If you’re a fan of war games, you know that they’ve come a long way since the days of clunky graphics and pixelated explosions.
In fact, these days, war games are more realistic than ever before, thanks to all sorts of fancy technology that we have yet to understand.
But with so many options out there, how do you know which games are the real deal? That’s where we come in. We’ve scoured the virtual battlefield to bring you the top ten most realistic war games you can play in 2023.
Okay, so what makes a war game realistic? Well, basically, it’s all about how much the game makes you feel like you’re actually in the thick of it.
We’re talking accurate weapon behavior, physics that make you feel like you’re really dodging bullets, and tactical decisions that could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
But it’s not just about getting the nitty-gritty details right. A truly realistic war game should also make you feel like you’re right there in the middle of the action, whether it’s in a historical or fictional conflict.
This means getting the atmosphere and environment spot-on, as well as giving you all the tools you need to survive and succeed.
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10. This War of Mine
When you think about war games, you probably think about going in guns blazing across a battlefield. This War of Mine takes a subversion to that, focusing on the civilian side of war and what it takes to survive. That’s everything it’s about actually – survival during the worst time in the world.
A war has broken out in Eastern Europe, and a fictional country is divided between a Rebel Force and the country’s military. Instead of taking a side and fighting in the war though, you’ll play as multiple civilians who make their way through everyday life, just trying to dodge death for another day.
The realistic parts of This War of Mine are grim, which is the unfortunate reality of war we don’t usually see in modern military games. Players can lose characters permanently, only to pick up as another survivor immediately, showing that life goes on and there’s no time to mourn during the war.
The base building and scavenging are great, but it’s also an incredibly difficult game, thanks to the realistic survival conditions like hunger, thirst, shelter, and protection from other humans.
The game recently released a Final Cut on the Switch version too, with all the DLC added in. The Little Ones makes it even more grim, adding children into the conflict as playable characters. Managing to guide all your survivors until a ceasefire isn’t easy to do, but it’s incredibly fulfilling after surviving the absolute horrors of war.
Tons of replayability, different scenarios, and roguelike elements give it satisfying gameplay, and most who play it will hopefully come away with a little more humanity.
Play on: Xbox, Playstation, Switch, and PC
9. Chivalry II
Surprise, another war game without any sort of guns or modern warfare elements. Chivalry II takes you back to medieval times, focusing on the steel-on-steel warfare of knights and kings. The fighting between armies is ROUGH, and you’ll take a lot of deaths at first until you learn the game mechanics.
Changing out various armor, weapons, and character classes is key to finding out what you’re best at, but once you find it, it’s some of the most fun Dark Ages warfare put to digital code.
The updates have been a little delayed, but the overall game is amazingly polished. Realistic graphics, along with a physics engine for blood spray and dismemberment, help make the combat really visceral, and taking someone out with a warhammer from horseback is just… magical. The gameplay is massively multiplayer, with 64-person team battles and 40-player battle royales to keep the variety up.
As for the realism, there are a stupid amount of things programmed in here to simulate the battle. You can easily throw your weapon at an enemy or even pick up the dismembered corpse of a soldier as a new weapon. Ever beaten forty knights with some guy’s leg? It’s possible in Chivalry II, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Play on: Xbox, Playstation, PC
Everyone knows how intense the online playerbase and economy of EVE Online is, right? Now imagine that for an online World War II squad-based game with a fully realized in-game economy.
It’s a weird mix of RTS and controlling an individual character in war, and there’s no limit to what you can do for the war effort itself. Instead of just going through individual battles one by one, there’s a heavy focus on the logistics of war.
You choose which faction you want, and then you take on a part in that faction, whether it be defending bases, forming supply lines, or even just securing intel or resources. The best part is that it’s diverse in what you can do, so even if you’re not good at driving tanks or fighting on the front lines, you’re fulfilling some sort of contribution to your army’s overall victory.
Foxhole got a lot better in recent years, too, because the player base literally went on strike. The entire in-game economy depends on players moving resources to the front lines and constantly needing people to run it. So when things got too grindy for most players, they went on strike, and the devs made adjustments. Quality-of-life fixes have made it a great war sim/strategy in recent years.
