The best games “like” Total War are tough to pin down. Total War encompasses so many ideas across so many different settings that even it doesn’t exactly know what games are “like” Total War at times. Do you focus on the story-driven fantasy of Total War: Warhammer, the scenario perfection of Three Kingdoms, or the laser focus of Troy? There’s a lot to consider. And, if we’re being totally honest, simply nobody else does it like developer Creative Assembly. The massive strategy series has yet to see a real, direct contender to its throne.
That’s why this list of “the best games like Total War” focuses specifically on trying to isolate particular parts of that franchise and what makes them work. Which games capture that sense of having super-direct control over meaningful battles and a worthwhile overworld campaign? Let’s find out as we look into the best games like Total War!
Hearts of Iron IV – The Best Games Like Total War
Secretly super popular (and super expensive if you buy all the DLC), Hearts of Iron IV mimics the more historical Total War games by presenting a preset smorgasbord of factions engaged in a single massive conflict: World War II. Think of it like “history that never happened.” All the pieces more-or-less start in the right places but tend to go off in wildly different directions. Like the United States turning full communist or Italy never choosing to side with the Axis powers.
The game includes large-scale military conflicts, terrain effects, flanking, etc. all in real-time. Similar to Total War. The downside is that everything happens on the overworld. You lose out on that close-up control of the action that truly makes the Total War series feel so grand and grounded — in favor of more focus on technical elements like supply lines and production.
- Perfect for… intense WWII enthusiasts.
- Avoid if you… really hate thinking about too many numbers.
- Start with… the base game. There are hundreds of dollars’ worth of DLC for this game right now. Try it before you invest.
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock – The Best Games Like Total War
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock. This game focuses much more closely on simulating individual battles and positioning individual units (spaceships, in this case, instead of squads of soldiers). Said battles use a mix of real-time and turn-based combat. Just not in the way you might expect. You actually plan each move — where to swing your capital ship, when to scramble Vipers, how often you boost thrusters — first. Then those actions play out in real-time before pausing again to let you plan your next move. Rinse and repeat.
Players of Fantasy Flight Star Wars games, like X-Wing and Armada, will recognize this sort of thing immediately. The difference is that this one really lets you enjoy watching the action. Similar to watching a single soldier’s duel in a Total War skirmish, you can set the camera to focus on one fighting zipping between broadside missiles.
- Perfect for… Battlestar Galactica and Fantasy Flight miniatures fans.
- Avoid if you… don’t care about spaceships or space combat.
- Start with… the base game (again). There’s a bunch of DLC, but a lot of it focuses on story scenarios, so you don’t need to touch it until you beat the first campaign.
Carrier Command 2 – The Best Games Like Total War
Classic 80s game publisher MicroProse (the original folks behind Civilization and X-COM) was quietly revived in the late 2010s. Since then, the company has been funding some of the most experimental strategy and management games on the scene. Games like the bizarre, atmospheric, and arguably brilliant HighFleet.
Carrier Command 2 lacks the mood of that other MicroProse product but includes some of its same “diegetic” interface. You need to manually outfit your attack vehicles with weapons and ammo, which are then counted individually. If the jet you deploy runs out of missiles, for example, then it’s out of missiles. That sort of thing.
The common point between this and other games on this list is the interplay between big picture stuff and small-scale control. You technically play a carrier at sea — literally drawing up battle plans and lines of attack for units to follow. The trick is that you can then take direct control over any one of your autonomous battle machines (bombers, tanks, fighters, etc.). You don’t just get to see the action up close; you can swing it in your favor with smart play.
- Perfect for… players who like to assume direct control.
- Avoid if you… lack a good deal of patience.
- Start with… the standard game. It’s also playable in VR, but reviews have been somewhat mixed.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall – The Best Games Like Total War
The Age of Wonders games forgo real-time battles in favor of turn-based tactics. Other than that, this is probably the closest you can get when talking about games like Total War. Multiple factions vie for control of an overworld map. Then you zoom down to control smaller armies inside individual conflicts. The small-scale battles play similarly from XCOM 2, but this is another Paradox game, meaning your attacks lack some of the polished oomph.
Budget and a slightly corny sci-fi setting aside, this is an underrated gem of a strategy game. It plays well and sports a massive variety of units to field. The various factions each have strong identities, as well, making for a good deal of replayability. You can also try Age of Wonders 3 if fantasy is more your speed — say if you’re a big Total War: Warhammer II fan.
- Perfect for… if you don’t mind turn-based combat over real-time battles.
- Avoid if you… can’t stand intentionally cheesy sci-fi writing.
- Start with… a good sale. Paradox games get discounted all the damn time. There’s also a fantastic console version, if you don’t want to play on PC.
Stellaris – The Best Games Like Total War
Anyone reading about Total War probably already knows about Stellaris. For the sake of posterity, though, let’s pretend you don’t. This is yet another “grand strategy” game from Paradox Interactive. It’s a galactic empire simulator with a vast array of options that grows even more with DLC every year.
It’s also entirely real-time — forcing you to pay a bit more attention to your various planets, their needs, buildings, and production. Though the ability to pause, slow down, and speed up the game at any time makes this more manageable. The actual rub is that combat isn’t very interesting. It’s massive and nice to look at, just like Total War skirmishes, but you have precious little control over what happens once laser hits the shield. It all comes down to manually designing your own ships to counteract the strengths and weaknesses of enemy empires instead.
