The reboot of the IL-2 series had a bumpy start. The restart of the series has come built-in with fewer players than at the height of IL-2. Will the jump to the Pacific in 2018 change the fortunes of the series bringing old and new players into the fold?
How we got from there to here
When the original IL-2 series wrapped up on primary development the future appeared bright. The series was growing in player numbers and recent releases had added new content that had drawn new players in. Pacific Fighters was in some ways an unfinished product that was missing key flyable aircraft but that didn’t seem to matter as multiplayer servers were full, new missions and campaigns were released by the community all the time, and a slow trickle of additional content satisfied players looking for just a little more.
Subsequent updates released to the Russian market were later added to the international version of the game with an all encompassing final release: IL-2: 1946. That final release brought with it some fun what-if aircraft, more useful historical types (like the Pe-2, Ar234 and IL-10) and some more new content. It would eventually evolve with different mod groups taking on further development including an officially sanctioned one in the form of Team Daidalos.
Meanwhile, Maddox Games (the makers of the original IL-2) was busy working on a sequel. The new simulator was promising to do everything of the original but with more of everything. More details, high detailed graphics, more physics, realism, and the like. That product was originally called Storm of War but it would eventually be named IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover to help draw on the success of the original.
Much has been said about what happened in development but the outcome was that Cliffs of Dover at release was not far enough along to be of true release quality. The damage that did to the flight sim community is arguably still being felt and recovered from now.
Low frame rates, stutters, and other maladies on even the most powerful systems caused major issues for the playability of the title. Many players avoided the new simulator in large numbers sticking with IL-2: 1946.
Those that did endure with Cliffs of Dover endured some rough months as the product was slowly improved. A third party group calling themselves Team Fusion ultimately stepped up and did an outstanding job making Cliffs of Dover functional and even enjoyable with performance boosts and updated content.
Enter the new IL-2…and many others
The second generation IL-2, lead by a new development team that was responsible for the successful Rise of Flight, came into the series with a new vision and a mature simulation engine. 1C Games Studios together with North American based 777 Studios looked to recreate the success of the original series with a new and more sophisticated game engine. Enter: IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad.
Unfortunately, the flight sim community was skeptical of this new IL-2 series after what had happened with Cliffs of Dover. With IL-2: 1946 still active and being sold for less than $10 on Steam, it was a tough sell to get flight simmers into the new product.
Around this time, former members of the Maddox Game team attempted a kickstarter to bring World War II to DCS. That process was only partially successful and Eagle Dynamics stepped in to try and make the World War II additions a reality.
The new IL-2 is currently in a situation where it is still trying to shake off the past calamity of Cliffs of Dover, a still active IL-2: 1946 community, and a group of players who jumped to DCS World War II. There are still players playing Cliffs of Dover and Team Fusion has now formally taken the reins of development in partnership with IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad developers 1CGS.
It would be a mistake to think that players aren’t capable or interested in being a part of multiple simulator communities but it would also be foolish to think that everything that has happened, particularly at the launch of Cliffs of Dover has not turned at least some players away or made them hesitate to try new products. Some are not sure which product to buy into.
We also shouldn’t discount that War Thunder siphoned at least some of the more causal players away from the more hardcore options in IL-2 and DCS.
War Thunder has an aircraft list of incredible breadth and depth combined with some very impressive visuals. Some elements of War Thunder are compelling enough to slightly more casual sim pilots and the price is right with free access and pay for extras. Getting into it doesn’t really have an upfront cost except for time spent grinding research points and upgrades.
War Thunder hasn’t been a negative feature either – some players start with War Thunder and come to the IL-2 series seeking a more detailed experience.
Some difficulties between the community and 1CGS at the launch of Battle of Stalingrad also caused issues with more players.
The aircraft, skin and equipment unlock system was announced late in the development cycle and it turned off many veteran sim pilots. Making the unlock system tied to the single player campaign turned off further multiplayer only players. Relations between the community and the developers soured and things were looking a little bleak at times. Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story.
