December 29, 2021

Naval Video Games

Coming off my review of Ultimate Admiral - Dreadnoughts, I thought it was worth taking a look at the wider world of naval video games. All of these are things I've played, although a few are more broadly strategic or naval-adjacent, as I chose to cast a wide net.

Rule the Waves 2

RTW2 shouldn't be unfamiliar to long-time readers here, given that we had a group game running for over a year. It's a game set in the period 1900-1950 where you pick a country, design and build ships, and then fight them. The high point of the game is the ship designer, as it's quite versatile and does a good job of capturing the flavor of the sorts of decisions real designers have to deal with, without overwhelming you with detail. The other aspects are less satisfactory, with the ship combat being merely OK and the shallowness of the strategic aspects being at times deeply frustrating. There's an upcoming DLC which promises to fix some of that, and I will report back as soon as it's out. Despite the problems, the whole loop is amazing, and I highly recommend it. I will say that other games by the same developer (except RTW1, which was RTW2 but without airplanes and running 1900-1920) seem to be focused on recreating historical battles, and I don't like their ship combat engine enough to recommend them. They've also made a positive change by ditching their homegrown DRM, if you need one more reason to buy the game.

Rule the Waves 3

The sequel to RTW2, and an all-around better game, even leaving aside the extension of the period to 1890-1970. It does an excellent job showing the information limits of 20th-century naval warfare, and is like the video game version of a Norman Friedman book. If you only get one game here, make it this one, which is available on Steam.

Ultimate Admiral - Dreadnoughts

Included for the sake of completeness. The same basic concept as RTW2, but with much better graphics and a shallower and more cluttered shipbuilder. The campaign mode, though available, is still kind of a mess. Overall, seems intended to appeal to World of Warships players who want to design ships, and not to serious geeks. RTW2 is better.


Not strictly a naval game, but naval-esq enough to feature here, particularly given the movement model. You control a civilization venturing out into the cosmos, doing everything from setting research priorities to ordering specific ships about. It's frighteningly deep, and the shipbuilder is a particular gem, as you have control over all elements from the basic technologies to the components like engines, weapons and sensors, to the final vessels that you design, build, and fight. I like it enough to have written a 14-part tutorial, although it's a very specific taste. The upside is that it's completely free, so definitely worth a try if I've made it sound interesting.

From the Depths

A shipbuilding game, but not in the same way as the previous three. While all of those operate on a fairly high level, the sort of thing that the Preliminary Design group would do, this is far more in the weeds. You build the ship block-by-block, with hull, engines, guns, steering, sensors and so on. There's a ton of potential, but building complicated things takes a lot of work, and I don't have the patience for it. On the whole, I find it mildly amusing, but there's not much to do beyond building ships, and that doesn't really grab my attention.


From the Depths, but with rescue missions and all types of vehicles. Unlike From the Depths, I really enjoy Stormworks. The building itself is OK (both games are block-based, and Stormworks is if anything more complicated to build in) but the combination of missions to do, a huge number of astonishing assets from the Steam Workshop and being able to tweak things to taste is quite appealing. The modeling of the oceans is reasonably good, and gives a visceral understanding of things like the effects of large waves on small boats. I've had the most fun in multiplayer, where something goes wrong during a rescue and the group decides to fix the problem in-game. A recent DLC has added weapons and combat, which is also fun, although somewhat tricky to do. The game is formally at 1.0, but it's still pretty buggy, which I hope gets fixed over the next few months.

Command: Modern Operations

CMO is barely a game. It feels more like a medium-grade professional military simulation tool, and in a lot of ways, that's exactly what it is. There's a astonishing library of weapons and platforms, and it's almost worth the price for that alone, particularly if it's on sale. You can play existing scenarios or build new ones as you choose, with the only word of caution being that the database splits in half around 1975, so you can't put a WWII-era battleship up against F-35s. Obviously, the simulation isn't perfect, but it's astonishing for something you can easily pick up, and I've used it several times as the basis for posts here.

