What are the best WW2 games on PC? The most devastating conflict in our long history of fighting over land and ideologies has been distilled into heroic charges, tense dogfights, epic digital wars and savage battles countless times over, and here you’ll find the best of the lot.
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From massive, free-to-play vehicular battlefields to complex wargames, you’re bound to find something below to keep you duking it out for countless hours in our round-up of WW2 games. Starting with…
World War 2 was a combined arms effort, with land, sea, and air forces offering equally invaluable efforts, and War Thunder is well on its way to capturing that. It originally threw a spotlight on the war’s colossal aerial battles, but soon went on to include land battles through the medium of noisy tank warfare. 2017 will see War Thunder take to the ocean too with a naval combat expansion.
Boasting a dizzying number of historically accurate aircraft from pretty much every nation involved in the war, this exceptional free-to-play multiplayer flier offers a great experience that neatly sits in the middle ground between inaccessible flight sim and arcade dogfighter. Like a sim, War Thunder has incredible attention to detail that makes it compelling to play. Flying each machine feels genuinely different and all offer their own challenges. Even when you’re not in the air there’s tactics to consider as you stock your hangar with various planes and upgrade them to suit your approach.
Not content with just staying in the sky, developers Gaijin expanded War Thunder with the Ground Forces expansion. Encroaching on World of Tanks’ firmly held territory, Ground Forces applies the War Thunder formula of multiplayer historical recreations to tank warfare, with players duking it out in their upgradable death machines.
World of Tanks
Tank porn: that’s what Wargaming’s flagship free-to-play game really is. Loads of lovely, incredibly detailed tanks for you to drool over before rolling them into battle. Hundreds of these glorious machines can be researched, unlocked and purchased as you gain experience and resources from every tense match.
World of Tanks is a game you can dip your toes into, play for a bit, and have fun. On the surface it’s simple, arcade-like, even, but underneath the chassis is the loud, angry engine of a serious sim. How vulnerable is the machine gun port of the Tiger II? Where are the soft spots on the indomitable IS-3? What’s the effective armour thickness of the T-32’s upper glacis? Armour penetration, angles, weak spots – this is the stuff you need to know.
To taste victory time after time, to work your way up the tank tiers and eventually get your name on leaderboards, you need to make a significant investment. It would feel a bit like work if this wasn’t a game about blowing up tanks, which never stops being fun. There’s a depth and complexity to World of Tanks that doesn’t become apparent until you’ve gotten to know the game. And with constant updates, new maps, modes, features, and an audience of 140 million World of Tanks players, you’re always learning. It’s worth it to see your enemies turned into smouldering wrecks, though.
World of Warships
The third and newest of Wargaming’s WW2 vehicle games, World of Warships sees the tried and tested formula of World of Tanks transposed to the sea. It’s not just World of Tanks with ships, though, as the switch to naval combat has informed a lot of big changes. The philosophy remains, but these sea battles are slower, more thoughtful and ultimately more tactical than their land-based counterparts.
Out in the open sea, there’s a sense of dread and vulnerability that you just don’t get in Wargaming’s other titles. Not this severe, anyway. There’s no hiding or running away in World of Warships – just plans, some of which will fall apart, and others that could, with some help from your team, lead to a glorious victory.
Air support adds an extra interesting wrinkle. You can hurl the fighters and bombers chilling on your decks at your foes, and suddenly the game starts to feel a bit like an RTS. But one where you’re also frantically trying to line up your killer cannons and praying to Poseidon that this time, this time, it’ll be a direct hit.
What’s better than the best WW2 games? That’s right: the best WW2 games in video form! Have at it…
Call of Duty: WWII
If you are looking for breadth and realistic details, then COD: WW2 might rub you up the wrong way with its Eurocentric campaign and PPSh-41-toting German soldiers. However, what it does better than most WW2 games is connecting the player to the squad they fight alongside, all the way from the beaches of Normandy to the capture of Ludendorff Bridge. It does this by tying health, ammo, and grenade refills to squad members, forcing you to seek out your medic if you are low on health, even if a tank separates you. It is an elegant and organic way of simulating the bonds that form between brothers in arms.
COD: WW2 also stands out as one of the best WW2 games because of it relatively recent release. After the glut of World War 2 games that hit PC in the mid-2000s we endured a decade-long drought where all the leaps and bounds made in videogame graphics helped bring other conflicts and settings to life while WW2 games were left behind. In terms of audiovisual fidelity, the campaign of COD: WW2 is almost filmic in quality, whether that is the sumptuous ring that fills your ears every time you reload an M1 Garand, or the unsparing particle effects that give every texture and environment their due depth. Sure, you will have seen and fought these battles before, but they have never looked this convincing.
Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault
Company of Heroes 2 – despite capturing the horror of winter warfare – didn’t quite hit the same high notes as its venerable predecessor. But with the standalone expansion of Ardennes Assault, Relic reinvigorated the single-player portion of the series, giving it one of its most interesting campaigns.
