True to form, being as it is the war of the ‘greatest generation’, the allure and appeal of World War Two have been hyped beyond all reason. In the gaming world – as in almost every cultural medium -the best WW2 games have effectively become a whole genre of their own, with the war’s many different international conflicts and battles forming the backdrop for thousands of classic computer games over the years.
For us wargamers, of course, the second war is particularly familiar territory: aside from perhaps the ancient world, it is the single most fertile ground for strategy and war games and has spawned some of the hobby’s finest digital titles. With so many takes on this globe-spanning conflict, however, it can be difficult to separate the best WW2 games from the chaff we’re better off forgetting.
Enter Wargamer: in this guide we’ve tried to include a range of different types of World War 2 PC games, from close-up tactical experiences to sweeping strategic overviews; from popcorn, arcade-like free-to-play romps, through to old-school computer wargames with manuals so thick you could use them to hammer nails into wood.
So, without further ado, it’s high time to don your Brodie helmet and prepare your tank divisions, because…
These are the best WW2 games:
The good thing about free war games is that they give you an opportunity to expand your gaming horizons without having to make any kind of commitment. If you don’t like it, no loss, but if you do, then you might have just discovered your new favourite. With that in mind, we advise anybody who loves war games to take War Thunder for a spin.
This is an all-in-one package, if you will. Do you like getting to ride around in tanks? Or do you prefer the freedom of airborne dogfights? Or, indeed, are you a salty seadog who prefers naval combat? Well, War Thunder covers all of this bases, giving you the opportunity to compete against other players in various types of vehicular battles.
Some of these sorts of game strive for realism to such an extent that they becomes highly inaccessible to new players and often aren’t really that fun. Other games are so wacky and over the top, that the games end up feeling a little too silly. Let us assure you that War Thunder gets just the right balance, with a nuanced control system that’s not too hard to get the hang of, but which still feels weighty and realistic.
The game has been running since 2012, and during that time it has accumulated a huge player base. With so many people online, it’s never difficult to find a match when you feel the need to blow things up. And, of course, developer Gaijin Entertainment has been able to keep interest in the game going for so long through regular updates which include new vehicles, maps, and other features.
Enlisted is Russian studio Gaijin’s attempt to recreate its riotously successful free-to-play air-land-and-sea action wargame War Thunder in FPS form. A fairly by-the-numbers ‘hardcore’ tactical multiplayer shooter, Enlisted’s core multiplayer gameplay feels more like Battlefield than anything else (albeit with a shorter time-to-kill, and a distinct absence of preposterous, anachronistic costume options).
Where the game stands out is in the mechanics surrounding the squads of infantrymen you’ll be commanding in-game. Mirroring the upgrade trees of its vehicular-based cousin, you’ll unlock various distinct, named and badged squads as you progress, and spend in-game experience, currency and/or achievement rewards on upgrading their stats, perks and equipment – down to individual pieces of belt gear, equipment, grenades, and so on.
In-game, each human player leads their entire pre-customised team of individually-named soldiers, with the squadmates controlled by AI, until the player gets killed – at which point you’ll jump behind the eyes of your chosen AI comrade, and fight on.
Similarly to War Thunder (or indeed World of Tanks), you can take – as standard – four such squads with you into a match, but once they’re all dead, you’re out of the game. Naturally, though, you can also buy up extra slots with in-game currency, if you want to stay in each battle a little longer.
There are two in-game “campaigns” fully available right now – the nazis v. soviets Battle of Moscow, and the western allies v. nazis Invasion of Normandy – which both consist of a set of thematically appropriate maps, and a progression of unlocks for new squads, weapons, and equipment, that you’ll earn by grinding matches in that campaign.
The third, Battle for Berlin, is now playable in open beta form, while the fourth (and currently final) planned campaign, Battle of Tunisia, entered closed beta testing on August 26.
Enlisted is seeing very regular development updates and quality of life improvements – but it still isn’t yet a fully polished experience. Like War Thunder before it, its clunky menus and spotty Russian-to-English localisation can also make things a bit confusing to newcomers.
But persevere. Because the deadly, authentic-feeling WWII firefights, detailed unlockables, squad customisation, and progression, combined with a plethora of satisfying little historical details being added all the time, make for a unique multiplayer WWII shooter that’s not quite like anything else available – and it’s worth playing just for that.
World of Tanks
At the end of the day, this is a slightly dumb tank game – but there is something refreshing about zipping along the countryside, blasting shells at enemy vehicles on the other end of the map. On the flip-side of that, you’ll find that there are intense, tight-knit urban environments that require a lot of manoeuvring and positioning, which then turns the game into a very tactical experience.
