Review: ‘Fortress on the Volga’ Scripted Campaign for IL-2

Scripted Campaigns still feel like a novelty to me despite the feature now being a couple of years old for the IL-2: Great Battles Series. A variety of premium and free campaigns are now available from the IL-2 website store and through the community forums and that diversity lets several different styles of campaign exist. Fortress on the Volga is very much in keeping with a familiar style, pace, and design ethos that we’ve seen from past campaigns by 1C Game Studio’s very own “Black Six” (Read my Community Q&A with Black Six). How does Fortress on the Volga distinguish itself and is it worth the $9.99 regular price?

Disclaimer

Before I go any further, I feel like a disclaimer is required. I played a small role promoting this campaign as I was contracted (and it was my great pleasure) to put together a promotional trailer for the campaign by 1C Game Studios. You can view the trailer here:

The second part of my disclaimer is that I want then to assure everyone that despite my involvement in the above promotion, the opinions expressed in this review are absolutely my own.

A follow up to Ten Days of Autumn

Fortress on the Volga is a sequel to Ten Days of Autumn with the same pilot providing the mission-to-mission narrative. It is fun to catch up with the same pilot several months later fighting in a different battle in the war. That said, there’s absolutely no necessity to play Ten Days of Autumn prior to flying this campaign but the bridge between the two does certainly add to the backstory.

The campaign puts you in the shoes of a pilot in I./JG 52 from September 24th to October 10th, 1942 in the skies over Stalingrad. The primary aircraft of the campaign is the Bf109G-2 and you’ll be taking it up into the skies in a series of 15-missions. Estimated average playtime is about 6-hours although I feel like it took me a little while longer on account of a few moments of bad luck or poor piloting which required the odd mission to be re-flown.

As is the case with all of Black Six’s previous missions, each mission briefing reads like a diary by a pilot in I./JG 52 providing a backstory for the missions to come and adding bits and pieces from squadron life. I like reading through these, but I know some of you just want to jump to the action. Fortunately, there’s plenty of that to be had.

You must own IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad to play this campaign.

Furious fight for air superiority

Although past efforts by Black Six to make the air war feel bigger than just you and your flight have always impressed me, whatever he’s done in this iteration I feel is better than anything I’ve seen before – possibly in any campaign I’ve played for IL-2: Great Battles.

There is a very careful and deliberate balance in each of the missions to provide lots of other aircraft flying their own missions without the whole thing bogging down with poor performance. Although I did notice my system working a bit harder than usual, this campaign seems to run very smoothly.

The effect of all of this work is that you never feel alone and you never feel like its just your flight against the enemy. Instead, it feels like there’s a whole war going on here both in the air and on the ground. There are pockets of intense fighting at hot-spots all across the map and both friendly and enemy aircraft are all out on their own missions – most of the time they have the potential to cross paths with you but other times you may see them only distantly. This is a really nice touch!

A good amount of variety

There’s a limit on just how diverse you can be with a single aircraft type like the Bf109. That’s especially true when the campaign is seeking to represent historical operations and events. Mission tasking for fighter squadrons doesn’t revolve around novelty for the pilots flying those missions. Still, the missions in Fortress on the Volga have plenty of variety anyways.

Some missions will appear to look very similar on the mission map but read the mission description and fly the mission and each one will take on a distinct flavour. It helps too that the mission time of day changes and the weather has some variety too. The weather starts out with a lot of clear blue skies but that changes as the campaign pushes on into October with heavier clouds dominating the skies by the end of the campaign.

My favourite missions of the campaign are, for the most part, grouped at the end of the campaign although there are certainly some good ones in the beginning and middle. Early on you’re tasked with a mission to escort some Hs129s on a strike near Stalingrad and the dogfights over the city were reasonably intense and certainly cinematic.

Challenging missions

Later in the campaign I confronted a very challenging ‘three versus two’ scenario with some very capable AI pilots getting the drop on me. Though not always the case, Fortress on the Volga feels like it ramps up the difficulty just a little bit. Not the hardest campaign or missions I’ve flown, these are still a bit more of a challenge than Ten Days of Autumn and that’s not a bad thing. You will get to know the Bf109G-2 extremely well if you’re not already an expert with this fighter.

The AI holds up about as well as it can here and there are no instances that I spotted where an aircraft went off doing something it wasn’t supposed to. Careful mission design no doubt helps and the campaign certainly puts them in the best light possible.

Most missions tend to be on the shorter side. Black Six’s mission design gets you up and flying in each mission quickly and I appreciate that. I know some of you want to taxi to the runway and go through all of the steps but sometimes I want to jump a little more quickly to the action and I like that here. If something does go awry you can start up again quickly thanks to those shorter mission times. Several longer missions are also included in the campaign which helps add to the variety.

One thing missing from the toolkit this time around are any missions where the goal of the mission changes dramatically. I’d love to sometimes see a pre-planned mission go completely upside-down requiring a course deviation or a big change in plan. That kind of unpredictability only works on the first play-through, but it would be a nice thing to see here to keep me on my toes.

Conclusion: This is a careful evolution

Fortress on the Volga is a careful evolution by Black Six and the folks at 1C Game Studios as they slowly add more Scripted Campaigns to the IL-2: Great Battles Series’ store.

Compared to previous efforts, Fortress on the Volga is just a little bigger in scope and a little more tightly polished than any that have come before. At the same time, the campaign plays it safe with a consistent format that ranges from the pilot’s diary inspired briefings to the missions themselves.

If you’ve played Ten Days of Autumn before, this campaign is going to feel similar and there are certainly few risks being taken here. I didn’t think it was broken before and I don’t think it is here either. It’s a big and fun campaign with lots of quick action mixed in with the odd longer duration mission and plenty of challenging scenarios that never feel completely overwhelming. At all times the campaign is doing its best to give you something a little different to do with small twists to the challenges that it does present.

If you’re interested in having the best possible single player experience in IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad then Fortress on the Volga is it.

Fortress on the Volga is the best campaign that Black Six has done for the IL-2: Great Battles Series yet and I look forward to his future work. Perhaps our Bf109 pilot will return sometime in the skies over Germany flying a Bf109G-14 or K-4 in IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte? Time will tell!

Screenshots

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