For those new or interested in the series, this is absolutely the best place to start, as it’ll ease you in and communicate its complexities better than any other Total War. And if you’re experienced, you’ll just love how this is a smoother, smarter ride. Three Kingdoms isn’t a perfect Total War game, but it’s the closest the series has come in a long time.
Even taking its whiffs and missed opportunities into account, I’ve still loved every hour I’ve spent with Gathering Storm. It’s an expansion that may not stick its landing, but which should still be applauded and admired for the way it sets out to change the very world we play on, and succeeds.
I'm not angry at Kingdom Come, I'm just… disappointed. It was touted as this grand historical representation, an abandonment of fantasy for a true medieval setting, a game that would let us live the middle ages. But the game we got is just this busted, inconsistently ambitious RPG that shines in points, but falls apart in most others.
Rise & Fall gets its hooks in deep, showing that the enlarged game's greatest strength may not be its scale or its history, but the sense of togetherness it inspires, and the way it drags the player down to the surface of its gorgeous world.
Endless Space 2 is now one of the real standard-bearers in the 4X space. While some of its more direct elements come up short, its implementation of politics is a masterstroke, adding depth and complexity to part of a game that often feels like an arbitrary chore.
As an experiment in how far the boundaries of what constitutes an RTS can be pushed, I admire Dawn of War III for what it's tried. It may not have entirely pulled it off, but there aren't many games that play like this (WarCraft 3 fans, this one's for you), and there aren't many trying such interesting things with the way their factions are designed.
Planet Coaster is best when treated as a giant LEGO set. A sunny, cheery tabula rasa, lying there waiting for you to go nuts in a never-ending quest to make yourself as happy as the grinning faces of the people lining up to take your rides for a spin.
What we’ve got here is a strategy game that, while preserving most of the series’ longtime fundamentals, has also found new and surprising ways—through an investment in player choice and more hands-on time with your people—to keep things interesting.
I like what 2K have done with this year’s MyCareer. They’ve recognised that Spike Lee’s joint was maybe too big a reach (or just the wrong man for the job), and in getting hold of talent that’s more at home with the tone and grind required for something like this, have crafted a career story that might not revolutionise the little sub-genre they’ve carved out for themselves, but is a definite improvement on 2K16's misfire.
Hearts of Iron IV is an incredibly rewarding strategy experience, letting you roll your sleeves up and re-fight the Second World War in a way that few other series have ever even attempted, let alone pulled off. Just know that to reap those rewards, you’re going to need to put in some work, and put up with a few quirks while you’re at it.