World War 3 looks different for different people. The best WW3 games know this, so the strategy videogaming scene offers a wide range of speculative battles that either never happened or could be yet to come. If the Third World War is playing on your mind at the moment (we can’t imagine why), there’s likely a game out there that channels these thoughts. This guide shows off the best WW3 games for fans of alternate history, serious simulators, or outlandish strategy antics.
Before we dive into World War 3 games of the future or alternate past, here are some guides for gamers who like their games a little more historical. We’ve covered the best WW2 games and best WW1 games for digital strategists, and tabletop fans should check out the best war board games and WW1 board games around right now.
These are the best WW3 games:
- Arma 3
- Cold Waters
- World in Conflict
- Conflict of Nations: World War 3
- Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2
2014’s Arma 3 is a truly massive military sandbox game, with a slew of Arma 3 DLC and Arma 3 mods ensuring, nearly ten years later, this is a war game still worth picking up. Considering we still don’t have a tangible Arma 4 release date, it’s a must-have if you’re looking to get into the tactical shooter series.
Arma 3’s version of World War 3 is set in the 2030s, with two fictional Mediterranean islands and plenty of made-up key players at the centre of the conflict (though the real-life organisation of NATO also plays a role). This is a game that has become synonymous with the best tactical shooters thanks to its exceptional level of detail.
Like many World War 3 games, DEFCON is set in an alternate version of the Cold War. You’ll play as a general using nuclear arms to exterminate opposing populations and protect your home turf. If you can wipe out the enemy’s civilians and negate their own attempts to destroy you, you’ll score the most points. The need to keep your key positions secret, as well as the ability to form and break alliances, add a level of paranoia as well as strategic intrigue.
DEFCON might not be the most complex WW3 game listed here, but it does one thing exceptionally well, and that’s atmosphere. This is a game that portrays the intensity and inevitable casualties all-out nuclear war brings. Players are essentially competing to be the nation that gets genocide-d the least. As the game’s Steam page says, “everybody dies, everybody loses”.
Another Cold-War-gone-hot videogame is Cold Waters, a submarine simulation inspired by the 1988 game Red Storm Rising. This WW3 game takes nuclear war below sea level, arming you with missiles and torpedoes to tackle the enemy’s warships. Publisher Killerfish Games promises realistic sonar models and Soviet combat tactics, as well as period-appropriate vehicles and weapons.
Cold Waters provides a solid level of challenge to engage submarine sim newbies and old-hats alike. Its homage to a classic of the genre’s past is also bound to tickle the fancy of long-running simulation gamers.
World in Conflict
The 2007 real-time tactics game World in Conflict released to rave reviews, praised for its epic battles and approachable gameplay. Once again, we’re introduced to an alternate Cold War that escalates into World War 3, with the Soviet Union launching an invasion of Western Europe in 1989. The core campaign focuses on US and NATO forces, but a later expansion means you can also play as the Soviet aggressors.
World in Conflict’s single-player mode provides an interesting story and plenty of tips to introduce you to the game’s tactics. There’s also a multiplayer mode that expands your gameplay options – but with its original server shutting down years ago, co-op games are a little harder to come by in 2023.
Conflict of Nations: World War 3
Conflict of Nations: World War 3 is a free-to-play mobile and PC game from 2018 that takes the ‘real-time’ element of strategy games a little more seriously than other games in the genre. Its multiplayer games can take days (or even weeks) to determine a winner. This offers long-running war campaigns where you need a carefully considered strategy for arms, diplomacy, technology, and even economic resources.
Conflict of Nations: World War 3 does have the trappings of a mobile game, namely in-game currency, paid-for-content, and an element of grind. However, it can also be addictively fun, so for a free game, it’s one for fans of strategy games to watch.
Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2
The Command and Conquer series is known for balancing elegant strategy and a downright silly story. While Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 doesn’t have Tim Curry’s brand of space Communism, it does provide a compelling portrayal of a Third World War. The game was first released in 2000, but it holds up as a hugely popular choice for real-time strategy gamers over 20 years later.
Red Alert 2 presents a WW3 where Adolf Hitler never existed, the Soviets use mind control to halt US missile deployments, and Albert Einstein is trying to keep a teleportation device out of Russian hands. If you want a WW3 game that won’t get you worried about real-life potential wars, you’re in safe hands with the Command and Conquer series.