The turn-based strategy game is back

We look at the must-play strategy games that do away with ‘realtime’, and are all the better for it.
Good luck battling the aliens in XCOM 2
Good luck battling the aliens in XCOM 2 © 2K
By Mike Stubbsy

Make no mistake, 2016 is shaping up to be one of the best years in gaming for ages. We have already had Far Cry: Primal, The Division, Dark Souls III and Street Fighter V and the likes of Uncharted 4, No Man’s Sky and Gear of War 4 are all coming in the next few weeks and months. But those games are just the tip of the iceberg, with more promising indie titles than we can count and a tonne of as-yet-unconfirmed but inevitable titles we expect to see at E3 also hitting this year.

While many of the biggest releases are sticking to the most popular, explosion-filled genres, there has also been a quiet and unexpected resurgence in the amount of top-quality turn-based strategy games coming out. The turn-based strategy hasn’t exactly been a forgotten genre in recent years, but it certainly hasn't seen a top game releasing every few weeks – until now.

2016 has been the year of the turn-based strategy games, with both traditional-style outings and some that bend the rules of the genre slightly. Some of the best titles of recent years have transitioned onto consoles, while others have launched exclusively on PC to critical acclaim. To help you discover the best turn-based games of this year, that are either out already or due to come out very soon, we’ve highlighted seven that you really should play.

XCOM 2

When XCOM: Enemy Unknown brought the classic franchise back in 2012 it brought an entire new generation of players to the turn-based genre. Now four years later the sequel has arrived and gone beyond what the original managed to do. Set 20 years after Enemy Unknown, the Aliens have won and you lead the XCOM rebellion trying to drive them off Earth. The core gameplay remains the same, sending a squad on missions that play out turn-by-turn on a grid-based map. Getting your tactics and positioning correct is key, otherwise your squad will be mowed down and lost forever thanks to the gnawing horror of permadeath. Add in the ability to name and create your squad members and things can start to become a little too real: seeing your sister get destroyed by a giant alien snake is never nice. XCOM 2 is a genre-defining game, and you will struggle to find anything better this year. It’s just a shame this one’s PC only.

Atlas Reactor

© Polygon

Billed as XCOM meets Dota, Atlas Reactor isn’t your traditional turn-based strategy game. Two teams of four players battle it out in simultaneous turn-based combat with the victor being decided by who has the most kills at the end of the game. Both teams will decide what they want to do simultaneously at the start of each turn and then all the action will play out. Each action will fit into one of four stages that take place in sequential order, so if you anticipate an attack coming, you can dodge out of the way in the phase beforehand. It sounds complex, but the gameplay itself is deceptively simple to pick up. The depth comes from the MOBA like roster of heroes and learning each one inside out. Atlas Reactor is currently in Beta on PC and is due to launch later in the year.

Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars

© IGN

Wargaming, who are primarily known for their World Of series including Tanks, Warplanes and Warships, have recently created WG Labs, a new publishing arm set to work on more traditional titles. The first offering is a revival of the classic turn-based strategy series Master of Orion. This fairly orthodox 4X strategy game is currently in Steam Early Access and is so far fantastic. All of the classic gameplay is there, but with modernisations such as improved visuals, better AI and more ways to defeat your opponents. There are still a few things missing, like a full tutorial, but this is almost as complete as an early access game gets. Now is the perfect time to jump in and start exploring the massive galaxies available to you.

Hitman Go

© IGN Plays

Granted, yes, Hitman Go first launched on mobile devices back in 2014, but this year has seen it ported across to consoles and PC – and it’s all the better for it. The traditional third-person stealth action of Hitman is replaced by turn-based puzzles, where you must guide Agent 47 through a level, avoiding and taking out guards and reaching your target turn by turn. This means you must predict where foes will move in order to stay hidden and it can present some incredibly challenging situations in the later stages. On paper turning Hitman into a turn-based game sounds ridiculous, but in execution it works etremely well and is certainly worth a play – the achievements, such as finishing a level in the minimum of turns, will only keep you coming back for more.

The Banner Saga 2

© GameSpot Gameplay

The original Banner Saga was one of the surprise indie hits of 2014, reaching the upper echelons of many game-of-the-year lists. Now the sequel is here with heaps of improvements and a rapid pace. Booting up the game will dump you straight into the turn-based action, right where the first game left off. For those who missed out on the original this can be quite jarring, but anyone can quickly pick up the basics of the fairly-challenging traditional turn-based combat and when combined with the incredible art style and strong narrative it becomes a pleasure to play.

Fire Emblem Fates

© Polygon

Despite trying their best to confuse you with three different titles that are sort of one, but not quite, Nintendo are once again onto a winner with Fire Emblem Fates. The game launched in North America earlier this year and drops in Europe at the end of May. The classic battles return, pitting your squad of characters against challenging foes on usually quite large maps. The wealth of different characters and play styles means that there is a tonne of customisation and that no two fights will ever feel the same. The 3DS is the perfect system for Fire Emblem, allowing to you play an incredibly deep turn-based strategy game on the move. The strong story and hours upon hours of content, especially if you buy all three games, will keep you entertained and the addictive and challenging gameplay will always keep you coming back. Just please, for goodness’ sake, whatever you do, don’t fly your pegasus near an archer.

Invisible, Inc.

Much like Hitman Go, Invisible, Inc. debuted on PC but has been ported across to console this year to allow it onto our list. The roguelike turn-based stealth game is unlike anything else in terms of both gameplay and unique charm. The visuals get things off to a strong start, but it’s the emergent gameplay and endless possibilities that really make Invisible, Inc. great. Chances are you will come away with more stories about crazy events, such as tales of incredible backstabs in the nick of time to drop an enemy who was about to shoot a squad mate, than any other game. The range of missions you must get through are impressive and the turn-based stealth offers a solid challenge, especially if you get unlucky in certain random areas. Invisible, Inc. is one that looks simple from the outside but becomes incredibly complex and engaging once you learn all of its systems, and for that reason alone deserves to be played.

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