Updated: 8 best strategy games for PC and Mac you can play today

Updated: 8 best strategy games for PC and Mac you can play today

Games that only a PC can provide

best strategy games

Update: At number 8, we've added Total War: Warhammer to our list, the latest entry in a long-running tabletop franchise, perfected for the PC.

Strategy games make you think. They're not like most shooters that offer mindless gameplay, or the adventure game that has you leaping off cliffs and driving boats.

Strategy games require your brain juices at all times to plan each move carefully and analyze what the opponent will do next – quickly. They require you to develop armies, build civilizations and gather resources in the process.

But strategy games aren't just about the gameplay: they typically offer sprawling, geopolitical stories too that hook players and keep them focused on the campaign. That said, what makes a strategy game great is how it pulls players into its mythology and allows them to carry out missions without overcomplicating it.

Here is a handful of strategy games on the PC and Mac that achieve this balance perfectly.

1. StarCraft II

best strategy games

Blizzard Entertainment launched the first StarCraft sci-fi military strategy game back in 1998, and while it was extremely popular, the game wasn't the mammoth product StarCraft II has become. With the sequel, Blizzard has released three installments that span one huge campaign: Wings of Liberty (2010), Heart of the Swarm (2013) and Legacy of the Void (2015).

Each of these releases focus on a specific protagonist group: human exiles called the Terrans in Wings of Liberty, the Borg-like insectoids called Zerg in Heart of the Swarm, and the telepathic alien race known as the Protoss in Legacy of the Void. The overall campaign takes place four years after the Brood War expansion pack for the original StarCraft, beginning with Jim Raynor's quest to take down the tyrannical Terran Dominion.

StarCraft II succeeds by combining sharp strategic gameplay and balance with an immersive story and scenery. The game also comes with its own level editor, allowing players to share their maps and mods via the Battle.net online community. Of course, StarCraft II can be played online – it's one of the widest-played eSports worldwide – but currently it does not provide local LAN play. StarCraft II can only be purchased from Blizzard Entertainment digitally and in boxed versions.

2. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

best strategy games

Here's another popular strategy game from Blizzard, though with a decidedly fantasy theme. It was released way back in 2002 and features a single-player campaign story that's told through the eyes of four races: Humans, Orcs, the Undead, and the Night Elves.

As with StarCraft, players are typically faced with a map covered in a black fog, which is slowly removed as you explores the area (Diablo does this, too). You begin by mining resources, building settlements and establishing troops in order to protect your assets and take control of other parts of the map. A day/night cycle keeps players on their toes, too.

There are a total of five campaigns in Warcraft III that center on a specific race: one for the Night Elves, one for the Undead, one for the Humans, and two for the Orcs. Objectives are labeled as "quests" and are rolled out as the player explores a map. The are both main quests an optional quests to perform, the former being required in order to move the story forward – natch.

Warcraft III also offers a multiplayer component that can be played over local LAN. Blizzard even released an expansion pack called The Frozen Throne that was published back in 2003. Both the original game and the expansion can be purchased for the PC and Mac via Blizzard's online portal, and in a Battle Chest retail box.

3. XCOM 2

best strategy games

This strategy game is rather new for the PC, Mac and Linux platforms, developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K Games in February 2016. It takes place 20 years after XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012), and sees the Earth taken over by aliens – what else? – despite XCOM's best efforts.

In this installment, XCOM is now part of a resistance movement aimed to take back control of the planet.

In the single-player campaign, players assume command of XCOM, a former military organization that is now a mere resistance force. A new Avenger mobile base has been established where from you issue commands while spearheading research and engineering departments to create weapons and other tools that will help fight off the hostile aliens.

What makes XCOM 2 stand out is its maps, which are lush and rich in detail, and it's strategy-rich, turn-based combat. They're also different each time you play them, keeping the game fresh. In addition to the single-player campaign, there's also a peer-to-peer multiplayer mode, pitting players against each other using squads mixed with alien and XCOM units.

XCOM 2 can be purchased through Steam, Amazon and other retailers in boxed and digital editions.

4. Cities: Skylines

strategy games

If you were disappointed by the messy launch of the thoroughly disappointing SimCity reboot back in 2013, take solace in the fact that two years later a development team with a greater understanding of its audience took charge of the genre in a much more respectable, and less flagrant, manner.

Sacrificing all of the always-online DLC quirks in favor of hosting bigger cities and Steam Workshop support for mods, Cities: Skylines is everything classic SimCity players wanted, and would have gotten if it weren't for whatever the hell happened at Maxis.

