Best 4X Games On PC 2023

Want to expand, exploit, exterminate, and explore? Then come along as we highlight the best 4X games on Steam and other platforms.

At the center of 4X strategy PC games are four defining pillars: eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate, and eXplore, with each game prioritizing some over others.

With that in mind, if you’re in the market for more 4X grand strategy games like Civilization, Warhammer, or Total War, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this list, we’ll highlight the best 4X games on PC,including the best new strategy games to play in 2023 that follow the 4X formula.

We’ll be updating this list in the future with new titles, so make sure to check back and let us know if we missed any of your favorite 4X strategy games!

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The original Rome: Total War is often credited with setting the standard and tone for the Total War series going forward.

At the time, it was celebrated for introducing fully 3D graphics as well as including a lengthy campaign and robust modding tools for players to explore.

With Total War: Rome Remastered, Creative Assembly sought to refine the game’s graphics and gameplay even further, resulting in one of the best 4X experiences of 2021.

In it, players guide one of the most advanced civilizations through history, creating legions of warriors from 38 distinct playable factions.

The Dominions games are a relic of a bygone era of 4X games prior to the rise of high fantasy games like Warhammer 40K and its hulking mech units.

This is evident by Dominions 5’s dated visuals which detract very little from the game’s imaginative and expressive setting complete with fantasy-themed factions and magic-driven research systems.

Risk is the name of the game here, with many of Dominions 5’s best, most powerful units requiring you to make big sacrifices in hopes of it paying off later on the battlefield.

Even after all these years, there’s nothing quite as satisfying in the 4X genre as leading an army of Dominions’ mythical units into battle against another.

If fantasy’s not really your thing or you have an interest in Chinese history, Oriental Empires is a great new strategy game that harkens back to 4X’s board game roots.

For one, it utilizes the WEGO system seen in many tabletop games where every player resolves their turn at the same time.

Additionally, the game throws randomized events into the mix to keep things exciting and unpredictable, forcing you to stay on your toes to have any chance of winning.

While the AI could do with some improvements, Oriental Empires makes up for it with meaningful expansions and robust tech tree options that add significant depth to its systems.

Another 4X game that does an excellent job of depicting the civilization it’s modeled after, Aggressors: Ancient Rome is the ultimate 4X game for history buffs, particularly those who admire antiquity.

It offers a deep sense of realism that considers all of the rules and traditions involved with leading an empire during the height of Ancient Rome.

While this has the adverse effect of making the game feel overly complex at times, the degree of challenge is on par with other historical 4X games such as Civilization.

Similar to Oriental Empires, the only drawback with this game is its lackluster combat, which suffers from being far too simplistic in comparison to its other systems.

Another demanding 4X game that’s sure to test your mettle is Shadow Empire, a military-focused wargame from VR Designs and Slitherine.

The first thing you’ll notice upon booting it up is the game’s unappealing UI combined with less-than-stellar graphics, which isn’t typically the focus of 4X games but worth mentioning.

Thankfully, Shadow Empire makes up for its presentational flaws in spades with satisfying logistics-based gameplay and a post-apocalyptic setting in which you attempt to piece together a fallen world.

There’s a great deal of fun to be had just toying around with the game’s planet generation tool before setting off to conquer it.

While Humankind may still be finding its footing in the 4X landscape, we’re confident in Amplitude Studios’ ability to get the game where it needs to be.

Billed as a worthy Civilization alternative, it sees players rewriting history across 60 distinct periods starting with the Bronze Age through to the modern era.

This boils down to a lot of time spent influencing societies, making tough moral decisions, reacting to historical events in real-time, and spearheading scientific breakthroughs.

Even if many of its components feel like a remix of the Sid Meier games, Humankind does have an edge in the graphical department as well as an active modding scene.

Age of Wonders is another popular high fantasy 4X franchise, with Planetfall being one of the more standout entries in the series.

From an abundance of unique and interesting races to complex relations between nations, there’s much to discover across each campaign.

Turn-based combat is modeled after the XCOM series with a devilishly steep learning curve and flexible tactics that allow you to approach each challenge with aggression or diplomacy.

This aspect is what helps Planetfall distinguish itself from genre heavy hitters like Civilization while still keeping true to the spirit of 4X games.

In Galactic Civilizations III, players are let loose on a large-scale playground where they can build their own alien race, fleet of ships, and eventually, formidable empire.

Unlike most other games in the genre, Galactic Civ 3 places a heavy emphasis on designing your civilization in addition to the usual 4X mechanics.

This includes distinct-feeling factions with extensive ideological traits that spill over and affect just about every aspect of the game.

Anyone familiar with Stardock’s games will appreciate the number of quirks and close attention to detail involved with designing alien races in Galactic Civ 3.

The Sid Meier games are usually what come to mind when you think of 4X, and for good reason seeing as they consistently review well and sit comfortably at the top of Steam’s most-played charts.

Civilization VI, in particular, stands out from its predecessors for building on the best parts of Civ V without losing focus of the series’ core principles.

