The 4x genre has seen a huge rise in popularity in the last few years. Empire building has always been popular but the allure of eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate; is one that’s too much to resist for many players. The deep complexity of the games has seen their popularity grow with gamers and dismiss the opinion that gaming is for kids.
The attempts to broaden the genre’s popularity have resulted in cross-genre games that straddle the boundaries of 4x games. Many developers have incorporated elements from RPG, RTS, and simulation games in order to differentiate their games from their competitors. It has cemented the genre’s marketplace niche as even once vaunted giants as the Civ series now must contend with dozens of rivals. Here we have a list of some of the best 4x games.
21 Best 4X Games:
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
A standalone expansion to the successful game, Rebellion lets you pick up the pieces after the galactic conflict. It splinters the three main factions with each one now comprising Loyalists and Rebels. The Trader Emergency Coalition, Advent Unity, and Vasari Empire, now possess even more varied play styles.
The game builds on the success the series has already developed, allowing more ships, more victory conditions, new audio, new music, better graphics, all of which are combined for the most optimized gaming experience in the series yet!
Though still in early access at the time of writing; Northgard has already attracted a fanbase. You take charge of a clan of vikings seeking to settle the shores of a newly discovered continent, Northgard. You must guide your clan through harsh winters and fearsome foes such as undead warriors, giants, and dire wolves.
The game boasts visuals that are reminiscent of Settlers but with the controls of classic RTS games such as Age of Empires. It requires careful resource managing and as par de course for this genre, offers several different paths to victory. Definitely a game to watch.
Mention the Civilization games and players will either rejoice or groan. Simple on the surface but deceptively complex, it is the only game where Gandhi is more expansionist than Genghis Khan. Historical figures become familiar to all as the heads of rival factions.
Civilization’s freedom remains its most striking trait. Players chart the evolution of their civilization, whether it becomes a monarchy, republic, theocracy, or some other system. Or whether it dominates as a maritime trading power or conquers landmasses with its overwhelming armies.It remains one of the best 4x games ever made.
Europa Universalis IV
Set amidst the age of discovery, Europa Universalis challenges you with guiding a nation through the turbulent years of the 15th-18th centuries where warfare and empire building was endemic.
Enjoy a realistic and historically accurate world as you use the tools of a trade, diplomacy, religion, and war to guide your nation from strength to strength. Explore the limits of the known world and establish colonies overseas. Engage in espionage as you supervise royal marriages, support foreign rebels, send missionaries to propagate your faith, and ensure the security of your realm!
A popular fantasy 4x game, Endless Legend shares many traits with its science fiction sister game, Endless Space. Turn based, it plays out on a beautifully detailed map split into different regions and biomes. The world of Auriga is hex based and randomly generated each game, ensuring that no one playthrough is the same.
This combined with the selection of different factions allows for numerous campaign playthroughs. Each faction comes with their own unique appearance, backstory, units, abilities, and playstyles. The rich variety of races playable include a race of insectoid hive mind creatures and an ancient draconic race of scholars and mages.
It has been described as Europa Universalis in space but to say so is unfair to Stellaris. While the parallels are there to see, Stellaris has no crutch of history to lean on, it makes its own story. It seems to be the full package. The sheer bewildering variety that the game offers is almost too much to take in.
The vast galaxy provides a varied and rich exploration experience. The diplomacy system is perfect for the genre, especially with the myriad collection of alien races that the player or the game can generate. It’s clear that Paradox Interactive has utilized their years of experience well in developing this masterpiece.
It’s little surprise that Stellaris has made our list. As one of the best space 4x games out there, there’s not many it hasn’t.
Endless Space Series
A firm cornerstone of the Endless universe, the Endless Space games offer the amazement of a space opera in the form of a strategy game. Treading in the footsteps of a long forgotten civilization, you must build your empire upon the ruins of others.
A sheer sense of scale and wonder permeates the series. Each star system is different with its own resources and dangers to exploit and combat. You control everything, whether a planet is to be a utopian paradise or an impregnable fortress, it is up to you.
