While some may feel that the game buries them in minutiae, it actually does a fairly elegant job of re-creating many of the strategic nuances of the war that other games either fail to cover or model in too much detail. The English Channel, for example, is modeled as a "narrow" in the game so that ground artillery and air units stationed on either side can automatically bombard anything that tries to pass through. Many ocean regions are much larger in reality than would fit neatly on the map, so they are marked with double lines to show that they cost twice as many movement points to traverse than other regions do. If the Germans take Paris, most remaining French regions immediately switch to German control under the Vichy government, and a little video clip even pops up to mark the occasion. There are many simple and intuitive additions like this that add a lot to the historical flavor of the game without being needlessly complicated.
Playing with others offers the best challenge, but the AI is no slouch. It exploited practically every opening we gave it and always kept us on our toes. There are several difficulty levels to choose from, but they simply give or take away transportation and combat advantages. That's good, because you know the AI will always fight smartly on the lowest level of difficulty, just not as effectively as it does on the harder levels.
World at War looks terrific by wargame standards, but it suffers from a cluttered interface and a low fixed resolution of 1024x768. Battles look cheesy, with a bunch of units that aren't to scale trading shots on generic backgrounds, but this is the type of game where you turn off the battle animations after a few fights so you can quickly see the outcome and get back to strategizing. The in-game music is decent but repetitive (and can be turned off), and the sound effects do their job of alerting you to what's going on in the game.
Battles are abstracted and aren't that interesting to watch.
Those looking for a simple strategic-level World War II game should pass on this one, as there is far more to the game than simply slugging it out to change ownership of the various regions. You have to keep track of the supplies required to maintain an offensive and be very selective about the types of research that will be most beneficial to your overall strategy. You have to know your units (and the enemy's) well enough to tell at a glance whether an attack can be successful, and when preparing for an offensive you must know exactly how many units you can commit from other areas without destabilizing the regions they were in or opening yourself up to attack. Above all, especially when playing as the Germans, you must be ever-mindful of politically frozen regions and powers entering the war and maintain the means to deal with them. Newcomers to this genre will simply be overwhelmed by the amount of data this game throws at them, while students of the conflict will revel in the detail. World at War isn't for everyone, but if you're willing to come to grips with the interface and come in armed with some knowledge (or the will to learn), it provides a very rewarding way to relive WWII from the perspective of its top leaders.