WW2 games: the best World War II games

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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 – it has effectively become a whole genre all of its 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 wheat from the chaff.

Enter Wargamer: in this guide we’ve tried to include a range of different types of games, from close-up tactical experiences to sweeping strategic overviews. So, without further ado, here’s our guide to the best World War 2 strategy games. We’re a computer war games website, we can’t be wrong!

What are the best WW2 Strategy Games?

  1. World of Tanks (F2P)
  2. Panzer Corps 2
  3. Unity of Command 2
  4. Panzer Campaigns (series)
  5. Steel Division 2
  6. Hearts of Iron IV
  7. Strategic Command WW2: World at War
  8. Command Ops 2
  9. Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg
  10. Men of War: Assault Squad 2
  11. Gary Grigsby’s War in the East
  12. Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault
  13. The Operational Art of War IV
  14. Close Combat (series)

 

New WW2 Strategy & Wargames

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World of Tanks

Publisher/Developer: Wargaming.net
Play World of Tanks for free now

We’re kicking things off with a Free-to-Play recommendation, because not all wargaming has to be super-serious or sim focused. If you’ve read our guide to the best naval games, you’ll know that some of us are fans of Wargaming.net’s World of Warships. It’s a super-arcadey take on 20th century naval combat for sure and the free-to-play nature introduces an element of grind, but it’s also surprisingly cerebral.

Urban eenvironments require careful manoeuvring and positioning

It’s not quite the same for World of Tanks – it’s a slightly dumb tank game at the end of the day – but there is something refreshing about zipping along the countryside, blasting shells at enemy vehicles on the other end of the map. The most tight-knit urban environments as well require a lot of manoeuvring and positioning, so there is room for some very tactical gameplay.

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.

Alternate Recommendation

Another game you might want to look at is War Thunder, which encompasses land, air AND naval combat and features fighting vehicles from WW2 right through to the Cold War. It’s debatable which time-period features the ‘best’ game play, which is why it hasn’t been given a full entry in this list.

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Panzer Corps 2

Publisher/Developer: Flashback Games / Slitherine
Buy it on: Fanatical

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.

NEW: Slitherine has released the first two DLC packs for PC2. The first one covers the Spanish Civil War and is the first in the new Axis Operations series of DLC packs which will follow the German Army’s various campaigns through-out WW2. The next installed – Axis Operations: 1939 – was released at the end of August 2020 and covers various campaigns that took place in 1939 including Poland and Denmark.

You may also like: Order of Battle

If you’re a fan of the Panzer Corps format and looking for something else to play, then Order of Battle is another Matrix-owned series that may entice you (assuming you haven’t come across it already). It was once described to me by a Producer at Matrix as “Panzer Corps, but with logistics”, so you’ll find a very similar experience.

The base game Order of Battle WW2 is actually free-to-play and comes with a handful of scenarios so that you can try it out. To date there are over 12 expansions you can purchase to then enhance your game and play through different parts of the war from various perspectives. Unlike it’s sibling it’s not looking at doing a sequel any time soon (that we know of), and is currently working on a new trilogy of expansions that follow the Soviet Union’s trials through WW2. The latest entry in the expansion set is Order of Battle: Red Storm.

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Unity of Command 2

Publisher/Developer: 2×2 Games
Buy it on: Steam

We’d have been very surprised if the recently-released Unity of Command 2 wasn’t 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.

Want more? Read our Unity of Command 2: Blitzkrieg review

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.

This is definitely one of the year’s best releases to date, however, and if you’re even remotely interested it’s well worth picking up.

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Panzer Campaigns Series – Japan ’45 & Japan ’46

Publisher/Developer: Wargame Design Studio
Buy it: Direct

John Tiller is a house name with a certain generation of computer war gamers. While he’s not as involved in game-making as he used to be, 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.

Plausible alt-history in an old-school package

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.

You may also like: John Tiller’s Panzer Battles

If you’re a fan of the John Tiller style of games in general then there have been some other newer releases that may take your fancy. Other recent Wargame Design Studio releases include a ‘Gold’ edition of El Alamein ’42 and the brand new Battles of North Africa 1941. If you want to consider something a bit more ‘old school’ then there’s always John Tiller’s Campaign Series.

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Close Combat Series

Publisher/Developer: Matrix Games / Various
Buy it on: GOG.comSteam

No WW2 list would be complete without the father of modern WW2 tactical strategy games. Close Combat 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.

There are mixed opinions on the series but it is a big part of WW2 strategy game heritage

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.

And, thanks to GOG.com, you can now legally purchase the original classics once more.

OPTIONAL EXTRA: Close Combat – The Bloody First

This isn’t an official entry in the list but, since Close Combat as a series is mentioned, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the latest entry into the game – Close Combat: The Bloody First. It was always going to struggle in the face of the significance of the series, and it also didn’t help that the game took a bit longer than planned to actually release (it’s at least a couple of years ‘late’ at this point).

Still, it did the best job it could and it’s actually a pretty decent game in most respects. It’s perhaps not good enough to knock the classics off their camouflaged thrones, but it’s a decent modern Close Combat game that just has a few kinks that need ironing out. You can buy Close Combat: The Bloody First on Fanatical buy Close Combat: The Bloody First on Fanatical now.

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Hearts of Iron IV

Publisher/Developer: Paradox Interactive / Paradox Development Studio
Buy it on: Paradox store

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 playthroughs.

Iron it all out: Check out our Hearts of Iron 4 tutorial

You can create your own Divisions, specialising them for specific tasks. A Battle Planner allows you to draw detailed strategies for your armies that the AI will execute for you, and there’s plenty of 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.

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Steel Division 2

Publisher/Developer: Eugen Systems
Buy it on: GOG.comSteam

We had to stop and think about this one before committing it to the list – there’s no denying that 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).

The realities of the Eastern Front make for some brutal fights

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.

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Strategic Command WW2: World at War

Publisher/Developer: Matrix Games / Fury Software
Buy it on: GOG.comDirectSteam

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.

Get on board: These are the best war board games available

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.

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Command Ops 2

Publisher/Developer: Lock’n Load Publishing
Buy it on: Steam

Lock’n Load’s flagship computer wargame 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.

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Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg

Publisher/Developer: Battlefront
Buy it: Direct

It seems you can’t have one of these lists without at least one Combat Mission game. 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.

the epitome of World War II tactical simulations

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?”.

Final Blitzkrieg is set in Europe, 1944-45 and mainly centres around the Battle of the Bulge.

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Men of War: Assault Squad 2

Publisher/Developer: 1C Company / Digitalmindsoftau
Buy it on: Fanatical

The 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.

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. As official support has waned, a dedicated mod-community has arisen to provide scenarios ranging from WW1 to the Cold War. If we ever see a new Men of War game, it will be world-class.

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Gary Grigsby’s War in the East

Publisher/Developer: Matrix Games / 2by3Games
Buy it on: Fanatical

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.

The Not-So-Great War: Here’s our guide to the best WW1 games

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.

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Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault

Publisher/Developer: SEGA / Relic Entertainment
Buy it on: Fanatical

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.

this is the perfect choice if you’re after something less hardcore

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.

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The Operational Art of War IV

Publisher/Developer: Matrix Games / Talonsoft
Buy it: Direct, Steam

The world’s secret best wargame of all time, it’s surprising The Operational Art of War 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 300+ scenarios span everything from WW1 to the Korean War

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.

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