Cities: Skylines retains the appeal of early city building simulations with a handful of modern twists. An in-game social media service for instance called Chirper lets residents get in contact with you, the world designer, to voice complaints.

More noteworthy, though, is the thrill of managing traffic routes on a district to district basis. In fact, most of your governance in Cities: Skylines is separated by districts, making taxation as true to the United States as developmentally possible.

5. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War

best strategy games

Developed by Relic Entertainment and published by THQ in 2004, this military sci-fi game is based on the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop wargame. The game takes place on the imperial planet of Tartarus that's currently overrun by Orks. In the background, the human-run Imperium is in constant struggle with the Orks – along with those humans serving the demonic Chaos and the Eldar (space elves) – in a struggle to keep the human race alive.

That said, the game provides four armies the player can use throughout the single-player campaign: Space Marines (superhuman soldiers), Chaos Marines (mutated marines), the psychic race of Eldars (again, space elves), and the savage Orks. Resources include power and requisition, the latter of which is generated by the army headquarters. Power is generated by establishing generators that will decay over time, keeping the player busy.

The game begins with you establishing your main headquarters and several basic units. After that, you're directed to focus on capturing and holding strategic locations on the map that can later be used to harvest additional resources and unlock nearby areas on said map. Battles are won by defeating bases occupied by enemy forces, or by holding on to locations for a period of time.

There are three expansion packs for this RTS title currently available: Winter Assault (2005), Dark Crusade (2006) and Soulstorm (2008). All of these, including the base game, can be purchased on Steam rather cheap.

6. Homeworld

best strategy games

This is an oldie but a goodie, developed by Relic Entertainment and published by Sierra Entertainment in 1999. The primary protagonists are the Kushan, who at one time were exiled to a colony of prison ships after losing a galactic war. Other races include the Taiidan, an interstellar empire that rules most of the galaxy, the Bentusi traders, the Kadeshi, the Turanic Raiders and the Galactic Council.

A key element that separates Homeworld from the other games in this article is that it's played in a 100% 3D space, hence its dedicated following.

The playable races consist of the Taiidan and the Kushan. Each have their specific strengths and weaknesses, and are initially tasked to gather minerals from asteroids and harvest dust clouds using special spaceships, which bring these resources back to the player's resource controller ship, carrier or mothership. Ultimately, the task at hand is to keep the fleet alive as it completes missions and gathers resources.

Ther object of the story is to locate the homeworld of the Kushan, called Hiigara. This story spans sixteen missions across the single-player campaign, which sees the surviving ships of the fleet carried over to the next mission. There was an online multiplayer component to the game as well – allowing players to helm either the Taiidan or Kushan.

Homeworld is available for Windows and Mac OS X in a Remastered collection by Gearbox Software on Steam, which includes the remastered versions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2, classic versions of the two games, and more.

7. The Banner Saga 2

best strategy games

Like the first game, The Banner Saga 2 reprises the Choose Your Own Adventure format, but with a handful of necessary refinements to its mechanics.

While it's not a full-on video game sequel, but rather an episodic continuation of the first game, quite literally beginning at Chapter 8, Banner Saga 2 manages to take the battle system from the first and turn (base) it on its head.

By incorporating new characters, classes, and by default, new abilities, the game feels a little less like a two-year-late second episode and more like a respectful follow-up to a beloved faux-nordic classic strategy game. Also exclusive to the sequel are instances of more cleanly integrated storytelling in-battle, all without ignoring the need for an expanded scale that'll make you feel like an ant compared to your combatants.

8. Total War: Warhammer

best strategy games

You might take one look at Total War: Warhammer and think, "Ugh, just another fantasy game," but you'd be wrong. In fact, the Warhammer franchise from Games Workshop has been around since 1983, long before World of Warcraft ever came about.

Total War: Warhammer in particular takes the ideas of the ideas of the influential Warhammer tabletop games and brings them to a monitor near you, replenished with lore that veterans will appreciate, but also with some really intense battles between humans, orcs, dwarves and even vampires.

With units spread across a huge map, there's still a strategy to be had here (despite the showy cutscenes and suspenseful gameplay). Total War: Warhammer is about all about getting into the nitty gritty of your faction, which you have four to choose from – each one completely distinct from the rest.

Still, Total War: Warhammer is all about real-time combat, so you'll spend most of your time with the game thinking on your toes. Don't confuse this with the likes of Starcraft, though, where you spend most of your time building bases across an even playing field. Total War: Warhammer, instead, is all about up-close battles and all-out warfare, hence the whole "Total War" thing.