Saga is perhaps a word more appropriate to describe the experience you’ll get playing this. Every civilization has a story and uncovering these secrets and that of Dust will aid an empire builder in success.
Dominions 4: Thrones of Ascension
Many games offer a divine experience, one of control, one of power. Dominions is no exception, you play as an actual god! Ruler of a nation, you must combat the other gods in order to ascend and become the Pantokrator.
Decide what type of god you are, it will affect both your lands and followers. Fight in a fantasy world that draws inspirations from cultures and myths from history. The series is over 15 years old but still going strong, a sure sign of its enduring popularity and quality of gameplay.
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
The spiritual sequel to Alpha Centauri, Civilization:Beyond Earth, takes much inspiration from its predecessor but also charts its own unique course. A follow on from the more conventional Civ games, this assumes that our hours playing it weren’t a success. Earth being uninhabitable as a result of ‘The Great Mistake’ and humanity is forced to travel through space and found colonies.
Your expedition is customizable to decide who sponsored it, what spacecraft you used, and who and what did you bring with you to the planet. The options don’t end there, the game breaks with Civ tradition and doesn’t allow for a linear tech tree. The new branching tech web makes it hard for every technology to be unlocked in a single playthrough.
The hostile environment forces you to choose one of three paths to success (or a mixture thereof) where you will either coexist, annihilate, or subjugate, the native flora and fauna. It is a welcome change from most futuristic 4x games with its play being focused on land rather than in space.
Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes
This turn-based strategy game pits you against the Fallen Enchantress. Seeking to destroy the nations that have arisen after the Cataclysm, you lead great heroes against terrors like banshees, liches, and much more, all to save the world of Elemental.
The customization is worthy of an RPG, your champions evolve through a skill tree that allows you decide what type of hero they should be. The turn-based battles are taut and tense as your chosen companions take on all matter of beasts. More than any other game on this list, here you truly feel like a hero.
Galactic Civilizations III
Sequel to two highly successful games, the third entry in the Galactic Civilizations series continues the epic saga after the genocidal Dread Lord onslaught of the second game. It brings forward the narrative some ten years after the previous game’s war, in a universe almost unrecognisable.
The sheer variety of customization options and victory conditions means that you’re guaranteed a new experience with every playthrough. This is a game that is designed to be enjoyed again and again and again. Choose your map size, the abundance of planets and resources, the frequency of events, and many more. Create your own history in this ultimate sandbox game.
Starpoint Gemini Warlords
Presenting yet another take on the 4x genre, Starpoint Gemini Worlds combines RPG style gameplay and 3rd person ship to ship combat and brings it to life in a 4x world. Not only do you build your war fleets, you can also lead them from the front into battle!
It’s an odd combination but one that works. The synergy makes this game greater than the sum total of its parts. Playing in a massive game world with over 60 unique factions, the grand nature of the game doesn’t suffer from its more tactical approach. With 90 different ships to choose from, you can enjoy piloting sleek frigates and gunships to massive imposing carriers.
It has all the standard features you’d expect from a space 4x game so never fear! Just enjoy the more personal touch.
Age of Wonders III
Making the series a trilogy, this entry in the franchise is one that should appeal to veterans of the game and newcomers alike. You can choose to immerse yourself in the vast singleplayer campaign, on either side of the conflict, or fight in one of the numerous standalone scenarios. The possibilities are endless.
Age of Wonders builds on its forebears in the series, improving the game mechanics and allowing for much more varied roleplaying when creating your faction leader. The different races have distinctive traits and personality while the diverse terrain you fight over can even be transformed by the magic your heroes wield.
Distant Worlds: Universe
Vast. Gigantic. Colossal. These words don’t even come close to describing the immensity of this award-winning game. Distant Worlds: Universe really makes you feel like a ruler. Not because it makes you decide if you want to delegate but how much.
The sheer scale and complexity of the game are impossible to go into here. Thankfully, the computer is on hand to aid you. You can choose how much you want your empire to be automated, freeing you from the tedious micromanagement present in so many other games. You wouldn’t find Ming the Merciless supervising the setup of a mining operation.
