5:57 AM
Watching the news headlines of January 2016, you would be forgiven for not feeling quite the master of your own destiny. Bad, chaotic things seem to be happening everywhere, and no-one seems quite sure how to stop them happening, or make other, nicer things happen instead. We are being tossed, rudderless, on the crashing waves of fate, and every so often one of us gets eaten by a whale.

But don't fret over this sense of powerlessness – 2016's front line of real-time strategy has got you. With a few effortless clicks of the mouse you'll be raising empires on Mars, routing an alien invasion force and commanding hordes of 19th century soldiers to hurl themselves fruitlessly into a barrage of enemy cannon fire. So close the blinds. Put on the headphones. There. You are in control again.

Total War: Warhammer
Peck apart the forces of Chaos with the Empire’s fearsome griffin mounts

Have you ever been ordering your ho-hum human units about the battlefield of a Total War game and found yourself thinking, 'this would be a lot better with some zombie dragons?' We have.

Praise Tzeentch, then, for Total War: Warhammer, which trades in all the historical realism that gets dads all excited for five fantastical tabletop armies: the Empire (people who get to ride griffins), the Orcs (who get to ride boars), the Undead (with their zombie dragons), Chaos (who corrupt everything with evil magic) and Dwarves (who thump things with hammers).

No details on where the rest of the Warhammer races have got to – where are our Lizardmen, Creative Assembly? – though we'd be downright flabbergasted if we didn't see more armies marching out of the DLC swamplands with time.

It’s not just aliens you’ve got to worry about in XCOM 2 strategy game on PC

Firaxis doesn't care how good you think you are at XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Think you beat the game? Vanquished the alien menace? Drove back the tide of xenomorphic imperialism? No. You lost. And if you think otherwise, then that's probably the aliens fiddling with your brain.

That's the set up of XCOM 2, set 20 years after your crushing defeat in the first game. XCOM and the Global Council have been squashed, and you're lumped with the task of founding a new resistance movement, training new squad members and researching all the technology you never got the chance to when you lost so embarrassingly (which you did) the first time around. All of which you will definitely need, as between the sequel's procedurally generated levels and new enemies like the above human-alien sympathizers, prising Earth out of the grip of our alien overlords only seems to have gotten harder.

Master of Orion
Unsympathetic and creative are not a combination of traits we want in an enemy in Master of Orion

As we've covered, Earth in 2016 is just awful. Far better to pack it in and go to space. Nothing bad ever happens in space, especially when you're competing to lead a faction of warring aliens to galactic dominance. In order to keep your race (one of ten, since you ask) happy and not-dead you'll need to not only engage in trade, diplomacy and warfare, but make tough decisions on which stars to colonise and in which technologies to invest.

Get it wrong and your ungrateful space-plebs' morale will drop, right before another player, who's invested more time into researching weapons, bombs them into a glassy crater. Earth's not looking so bad now, is it?

Cossacks 3
With 10,000 troops on-screen at once, wars in Cossacks 3 are bigger than many actual wars.

Who says you can't make money from old rope? Not rope recycling companies, and not S.T.A.L.K.E.R. developers GSC Gameworld, which proudly admit that Cossacks 3 is basically 2000's Cossacks 1 given a spit shine (the devs estimate that somewhere between 80 percent and 95 percent of the original systems remain totally unchanged).

What this means on PC in 2016 is a massive 10,000 units on screen at once, with a ludicrous amount of control over each. Want to throw all 10,000 troops against an enemy like a toddler hurling fistfuls of green plastic army men? Fine. Want to zoom in and pester your soldiers one-by-one, like some micromanaging ant queen? That's fine, too. And if you don't want to do either, there will be modding tools available at launch, because PC.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada
Spaceships look like massive cathedrals in Battlefleet Gothic Armada PC strategy game

There was nothing quite like Battlefleet Gothic to make all your marathon Warhammer painting sessions feel like a pointless waste of time. We once made a Space Marine with a flamethrower with cotton wool flame coming out of the end. We soaked the cotton wool in a glue-solution to make it solid and painted it to look like fire. It was amazing. All the people in Games Workshop said so.

And then Battlefleet Gothic came out and suddenly there were planet-sized spaceships full of anonymous Space Marines in the thousands. In Tindalos's RTS adaptation, your job will be to rally these monstrous vessels to fight off alien fleets encroaching on human-controlled space. It sounds just like the tabletop game – except with fewer gargantuan warships getting accidentally knocked off the table and trodden on.

Offworld Trading Company
Build your very own empire on Mars in Old World Trading Company Pc strategy game

Enough of the shooting and the violence – everyone knows that the real villains of 2016 are the greedy robber baron fatcats buying up orphanages as a place to keep all their excess diamonds. And if you think the corporate elite are bad on Earth, just wait 'til you see what they're like on Mars.

Yes, the cutthroat world of Martian capitalism is a cruel and unforgiving place, with different races mining, harvesting and bartering in a bid to bankrupt their opponents and take all their stuff. As you expand your business empire you'll have to undercut and outbid other players for control of precious, randomly generated resources, or maybe employ hackers and saboteurs to do the job for you. If Gordon Gecko had been stranded on Mars instead of Matt Damon, this is almost certainly what would have happened.


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