The best RTS units of all time

We love the RTS genre. We love the maps, the sound effects, the strategies, the buildings, the units, and if you’ve been following GamesRadar for a while, you know that we also love remembering things. What better time than now, just after the release of StarCraft II, to remember our favorite RTS units?

Alright, so this may not be an objective list of the best RTS units ever, but that’s a “who would win in a fight, Superman or Will Smith if Will Smith’s ability to make cheesy movie tie-in songs translated to physical strength,” kind of argument. These are, however, some of the personal favorites of our editors. Let’s reminisce!

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

Death Knight

Loved by: Brett Elston

When your faction choice is between bland ol’ humans or bloodthirsty creatures of the night, you’d better believe I'm siding with the latter. Instead of pale skinned, faux British imperialists, I want bone-cracking dragons or, in this case, a rotting corpse animated with black magic. From the moment you hear them yell “I’m aliiiiiive” to their first blast of Death and Decay against a wave of invading humans, the Death Knights project fear and panic into all who oppose you.

The aforementioned Death and Decay was a brutal attack, inflicting reasonable area damage to any units in the vicinity. Even better is Haste, which made a target unit move and act more quickly, and then Raise Dead turned corpses into puny (but numerous) skeletons under your control. Like most other units, Death Knights dish out the damage, but do it in a fittingly grotesque way, making them my favorite thing to cast in Warcraft II.

Above: Not the WCII unit, obviously - this is a Dwarven Death Knight from World of Warcraft

Command & Conquer: Red Alert


Loved by: Tyler Wilde

I’ve always liked taking war to the air – sometimes to my detriment. My tactic was almost always strategically unsound. Aircraft are expensive and finicky, and if ground units reach the airfields and helipads, it’s all over, so putting all of your resources into air is usually a horrible mistake. But I didn’t care. The idea of amassing armies of planes and helicopters was just too appealing.

I blocked out the sun with my Yaks. They weren’t fast. They didn’t do much to armored vehicles or buildings. But dammit, I loved the little buggers.

Above: Go get 'em, little guys!

The only thing I didn’t like about Yaks? They couldn’t fight each other in the air. I desperately wanted dog fights, so I spent hours attempting to mod the feature in using Red Alert’s well-known configuration file, rules.ini. I think I got it to work at one point… kind of. I also made attack dogs that barked rockets. Red Alert was awesome.

Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun

Devil's Tongue Flame Tank

Loved by: Tyler Wilde

This is exactly what I always wanted from a tank. No really. I spent a lot of time in elementary school drawing tanks, and my favorite fantasy was of a tank which could burrow underground and emerge in the enemy’s base. And to sweeten things more, this tank shoots flames!

Not everyone liked the funky-looking NOD vehicle, but I was instantly a fan. The Devil's Tongue may not have won me any matches, but it could really piss people off. And sometimes aggravating the hell out of your friend is more important than winning.

Above: A wild pack of Devil's Tongues in the Tiberian Sun: Rising mod

Civilization I - IV


Loved by: Tyler Wilde

Before anyone runs to the comments to tell me that Civilization is not an RTS, I know. But turn-based or not, Civilization should be represented in this list, and I'm not about to change the article's headline just to avoid confronting this technicality. No, no... it's much easier to write a paragraph explaining myself. Dammit. Oh right, the Ironclad.

The Ironclad is awesome. Sure it doesn't look like much, but it's a solid sea force and it only has one purpose: destroy everything. That's the kind of industrialist thinking I like! The Industrial Age, by the way, is my favorite age (aside from 19, that was a good year). I just love all that coal and steam, even though it was co-opted by the steampunk fad (let's put knobs and pipes and brass thingamajigs on everything!).

To better understand why I love this seemingly bland unit, check out what a real, American Civil War ironclad looked like:

Above: A badass industrial design orgasm


  • bestrts - March 1, 2011 8:45 p.m.

    The opinion for best RTS unit would have to be the Terran Armored AAV-5 Arclite Siege Tanks... their explosive attack causing 70% damage + Splash Damage makes them so fun to use!
  • urmommy - February 16, 2011 3:31 p.m.

    @slimjim441 nope. SC just OUTCLASSES 40k in every frickin way. i know it because i played both games and I(and all the others) know SC is better. Better races, units, gameplay, story and lots of strategies. and i am NOT saying 40k sucks. its awesome also but SC is just more awesome than 40k. And yeah Terran Marines and Space Marines look alike. P.S. Games Workshop WASN'T the one who made SC. The all-mighty BLizzard did.
  • Craza - August 2, 2010 8:45 a.m.

    I HATED those flame tanks so goddamned much....'cept when I was using them. :,D
  • A13X0929 - August 2, 2010 12:41 a.m.

