David is an avid gamer across multiple platforms such as consoles, handhelds, mobile phones, and PC.
What Are Space Strategy Games?
Basically, space strategy games involve overseeing an empire of some sort. So having multiple planets, sectors, or whatever the game decides to call it. It also involves ordering fleets around, making decisions on ships to use, managing resources, and governing planets. Most games that fall in this category don't involve flying a ship, though there are some exceptions to this.
- Released: 05/09/16
- Developed By: Paradox Development Studio
- Published By: Paradox Interactive
- Metascore: Holds a 78% metascore on Metacritic.
All About Stellaris
Stellaris is basically Civilization in space. Which is a great thing. By far this is probably the most widely known space strategy game with empire management.
- Loads of DLC. The first thing I want to warn about this game is the amount of DLC there is. Depending when you purchase the DLC, you could spend a couple hundreds of dollars to pick up everything. There is also some bad DLC which is a simple cash grab. Later in the article, I outline the DLC I recommend buying for Stellaris.
- You don't need the DLC. The game is good standalone without any of the DLC. Of course, the DLC really adds to the game, but it's fully enjoyable without having to fork out more money to add on to the game.
- Epic space battles. This game has some epic space battles that could literally involve hundreds of ships. If you do want to have something like that, make sure you have a good computer to play the game on.
- Civilization management is decent. You'll have to please your citizens, manage the type of government you have, and build up your empire. Bare bones it's not bad, but it's also better with DLC.
- Diplomacy is okay. But it's not great. I could have done with more options of varied nuances. Most times it feels like war is inevitable because of the same border issues, like in most strategy games.
- Games can take a long time. Depending on how big you make your galaxy, games can take hundreds of hours. Only make a huge galaxy if you really want to invest the time in it.
- There is ship customization. Mostly with what parts and weapons you put on the ships. It's not the most robust system, but it doesn't have to be either.
- Can set different empire focuses. Do you want to expand right away? You can do that. What about exploring as many systems as you can to get all the goodies? You can do that too. Early on your focus can shape your empire, but later on, you need to start focusing on combat if you wish to take over the universe.
- Can make a custom empire. If you don't like the pre-existing empires, you can make up your own, which to me is half of the fun.
Be prepared to start over a few times, especially if you do make your own empire. However, once you get going, it's very satisfying to see how your empire grows and progresses throughout the game.
Why It's on This List
There is no doubt that this is the pinnacle of space strategy games. While the bare bones version of the game is good, it's so much better once you tack on some DLC that really expands your options on how to play the game.
The Best DLC for Stellaris
These are the DLCs for Stellaris I personally recommend:
- Distant Stars – Great for those who wish to add more meat to the exploration part of the game.
- Leviathans – A bit more to add to exploration, with some additional dangers which add to the combat aspect of the game.
- Utopia – Considered to be the best DLC for Stellaris. This DLC fleshes out a lot in the game. You can build huge structures (allowing for a small empire, but a lot in it), improved governments, and many other features. If you pick up Stellaris, then you need to pick up this DLC with it.
2. Sins of a Solar Empire
- Released: 02/04/08
- Developed By: Ironclad Games
- Published By: Stardock
- Metascore: Holds a 87% metascore on Metacritic.
All About Sins of a Solar Empire
To me, Stellaris built upon what was started in Sins of a Solar Empire. However, it's still a great game in its own right if you are looking for something that isn't as heavy on strategy.
- Focuses more on the real-time strategy. You'll spend most of your time building and managing your army, and in fights. That's a good thing if you want something more oriented to war.
- Contains light strategy elements. There are planets to colonize and build-up, along with exploration and diplomacy. They aren't as deep as Stellaris, but they get the job done.
- Only three races to play. But each break off into sub-roles, and even then you have more options to play with. It adds a lot of variety in how you play.
- In the end, it's about who has the bigger army. Eventually, you'll have to focus on building up your fleets and defending your planets in order to win the game.
- There are DLCs. However, there aren't as many as you find in Stellaris and they are much more affordable. I recommend picking all of them up.
- Great mods are available. Since I'm heavily into Star Trek, I enjoy the mods that change the ships to Star Trek ships. There are other mods available for all sorts of sci-fi universes.
- Limited research options. While you'll have choices in what you research first, it's likely you'll research everything by the end of the game. Each race does have its own tech tree, which makes them stand apart.
Read More From Levelskip
If you want big battles, then Sins of a Solar Empire is really the way to go. It's not pure combat, as there is empire management, but it's just a means to an end.
Why It's on This List
For pure combat, this is my choice. It's fast, fun, and doesn't take near as long as other strategy games. I consider this easier than most strategy game options since it doesn't have a huge learning curve.
3. Distant Worlds: Universe
- Released: 05/23/14
- Developed By: Code Force
- Published By: Slitherine Ltd.
- Metascore: Holds a 81% metascore on Metacritic.
All About Distant Worlds: Universe
This is probably a lesser-known game compared to the first two I covered, but it's an excellent game none the less if you are looking to have full control over your own empire.
- Mediocre graphics. This is not the game you should pick if you want something visually stunning. The graphics get the job done, but that's it. However, like many games like this, you don't play it for the graphics.
- Entire package. This game includes all of the content for the game (base game and DLCs) at a reasonable price, plus it goes on sale often.
- The universe feels alive. Of all of the strategy games I played, this was the only one where I felt the universe was alive. Traders would visit my planets, fleets would come in and do their thing, and so on. I liked that aspect of the game.