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Updated: Windows 10 Home vs Windows 10 Pro: the key differences explained

Updated: Windows 10 Home vs Windows 10 Pro: the key differences explained

Introduction

Windows 10

When you count all the different ways Windows 10 will be available, there are actually seven different editions: Windows 10 Home, Pro, Enterprise, Education, Mobile and Mobile Enterprise, plus several versions designed for Internet of Things devices and embedded systems.

The list of SKUs makes most sense when you divide it up by screen size, because that is what controls the user interface you see, as well as the features you get. Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise are for smartphones and tablets that have screens smaller than 8-inch; they have the Windows Phone-style screen, the Edge browser without Internet Explorer, and come with the Office for Windows 10 apps pre-installed.

Windows 10 Home, Pro, Enteprise and Education are for desktop PCs, laptops, 2-in-1s, convertibles and larger tablets. Mostly, they're the equivalent of the similarly named Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 editions. In this article, we'll go through the exact details of each version…

Windows 10 Home

Windows 10

The version of Windows 10 that you're most likely to get if you buy a new PC, Windows 10 Home, has the key features of Windows 10, from the new Start menu to the Edge browser, to the Windows Hello biometric login feature that uses your face or fingerprint instead of a password, to a now-mandatory Cortana – the voice-controlled assistant deriving from Windows Phone.

Windows 10 Home includes game streaming from Xbox One, which lets you play games from your Xbox One on your PC instead. To keep home users more secure, updates like the massive Anniversary Update overhaul from Windows Update, and you don't get the option not to install critical and security updates.

Windows 10 Home includes the Continuum feature for tablets. This is the tablet mode that simplifies the taskbar and the Start menu, and makes your apps full screen – you can split your screen between two apps, but this is much simpler than the way Windows 8.1 let you arrange windows on-screen.

If you have the Home version of Windows 7 or 8.1, Windows 10 Home is what the free upgrade will get you.

Windows 10 Pro

Windows 10 Pro

If you use your PC for business, Windows 10 Pro has extra features over Windows 10 Home – the most important of which is being able to join a domain, including Azure Active Directory for single sign-on to cloud services (and have group policy applied as part of that).

You also get Hyper-V for virtualisation, BitLocker whole disk encryption, enterprise mode Internet Explorer, Remote Desktop, a version of the Windows Store for your own business, Enterprise Data Protection containers (a feature that comes later in the year) and assigned access (which locks a PC to running only one modern application, to use like a kiosk). Pro users can get updates from Windows Update for Business, which includes options for scheduling updates so they don't reboot PCs at important business times.

There are ways of connecting Windows Home PCs to a server, but if you want the familiar business PC experience, Windows 10 Pro is what you need. It will be a free upgrade from the Pro versions of Windows 7 and 8.1 (which includes Windows 7 Ultimate as well as Professional, and Windows 8.1 Pro and Pro for Students), you'll be able to upgrade to it from Windows 10 Home, and some desktops and notebooks designed for business will come with Windows 10 Pro.

Windows 10 Enterprise

Windows 10 Enterprise

Windows 10 Enterprise has all the business features of Pro, and adds a number of more powerful features designed for larger companies: Direct Access for connecting without a VPN, AppLocker for whitelisting apps, BranchCache for sharing downloads and updates with other PCs using a peer-to-peer connection, and group policy for controlling the Start Screen.

There's also Credential Guard and Device Guard features for protecting Windows logon credentials and locking down which applications a PC can run, and the option of keeping a PC on the Long Term Servicing Branch where it gets only security updates (ideal for systems you need to have working reliably for years without being affected by new and changing Windows features).

The free Windows 10 upgrade doesn't apply to Windows Enterprise; that's because you can only get it with a volume licence (and you have to already have a Windows Pro licence for each PC), and if you have a volume licence you already have the option of Software Assurance, which includes upgrades.

Windows 10 Education

Windows 10 education

Windows 10 Education is a new SKU, designed for large academic organisations like universities that want the security, management and connectivity features of Windows 10 Enterprise (it's common for students to need to join the domain to use official printers, for example).

The feature list is almost identical to Windows 10 Enterprise but it doesn't have the Long Term Servicing Branch and instead of having to upgrade from Windows Pro, you can upgrade directly to Windows 10 Education from Windows 10 Home. That means educational establishments can easily make Windows 10 Education available to students bringing in their own PCs.

Windows 10 Mobile

Windows mobile

If you use Windows Phone or a small (8-inch or smaller) tablet with Windows 8.1, when you upgrade what you get is Windows 10 Mobile (a confusing name, given that Windows Mobile was the smartphone OS that Windows Phone replaced). It's also what will come on new devices. The idea is that a 5-inch or 6-inch phone and a 7-inch tablet aren't really very different devices, so having the same interface and – crucially – the same universal apps on both makes more sense (and gives Microsoft a better chance of getting apps for its platform).

