line. These capture points allow you to gather resources such as manpower, fuel, ammunition etc.
What makes this game more appealing to me is that it’s a relatively modern setting. Instead of pikemen or archers, there are infantries and tanks. Individual units can also be upgraded to perform better using the collected resources, and unlike most games, upgrades are not just a stat buff but a believable upgrade that probably makes the unit better IRL; for example, The tank has an upgrade to mount a .50 Cal Machine Gun on it, this makes the gameplay not only more interesting but believable.
Other than the Russians, there are more factions in the game(some introduced via DLC), and they all have their own quirks and features to play around with.
Foundation is less of an RTS and more of a city builder; put simply, this is the game you play to relax. There are no Nazis or Zombies, or enemies at the gates. It’s just you and your people.
What makes this game stand out is its gridless building mechanic. Generally, all games have a very strict grid on which the player can build on; however, not in Foundation. You are free to place your buildings wherever you desire in a very free flow manner. Of course, buildings that require resources like water can’t be placed away from them.
Overall, Foundation is a good-looking game with some great city-building mechanics coupled with some survival mechanics that are ultimately not that hard to overcome, making Foundation great at what it excels. A relaxing colony sim.
While it’s not the prettiest, Civilization is one of the most renowned games in its genre. Civilization focuses more on the diplomatic approach of warfare, which involves things like peace treaties offerings wherein your opponent might choose to give you entire cities in an effort to appease your military might.
The gameplay loop is similar in the sense that you are to build and maintain your Civilization while evading attacks from invaders. However, I find the game to be a little too slow-paced for my tastes. Still, if you’re looking for an RTS experience that claims to be historically accurate while Gandhi launches a nuclear strike on your civilization, this title will satisfy your appetite for a virtual World War 3.
8. Going Medieval
Going Medieval is a colony sim with a unique twist; unlike all the games in this title, Going Medieval allows the player to build upwards (or downwards), unlocking the Z-axis to build things on, ergo, you can build buildings on top of buildings.
Villagers have their own personalities and skillsets, so players must pay attention to what task is being assigned to whom while also allowing villagers recreational activities to keep them productive and happy. New villagers come along in the form of random events; for example, there might be an NPC fleeing from a faction and finds your base. You then have the option to either give them refuge (gaining new workers) or letting them go. Unfortunately, giving them shelter will also infuriate the clan that was chasing them; this leads to attacks on your base, which will have to be defended using military technology and traps that you can set up.
Going Medieval is an excellent title for the introduction of the RTS genre to newer players.
9. Stronghold Crusader
Released in 2002, Stronghold Crusader is an RTS, very much like Age of Empires. You start off with a noble and a handful of workers who are to be assigned for the expansion of your base. Where it differs from AoE is its happiness mechanic, very much like other games on this list. If your city is happy, more peasants will come to your city that you can assign tasks to, significantly speeding up your expansion. On the flip side, if your city is unhappy, your workers will begin to leave, which doesn’t need any explanation why it’s bad.
Happiness can be affected by what kind of laws you have in place, allow peasants to practice their religion, and they’ll be happy. Put in place a tax reform, they’ll be happier. However, having more peasants is also not the best thing because more workers means more mouths to feed.
Stronghold is one of those classic RTS everyone played as a child (or maybe I am just getting too old). It features a nice balancing mechanic that inspired a lot of RTS games in the future.
10. Surviving Mars
This is another title that is more Colony-sim, and less RTS. Surviving Mars entails exactly that, you have to survive the desolate and harsh landscapes of the red planet.
Your objective is to ensure the survival of mankind on Mars, and it begins like with any RTS/Colony-sim – a small base. You have to ensure its survival and expansion.
For the most part, Surviving Mars is more puzzle than RTS and colony-sim. As you go around analyzing the production of oxygen and food, which relies on a series of buildings doing their job, a kink in the chain is all that’s required to halt the entire production and suffocate your species to death.
The graphics are great, and the gameplay is good; this title is more for the people who don’t want to get into the pressure that is RTS but rather wish for a more relaxing title with a difficulty of a different kind.
RTS games demand attention and precision like no other genre, in my opinion, but also can be played with a more laid back attitude for the most part.
The competitive scene for RTS games (especially AoE 2) is constantly growing and evolving, at the risk of sounding obnoxious, RTS games are the closest form of Chess in the form of video games with mechanics that cannot possibly exist in a real board game, and with games like Age of Empires 4 en route, RTS’ legacy is set to grow evermore. Just like my city in Foundation.