This is a game that will appeal to the history buffs in the gaming community. There are tanks from French, American, German, and Chinese history, with countless other countries thrown into the mix. Those who have ever wondered about which tanks would win in match-ups that would never have happened in history can finally get their answer. Plus, there’s a lot of fun crossover content in the mix, from franchises ranging from G.I. Joe to Warhammer 40k, so you’ve got some more fantastical matchups to watch unfold too.
These are online-only mass-multiplayer experiences, so if that’s not your thing you probably won’t enjoy WoT. If you are curious about this action/strategy gaming phenomenon, then we also recommend you try and bring a friend, as these things are infinitely more enjoyable with people you know. Just be prepared to put in a lot of work to climb your way to the upper ranks.
World of Warships
Does this game’s title bring to mind World of Tanks? Well, World of Warships is a game from the same developer which takes the formula behind World of Tanks and switches the land-based warfare action for battles at sea
If you’ve read our guide on the best naval games, you’ll already know that some of us are fans of this super-arcadey naval combat game. Not all war games have to be super-serious and sim-focused, and this is a game that’s great for anybody who wants to blow things up on the seven seas – but don’t get us wrong, it can also be surprisingly cerebral.
Sailing out on the ocean actually feels paradoxically therapeutic, with lots of beautiful nautical scenery. If you’re playing for the first time, you’ll find that the gameplay is quite accessible – but just like the ocean itself, it has some surprising depths. A good example of the old adage “easy to learn, difficult to master”. The more you play, the more you’ll figure out ways to strategically oust your foes, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a whale of a time during those first few battles.
If you’re a fan of naval history, you’ll appreciate the opportunity to build up your collection of real-life historic vessels, and while the game will include battles between certain types of warship that would never have encountered each other in reality, that doesn’t take away all the delights that the game has to offer for the military history buffs. It’s not too focused on any specific country, with ships from Japan, the USA, the USSR, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and countless other nations.
Panzer Corps 2
The first Panzer Corps game has been a staple on this list for a while, but we can confidently say it’s been replaced by the long-awaited sequel.
Panzer Corps 2 updates everything from the engine, to the mechanics… it even adds a semblance of a logistics system! You can take your hard-as-nails corps of German tanks and infantry units from the invasion of Poland in 1939, all the way through Barbarossa, Normandy and even some alt-history scenarios involving the invasion of the American mainland.
Panzer Corps 2 has almost as much content as the first game, including expansions, with the exception of scenarios for non-German factions. Those will probably be coming in future DLC, but in the meantime you can always make your own using the powerful Scenario Editor. Multiplayer is also souped up, with hot-seat, PBEM and ‘true’ live multiplayer options available. The ‘King of Wargames’ indeed.
Slitherine has so far expanded on that basis by releasing four DLC packs for Panzer Corps 2, as part of its Axis Operations series – each covering one year of large-scale Axis military operations from 1939 through 1942. There’s also an upcoming fifth expansion, Panzer Corps 2: Pacific, in development, but it doesn’t yet have a confirmed release date.
Unity of Command 2
We’d have been very surprised if Unity of Command 2 wasn’t recognised by history as good enough to knock the original game off its top spot. UoC 1 will always be remembered as a wonderful simple wargame, and a great gateway into the hobby, but Unity of Command 2 just takes all of the core concepts and turns it up to 11. Better visuals, better mechanics, better scenarios… it’s a knock-out sequel.
Common criticisms of the first game usually centre around it being more of a puzzle than a “true” wargame, which is a similar accusation levied against games like Panzer Corps. You can still see traces of that in Unity of Command 2’s design – many scenarios present you with an initial set-piece or deadlock that you need to break through – but the ways in which you can achieve it have multiplied. Plus, once you do break-through it’s still a pretty gripping fight to claim your objectives, and the AI will punish and push through to your back-lines if it sees an exploitable gap.
Panzer Campaigns Series – Japan ’45 & Japan ’46
John Tiller is a household name with a certain generation of computer war gamers. Sadly, Tiller passed away in 2021 – but his legacy stands proud through his wide-ranging series of hex-based operational and tactical wars that look like old-school counter board wargames rendered on a screen.
They’re not much to look at, but they’ve always provided a level of depth and detail not seen in many other places. Wargame Design Studio is a small development team that’s taken up the mantle of JTS, remastering a lot of the old games but also making brand-new experiences in the same style.
We’re highlighting one of their more recent endeavours on this list, because it covers something not really seen before – the hypothetical invasion of the Japanese mainland. Officially part of JTS’ Panzer Campaigns series, there are currently two titles that follow this ‘what if’ conflict – Japan ’45 and a sequel Japan ’46.