    Tom bombadil, LOL
  • slimjim441 - July 31, 2010 5:08 a.m.

    @alecbeals I seem to have triggered an unexpected rant of epic proportions... Obviously you are, as they say, 'one who knows their shit.' But if you remember, SC was originally intended to be a 40K game until Games Workshop said they couldn't do it. So they just slightly changed the model design and there was the SC game that everyone thought was so great and original. And when I said 'everything is an almost-perfect rip-off,' I meant visually speaking. Everything LOOKS the same. Don't call me a n00b either. I have been playing 40K for years. I know my shit as well (when it comes to 40K). I actually played SC before I played 40K and I used to think it was great, until I started 40K obviously. I then realized how unoriginal it was. I'm sure you can see where I'm coming from. Blood makes the grass grow. Kill, kill, kill.
  • Crabhand - July 31, 2010 12:15 a.m.

    Oh! I totally forgot the Apocalypse Tanks from Red Alert 2. Those things were freaking unstoppable. And they said "Apocalypse on the move" which was pretty bad ass when I was 13. reCAPTCHA: Including ruffles Can't forget those.
  • Crabhand - July 31, 2010 12:10 a.m.

    My favorite RTS unit is definitely the Imperial Redcoats from Age of Empires 3, basic units that can completely wreck an enemy with all of the upgrades the British get for their musketeers. Oh, and the Samurai from Asian Dynasties are pretty boss, a small AoE infantry unit that works great in small groups, they definitely make surround and eliminate a satisfying strategy.
  • CombatWombat101 - July 30, 2010 8:04 p.m.

    My favourite RTS unit of all time? The Goliath. Not even because I necessarily liked the unit all that much (though when used properly it did kick a bunch of ass)... But I always smile with childish glee whenever I remember hearing that most iconic line: "Goliath Online". Aside from that, there's also the Defiler from WH40K. A crab-robot that punches the shit out of things and also fires rockets? Shit yes.
  • VMPSaberwolf - July 30, 2010 6:59 p.m.

    @Pruman and centrip...AK47s for EVERYONE!!! I agree, the GLA might not have had the firepower but when used right could do serious damage. And they don't need power plants. @Count...thanks, the great things about 40k was there was 7-9 different races you could choose from. The variety was great as was the army painter option.'re right, I neglected to mention the Jedis. They cost a lot but were very sturdy. You needed them to collect those damn relics for Nova income. I liked my catapult units and heavy machines, fortresses took forever to kill and catapults were the way to do it.
  • Sandman89 - July 30, 2010 6:29 p.m.

    No AoE?!!! Blasphemy! Shelby from AoE2 and the Petsuchos crocodile (a crocodile that shoots fucking lasers froma jewel on its fucking head! damn!) from AoM belong on this list
  • Ravenbom - July 30, 2010 6:25 p.m.

    OMFG! I forgot about Red Alert! Tesla Tanks!
  • Ravenbom - July 30, 2010 6:23 p.m.

    No Jedi's from Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds? Sure they require too many resources and too much micro management to be effective, but everyone felt the need to build at least one Jedi/Sith because they're just that cool. For me personally, I'd say Terran Goliaths from Star Craft. Yes, they actually suck and were outclassed by Valkyries in the expansion, but I have a soft spot in my heart for mecha. I still say Siege Tanks (if protected) are the best unit in Star Craft.
  • CountFenring - July 30, 2010 3:59 p.m.

    @VMPSaberwolf The Undead 40K race would be the Necrons, who kinda look like metal skeletons. They're awesome.
  • vladflame - July 30, 2010 3:30 p.m.

    one of my fav among many, is mammoth tank! tanya was also pretty cool.
  • vladflame - July 30, 2010 3:26 p.m.

    @migglez are you sure? are you sure that this isnt a deamon prince???
  • centrip - July 30, 2010 2:58 p.m.

    Can't remember the name but the angry mobs from C and C generals were unstoppable when you spammed them - they chucked molotovs and fired AKs and ate greater daemons for lunch!
  • lozarian - July 30, 2010 2:25 p.m.

    Uh.. BKB isn't a damage item - it's purely a survivability item, especially on razor. Not that getting survivability is a bad way to play razor - but it's not damage. Whilst I'm ecstatic to see DotA mentioned on its own, I feel obliged to point it out.
  • SenatorPepper - July 30, 2010 1:08 p.m.

    As one of those guys who bought Call of Cthulhu just for the bestiary, this the type of article I love. It's also obviously a labor of love, and it's well-written to boot. And you are one sexy gentleman. Kudos!
  • Pruman - July 30, 2010 12:45 p.m.

