The really good real-time strategy games

So you're a newcomer to real-time strategy games. Our experts recommend the best of breed, all still available, especially suitable for beginners:

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans (1994)

Blizzard's monolithic franchise began in the real-time strategy genre. This first game "was actually an inspiration," for Ensemble Studios, the developers of Halo Wars, says co-founder Bruce Shelley. "And (1995's) Warcraft II was a fantastic game."

Command & Conquer (1995)

This alternate modern history series, developed by Westwood Studios (Dune II), "is definitely one of the best franchises," says Rob Pardo of game company Blizzard. "I think there have been certain versions that have been better than others. I still love the original." Coming to the PS3 on March 23 is C&C Red Alert 3, released last year for PCs and Xbox 360; out next week PC expansion pack Red Alert 3: Uprising.

StarCraft (1998)

Four years after springing Warcraft on the world, Blizzard delivered this space strategy game. Dubbed the greatest game ever by Gamespot.com, StarCraft, which remains a televised professional sport in South Korea, "is beyond its own genre," says Microsoft's Frank O'Connor. "It was a lifestyle and hobby."

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (1999)

The original Age of Empires, released in 1997 for PCs, was one of the first history-based RTS games (from Ensemble Studios, which also developed Halo Wars). This sequel features 13 civilizations including the Vikings, Celts, Chinese and Persians. "It's one of the granddaddies," says Halo Wars lead producer Jason Pace. "It's a very different experience than Halo Wars, but it's an excellent example of an RTS game done very well." Pardo calls Age of Kings "a personal favorite. And (it's) really good if you are into historical RTS and want something a little slower-paced."

Rise of Nations (2003)

This historical game, from Big Huge Games and Microsoft, features 18 civilizations (from Aztecs to Turks) and delivers "a different twist on RTS," Shelley says. "It's accessible for newcomers."

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