Notable improvements include the ability to expand cities across more tiles, take advantage of the new districts mechanic, and restack combat units.

Additionally, the game is well supported by modding and official DLCs such as the Gathering Storm expansion that adds natural disasters into the mix.

Next up, Endless Legend is a 4X game about multiple factions that stumble upon a mysterious new planet and set out to colonize it while competing with each other.

Like many games on this list, this entails carrying out military conquests, making scientific breakthroughs, engaging in diplomatic relations, and so on.

Units are assigned unique stats and behaviors that affect their performance in combat and a robust tech tree allows you to explore different tactics and strategies.

In terms of aesthetics, the game combines high fantasy and sci-fi with touches of magic and steampunk technologies that come together to create a visually striking package.

Another Amplitude developed title that’s worth checking out is Endless Space 2, which is often touted as the best-looking 4X game on the market.

Set in the deep stretches of outer space, it sees you carving out your own empire across a plethora of RPG-inspired quests and random events that force you to adapt to survive.

This affords a great deal of freedom in exploring different paths and strategies by the time you reach the Endless Space 2’s endgame.

It also happens to include some of the best in-game tutorials and UI elements compared to more obtuse 4X games, making it perfect for beginners.

Stellaris is another space-faring game that comes highly recommended and offers an enticing blend of grand strategy and 4X-inspired gameplay.

In it, players pick from one of several intergalactic races with the option to create their own before setting out to conquer an entire solar system.

While its scope may not be as large as some of the other games on this list, it does an excellent job at letting players use precision to determine the kind of empire they’ll be.

Much like the Civilization series, Paradox has released countless expansions and add-ons that introduce new mechanics and content to keep players coming back.

Now if you’re looking for something on the opposite end of the spectrum, at least in terms of scope, Distant Worlds: Universe is easily one of the biggest, all-encompassing 4X space games on this list.

In it, players are tasked with building an empire across the vastness of space from one of several imaginative alien races with unique motivations and backgrounds.

It features over 1,400 randomly generated planets for you to conquer, each requiring you to overcome different challenges with as much or as little micromanaging as you prefer.

This degree of flexibility makes it a lot less daunting than many of the games on this list while still delivering on the genre’s four central pillars.

If extermination ranks higher on your list than other 4X elements, then the Warhammer games are going to be your bread and butter.

One of the best entries to dive into is Gladius – Relics of War, which combines refined combat systems with streamlined resource generating mechanics.

It also does a fine job at drawing influence from the Warhammer universe including distinct-feeling units armed with powerful weapons, perks, and tactics to explore.

The only real con, depending on your personal tastes, is how difficult it is to play the game diplomatically as many situations call for, or ultimately result in, violence.  

Next we have Star Ruler 2, which acts as a cross between 4X and RTS gameplay with in-depth diplomacy and planetary development systems.

It’s definitely on the higher end in terms of scale and overall complexity, with many tasks requiring you to micromanage units to get the best outcome.

Additionally, it features a staggering number of systems to juggle and fine-tune throughout each campaign, which can be a bit too intimidating to new players.

However, if you’re a fan of massive space battles with full-fledged armadas, it may be worth the trouble of learning all the intricate ins and outs of Star Ruler 2’s systems and mechanics.

Although many fans consider the Europa Universalis series to fall under the more broad grand strategy umbrella, it features enough 4X elements to warrant including it in this list.

Europa Universalis 4 puts a big focus on predicting and planning out strategies ahead of time to prevent opponents from gaining a foothold as you try to overcome historical imbalances.

As a result, players will work tirelessly to keep other nations in check while still finding ways to provide for their people across lengthy campaigns.

Each playthrough gives you ample time to come to grips with the game’s systems and discover creative ways to outsmart the enemy AI and rise to power.

Another Stardock Entertainment joint, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes held the title for best 4X fantasy game before handing it over to Endless Legend.

However, this is best described as a wargame first and foremost, one that intentionally pushes players towards battling and away from diplomacy.

There’s a big emphasis on expanding your territories through the use of violence, requiring you to actively be growing and investing resources in your armed units.

As a bonus, units can be customized in meaningful ways that act as a boon to Fallen Enchantress’ replayability even years after its initial release.

Our final recommendation is Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, another approachable 4X title that affords players the comfort of deciding how much or little time they want to invest learning its systems. 

This puts the game’s depth somewhere between the automation-driven nature of something like Distant Worlds and the overwhelming complexity of games like Stellaris.

While the original Sins of a Solar System focused primarily on combat, Rebellion tries to keep things balanced by allowing you to spend more time with the other aspects of growing an empire.

A notable feat, seeing as many of the games mentioned in this list execute perfectly in one area while falling short in others, making Rebellion a rarity in today’s 4X gaming landscape.

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Justin Fernandez

As a fan of both indie and triple-A games, Justin finds joy in discovering and sharing hidden gems with other passionate gamers. In addition to reporting on the latest and greatest titles, he manages GamingScan’s social media channels.

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