    I've got to go with the entire Global Liberation Army (GLA) faction from C&C Generals. They personified America's worst nightmares of what Al Qaeda was capable of after 9/11. Every single one of its units was over the top and ridiculous, but a few truly stand out: -The Worker. Arguably the funniest unit in all of RTS-dom because they frequently made it clear how much they resented being enslaved. You can't help but laugh when they quip "you change your mind often!" after cancelling a building, or complain about being hungry or that their hammer is heavy, or scream "OW! OK, OK, I will work!," or give a detached, bored "ok, here I go..." after giving them an order. The poor little guys didn't even have shoes...until Zero Hour came out and the Worker Shoes upgrade became available, which sped them up by 20% and got them to say "Thank you for the new shoes!" I hope whoever came up with that got a promotion. -The Angry Mob. A screaming mob of rioting civilians (counted as one unit) armed with guns and Molotov cocktails that got bigger, angrier, and more heavily armed the longer it stayed alive. It would destroy anything almost instantly except for infantry-killers like toxins and flamethrowers. You could also arm them with AK-47s after an "Arm The Mob" upgrade. -Toxin tractor. A farm tractor that spewed toxic waste on infantry. Need I say more? -Bomb truck. A dump truck full of high explosives. -Terrorist. Suicide bombers. You could either send them directly at the enemy or put them in random vehicles and make car bombs. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the Scorpion tank. It's a weak, cheap tank that kind of sucks at first. However, once you give it all 4 upgrades it's capable of, it can ruin infantry with toxin shells and anthrax beta and devastate vehicles with 25% extra damage rockets, not to mention fix itself! It's also so cheap that you can make swarms big enough to choke the rendering engine and turn the game into a slideshow. The expansion added the ability to salvage parts to give it more and faster firepower. Truly the best tank in an RTS.
  • VMPSaberwolf - July 30, 2010 12:36 p.m.

    Great article Tyler. RTS is probably my favorite type of game. Warcraft II, the Ogre was so OP. First of all, they could spam bloodlust on everything giving your army a nice buff. Second, the runes, which were the equivalent of land minds. Get 2-3 ogres, spam runes on the path between the enemy town hall and the gold mine, and watch your enemy's economy go down the toilet. Starcraft I, I was partial to the Ghost and nuking stuff. C&C Red Alert, while not a unit, I loved the idea of Tesla coils. Civilization, yeah it's not an RTS, but still definately worth mentioning. I was in it for the nukes myself. Populus was an interesting game, while no special units (besides the knightyou could spawn), I enjoyed the god mechanics. My main strategy was to build high flat land and just spam flood when I had it, effectively sinking my opponent without having to go on the attack. Age of Empires, loved it. Age of Mythology, loved it too. Archers were probably my unit of choice, I was all about hit and run at range. Warcraft 3, hard to say, I favored the Night Elves and just spammed wells for constant unit healing. Star Wars, Rebellion. While not an RTS, it eventually led to Star Wars, Empire at War, which had RTS in it. Who doesn't want to spawn a Super Star Destroyer and watch the fun ensue? Company of Heroes, one of the first games I bought that changed the way RTS was designed. Instead of your spawn 400 peasants / workers for resources, you were given limited base building options and had to be offensive to get more resources and teritory. I favored the sniper. Warhammer 40k, loved the idea that the undead race, can't remember their name right now, could turn their main HQ into a flying fortress and dominate. Sins of a Solar Empire, all 3 races played the same with the exception of some minor tech tree differences. I favored the starbase in the entrenchment expansion. Supreme Commander and its sequel...loved anything with shields and artiliary. The illuminate's special building that gives you control of any unit in range is pretty OP, assuming you can build a ton of them. LOTR...the elven archers when upgraded are a beast. C&C 1, the Mammoth Tank. C&C 3, I enjoyed the monster tank special unit the GDF received, don't remember the name. I also for nostalgia sake love the alien tripod, who wouldn't want to dominate in a War of the Worlds fashion? C&C Generals, well there is a lot of choices here. The Terrorist demo truck that could disguise itself as an enemy unit was fun. The China Overlord Tank was pretty wicked. The Aurora Alpha Bombers the US Superweapon general got were very powerful. I got a lot of milage out of this and its sequel, Zero Hour. Star Trek Armada and Armada 2. The Supercube in Armada 2, the Romulan D'Deridex Warbird in 1. Star Wars, Galactic Battlegrounds was a clone of AOE 2, same editor and all. For nostalgia sake, I'm going with the ATAT walker. Rise of Nations, had one of the deepest and longest tech trees of all time, not to mention the sheer number of buildings and towns you had to control as the game went on. Micromanagement heaven. I favored the terra cotta wonder, giving me the basic slinger / rifleman / marine unit every few minutes for free. I probably missed a bunch, but there you have it. Again, great article!

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