Darkest Grand Strategy Games, Ranked

Grand strategy games are one of the biggest genres in PC gaming thanks to their often complex mechanics and depth of strategy; they often involve players moving units around a large nation-spanning map, controlling entire nations, and making large-scale decisions turn after turn.

However, many grand strategy games take on historical themes; due to the nature of history, these games are inherently dark, though they tend not to lean into this darkness too heavily. Finding a good grand strategy game with dark themes and/or mechanics is a difficult task, but these games provide solid options that offer a broad spectrum of experiences from accessible high strategy to one of the darkest and most distinctive games in the Total War franchise.

Updated March 15, 2024, by Harry Ted Sprinks: Grand strategy and 4X games are a saturated and popular genre on the Steam marketplace. They feature deeply complex mechanics, and more often than not, take on a historical theme and aesthetic. Despite fantastical and science fiction grand strategy games being relatively common, few of them feature a dark theme and aesthetic. However, games such as those listed below do a great job of blending grand strategy gameplay with dark themes and visuals.


Best Grand Strategy Games Set in the Modern Era

Modern-era grand strategy games are not the most common out there, but there are a few great titles worthy of note.

7 Warhammer 40,000: Gladius

Brutal War In The 40k Universe

Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War

  • Platform(s): PC
  • Released: 2018
  • Developer(s): Proxy Studios

Set in the brutal, grim-dark universe of Warhammer 40,000, Gladius is an inherently dark game. This is thanks to its loyalty to its source material, depicting the war-torn universe and its iconic factions, which the game perfectly adapts for its deep mechanics. Gladius is arguably one of the best Warhammer 40,000 games to have been released in recent years. Its asymmetric factions and combat-fueled gameplay are among its greatest strengths.

For fans of grand strategy games who often find themselves waging war and ignoring diplomatic options, Gladius is the perfect game. Combat fuels each and every moment of Gladius, and is often the driving force behind every decision. Combat is consistently tactical, with a heavy focus on positioning, timing, and knowing when to retreat. This combat, combined with the game’s solid foundations and stark visuals, makes Gladius a well-crafted grand strategy game with a dark aesthetic and theme.

6 Solium Infernum

Large-Scale War In The Territories Of Hell

Solium Infernum gameplay

Solium Infernum

League of Geeks


This re-imagining of the original cult classic strategy game from 2009 is full to the brim with deceit and political strategy. Solium Infernum features a hellish landscape that makes the most of the game’s stark visual style, and the occult rituals add to its dark themes.

Solium Infernum tasks players with fighting a large-scale war for the territories of Hell, featuring a dark fantasy aesthetic with a stark but striking color palette. While Solium Infernum doesn’t offer much in the way of truly dark mechanics, its aesthetic and overall themes are a great example of dark fantasy in video games. The setting is also much more distinct than many games in the saturated fantasy strategy genre.

5 Plague Inc: Evolved

Strategically Spread Disease On A Global Scale

plague inc

Plague Inc: Evolved

February 18, 2016

Ndemic Creations

While Plague Inc: Evolved may not be a grand strategy game on all levels, it does include many high-strategy elements that are likely to appeal to fans of grand strategy games, and its theme is undeniably dark.

In Plague Inc: Evolved, players take control of one of several horrendous diseases, attempting to spread a plague around the entire globe and prevent it from being cured. Plague Inc: Evolved is also part simulation, attempting to simulate how the world would really react to a violent pandemic. Furthermore, the game features several great mods.

4 Armageddon Empires

4X Strategy Meets Deck-Building

Armageddon Empires gameplay

Armageddon Empires

July 16, 2007

Cryptic Comet

This 2007 grand strategy game combines the mechanics of 4X games with deck-building and card-playing mechanics that are often found in tabletop games. Although this has become much more popular in modern indie games thanks to titles such as Slay The Spire, this was a relatively innovative design in 2007.


10 Post-Apocalyptic Games Without Zombies

Zombies may be a staple in the post-apocalyptic game genre, but these titles do just fine without them.

Armageddon Empires takes place in a dark, post-apocalyptic setting, but what makes its setting darker is its permanent death mechanics. In Armageddon Empires, the player is entirely limited by their deck: run out of cards, and it’s game over. Furthermore, if a player lays down a hero and gets them killed, they’re dead for the rest of that game.

This may sound limiting to the point of frustration, and completely out of line with the ethos of most grand strategy games. However, Armageddon Empires offsets its offbeat mechanics with fast-paced gameplay and shockingly short games. In a sense, this aspect makes Armageddon Empires a tremendously accessible grand strategy game.

3 Shadows Of Forbidden Gods

Bring The Apocalypse As A Dark God

Shadows Of Forbidden Gods gameplay

Shadows of Forbidden Gods

November 1, 2021

Bobby Two Hands

This dark fantasy strategy game puts players in the shoes of a Dark Elder God attempting to bring forth an apocalypse through famine, plague, ice ages, and other catastrophic events. Shadows Of Forbidden Gods also features several playable Dark Gods, all with their own unique play-styles.

Shadows Of Forbidden Gods is intimidating on the surface, with its abundance of UI elements and minimalist graphics. Yet, it’s a relatively accessible game in comparison to 4X grand strategy games such as those published by Paradox. Furthermore, Shadows Of Forbidden Gods is fairly shorter than most grand strategy games.

2 Total War: ATTILA

The Darkest Total War Game

Total War: ATTILA gameplay

Total War: Attila

February 17, 2015

Total War is almost synonymous with the grand strategy genre, and its combination of broad sweeping strategy and up-close-and-personal real-time combat always makes it a joy to come back to whenever a new entry is released, such as the recent Total War: PHARAOH.


6 Grand Strategy Games With Alternate Historical Paths

History buffs who enjoy exploring alternative scenarios can’t go wrong with these grand strategy games.

Despite the sheer number of entries in the Total War franchise, Total War: ATTILA remains one of the most unique titles. Total War: ATTILA takes place on the verge of the infamous Dark Ages. It focuses on harsh environments and living conditions with its darkening world that forces players to make tough decisions, going to great lengths to keep their people alive. As a result of its dark, harsh setting, Total War: ATTILA is one of the most difficult entries in the Total War series, but it’s also one of the most refreshing.


Large-Scale Nuclear War

DEFCON gameplay


September 29, 2006

Introversion Software

This game, developed by Introversion Software (the developers behind games such as Prison Architect), is a little more RTS than grand strategy. Still, its sweeping, global strategic gameplay and terrifying theme and atmosphere make DEFCON a must-play for those who don’t mind a simpler gameplay loop.

DEFCON is a fast-paced high-strategy game that has players participating in a large-scale nuclear war. The main goal of the game is to completely wipe out the population of every other nation. In regard to strategy, DEFCON challenges players with balancing offense and defense. Aggression in DEFCON can expose the player’s position, so having a good defense is integral to success.



The 12 Best Grand Strategy Games Of All Time, Ranked

The best grand strategy games are often played out over several centuries, with some leaning into the immersion and role-play aspects of these eras.