War in the Pacific - Admiral's Edition

Quite old now, this is less naval and more grand strategy, but a full game back in college explains about 70% of my grasp of the geography of the far corners of the Pacific. The developers went to extreme lengths to include almost every plane, ship and ground unit that fought in the Pacific, and while I do think the Allied simulation is a bit too much on the rails (you get and have to give up the same ships at the same time as you did IRL, even when that doesn't necessarily make sense) it's a really good look at the scope of the more interesting side of WWII.

Cold Waters

A submarine game, set primarily in the Cold War. I haven't played a lot of it, and the biggest downside is that it's primarily set in third person view, which feels entirely wrong for submarines.

Atlantic Fleet

From the same people as Cold Waters, and I've played more. It's reasonably fun as a game, but pretty terrible as a simulation. The biggest issue is that it's turn-based and each ship gets one movement and one attack per turn. This gives big guns a tremendous advantage, in a way that doesn't really make sense. Also, hunting submarines is annoying, and not in the way it should be. You know where they are, but getting destroyers into position without them getting torpedoed is a pain. There's a moderately decent campaign mode, but you only get new ships by sinking enemy ships, which is a problem after you wipe out the German surface fleet in the first month or two of the war. Overall, probably not recommended.


Not really a game, but the closest that anyone has come to "Warship Engineering Simulator", at least for battleships. It's at least an attempt to create a tool for doing medium-level design work on warships in the 1900-1950 period, and, after a decade of silence, it appears that it's finally being worked on again. Free, and available online.

The one thing I didn't try for this was World of Warships. I'm not much for competitive multiplayer, and also don't really like their business model. Someone else can review that.


  1. December 29, 2021ike said...

    Bean, did you try the Patrician series; it's pretty naval focused?

  2. December 29, 2021beleester said...

    World of Warships would probably give you fits over the lack of realism. In general, I'd say it's a very pretty game - the look and sound of the guns firing is just wonderful - but also a very arcade-y one. Distances and speeds are very compressed (so that you're not waiting for an entire minute between gun salvos), the stats of the ships are dictated by game balance more than history, and most ships' special traits are boiled down to cooldown abilities rather than anything you could call a simulation.

    The game is balanced around a sort of rock-paper-scissors relationship: Battleships beat cruisers, cruisers beat destroyers, destroyers beat battleships, which is again, not at all realistic but does give each warship a unique role to play, and there's enough depth and counterplay in the mechanics to keep things interesting.

    Also, you are correct that the F2P grind is awful, which is the main reason I stopped playing. Still, it was fun for the first four tiers or so.

  3. December 29, 2021Philistine said...

    The lack of realism in World of Warships put me off, just from hearing about its gameplay. For example: in-game it is considered desirable to cap your own tee, as turning broadside-on to an opponent offers you no offensive advantage (including in a gun duel!) but a massive defensive liability. And destroyers carry an effectively infinite number of torpedoes, allowing them to launch full spreads repeatedly over the course of a match. Finally, the designers have focused a lot of their attention on developing "trees" for every navy represented - with the result that they have stuffed the game with totally imaginary Soviet, German, etc ships to "match" historical vessels such as Vanguard, Iowa, and Yamato. (And previously I believe they prioritized getting both the Soviet and German fleets into the game ahead of the Royal Navy, which is beyond baffling as a historical proposition.)

    Currently I understand that the introduction of first carriers and then submarines has led to even more angst about how the game functions as a game, that the new ship types have disrupted play in ways that very few players find fun. There has also been a recent (August 2021) exodus of prominent members of the fan community, primarily over the company's increasingly aggressive monetization practices.

  4. December 30, 2021Anonymous said...

    so you can't put a WWII-era battleship up against F-35s.

    Pity, but what would the likely result be?

  5. December 30, 2021Alexander said...

    An F-35 can carry six laser guided bombs of a similar weight to the one that destroyed USS Arizona. If required, it can carry nuclear weapons. The battleship will have a bad day.

  6. December 30, 2021Emilio said...


    No Harpoon?