We’ve reviewed both and are pretty impressed with not only WDS’ attention to detail in terms of the research they’ve done into the Operations that never were, but also in terms of how they’ve tried to modernise the format somewhat. If you’re looking to explore some plausible alt-history in an old-school package, these are some excellent games to start with.
No WW2 list would be complete without the father of modern WW2 tactical strategy games. Matrix Games’ Close Combat series struck the perfect balance between ‘grog’-like wargaming tradition and mainstream strategy design. Depending on which title you played, it managed to straddle the line between hardcore and mainstream with remarkable grace.
The one I played the most was Close Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far – it what made me fall in love with the idea of persistent forces and armies, and I don’t think I ever completed it.
There are mixed opinions regarding the ‘Matrix-era’ of Close Combat games, but the series in general remains a shining example of WW2 strategy game heritage.
Hearts of Iron 4
Hearts of Iron 4 finally made the list following the release of 2019’s Man the Guns expansion. This WW2 sandbox game has been going from strength to strength, and while its still got some ways to go, Paradox’s flagship war game can now finally attempt to stand amongst its contemporaries.
Take command of any nation in existence in 1936, and try to guide them through turbulent period leading up to the second world war. With an open-ended nature and three competing ideologies, what form the second world war takes could be different through multiple Hearts of Iron 4 playthroughs.
You can create your own Divisions, specialising them for specific tasks; our Hearts of Iron 4 division templates guide can help you get started there. A Battle Planner allows you to draw detailed strategies for your armies that the AI will execute for you, and there’s plenty of Hearts of Iron 4 DLC worth checking out that help elevate the base package into something special.
There is actually an important caveat to add to this entry. While Hearts of Iron 4 is becoming a great WW2-era game, it’s not necessarily a great ‘WW2 game’ in the sense that getting a historical outcome is now only one of many possibilities, and we’re not sure if it’s the most common one at this point. While plenty of historical events and key decisions are modelled, the course of the war can vary, so if you’re an enthusiast who wants a more ‘on rails’ experience, this may not actually be the game for you.
Steel Division 2
We had to stop and think about this one before committing it to the list – there’s no denying that Eugen Systems’ Steel Division 2 has its problems. Multiplayer balance is an ongoing concern, and generally the new campaign mode is a little bit rough around the edges. Still, we’re confident in our assessment that it’s overall a better game than its predecessor, and the new campaign mode is one of the finest solitaire wargaming experiences we’ve ever played (warts and all).
If you were a fan of the real-time tactical battles in Normandy ’44, then you may have trouble warming to this – the operational realities of the Eastern Front and how it’s been translated into the game make for some brutal fights, both in single player and multiplayer.
If you felt that the first Steel Division game needed more in the campaign space, however, we dare you to not be impressed by the new Army General mode. Once Eugen sorts out the last of the kinks, this will truly be a war game for the ages.
Check out our Steel Division 2 review for more. The Fate of Finland is pretty good, although the most recent Black Sunday DLC could have been better.
Strategic Command WW2: World at War
Matrix Games and Fury Software’s World at War easily supplants its younger sibling, War in Europe, for the simple fact that while this is, in some ways, ‘more of the same’, it is nonetheless ‘more of the same’ but now on a global level. Our initial concerns that this one might fall prey to the same problems the SC Classic entry Global Conflict suffered turned out to be ill-founded.
Fury has learned the lessons of the past and managed to create a compelling grand-strategy sandbox, at scale, that leaves plenty of meaningful gameplay options whether you’re in Europe, or the Korean peninsula.
As fun as tactical or even operational level warfare is, there’s something empowering about taking control of a nation’s entire strategic resources; from industry and production to the military assets. Fury Software’s Strategic Command series has been around since at least the early 2000’s and is a great example of grand-strategy wargaming.
You command either the Axis or the allied powers (and you can have the AI take over individual nations if you want) and must decide where to invest your nation’s production capacity across research, mobilisation, diplomacy and maintaining your armed forces. Units represent Corps, Army Groups, Fleets & Air Groups.
Command Ops 2
Lock’n Load’s flagship computer wargame Command Ops 2 makes its debut on our list of best games. This more recent iteration of the series approaches a very detailed and complex subject with a system of play that is both easy to learn and smooth as silk to play. Mastering play is not easy, but that’s the hallmark of an exceptional product. Other games of this subgenre should take note.
The base version of this game is free, and the download comes with three scenarios that include Return to St Vith, Manhay Crossroads and Greyhound Dash. In this respect LnL has taken the same approach as the World War I flight simulator Rise of Flight, where they charge for additional expansion modules.
Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg
It seems you can’t have one of these lists without at least one of Battlefront’s Combat Mission games. To be fair, they remain at the fore-front of tactical combat simulations and are must-plays for anyone who enjoys the hardcore-end of WW2 games.
Combat Mission offers an immersive military experience, with a fully 3D engine and a turn-based/WEGO strategy layer that then plays out in real-time. Units are represented down to individual squads and tanks, however players can play anything from a Company-sized force, to a reinforced Battalion.
You could have a passionate debate about which CM game is the best CM game, but the 2016 iteration mightily impressed the late Mr. Cobb in his Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg review with its attention to detail and the general improvements to the legacy of Combat Mission as a whole: “The series remains the epitome of World War II tactical simulations. Is it too early for a Game of the Year nomination?”.
Men of War: Assault Squad 2
1C Company / Digitalmindsoftau’s Men of War series is one with humble (and slightly confusing) origins, but also one that’s grown to become a must-have staple of real-time WW2 tactical combat. For fans of Company of Heroes 2 (see below) wanting a little more bite, this is one of the most immersive experiences you’ll ever have the pleasure of playing.
There’s a depth and granularity to combat that you rarely see outside of hardcore turn-based counter wargames, and yet it remains easy(ish) to learn and interact with. It can be brutal and punishing (I don’t think they’ve ever gotten the balance quite right between tanks and infantry), but it is also thrilling.
Men of War: Assault Squad 2, despite being four years old at this point, represents the pinnacle of the series’ development. The series in general has seen many different iterations and experiments, but all of that learning finally comes to together here.
Gary Grigsby’s War in the East
No conversation on digital wargaming can exist without starting, ending or at the very least, co-existing with, a nod towards the beast set in the east. Gary Grigsby’s 2010 opus represents what happens when you take traditional hex-and-counter wargaming and use computer software to bring out its maximum potential. No-one ever said it would be accessible or easy to get to grips with– but it is the ultimate military simulation of war in the eastern front of World War 2.
To paraphrase the game’s official blurb:
Gamers can engage in massive, dramatic campaigns, including intense battles involving thousands of units with realistic and historical terrain, weather, orders of battle, logistics and combat results. Factors such as supply, fatigue, experience, morale and the skill of your divisional, corps and army leaders all play an important part in determining the results at the front line. The game comes with 4 massive campaigns as well as many smaller scenarios all with different strategic and operational challenges. This is not for the faint-hearted.
Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault
One of the most mainstream games on this list, the advent of the Western Front Armies, overhaul of its War Spoils system and years of balance refinement cemented Company of Heroes 2‘s place as a respectable and enjoyable competitive RTS.
With the creation of the Ardennes Assault campaign, Company of Heroes 2 now boasts one of the best replayable single player experiences in modern WW2 strategy games. It’s even available as a stand-alone expansion, if you really don’t want to get the core game.
Ardennes Assault provides players with a strategic territory-capture meta-game layered over the single-player missions; including semi-random events and time-based objectives that change with each playthrough.
You have four Companies to command (of which you can utilize 3 in each campaign run) and hard choices in an Iron Man setting that forces the player to think through each move and live with sub-optimal strategies. If you’re looking for something less hardcore, or something with a larger player base, then this is a perfect choice.
The Operational Art of War IV
The world’s secret best wargame of all time, it’s surprising The Operational Art of War IV hasn’t made all other hex-based wargames obsolete by now. Infinitely flexible, this game has the potential to contain all other wargames inside… a bit like Google and the internet, I guess?
The fourth iteration of the series may have only offered a modest amount of improvements, but it keeps the series in place as one of the best titles for deep, operational level warfare. While the 300+ scenarios span everything from WW1 to the Korean War, there are plenty of meaty WW2 scenarios for players to enjoy, and the easy-to-use (ish) editor means that you can add plenty more. From Bill’s The Operational Art of War IV review:
“Trust me it’s worth it. Whether you have all the previous editions as I do, or you are a newcomer just starting out, this game is a must buy. Now toss in over 300 included scenarios, online play not to mention a Jim-dandy scenario editor, and plunking down a few shekels is an even easier decision to make.
Yes, I know, most film sequels are never as good as the original, so what are the odds here? They’re pretty good actually. This latest TOAW edition has indeed made an almost perfect classic even better, well deserving a five star rating if not an entire constellation. Two thumbs up for a job very well done. All it needs now is a WEGO option, and then it’d be damn-near perfect.
Rest assured, with truckloads of new WW2 games getting released every year – in every genre, format, shape, size and flavour – we’ll be keeping this guide updated regularly to keep you posted on the cream of the crop.