- Can automate a lot. There is a lot you can automate in the game so you don't have to worry about it, to the point where the empire can run itself. You can also receive suggestions on what actions to take in the game.
- Can be a bit buggy. Of all of the games on this list, this is the one I still experience bugs in. For example, I'd tell a ship to patrol a system, and it would slowly fly to a system across the map that wasn't my system at all. This would take literally hours in real life to happen. Also, some users are having trouble even launching the game.
- Has a huge learning curve. Even after 20 hours, I will still start over because I was just barely grasping the game. It made it fun though as I saw my empire slowly expand and be able to fend off attackers. This game is the most complex as compared to the others on this list.
- Statistics galore. This game is heavy on numbers and figures. It's in everything. There are values and ranges for a lot of things in the game. It's great for those who like to crunch numbers to build the best possible empire.
This is a great game if you want to get into the details on how to manage your empire, or, leave it up to the AI to manage aspects of your empire while you focus on other things you like in the game.
Why It's on This List
You can make any kind of empire you want doing whatever you want, which is amazing. The game isn't great to look at, and in some cases ugly, but it's a strategic game where statistics matters more than how the game looks.
4. Space Pirates and Zombies 2
- Released: 11/07/17
- Developed By: MinMax Games Ltd.
- Published By: MinMax Games Ltd.
- Metascore: Holds a 61% (estimate) metascore on Metacritic.
All About Space Pirates and Zombies 2
I almost didn't include this game on this list because SPAZ 2 is not primarily a strategy game, but a space sim. However, I enjoyed the strategy components so much I had to include it in this list.
- Ship combat. You'll spend most of your time on a ship fighting other ships, like a space sim. You'll build your own ship with various parts as well. It's a fun system, but one you should be aware of if you are to play the game.
- VR. Of all of the games on this list, this is the only one that can be played in VR, which is a huge bonus. It makes it a blast to play.
- There is a story. As part of the game, there is a story. It's not the most involving story, but it makes sense as you play through it and it's pretty engaging.
- Purely combat focused. As you move through the strategy game, the focus is purely on combat and capturing other territories. There is no getting around that.
- Minimal empire building elements. You will capture territory, build structures, etc., but empire management is basic. It gets the job done provides a great diversion between battles in your spaceship.
- Limited replayability. Unlike the other games on this list, I haven't had a desire to play through the game again. I got about 50 hours in my complete play-through, so I felt it was well worth the price.
This game is all about fighting in your spaceship and light empire management, but the mix is so good it's worth including on this list because both aspects are done fairly well.
Why It's on This List
SPAZ 2 is the best balance between space sim and strategy. While there is more focus on the ship combat, the strategy is fun enough to make it worth doing. If you are looking for a bit of both genres, then this is the game I would recommend.
5. Endless Space 2
- Released: 05/18/17
- Developed By: Amplitude Studios
- Published By: Sega
- Metascore: Holds a 80% metascore on Metacritic.
All About Endless Space 2
I recall trying this game when it was free to play for a weekend and fell in love with it. It's strikingly different compared to the other games on the list in almost every aspect, but this game provides a great introduction to the genre of strategy games set in space.
- Clean user interface. Of all of the games on this list, I appreciate the user interface of this game. It's clean and simple. It gets the point across and makes you feel like you are overseeing an empire and only being shown what you need.
- Unique races. This game offers unique races that are very distinct from each other. From fighting to colonizing, each race has their own way of doing things.
- Story to invest in. There is a great interwoven story in Endless Space 2. I was invested in what was happening with my race and what was happening elsewhere in the galaxy.
- Cinematic combat. What I love about this game is how combat is cinematic. It's not like a RTS where you control everything. You'll set some general parameters for your fleet and watch the combat unfold. It's really beautiful. Don't expect massive space battles though.
- Also has DLC. Just like other games mentioned, there is DLC for Endless Space 2. However, it's affordable enough to purchase everything, which I recommend you do so, since each DLC adds to the game.
- Customize spaceships. The look can't customized, but you can choose what modules to install on ships, which provides a noticeable difference in how the ship performs.
- Light on diplomacy. Diplomacy options are somewhat light in this game. Options are there, but it's really just a way to stop or start a war.
This game captures the mystery of space perfectly, adding a story and calmness about managing your empire. It's definitely a great first game for those wanting to try out space strategy games.
Why It's on This List
The unique races and the feel of the game really sucked me in. Despite it being a strategy game, I felt relaxed as I played it because it's just that kind of game. Slower paced, but a lot of fun.
Birth of the Federation – As a Star Trek fan, I had to include this game on the list. The graphics are basic, but they get the job done. If you are a die-hard Star Trek fan, you may not like how the different races react, as they aren't like how they are in the shows/movies. Additionally, as the late game progresses, turns take forever. It's still a great game though.
Galactic Civilizations 2 – With this game, you can build your own ships, which is always fun to do when you want to make an empire in your own image. There are different victory conditions and empire management becomes a big part of the game the longer a game lasts. Now, there is Galactic Civilizations 3, but I prefer the second one. If you want to see the differences, then watch the video below.
What Do You Think?
Are there any space strategy games that you would recommend? Do you disagree with my list? Let me know in the comments below!
Looking for a Good Space Sim?
- The Top 5 Space Sims for PC
Looking to find a game where you fly a ship in space? If so, then this article covers the top 5 space games for the PC, some of which may surprise you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 David Livermore
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 18, 2020:
I’ve played some of these because of my nephew (not that I was that good). I can see how people get really hooked.