  7. December 30, 2021bean said...


    I don't think F-35 has Harpoon capability. Harpoon is more or less on its way out, and they'd have to do external carriage. I'd expect them to give it LRASM if they decide they need ASM capability. But LGBs are the right tool for a battleship, because it has no area air-defense capability and if fitted with BLU-109s or the like, they're the most likely to penetrate.

  8. December 30, 2021Philistine said...

    I assume he meant the computer game Harpoon, which was the spiritual precursor to Command: Modern Operations back in the 90s.

  9. December 30, 2021bean said...

    Ah. I am not old enough to have played it in it's heyday, so it didn't make the list.

  10. December 30, 2021Rabidchaos said...

    Another that should be mentioned is War Thunder. Same genre as World of Warships, but going for a bit less arcadey feel. Looks very, very pretty if you have the hardware to run it, but, as a multiplayer game with randomly assigned teams, not a great place to look for naval tactics.

  11. December 31, 2021Anonymous said...

    How could anyone think the F-35 should not have an anti-shipping missile? The US Navy is buying it as are some countries whose invasion resistance depends primarily on sinking ships, some of which you might not want to get that close to even with a semi-stealth plane.

  12. December 31, 2021bean said...

    It's not that there has been a conscious decision to forgo an ASM. Stores integration takes time and money. I'd guess $20-30 million and 2+ years. They haven't gotten around to it yet. (Yes, this is the reason behind the criticism of the F-35 as being underarmed.)

  13. December 31, 2021Alexander said...

    Is Joint Strike Missile an option already? Though not for the B varient I suppose.

  14. December 31, 2021Philistine said...


    The F-35 will have an anti-ship missile, it's just not likely to be Harpoon. In fact both JSM and LRASM either are being or are scheduled to be integrated onto the platform.

    In the near term, presumably it is considered that existing PGMs are capable of doing the job against the expected threats, whether or not they're specifically on the books as "anti-ship weapons."

  15. December 31, 2021Lambert said...

    Whilst KSP isn't a naval combat game, not everybody got that memo.

  16. December 31, 2021echo said...

    Apparently the RTW2 team's solution to the DRM issue was going DRM-free, so props to them.

  17. December 31, 2021bean said...

    I checked CMO's database, and it doesn't list either JSM or LRASM in any of the versions they have. There's a bunch of weapons coming in 2025, including JASSM, but no anti-ship missile. Of course, it's listing JSOW as the only standoff weapon available right now, which seems weird, as the USAF stopped using them about 15 years ago, and the Navy is definitely the trailing service on the F-35. Maybe it's at the behest of a foreign customer. But it also says that the Navy's birds have HAWC today, which doesn't seem right given that it seems to have made its first flight in September, and that it's a test vehicle. A lot of work is going on in the hypersonic sphere, but it's not quite here yet.

    As for RTW2 getting rid of DRM, good for them, and I will edit the OP forthwith.

  18. January 01, 2022John Schilling said...

    @Philistine: Attacking modern warships combines a series of requirements that you're not likely to get in a general-purpose PGM. You need to attack a moving target, in adverse weather, with very substantial standoff range, against dedicated missile defenses, and deliver a substantial unitary warhead.

    Baseline JASSM's guidance is I think marginal against maneuvering warships, especially in adverse weather, and it needed a new seeker to become LRASM. JSOW-C has the same issue, and a suboptimal warhead for the job, and as bean notes is going away. JDAM doesn't do moving targets, and Paveway requires clear-ish weather for the laser as well as coming dangerously close to a modern SAM battery.

  19. January 01, 2022DampOctopus said...

    As Philistine said, the F-35 is being integrated with both JSM and LRASM. JSM can be carried internally (two missiles) and externally (another four, perhaps, at the usual cost in range and stealth). As of Apr 2021, integration work had reached the point of in-flight release tests from internal carriage. LRASM integration as of Jan 2021 was producing nice concept art; internal carriage is impossible, but they're apparently planning on up to four missiles externally.