Hint: if you’re going to get into Foxhole- find the Discord server for your faction. There are a lot of moving parts that go into every war, and they’re long-term affairs.
Play on: PC
If you like the strategy elements of something like Civilization but want something more focused on the war aspects, Hearts of Iron is for you. The fourth installment is the most recent and is still getting updates since its release in 2016. The devs have gone through insane amounts of work to make this one of the best war strategy games possible while also giving it a realistic playstyle.
Which it does, because you can take control of literally any country and play however you want. Start in either 1936 or 1939 with the real-world conditions at the time, and make your way through the ensuing world. You can settle things in different ways, either diplomatically or as a total warmonger.
One of the updates the devs put out even added an espionage component, which allows you to send in spies, spread false info, and generally sabotage your enemies.
Sure, you won’t be spraying bullets across a field, but when it comes to looking at war from a vertical perspective, Hearts of Iron IV is as real as it gets. Everything is here, down to how you recruit soldiers and gather resources for your fleets.
An entire division of different skill trees is how effective propaganda is. You can overthrow other governments through a coup if you so choose or just cause a civil war. Possibilities are endless here. There is a learning curve, but it’s well worth it, and the tutorials are actually very in-depth, which helps a lot.
Play on: PC
I know, finally, a war game that lets you actually get on the battlefield and into the thick of it, right? Hell Let Loose is an insanely in-depth unit-based FPS, and it hinges on communications between each of the fifty players that make up the armies.
Quite a few different maps, various character class options, and some interesting real-time strategy elements make it a unique experience that echoes a realistic World War II battle.
When the fight starts, it comes as a 50v50 Offensive or Warfare mode. Offensive is one team assaulting the territories controlled by the others, trying to take over, while Warfare is more of a basic battle for territory. You can play as recon, infantry, or tank units to give a nice variety to how you do things too.
One of the coolest aspects of the game is the voice chat, which relies on squad and proximity-based chat with a chain-of-command structure.
Each army also gets a commander for every battle. The commander can give overall orders and has a view of the entire battlefield. They’re in charge of sending out forces, guiding units, and calling in air strikes or supply drops to soldiers.
It adds a real-time strategy element of resource management, too, which adds a realism that keeps most players on their toes. Also, the graphics are gritty but hyperrealistic, showing the amount of blood and horror going on around you.
Play on: Xbox, Playstation, PC
“Civilization isn’t a war game!” Well, not with that attitude, it isn’t. The Civ games are all about choice when it comes to ruling and shaping the age of man, and that choice can end up being total destruction on a scale never seen before.
Look, Civilization VI might not be the most conventional way of seeing real warfare play out, but it does give a fantastic level of immersion when it comes to managing a country while diplomatically negotiating wartimes.
The best part is you can have war throughout the ages, too. With Civ, you can start from the dawn of man (or elsewhere, depending on the rules set) and decide if you want to expand and explore peacefully or take things by brutal force.
Wars can escalate from basic sticks and stones fighting to an all-out nuclear holocaust. Longer games require coordination between land, sea, air, and supply units to ensure that your country doesn’t end up a decimated wasteland or starving to death.
Civilization VI gives more options than the previous games for where to start and how to develop your country. The only drawback it really has, as opposed to the previous entry, is that Ghandi won’t nuke the hell out of you at the slightest inconvenience.
It kind of takes away the element of surprise but makes the game more realistic in the use of history and the real-life political strategies that go into gameplay.
Play on: Xbox, Playstation, Switch, and PC
4. War Thunder
A warning up front that, like any free-to-play game, War Thunder can be a major grind in the later game. That said, it’s a fun time and gives a completely vehicular combat experience. This game has been running for a while, too, and it has a record of quality for the entire ten-plus-year run so far.
Vehicles cover air, land, and sea combat, often all in the same battle. It sounds hectic because it is, and the realistic mode that it gives, along with simulation and arcade modes, is hell on earth.
As far as realism, every vehicle in the game is recreated from a real weapon used by militaries across the world, modern and historical. Some of the naval vessels even date to the 18th century, and the various planes, tanks, and submersibles are also upgradeable through skills trees.
