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2023 was a renaissance for strategy games. Enjoy it while you can

The strategy game genre found itself in a renaissance this year — and you might not have noticed.

Coming off the excellent Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope and Marvel’s Midnight Suns last fall, strategy games started and ended 2023 off strong from the AAA to the indie space. Unfortunately, in such a crowded year, many of the excellent games in this niche genre flew more under the radar. If you missed out on games like Fire Emblem Engage, Pikmin 4, Wargroove 2, and Last Train Home, you’re missing out on a golden age of one of gaming’s best genres.

Strategic moves

Many iconic strategy game franchises came back this year, starting in January. On the Xbox front, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition finally came to Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S, bringing one of the best real-time-strategy titles to consoles for the first time. On Switch, Nintendo started the year off strong with Fire Emblem Engage. It served as a joyful celebration of the entire franchise, reflecting that in gameplay with the titular Engage system that allows player units to get more powerful and gain additional abilities by working with classic Fire Emblem characters.

Company of Heroes, Jagged Alliance, and Pikmin all made long-awaited comebacks with brand-new entries throughout the year. Pikmin 4, in particular, retained the charming spirit of its predecessors while reflecting the theme of Dandori, which is being strategic and efficient in how you approach a task, through gameplay. Digital Trends’ Game of the Year Baldur’s Gate 3, while more of an RPG, also adopted many elements from the genre. This year, fans of older strategy titles were also treated to remasters of classic Age of Empires IV, Pikmin and its sequel, and the Advance Wars games. Even Warcraft returned to the real-time strategy genre with the decent Warcraft Rumble on mobile.

In April, Minecraft Legends demonstrated just how malleable Mojang’s franchise is. It’s an RTS experience that emphasizes building, destruction, and impacting the environment in the way few other games in the genre do. The Lamplighters League from Harebrained Schemes and Paradox Interactive launched in October with a distinct pulpy aesthetic while playing up a spy-thriller fantasy. The genre ended the year strong with Last Train Home, which adapts a grueling historical event into a tense RTS game that felt like the most effective way to tell this story.

A players summons mobs to attack a Piglin outpost in Minecraft Legends.
Xbox Game Studios

Counting some of last year’s strategy games, I can’t remember the last time this genre got this much apparent support from bigger-budget studios. That’s not to say indies didn’t shine this year within the genre. Wargroove 2 proved it was worth existing after Advance Wars’ return with some new position-based gameplay twists and an engrossing roguelike mode. My editor has championed The Banished Vault for how it uses strategy systems to reinforce how we all retain the will to survive, even when there is not much to live for. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew spliced stealth elements into one of the most entertaining pirate adventures this side of Monkey Island, while Howl has a unique aesthetic and had me playing each level of its demo over and over until I could beat each of its encounters in as few turns as possible.

No matter where you look, we were spoiled for choice of excellent strategy games in 2023. That includes plenty of other titles that I’m not even going into much here, like The Last Spell and Total War: Pharoh. When it comes to the quality of strategy games coming out, it truly feels like we’re in a fantastic renaissance for the genre. Unfortunately, those qualities have not translated into financial success for many of these games.

In 2023, we learned that Sparks of Hope and Midnight Suns underperformed. While we enjoyed The Lamplighters League, Paradox ended its partnership with Harebrained Schemes following the game’s launch because “commercial reception has been too weak,” according to Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester. That led to several layoffs. Meanwhile, Mimimi Games shut down after releasing the well-received Shadow Gamibt: The Cursed Crew, with studio founders Dominik Abe and Johannes Roth stating that the “financial pressure and level of risk became unsustainable” while developing strategy games in a blog post.

Spies fire at enemies in The Lamplighters League.
Paradox Interactive

It’s a shame that many of these new entertaining strategy games have flown under the radar or disappointed their publishers with how well they perform. Sometimes, it can feel like so many skilled strategy game developers are serenading into a void, but no one is listening. I know it’s been a wildly hectic year for video games, but it’s worth taking a moment to pay respect to a genre that hit its stride this year. I want that momentum to stay strong, even if a couple of titles underperformed, once they hit physical and digital store shelves. Just because something isn’t a top seller or goes mainstream by chance doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot.

Editors' Recommendations

Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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