Such is the attention to detail in this simulation that if you want, you can set the level of automation to full and sit back to watch a universe evolve right in front of you. We can’t recommend it enough, check out what others have to say about this work of art.
Star Ruler Series
A hybrid of the 4x and RTS genres, the Star Ruler series offers an immersive universe with each game set in a unique procedurally generated 3D galaxy, featuring as many from 1 to 10,000+ systems! Design and build your own fleets with the advanced technology you research.
The game is a modders dream with nearly every aspect of it changeable through Notepad. The game offers exciting combat and ship design, going further in depth on this subject than most other 4x games. The game allows for thrilling campaigns with up to 10 different factions waging war over the same galaxy.
Homeworld is a game that redefined the strategy genre at the time it came out. Its revolutionary 3D graphics and atmospheric storyline were the exception rather than the rule in game making at the time. It is a delight to have this venerable game remastered so that a new generation of gamers can appreciate its brilliance.
While its achievements might not be as groundbreaking as they once were, Homeworld still boasts gorgeous visuals in this remastered version and the story is just as gripping as it once was, even for those of us revisiting it. With the release of Deserts of Kharak, it’s never been a better time to take the arduous journey to Hiigara.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
Alpha Centauri is a 4x strategy game set in the 22nd century on the planet Chiron in the Alpha Centauri system. In many ways the game is a science fiction sequel to the Civilization series. Gameplay is turn based and there is more than one path to victory.
Seven different factions (increased to fourteen with the expansion pack Alien Crossfire) struggle against the environment and each other in their efforts to colonize the planet. Each faction differs in their strengths and philosophical beliefs. Terraforming, secret projects, diplomacy, and technological victories are all possible.
Sword of the Stars
It might be somewhat dated compared to some of the other entries on our list but that doesn’t mean you should overlook Sword of the Stars. Its graphics still hold up and the RTS style combat is something that more 4x strategy games should be trying to emulate. It boasts the usual plethora of alien races and technologies that its competitors do.
The cheap price tag and fun combat might make this a good introduction to the genre for those a little overwhelmed by the depth and complexity of the big titles on our list. But sometimes bigger doesn’t always mean better!
Master of Orion 2: Battle at Antares
It might be one of the oldest games on our list but Master of Orion 2 still boasts the title of one of the best 4x sci-fi games ever made. The graphics we can ignore, beauty isn’t just on the outside. The mechanics of the game and its addictive gameplay make it prone to that ‘just one more turn’ syndrome that we’re all familiar with.
Newcomers like Stellaris might better its diplomacy. Others might top it in combat. But no game has succeeded in melding the two as seamlessly as this venerable beauty. It’s why its earned a place on our list along with games twenty years its junior.
AI War: Fleet Command
‘You are outgunned. You are massively outnumbered. You must win.’ probably one of the most depressing and honest openings to a game, AI War:Fleet Command is unique amongst space 4X strategy games in that the game penalizes you for being too successful.
You are the commander of humanity’s last surviving fleet after an apocalyptic war with the machines. AI death squads guard every planet and wormhole, including those holding the captive remnants of humanity. You have to consider the strategy on a grand scale, draw too much attention to yourself in any one sector and the AI will mobilize its full forces to exterminate you. Your fleet will never number more than a few thousand versus the tens of thousands that you will face in every battle.
Using careful strategy, you have to disintegrate the AI subcommanders while carefully working your way towards the heavily guarded AI cores.
Warlock 2: The Exiled
Another fantasy entry for our list, Warlock differs from other 4x games in that it rules out the very possibility of a diplomatic victory. Here triumph is assured only by the annihilation and crushing of your enemies. As a Great Mage you are not just a talented general, you also can bring the power of your magical talent to the fray.
Taking place on a beautifully vibrant map, the game is a joyful romp that is faithful to its predecessor but also puts its own spin on things. After all the diplomatic reasoning you’ve become immune to in other 4x games, it is enjoyable to just destroy your opponent.