While reading full-length reviews of various naval warfare games might eventually lead you in the direction of a title that is truly worth your time, nothing is more helpful than a list of the best games in the genre you're fond of, assembled in rank order from best downwards. The ranking order of the naval warfare games you'll find below are based largely on the merit of each title with a little bit of personal preference swaying the decision, rather than having any sort of popular opinion shape the ranking in any way. Also, a note to die-hard Total War fans: you should be sitting down whilst reading this - there's a Total War game in the list, but it's not at number one!
1. Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations WOTY
You don't have to go too far back into the past to discover the best naval warfare game in existence: Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations WO tops this list by quite a margin with its incredible offering of ultra-realistic naval warfare simulation on a scale that few other games even come close to. Players of the now-discontinued Harpoon series will be in familiar territory here, though Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations is best described as a much meatier, more functional, and altogether more epic experience in comparison. Better yet, it has a mission editor.
This game isn't for everyone however, owed to its substantially detailed nature. This is a tactical warfare game of the highest order, progressing in continuous time whose compression rate can be adjusted. The gameplay itself involves managing a series of units representing hardware such as satellites, aircraft, and ships, and much of the challenge of the game is making these units work cohesively. So if you want a game that goes into every painstaking detail - it factors in weather, visibility, nuclear weapon threats, and electronic warfare to name just a few - then there is no better than Command: it is simply the best portrayal of naval warfare in existence today.
2. Napolean Total War
This incredible real-time strategy game barely needs an introduction, such is the Total War series' dominance in the war-based RTS genre. Napoleon: Total War has you embarking on some seriously epic campaigns that follow quite loyally those of Napoleon's. These campaigns reflect Napoleon's Russian and European campaigns, and as far as single-player campaigns go they rarely set a foot wrong. The problem is that because you're following a historical blueprint with these campaigns, they are much more linear in nature than you'll find in other Total War games such as Empire: Total War where you are able to put your own distinctive flavour and expansion strategy to a variety of different empires that have existed throughout history.
Existing players of the series will relish the new unit types, which reach easily into the low 300s in their quantity, as well as the game's Grand Coalition campaign, which broadens the gameplay a little by allowing you to choose between four allied nations. The graphics are better this time around as well, and the 64-model-per-regiment max really makes the action feel incredible dynamic. It isn't the best Total War, but it comes in at a comfortable second here in the naval warfare field.
3. Battle Fleet 2: World War 2 in the Pacific
It has to be said that it is sometimes acceptable for games to sacrifice realism and attention to the niggly details in order to make a title more accessible to a wider audience on multiple platforms, and this is exactly what Battlefleet 2 manages to pull off. This is a cross-platform naval warfare game that requires a fair amount of strategic thinking and either a Mac, Ipad, PC, or Android device.
Battle Fleet 2's gameplay sees you commanding entire fleets of naval vessels in the Pacific theatre during World War II. The gameplay consists of turn-based combat in which you get the opportunity to utilise a variety of Japanese and American ships, each with their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their differing weapons systems. The balance of power that must be found in this game is both literal and figurative since you're attempting to shift the battle in your favour whilst physically allotting various quantities of power to each of the actions you initiate for your fleet.
The gameplay itself is fairly basic compared to actual naval simulations, but the advantage you have here over more detailed titles is that you can enjoy a swift game instead of having to spend consecutive hours tending to every single detail of your naval strategy. The cross-platform nature of this game as well as it's clean interface and enjoyable gameplay therefore land it the number three spot in this list.
4. Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific
Another game that portrays the "best bits" of naval warfare in during World War II is Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific. In contrast to its predecessors Silent Hunter II and III, IV has you playing as the Americans, engaging in stealthy and tactical naval combat with the Japanese. There's a real sense of history in this game, and it's also nice to be back on the "Allied" side of things after playing as the Germans in this title's predecessors.
Silent Hunter IV's gameplay is concerned solely with submarine warfare, asking you to glide around undetected under the surface and stalking your targets until an opportunity to climb and strike presents itself. You'll spend much of your time close to the surface getting a visual on your targets from afar, but the fun really begins when you acquire one: then you can get stealthy and fall to the depths to ambush your target.
The only significant drawback is that this game is quite similar to its predecessors, but there's enough new landscape, better graphics, new mission types, and new vessels to keep things very interesting for quite a while. Check out the official site as well: it's got a wonderful dynamic design.
5. Victory at Sea
The reason Victory at Sea sits at fifth in this list is because it's quite a simplistic representation of naval warfare. You won't find the depth of simulation here, not by a long way, and instead get quite a plain stretch of open water as your map, on which you must steer your ship whilst gunning down your enemy. This game is more like a third-person naval shooter than a simulation or tactical foray into the intricacies of naval warfare.
Some of the best bits of the game include testing out the different weapons on each of the ships as well as the instantaneous action that you can get stuck in to. The problem is that it can get a little repetitive as there's not enough depth to the gameplay to land it a higher position in this list, but it's still a great effort from Evil Twin Artworks.
There is no doubt that Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations deserves the top spot here. Its simulation of naval warfare is second to none, and miles ahead of even the fantastic Napoleon: Total War. Silent Hunter IV almost came in at number three, but there's only so many times you can repeat climbing and diving stealthily before it gets somewhat repetitive - don't underestimate it however, as it's like a top-quality stealth first-person shooter set in the middle of the ocean.
Unfortunately, Napoleon Total War didn't come in at the top spot because its campaigns, although epic and wonderfully detailed in nature and look, are altogether too linear compared to the greatness of other Total War titles. Battle Fleet 2 is deserving of third here as its turn-based action is simply more detailed and has more longevity than Silent Hunter IV. Victory At Sea's action is commendable and at first enjoyable, but altogether too simplistic to compete with the four titles above it.