Windows Mobile has the key parts of Windows 10, including the Edge browser and the new touch-friendly version of Office – but it doesn't include IE. If you have the right hardware, you'll be able to plug your phone or tablet into a display and get the Continuum interface, with a bigger Start menu and the same interface you'd see for universal apps on a PC.

Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise

Long term servicing branch

The version of Windows Mobile for larger businesses who have volume licences includes similar tools for managing updates to Windows 10 Enterprise, although we don't know if they're exactly the same as Windows Update for Business and the Long Term Servicing branch.

Windows 10 IoT

windows 10 iot

If you have a Raspberry Pi 2 or an Intel Galileo or a range of other 'maker boards' you can get a free version of Windows 10 for them that can run universal apps. There are also Industry and Mobile versions of Windows 10 that OEMs can put on more traditional embedded devices like point of sale systems, cash tills, ATMs and other machinery.

The Industry version is for x86 systems only and it can run a wide range of software; the Mobile version is for tablets and handhelds that might have x86 or ARM CPUs and they can run universal apps. This is the embedded version of Windows Mobile – it's for the kind of device you might use for entertainment on a plane or for checking stock in a warehouse.

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
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Round up: The best free PC software 2016

Round up: The best free PC software 2016

The best free PC software

The best free software for Windows

Superb software doesn't have to cost a fortune - thanks to open source, shareware and ad-supported projects, you can equip your Windows PC with a complete set of essential everyday programs completely free.

We've put the best free Windows software to the test and hand-picked the very best programs for your PC. These are the programs we use ourselves at home, and we hope you enjoy them as much as we do. Don't see your favorites listed? Share your recommendations in the comments below.

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Avira Free Antivirus

Avira Free Antivirus

Fast, reliable protection from viruses and other online threats

Download Avira Free AntivirusGreat protection from the latest virus and malware threats, Avira Free Antivirus has a minimal impact on your system performance and offers a range of well-designed presets – just set and forget.

The best free antivirus 2016

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LibreOffice

LibreOffice

More productivity programs than Microsoft Office, all completely free

Download LibreOffice freeA complete office suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, vector graphics, mathematical formulae and databases, LibreOffice is in constant active development and is fully compatible with Microsoft Office formats.

The best free office software 2016

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Google Chrome

Google Chrome

Google's browser is fast, flexible and almost infinitely extendable

Download Google Chrome freeThe browser wars are as fierce as ever, but Chrome takes our top spot thanks to its flexibility, stability and cross-platform support. Its integration with your Google account makes it incredibly easy to carry your favorites and bookmarks between devices, and it supports a huge archive of extensions.

The best web browser 2016

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MusicBee

MusicBee

The ultimate player, streamer and organizer for music lovers

Download MusicBee freeEverything you need for managing a music collection of any size, MusicBee offers smart tagging and hardware optimization for the best possible playback quality. It's also a great choice for streaming internet radio and enjoying podcasts.

The best free music player 2016

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GIMP

GIMP

Make your photos look their best with the best Photoshop alternative

Download GIMP freeThe best free alternative to Adobe Photoshop, GIMP is packed with smart tools like a clone stamp, healing brush, transformations, smart selections and a host of filters – from the subtle to the creative. There are also dozens of superb user-created plugins to add even more features, and GIMP receives regular updates from its team of volunteer developers.

The best free photo editor 2016

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Foxit Reader

Foxit Reader

Read, create and convert PDFs, with superb format compatibility

Download Foxit Reader freeView, edit and create PDFs, and convert Microsoft Office files and scanned documents. Foxit Reader's superb feature set is rounded out with annotations, cloud-sharing and security options to protect you from potential security vulnerabilitites.

The best free PDF reader 2016

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qBittorrent

qBittorrent

Packed with all the tools music, TV and movie fans could want

Download qBitTorrent freeFast and efficient, with a built-in search engine and media player, qBittorrent has everything you need for quick, secure downloads. There's automatic prioritization of torrents, torrent creation and IP filtering too, and it's easy to master.

The best free torrent client 2016

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Any Video Converter

Any Video Converter

Download, convert and burn clips from all the biggest video-sharing sites

Download Any Video ConverterDownload videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion and many more, then convert them to any audio or video format you like. Any Video Converter can also burn converted files to disc, and rip content from your own DVDs and CDs.

