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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

IL2 Battle of Stalingrad for WT/WOW Fans: the full review

(For, by and to War Thunder/World of Warplane fans)

BOOMchuggalugga! Here we come...
Based on: BOS pre-release beta version (October 2014, 90% complete)

In a few short weeks time WT players who visit any sort of gaming website or forum are likely to see an advertising blitz for ‘IL2 Sturmovik, Battle of Stalingrad’.

As a War Thunder/Ground Forces or World of WarPlanes/Tanks/Ships player, this title wants to win your time and money, so what is it?

I’ll tell you this, and I won’t tell you any more:

IL2 Sturmovik Battle of Stalingrad (BoS) in 10 words or less

It’s a PC flight game being released November 2014.

OK, I'll tell you more: BoS in 100 words or less

It’s set in WW2, 1942, in Russia, with planes from Germany flying against planes from Russia. You can buy a version with 8 planes for 50 bucks/Euros, or with ten planes for 90 bucks/Euros. You can play in either ‘normal’ or expert mode. Normal mode is like War Thunder Arcade mode, and Expert mode is like Realistic mode, just even more realistic.

The Stalingrad map is flat, white, and snowy, with flat, white snowy bits, and icy rivers. And snow. Great for framerates on older PCs, a bit boring after you have flown over it a few times.
I love War Thunder/World of Warplanes, so why would I buy this?

If you have a gaming PC, mouse and/or a joystick (for best experience you need a programmable joystick), you have 50+ bucks burning a hole in your pocket, and are looking for a more ‘realistic’ flight game than WT/WOW, this could be worth a look.

OK I read this far, give me a walkthrough

Right, you either download the standalone installer first, or buy it via Steam, and then there is a 3GB download. That installs and you get a start screen, in Russian. Don’t panic, you can change the language to English (only two language choices so far).

When you start the game you get this menu screen, which shows you whatever aircraft you last flew in, inside a hangar.

IL2 BoS menu screen, from the back.

OK OK, here is what she was looking at.
 Get airborne quickly without real people trying to kill you

You have several game options. The first is Quick Mission. Here you can choose one of three maps, two small and one the full Stalingrad area map. As a War Thunder player the first thing you will notice about these maps is this is Stalingrad, in winter. Expect flat landscape, snow, ice, and snow, and more ice. A few trees, scattered hovels, and a burned out (low-res) city. So far there is only one landscape, and this is it. But it isn’t as boring as it looks. Try landing on that snow, or even better, on the ice of the River Volga! See what happens ;)

This is the QMB interface. You can choose two flights on each side, of 4 planes each (or random numbers). The QMB lets you choose a few options, generates the mission (which you can fly from takeoff, or start in the air ready to go) and throws you into the action.

Choose your quick mission: 1-1, or up to 8 vs 8.
Choose your mods and options (but only if you have unlocked them in the campaign first)
Wait. Four planes? Like, a total of eight per side? Not much action to be had there, you might think. You might be right. More on this when we get to the single player campaign.

The good part is that all the planes you have bought, are available to you to fly – fighters, twin engined ground attack, bombers. No tech tree, no grinding, no ‘premium planes’ once you have paid for your download.

All of the planes have authentic flight models, very sophisticated flight models, that you can fly either on Normal (arcade) or Expert (Full Real) settings and full real really is full real. You will be much busier in the cockpit of a BoS plane than in Full Real in WT, because all controls are modelled, even down the last knob and switch.

Dumb it down, switch it up

A good thing about the interface is that you can start in Arcade (normal) mode, and then switch off a lot of the GUI interface stuff to make it more realistic for yourself: you can independently switch off map icons, plane indicators, aim helpers, target locators, in game messages about the condition of your plane (‘tailplane rods broken!’), or external views, and switch on things like complex engine management (startup sequence, radiator and temp management, prop pitch and RPM) when you are ready.

The QMB is a good way to get to know each of the aircraft without someone on your tail ruining your day while you are still trying to work out which way is up.

Now get airborne and kill some human pilots

This leads us to multiplayer. Here, the game is a very different to War Thunder. In War Thunder there is a whole support system behind your plane that you have to look after – keeping up with repairs, upgrades and crew skills keeps you almost as busy sometimes as the actual flying, or in the worst cases, keeps your favourite machine grounded. And of course there is the tech tree to climb up, or buy into, before you get the right plane at the level you like.

In BoS multiplayer you are free to fly any machine, out of the box. There is no maintenance, and if you get damaged or killed, you just restart and fly a fresh new machine again next time. Some WT players are going to LOVE that. I do! But others may miss that element of the game.

Unfortunately, there are really only limited online options right now – no free for all, or historic modes, and only one type of map (flat/snowy!). On the official servers, you can either take off from the ground in the thick of the action, or take off in the air, away from the action. I think it should be the other way around, to avoid vulching, but there you go. The action is all player vs player, so it feels like an endless LIVE/DIE/REPEAT of PVP encounters. I did have some success starting in a big bomber, the He111 Heinkel, and on chat I got a few fighters to accompany me as I tried to break through and wipe out the enemy base. We got to the base, I dropped my bombs (missed darnit), and got shot down by flak (flying too low) while my escorts were bored because no one came up to attack us, so they soon went down low to swat or be swatted.

Pick a side, pick a plane, mod it up. Start in the air, or on the ground for missions with full takeoff and landing. Basic PVP gameplay, but you play this game for the realism, not the variety. This is about dogfighting in REAL Full Real, if you are man enough.
On some of the unofficial servers there have been properly created coop missions, and historical missions with proper ground attack targets, escorts etc, but the best of these servers was recently shut down by the devs in a spat over some design decisions, so the full potential of multiplayer in BoS is yet to be seen.