It’s all about the dynamic map. The Ardennes region is one big, constantly shifting warzone, with the Germans attempting to lock down as much territory as possible. Controlling the US forces of Baker, Able and Dog Company – all with unique mechanics, strengths and officers – players must force the Germans out, bit by bit, in a desperate, bleak campaign. It’s not easy, though. And it’s not just about winning battles. A victory doesn’t matter if it’s cost you all your veteran units and left the rest of your force tattered and weak. A Pyrrhic victory spells doom for your campaign.
Random objectives and events can crop up in battles and on the campaign map itself, so that no campaign is alike. And you can tackle the main missions in any order you want. You might be tasked with assassinating an officer during a mission, or ambushing a convoy on the campaign map, and failure or victory will have a tangible impact on the rest of the war. It’s a persistent, savage war, where failure is always nipping at the heels of the increasingly desperate US forces.
Call of Duty 2
Call of Duty 2 was a jolt of electricity applied to the WW2 formula when it launched in 2005. Familiar scenes like the D-Day landings were recreated in greater detail, with more drama and a nail-biting sense of vulnerability. And at the time, it was the best the war had ever looked.
With four campaigns across three theatres, the global scope of the war was on display. Like the original Call of Duty, it followed British, American and Russian troops, but also presented the north African campaign for the first time, as the Brits fought across the desert, melting and dying and hiding from tanks.
Despite being a decade old, COD2 has stood the test of time thanks to the fact that it was one of the first games to add features like regenerating health, so you could focus on the battle and not worry about scurrying around looking for health kits. And with improved ally AI, it really felt like you were leading proper soldiers – all of them named – rather than mindless models with guns attached to them. Not just a great WW2 game, Call of Duty 2 is one of the best FPS games on PC.
Commandos 2: Men of Courage
They don’t make them like this anymore, and that’s a tragedy. Commandos 2 is 15 years old, but remains utterly unsurpassed. It’s a puzzle game, essentially. You control a group of operatives behind enemy lines, across ten elaborate, complex, devilishly hard missions. Ten might not seem like a lot. But you’re wrong.
Each mission is a huge, sprawling thing with a beautifully detailed, liberating map and tricky objectives that require a lot of planning, scouting, smarts and a spot of trial and error. Objectives run the gamut from stealing documents and rescuing spies to blowing up ships and stealing vehicles. Getting in the way of that are countless patrols, guards, minefields and even harsh weather. Luckily, the Commandos have more than a few tricks up their sleeves.
You’ve got a spy who can steal clothes and disguise himself as the enemy. A secret agent who can distract and drug Nazis. A battle-hardened Green Beret who likes to get a bit of blood on his hands. You even have a dog. His name is Whisky and he is both delightful and good at drawing the attention of enemies. Each mission gives you a specific group to use, and then its up to you how you want to go about completing the main, secondary and bonus objectives. It’s hard. You will sometimes fail. But damn does victory feel great after you’ve murdered, sneaked and tricked your way through an enemy base.
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
As much as games like Brothers in Arms and World of Tanks aim for historical accuracy in their weapons, machinery, and locations, they still offer a Hollywood-tinted depiction of the action. Red Orchestra 2 removes the filters and offers an unflinchingly difficult simulator shooter. Heroes of Stalingrad recreates battles from the Eastern Front in a Battlefield-like combined arms settings with soldier classes and vehicles. Throwing pray-and-spray, gung-ho attitudes to the wind, Red Orchestra demands strict teamwork, caution, and a considered tactical approach to objectives.
It’s the hardships of being an individual cog in the machine that makes Red Orchestra compelling. Machine-gunners are vital for covering fire, allowing other players to advance down the field. But holding down the trigger too long causes the barrel to melt and buckle, requiring it to be replaced in a lengthy maintenance animation. Tanks are murder machines when fully crewed, but attempt to commandeer one by yourself and you’ll spend an eternity crawling from gun compartment to driver’s seat, and find yourself a sitting target as you attempt to aim your cannon. As well as the stresses of being part of a team, as an individual you’ll have to constantly count your rounds as a complete lack of HUD removes any indication as to what’s left in your magazine.
Each round of Red Orchestra 2 is hard work, but like ARMA and other bullet-physic heavy shooting simulations, there’s a distinct, unrivalled sense of victory with every point scored. Few multiplayer games make you work this hard for a single kill.
Silent Hunter III
The Second World War is frequently depicted as a violently bloodthirsty, explosive, and ear-drum bursting conflict. It’s no wonder there are so many shooters based on it. But not every element of all-out war is as noisy or as fast paced. For the quiet, considered, cold-blooded killers out there, there’s nothing quite like Silent Hunter’s unique brand of stealth. Throw out your undercover OSS agents, and submerge yourself in underwater naval warfare.
Silent Hunter III, despite being nearly a decade old, remains the best of the series, and allows you to command a U-Boat full of German seamen under the surface of the Atlantic ocean. Freeform missions simply inform you of targets and naval traffic, allowing you to conduct the operation in whatever conniving manner you so wish. You’ll need to be map savvy; Silent Hunter is a gloriously uncompromising submarine sim, and without solid navigation skills you’ll be firing torpedoes into the open ocean instead of the side of a Allied merchant ship. Patience is the key ingredient though, as you lurk in wait as your plan slowly comes together.