The best free YouTube downloader 2016

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Now you have to deal with ads in Apple’s App Store, too

Now you have to deal with ads in Apple's App Store, too

First announced at Apple's Worldwide Development Conference (WWDC) earlier this year before being rolled out for beta testing over the summer, adverts are coming to Apple's App Store from October 5.

Called Search Ads, these adverts start working when you search a keyword in the App Store search bar. Depending on what you've searched for, ads for relevant apps will appear at the top of your search results.

According to Apple, over 65 per cent of app downloads via the App Store come from search results so spending some money to put your app at the top of the results list could prove to be a good move, particularly if the process is as easy as Apple claims.

Spend money to make money

Setting up a Search Ad can apparently be done in "a few easy steps", with developers retaining complete control over how much money they wish to put behind the ad, the kind of audience they want to target, and insight into the numbers coming from placing the ad.

Being as simple as it is, Search Ads could be especially useful for small independent developers that are trying to get their app noticed by potential customers. If app download numbers do actually depend quite so heavily on the search results page as Apple says, a couple of days at the top of the results list could be all a genuinely good indie app needs to boost its popularity.

In an attempt to keep the playing ground more even, Apple is ensuring that popular developers with larger marketing budgets can't abuse the service by targeting popular terms with app ads that are irrelevant to a user's search. For example, you won't find an Angry Birds ad when searching for fitness apps.

The relevance algorithm is also being implemented for the sake of app store customers who won't have to worry about scrolling through pointless and irrelevant apps before seeing the results they actually asked for.

Safety first

To make sure not safe for work apps don't manage to crawl their way to the top of the results, Apple has also put together a content policy list which advertisers must comply with before their app will be featured.

Though app store users won't see ads until October 5, Apple is allowing developers to set up their campaigns from now, incentivizing US developers by offering them $100 credit towards their first use of the service.

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Surface desktop keyboard discovery hints at inbound Surface all-in-one

Rumors of a Microsoft Surface All-in-One PC have been little more than anonymous reports thus far, but some circumstantial evidence just popped up that suggests a Surface AIO announcement may truly be imminent.

German-language site WinFuture recently found a listing for a Surface Ergonomic Keyboard in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group’s database. The Surface keyboard's presumably a desktop peripheral since ergonomic keyboards usually have large, specialized shapes such as split and curved designs—though Microsoft did create a mobile ergonomic keyboard in 2012. There are no details about the Surface keyboard other than its name, and the fact that it will use Bluetooth v4.2.

To read this article in full or to leave a comment, please click here

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21 essential Windows keyboard shortcuts

Despite notable advancements in speech-recognition technology and voice input, and the popularity of tablets, the humble PC continues to be the workhorse device of choice for many workers around the world. And whether you're an office-bound profess...
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Downloads: Download of the day: IObit Advanced SystemCare

Downloads: Download of the day: IObit Advanced SystemCare

Download of the day: IObit Advanced SystemCare

Over time, you'll notice that your PC no longer runs as quickly as it once did. Files left behind by uninstalled programs, temporary caches, fragmented files, unused software and broken registry entries all accumulate, resulting in slower boot times and sluggish overall performance.

Download IObit Advanced SystemCare freeIObit Advanced SystemCare makes cleaning up your PC and optimizing its performance incredibly straightforward – not only deleting junk, but also managing startup programs and services, and protecting you from malware and spyware.

Why you need it

There are lots of PC cleanup utilities around, but few are as comprehensive as IObit Advanced SystemCare. Its Clean & Optimize tool is the quickest way to improve your PC's performance; simply select which common junk files and errors to search for (including spyware, disk errors, tracking cookies and browser history) and click 'Scan'.

You can also let IObit Advanced SystemCare fix any problems it finds automatically – just go and make yourself a cup of tea and come back in a couple of minutes to a cleaner, faster PC. More advanced users can customize their scan using a comprehensive settings menu, and decide for themselves what happens to detected junk, errors and vulnerabilities.

Once you've cleaned your PC, move to IObit Advanced SystemCare's Speed Up tab to optimize its performance. Here you can disable unnecessary processes and services to conserve RAM and make other adjustments like removing font formatting from desktop icons. It's a case of marginal gains – small changes that add up to make a noticeable difference. There's also a quick program uninstaller that removes unwanted software, then scans for leftover temporary files and registry entries that can be erased, and a tool for removing browser extensions.

The premium Advanced SystemCare Pro offers some bonus features, including real-time protection, but the free edition is superb. Download it now and see what a difference it makes.

Key features

  • Deletes junk files
  • Fixes registry entries
  • Corrects software vulnerabilities
  • Manages startup processes
  • Uninstalls unwanted programs, toolbars and browser extensions

Works on

Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10

Price

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