Most servers at the moment however have only 20 or so players on each side and servers are currently limited to MAX 32 players each. If you like skies full of targets, you will be disappointed – in one mission on a server on the large map, there were only 20 players and I could not find them before the mission timer ran out!  You won't see much ground action either, just a gun emplacement or stationary vehicle here or there.

Now here comes the catch – there is a series of weapon/armour/bombload mods and ‘unlocks’ that you will want to use in multiplayer, including cool skins for your death ride. BUT to get them you have to play through the Single Player game first. They can’t be unlocked in multiplayer.
You can only use the weapons, mods, and skins online, that you have unlocked in single player mode.
Ara cod?! (As we say in my parts, or WTF as you probably say in yours). Yes, you heard right, to get the pimped up ride with the big cannon and armour plate in Multiplayer, you have to unlock it in Single Player. Now the bizarre part is that you do get awarded points in multiplayer for successful missions where you make a kill or two and land your machine. But those points do not count.

Thassok, I love Call of Duty style single player campaigns!

Bad luck, nothing like that here.

This is the part of the game that has provoked the most angst among people who bought into the beta access. Single player in BoS, when you come from the multiplayer world of WT, is MIND NUMBINGLY I’D-RATHER-KISS-MY-GRAN-ON-THE-MOUTH BORING.

For a full description see my earlier post, HERE

After playing about ten missions, I will tell you why it is so boring.

Ten reasons the BoS campaign sux

- It sux, but you are forced to play it to unlock weapons for multiplayer

- It is just the Quick Mission Builder with different lines drawn on the map in the briefings

- There isn’t enough action, most of the time you do not see any enemy planes on the way to, or from the target

- Even when you do see the enemy, there are not many of them, and the campaign does not even use all types, so you just see the same aircraft over and over

- It takes about 20 boring missions to unlock all the mods for a plane

- There are ten planes in all so

- That means 200 boring missions to unlock all the weapons for all the planes

- You also have to win XP to unlock the different airfields on each side, but

- All the airfields look the same

- There is no plot, just a series of chapters with random missions and few medals to win

So, you don’t like the campaign?

It’s desperate. Actually, I wouldn’t really care about it, except these game developers called 1C/777 appear to have learned their gameplay politics from Stalin: “We have a clever five year plan, we are going to make you play single player for five years before you are allowed to play multiplayer with mods, even if that is why you bought the game.”

Or is that really the whole story?

I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next man (who looks more like a woman in disguise dont yers think?). So here is my theory.

BoS went the premium box route in beta to scrape up a lot of quick cash, charging IL2 Sturmovik enthusiasts up to 90 bucks to play the beta. But that is not their audience, or why would they do this stupid system with single player unlocks for multiplayer use? Why would they make a game with so many War Thunder elements, which the IL2 Sturmovik fans think are unnecessary at best, unserious at worst.

Ask me, the answer to any question involving male behaviour is always binary: either MONEY or SEX.

Since I don’t think the devs are launching BoS to get laid more (though it might be a side benefit if they get rich) the answer therefore is MONEY. So how does this strange design decision make them more money?

Here's how. As soon as sales of the premium boxed version peak, they are going to release a free to play version (see post about that HERE) though they are currently making out they are not saying they 'currently have no plans for a free version' outside Russia. Guys, they are fibbing.

You’ll get a free to play version with two planes eventually, and the ability to win the others via XP.

But you, dear gamer, are going to say ‘Screw that campaign shite, I’ll just buy some IL2Roubles™ and trade my roubles for the Peshka with the 20 mm ShVAK cannons, seatback armour, and snow camouflage skin with skull and crossbones emblem.' And then, when you get bored of that, you are going to want a new machine, the bigger bombs that go BABOOM, and racing stripes on the wings, so you’ll buy those, and … starting to sound familiar? You’ll feel like you are back in WT before you know it, except these airplanes are hard core and much more of a challenge to fly Full Real.

OK should I buy it or what?

Not yet. If there is a free demo when it launches – try that.

If not, wait for the free to play version. It will come with two planes (the Lagg3 and Bf109F4) as in the Russian version. If it is like the other title from these guys, Rise of Flight, these might come with some of the weapon mods and skins unlocked, but mostly not, so you’ll have to earn the XP or buy them.

I can’t wait man! I am tired of WT high tier sim mode in my dented Typhoon. I am so far from unlocking the Spitfire IX it is crazy.

OK friend, you have two options.

Burn 50 bucks now, and SUCK GRANDMA’s FACE playing the BoS single player game to unlock the weapons you need to play multiplayer in your new death machines.

Spend 20 bucks (or 10 when it is on sale, which it frequently is) later buying and playing Cliffs of Dover, which is what I prefer to do. And HERE is why I recommend that.


  1. The devs sed on their official forum that there is no free version planned. Knowing them, this is as good as saying there IS. They done it for rise of flight, they will do it for Stalingrad. It's the whole reason for the XP system.

  2. "a free to play version"

    This "a free to play version" is due Loft language issues.

    When he say "Two free planes" he means two "unlocked" planes to start the Campaign, not two free (of payment) planes.

    For the Russian market only will be a exclusive DVD version for low cost ~12$ with these two "free planes" (LaGG and Bf 109 F) and by playing the Campaign the player unlock - free of payment - 6 other planes. The game Campaign is addressed to this new player.
    Info posted in il-2 Russian forum.

    The La5 and Bf 190 still available only in Premium version or for individual buy by 20$ each.