The third game is starting to show its age, and if that’s a problem it may be best you try out Silent Hunter 5. It’s graphically sumptuous but shipped with a hull riddled with bugs and glitches that severely hampered its critical scores. Thankfully four years of modding have saved it, and it’s now a solid second choice.
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway
The Brothers in Arms games offer some of the best stories in the WW2 niche, filled with personal tales of struggle and camaraderie. Hell’s Highway, the third in the BiA series, brings the troubles of the 101st Airborne’s Matt Baker to a close with a harrowing story that emphasises the relentless loss of life every soldier was forced to endure, evoking the likes of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.
Backing up the story is a fantastic FPS game. It borrows the third-person cover system of the Rainbow Six: Vegas games, making the squad tactics a much smoother, effective element. War is hell in Brothers in Arms, and the methodical employment of flanking maneuvers and suppressing fire is the only way you’ll be able to survive it. Thanks to the tight-knit relationships Hell’s Highway weaves over its campaign, by the end you’ll really feel as if you helped pull your comrades through the dirt.
And damn is it grim. Grisly, too. Body parts are blown off, men are turned into bloody bags of meat – it’s nasty stuff. It doesn’t feel like Hell’s Highway revels in the gore, though. It feels more like an attempt to present war as a horrible, traumatising scenario that you should be glad you’re experiencing on a PC rather than in reality.
With Battlefield 1942, it felt like the FPS genre was evolving. Until DICE released the first in what would be an enduring series, multiplayer shooters were mostly concerned with the glory of the individual. They were about fast reflexes and kill counts. Battlefield 1942, however, is all about cooperation.
You can see where a lot of the series’ systems began, like the roles or classes, the addition of vehicles like tanks and planes and the importance of controlling the map. There was an even greater focus on combined arms warfare, though. You could be bombarding coastlines with your capital ship while your chum flies around in a bomber, trying to take out manned installations protecting the coast. The scale and diversity was crazy. And the maps let you duke it out in all of WW2’s theatres, so you could fight as the British in El Alamein or the Imperial Japanese Navy in Iwo Jima.
A few years ago, EA made it free, but it has since been removed from Origin due to Gamespy going out of business, leaving the game without servers. However! There are still places you can download it from, along with community servers, so there’s still life in the game yet.
Order of Battle: Pacific
Order of Battle: Pacific takes the now well-worn Panzer General-style of wargames and manages to do more with than any other of the classic game’s successors have in a long time. It’s an intricate-yet-approachable wargame, with logical rules and a distinct eye for detail.
Each move becomes a series of puzzles. Objectives need to be reached quickly, with no dawdling. Yet extending your grasp for side-missions can also provide bonuses further down the line. Each decision expands into new opportunities and further questions.
It’s also a game that finally succeeds at naval transportation and combat, which is pretty vital considering the Pacific setting means much of your time will be set at sea. Order of Battle’s approach to naval is exceptionally strong, and makes sailing from port to port as interesting as battles themselves.
Hidden & Dangerous 2
The old breed of the list, Hidden & Dangerous 2 may be an ageing veteran that needs a stick to stay mobile these days, but its tales of silent heroics, undercover operations, and daring strikes have been unmatched in the 11 years since its release.
Rainbow Six for 1944, Hidden & Dangerous 2 is a tactical squad shooter with all the trimmings we’re clamoring for in the modern era: permadeath, persistent characters, detailed operation loadout screens, and fully open maps with mission goals to be completed any which way you fancy. Leading a squad of four stiff-upper-lipped SAS officers, there’s a fascinating variety of missions that take you to every theatre of the war, from a snowy top secret research base to the dense jungles of Burma.
The level of freedom is comparable to Hitman: Blood Money (there’s even the option to strip enemies and steal their clothing), and the lack of enforced silence means when things go belly-up you can crack open the heavy machineguns and simply murder your way out. The controls and systems are all fairly clunky and the AI of your squadmates is never always up to scratch, but the thrill of Hidden & Dangerous’ campaign is absolutely worth pushing through the niggles for.
IL-2 Sturmovik 1946
Though IL-2 Sturmovik is almost old enough to leave school and get a job, it remains one of the best flight sims of all time, particularly those with a military bent.
1946, then, is something very special, because it contains IL-2 Sturmovik, its sequel, and a whole bunch of expansions, which means you get an almost bewildering number of campaigns and richly detailed planes, and by the time you’re done with it all, you’ll be effortlessly pulling off Yo-Yos like a master ace and speeding across the skies in Yaks and MiGs like a natural.
While 1946 collects all the pre-2007 IL-2 Sturmovik games and expansions, it also adds nine extra campaigns and lots of lovely jets in an alternate history version of the war that sees Germany and Russia duking it out in the skies in high speed jet battles. The missions are scripted, though you’ll find dynamic battles in the older games that come with 1946, and you’ll find yourself on tense bombing runs, foiling deadly raids and getting into plenty of thrilling dogfights.
And that’s your lot. 13 of the best WW2 games on PC. Do you think we’ve missed any? Let us know in the comments.
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