Much that turned off new players to the new IL-2 has been rectified: Unlocks are gone, the single player campaign is now wholly optional (and is being replaced by a more career driven system from Rise of Flight), new much requested features are being added and revised and developer relations have improved dramatically.
A more positive mood
Since the announcement in September, the mood of the community has shifted. Players have come back after months and years away from the series. New players appear to be joining in and new Collector Planes and features being added has increased the enjoyment.
Anecdotally, there is a swing towards more positive thinking and it appears that the addition of more variety in Kuban and the move to the Pacific is helping fuel that. But it’s not only that.
Relations with the development team have become more positive, common critiques and criticisms of the series have been slowly begun to be addressed, and a recent batch of sales have made the series more affordable to jump in to. Multiplayer access has been opened up by allowing pilots flying either Battle of Moscow or Battle of Stalingrad to access maps that they don’t otherwise have access to.
Perhaps most indicative of the positivity is the influx of new and returning names to the official forums and the multiplayer servers which, at one time, were relatively empty and are now beginning to fill up during both North American prime time and European prime time (not discounting some of our pilots who hail from parts of Asia).
Eastern front apathy?
Though many players find almost any theater of World War II interesting for a flight simulator product, there are others who aren’t as enamored. Some players are only interested if their country is represented and others are only interested in specific time periods or even down to the specific aircraft. There are a wide range of people out there to say the least.
The Eastern front was a novelty for the original IL-2 series and its aircraft and battles were vastly less well known by Western audiences. That has changed as the original series improved the awareness of the history of the air war on the Eastern front on the whole – myself included.
The new IL-2’s return to the Eastern Front made a lot of sense for the Russian development team. It was a scenario they knew well and the historical documents and resources were readily available. Not to mention that the titular aircraft, the prolific IL-2 Sturmovik, was an Eastern Front based aircraft.
With Battle of Stalingrad and Battle of Moscow both focused on well known Eastern battles – some players were calling for the series to go elsewhere.
Back in September, Jason Williams made the announcement that IL-2: Battle of Kuban, an Eastern Front scenario would be the next installment, but that the technology developed for it would carry through to development on the Battle of Midway. This got the community’s attention in a big way and the comments and feeling appears to be one that favours a move. At least in the English speaking forum…
Will the Pacific sell the series again?
And now for the big question: Will the Battle of Midway jump-start renewed interest in the series from flight sim fans that haven’t jumped on-board yet? It’s certainly something that the team at 1CGS are trying to do and in some ways this is a repeat of a strategy that worked before.
Pacific Fighters brought many new players into the IL-2 community after successful but somewhat smaller releases of IL-2: Forgotten Battles and the follow up Ace Expansion pack.
Once new players got started with Pacific Fighters they decided that they wanted more. Fortunately, more was already available.
Pacific Fighters could be merged with IL-2: Forgotten Battles combining East Front and Pacific content (with some Western Front material mixed in too) together in one product. That is what many players started to do. They started with Pacific Fighters and bought the back catalog, merging their games and playing in massed battles online and off.
The new generation of IL-2 more seamlessly integrates content so that makes it easier to bring new players in. The only downside is the amount of content they will have to buy. Stalingrad, Moscow, and Kuban together represent a fairly substantial sum – though sales such as the 40% off that was offered for Battle of Moscow recently is one way to help take the sting out of that added cost.
The Battle of Midway also has name recognition in the United States that Stalingrad, Moscow and Kuban do not. The name alone will probably go a long way towards capturing some interest and its possible that all of those pilots who got interested for Pacific Fighters will jump on-board once again.
Even now, with multiplayer numbers diminished, you can regularly find players playing Midway/Coral Sea scenarios with IL-2: 1946. The interest in this time period and those aircraft remain very much in the psyche of flight sim pilots.
Time will tell if the Pacific scenarios help to sell more people on the new generation of IL-2. I for one hope that it does. Battle of Stalingrad and Battle of Moscow are phenomenal products that have been continually improved – Battle of Kuban looks to be adding so much more to the series and upgrading and replacing things that did not previously work. New IL-2 is stronger than it has ever been before and it doesn’t matter if you only own a piece of it as the progress to one has helped the whole series across the board.