    My understanding is that JSM can fit internally only in the F-35A and C variants, which is implied e.g. here. The B variant should still be able to carry JSM externally. For an internally-carried anti-ship missile, the UK (as an F-35B operator) is apparently planning on using larger numbers of the smaller SPEAR-3 missile, which we've discussed previously here.

    Note that F-35 operators are, at least for now, operating them in parallel with older aircraft, which can provide (with e.g. Harpoon) an anti-ship capability for those countries that need it. That should cover them until they're able to equip their F-35s with JSM or LRASM (or, in the case of the US and Australia, both). The exception to this is the UK, which is currently operating two carriers with an air group that lacks a stand-off anti-ship capability, while they wait for SPEAR-3 to be developed.

  20. January 01, 2022bean said...


    Baseline JASSM’s guidance is I think marginal against maneuvering warships, especially in adverse weather, and it needed a new seeker to become LRASM.

    AFAIK, JASSM has no capability against maneuvering warships, or any moving target. There's an IR seeker, but it's for really fine precision, AIUI.

    JSOW-C has the same issue, and a suboptimal warhead for the job, and as bean notes is going away.

    JSOW-C has a BROACH (unitary) warhead. The C-1 model does have a datalink, which they've used for attacking ships in tests. JASSM doesn't have that capability now, AIUI.

    JDAM doesn’t do moving targets, and Paveway requires clear-ish weather for the laser as well as coming dangerously close to a modern SAM battery.

    There is a tiny bit of moving-target capability in JDAM, and quite a lot in Laser JDAM, but those both have the same issue as Paveway.


    Concept art doesn't mean that they're actually funding anything, and I haven't heard of any reports that the F-35 has funding for LRASM integration. If they're doing stores separation tests with JSM, that's going to be the winner, no question. (I think that's further than JASSM has gotten, and it implies they're a lot further along on the software side than they would be if they started LRASM work.) Note also that the F-35 doesn't really have a big advantage over the Super Bug for LRASM employment, and both the USN and RAAF already have LRASM platforms. The reason for the concept art is that Lockheed wants pictures of their missile on their fighter, not Boeing's.

  21. January 02, 2022Lambert said...

    What does mounting LRASM on the outside of an F-35B do to the radar cross-section?

  22. January 02, 2022DampOctopus said...

    Mounting any sort of external stores, even if the stores and the aircraft are nominally stealthy, will substantially increase the radar cross-section. The geometry of the store, pylon and wing provides lots of nice corner reflectors to generate a radar return.

  23. January 02, 2022Philistine said...


    Per LockMart's Web site, "LRASM brings additional, advanced long-range sea and land strike capabilities to the 5th Generation F-35 fleet, with initial fit checks completed and ongoing integration efforts." Of course this is equivalent to a sales brochure and cannot be taken at face value. But at worst, it seems LockMart is still in there pitching the missile.


    As DamnOctopus said, external stores carriage is kind of unavoidably awful for RCS. The weapon does claim a 500 nm standoff range, though, FWIW.

  24. January 02, 2022Philistine said...

    Well, that's got to be one of the worst typos I've ever actually clicked "SEND" on.

    Of course I meant DAMPOctopus, not DamnOctopus.

  25. January 02, 2022bean said...

    Even taking it at face value, there's not a whole lot there. A fit check is exactly what it sounds like. "We took the missile, or something that looks like it, and hung it on the airplane to make sure that the tail didn't hit the wing." It usually happens before they get any money, although in this case I wouldn't be surprised if they're counting the JASSM fit check for LRASM. (Which is fair enough.) As for "ongoing integration efforts", I'd guess that's someone from LockMart occasionally badgering NAVAIR (or maybe ACC, if they're feeling masochistic) to give them money to do the integration.

  26. January 11, 2022Blackshoe said...

    Shoutout here to Jane's Fleet Command, which, like Harpoon, I expect is too old for bean, but was awesome.

  27. January 11, 2022bean said...

    I actually have a copy (Steam sale a while back), but didn't get around to playing it before I wrote this post.

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