Each vehicle takes hyper-realistic damage, with a system based on components of the craft instead of overall health. Personally, I’ve lost far too many helicopter blades than I would like to take credit for in the ten years I’ve been playing on and off.
Again, there is a grind involved since it’s free to play, but the player base and variety of vehicles make it really fun to do in War Thunder. The devs recently have added in things like drones and are constantly one-upping themselves.
Also, pay attention to the April Fools events every year because they’re some of the most ridiculous fun in an online game since the original days of GTA Online. They may not fall under the realism of other modes, but every year, something more creative is done.
Play on: Xbox, Playstation, and PC
Okay, if you can’t work together with others and follow orders, this one isn’t for you. If you like working in a team and coordinating your efforts toward a goal, though, SQUAD is probably the most fulfilling multiplayer shooter out there.
The developers originally started it as a realism mod for Battlefield 2, and it eventually turned into its own game that has a huge player base. You’ll be one of a squad of up to nine and have to coordinate yourselves through chat to complete objectives toward a total war effort.
It has mostly FPS-based gameplay, though it involves some tactics. Squad leaders have the added responsibility of coordinating with other squads on the battlefield. Meanwhile, there’s an overall commander that keeps the entire battlefield in check, calling in modern reinforcements like drones or supplies for the squads when needed.
While you have access to a few different classes, you won’t always have the same objective. Some squads will need you to defend a crucial command point, others will involve gathering intel, and some are straight-up assault missions.
The teamwork is the rewarding part and helps give SQUAD a realistic camaraderie that the others lack. The unfortunate part of the realism is that SQUAD makes it incredibly easy to lose teammates, so keep your head on a swivel.
Play on: PC
It might not be a hardcore war simulation like Arma, but Battlefield 1 was one of the first in a long time to give a World War I-centered FPS. Options are everywhere, too, and you can take control of various vehicles or soldier classes across the worldwide campaign.
The other parts of the game are just as good, with multiplayer often being the chaotic turmoil of battle that World War I was known for. It even lifts real-world battles, having you fight alongside Laurence of Arabia and other historical figures.
The combat styles are incredibly diverse, and they outdid themselves with redesigning the melee system that was absent in other games. The claustrophobic lines of the trenches to wide open deserts make for plenty of different scenarios for online battles. The air combat that can be either its own dogfight mode or integrated into larger battles is my personal favorite.
Seriously, the dogfights you can have in this game are some of the most fun I’ve had in an online game. The controls are smooth for the small twin-wing fighters, and you get to control the gunner while also flying, adding a layer of strategy and skill to it.
Plus, there are the options to fly armed blimps, which are just really fun to pull onto the battlefield while your enemy looks on in terror. The game is surprisingly active still, too, and the add-ons have only made it better.
Play on: Xbox, Playstation, and PC
1. Arma 3
You can play the entire Arma series for a realistic war experience, but Arma 3 is the most evolved form yet. This version is still receiving updates, and the player base is massively dedicated. You’ll find entire servers of people just roleplaying as normal citizens during the war of the game. It’s probably the weirdest part about it, but Arma goes to incredible lengths to recreate actual warfare conditions for ground troops.
Everything about your character and unit needs managing, from weight and supplies to armor and weapon maintenance. The guns in the game are all based on real-life models and have a realistic system that gives them unique recoil and firing capabilities. The sheer variety of gameplay in Arma 3 is wild, and there is everything from ground-based stealth missions to all-out war over maps the size of a small country.
You have full access to anything you find on the battlefield too, whether it be abandoned homes or vehicles or finding resources for your army. Take on any kind of role, whether it be sniper, commander, or just your own version of Rambo.
While the size of the game might make you think it suffers graphically, everything is near photorealistic. The research into real military installations as a basis even got a couple of developers arrested for espionage–That’s how you know you found the most realistic war game out there.
Play on: PC
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So, if you’re looking for a realistic war experience in 2023, these ten games are the best options available. From first-person shooters to military simulations, there’s something for everyone on this list.
So gather your friends, grab your controllers, and get ready for a truly immersive war gaming experience.