That “self-made” quality extends to the factions, as well. Stellaris empires aren’t usually preset. Instead, they’re auto-generated at the start of a campaign from a massive list of possible factors. The same goes for your own empire. This can lead to a lack of strong identity, unless you’re willing to make it up in your own mind, but Stellaris doesn’t currently give a ton of tools to write this kind of headcanon around unique characters the same way as Crusader Kings or even XCOM. Your best bet is to rely on special Origins first added in the Federations add-on.
Even so, Stellaris mirrors the scale and high degree of control you get in Total War. Typically just in other places.
- Perfect for… players who love writing their own, emergent narratives.
- Avoid if you… really only care about Total War combat.
- Start with… the base game and a sale. Most Stellaris DLC focuses on endgame events, so you can get the gist of the game by starting without the expansions, and cheaply.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War – Soulstorm – The Best Games Like Total War
If you don’t mind dipping way back into the past — all the way to the ancient days of 2006 — the Dawn of War games are a decent spin on the Total War formula. The first Dawn of War and its original add-on, Winter Assault, are very linear RTS campaigns. Starting with the Dark Crusade expansion, however, you can tell the Warhammer experts at Relic Entertainment were also starting to crib from Creative Assembly. This one presents an overworld map with turn-based decisions about which province you want to invade. Battles are then played out in real-time on individual maps.
The twist here is that your infrastructure (forts, bases, barracks, etc.) all continue to exist like more traditional RTS within said provinces. Think StarCraft or Command & Conquer. You can win a skirmish, take control over a province, and move on. Then another faction can attempt to take over the territory you just won during the overworld phase — which brings you back to that skirmish map with all your bases still intact.
Consider this a halfway point between the grand strategy/4X style of Total War and fast-paced base-on-base battles of 90s Westwood games. You get a little bit of each flavor. You also get a lot more of it with all the expansions Relic put out. Besides the aforementioned content, there’s also the Soulstorm edition, which added another two playable races.
- Perfect for… Command & Conquer, StarCraft, and Company of Heroes players.
- Avoid if you… want deep economic or diplomatic features.
- Start with… Soulstorm. It’s an entirely standalone game that doesn’t require the other “expansions” to play, despite the nomenclature.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord – The Best Games Like Total War
Mount & Blade is a laughably ambitious medieval strategy RPG that somehow works beautifully (despite its many faults). It’s also in early access at the time of this writing. That means it has a long way to go.
Even now, though, Mount & Blade has many of the things you might recognize from Total War. You prepare armies, siege keeps, defend those same keeps, and partake in massive real-time battles between opposing militaries. The key twist here is that this has a more direct RPG element. You control a specific character inside and out of the big conflicts. Whether that means diplomacy or swinging a sword to cut down archers at close range. Even as hundreds of troops die around you.
- Perfect for… Total War: Medieval II purists and role-players.
- Avoid if you… don’t like action-oriented combat at all.
- Start with… Bannerlord. The Warband expansion for the first game is also great, but smaller in scope and less friendly to get into these days.
Iron Harvest – The Best Games Like Total War
Iron Harvest began as a fairly straightforward real-time strategy game. You’ve got a (very good) story campaign; you’ve got skirmishes; you’ve got multiplayer. In June of 2022, however, the developers added “World Map Campaigns” as part of a massive free update. Now you can select scenarios and lead forces into battle across preset regions!
This works pretty much like the Soulstorm above. Which is to say: battle is the focus. Don’t expect a ton of politicking and diplomacy or infrastructure management. Nevertheless there is some macro-level gameplay as you move across each continent and upgrade your forces. There’s as an “auto-battle” feature if you don’t want to play entire battles out in real-time. Though you really should. They’re the star of the show in Iron Harvest.
The game itself is set in an alternate 20th century. It’s a “dieselpunk” world based on the board game Scythe — where Soviet Union and Polish analogues have gas-guzzling mechs and other war machines. In terms of battle tactics, it plays a lot like a modern day Company of Heroes, which is perhaps why the developers sought to emulate another Relic Entertianment release (i.e. Dawn of War).
- Perfect for… Company of Heroes and/or mecha fiction fans.
- Avoid if you… need more politics and provincial management.
- Start with… the base game. There’s not much DLC, but at $20, the bigger campaign expansion is a little pricey before you know you like the main game.
Songs of Conquest (Honorable Mention)
This game is still in early access as I’m writing. Hence its place as an “honorable mention” instead of being a full entry on this list. Yet Songs of Conquest is quite excellent even in its current state. Though it pulls more directly from classic Heroes of Might and Magic than Total War. That is to say: it’s another fully turn-based game with tactical battles. Yet those battles are played out via armies you levy in a central kingdom on the overworld. There are powerful generals with skill trees and gear, called “wielders,” but they don’t fight directly. Instead, they lead and buff your more disposable troops while providing powerful offscreen backup in the form of spells. This puts the focus is both kingdom and army management between fights. You’ll recognize a lot of the big picture stuff from Total War as a result (including the ability to auto-resolve battles if you just want to focus on the kingdom management).
- Perfect for… if you liked Might and Magic as much as Total War.
- Avoid if you… just really can’t stand turn-based battles.
- Start with… the early access release. The game is more-or-less feature complete. At the time of this writing, it’s just missing story campaigns for two of its four playable factions.