One of the most common questions I see out in the flight sim communities when it comes to IL-2: Great Battles is a simple one: Which one should I buy? In this 2020 update of my experiences with each title and why I would recommend each one with my final recommendations at the end of the article (if you want to jump there).
A quick overview of the entire great battles series
IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad started things off for the IL-2: Great Battles Series and the sim has steadily grown from that first title. Although it is the oldest in the pack, it hardly shows its age as the entire series is both integrated together and frequently updated by the IL-2 developers – 1C Game Studios to make sure that everything has the same overall quality.
No matter which title you buy, you’re going to have access to a minimum of 8 aircraft in each battle pack (two more are added if you buy the Premium for each version), a map, most have a Career mode which offers plenty of replayability, and multiplayer compatibility across the entire lineup.
Multiplayer is of particular note for the series because you can fly on any map in multiplayer, even if you don’t own that specific battle pack. The only thing that then stops you from playing in multiplayer is available aircraft. The server your on has to offer at least one aircraft that you can fly in order to take part. Even here, there’s an opportunity to play as you can jump into any multi-crew aircraft (a bomber or attack plane with a rear gunner) even if you don’t own it.
For a deeper understanding of the series and it’s features, check out my full review of IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte as it explains the current state of the entire series (not just the Bodenplatte release)
IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad
The sim that started the whole series off, IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad is the oldest in the series but it has seen constant upgrades with a whole new Career system, 4K textures for most of its aircraft (with more on the way), and the depiction of one of the most pivotal battles of WWII.
Battle of Stalingrad comes with a summer, autumn and winter version of the map featuring the destroyed and besieged Stalingrad at its focal point but with plenty of wide open territory, desolate steppe, and wind blown winter scenes. Stalingrad is a very atmospheric scenario.
The aircraft line-up represents a variety of the key eastern front fighters. The Bf109F-4, Bf109G-2, Ju87D-3, He111H-6 comprise the standard Axis line-up while the LaGG-3 Series 29, Yak-1 Series 69, IL-2 Model 1942, and Pe-2 Series 87 (with Series 110 upgrade available) are the standard on the Soviet side of the battle. The La-5 Series (Series 8) and Fw190A-3 are Collector Planes for the series which add to the variety of the aircraft set – they can also be purchased separately although you have to own at least one title in the series first.
Stalingrad’s varied aircraft set and its spot on Steam as the first game that you have to buy has made this battle very popular. It’s a great entry point to eastern front battles with aircraft types that can be used in earlier or later battles so it represents a good bang for the buck as well. A strong candidate for your first IL-2: Great Battles title.
IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte
From the first to the latest, IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte is the most recent title in the series to fully release and takes the series from the east to the west with a late war fall of 1944 through to spring of 1945 and the end of the war scenario.
Battle of Bodenplatte is chock-full of iconic west front aircraft including P-47D-28 Thunderbolt and P-51D Mustang to the Spitfire IXe and Tempest V for the Allied side. For the Axis it’s the Bf109G-14, Bf109K-4, Fw190A-8, and Me262 for the standard aircraft set. The P-38J-25 Lightning and Fw190D-9 comprise the Collector Planes in the Premium edition.
Focused on the tactical air war, Bodenplatte is centered around the New Years Day surprise attack by the Luftwaffe in it’s last major operation and attempt to cripple the Allied tactical force on the continent. The IL-2 series may centre itself around that but it doesn’t limit itself to that specific day and thus there are several months of the last air battles of WWII featured here with some of the highest performing aircraft around.
IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte’s multiplayer player numbers are particularly high right now.
The title does not feature any heavy bombers, a disappointment for a few, however, with its roots as a tactical air combat simulation, Battle of Bodenplatte is a lot of fun anyways. It does come with one AI only B-25D if you’re looking to chase after some bigger aircraft.
IL-2: Battle of Kuban
IL-2: Battle of Kuban represents the mid-war time period and the battles of 1943 in the southern regions of the eastern front and is another popular title in the series. The battle in the Caucasus centered on the Kuban-river featured fierce aerial combat and a huge variety of aircraft taking part.
IL-2: Battle of Kuban is regarded as having the most beautiful map in the series. From the ports and harbours along the Black Sea to the Caucasus mountains in the western parts of the map, Kuban is easily the most scenic region around. That helps make for some exciting and varied flying.
For the Allies, we have the P-39 Airacobra, Yak-7B Series 39, IL-2 Model 1943, and A-20B Boston. Axis forces introduce the Bf109G-4, Fw190A-5, Bf110G-2, and He111H-16. Collector Planes include the Hs129B-2 and the Spitfire VB. As you can see, this varied aircraft set includes lend-lease supplied American and British aircraft adding some familiar types to what may be an unfamiliar battle.
IL-2: Battle of Moscow
Developed immediately after IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad’s release, Battle of Moscow is a title that some overlook but one that I’ve enjoyed immensely. With earlier war aircraft, Battle of Moscow offers some unique variety to the eastern front and it features yet another pivotal battle that could have easily changed the course of the war.
The Axis side brings the Bf109E-7 and Bf109F-2 to the fighter side of things while the Bf110E-2 and Ju88A-4 add to the attack and bomber capabilities of the side. For the Allies the IL-2 Model 1941, Pe-2 Series 35 are the attack and bomber aircraft while the I-16 and MiG-3 provide the fighter force. For Collector Planes we have the P-40E-1 Warhawk and MC.202 to add some variety to the set.
For bomber pilots, the Ju88A-4 alone is worth a look with its high capacity payload, relatively high speed, and flexible dive and level bombing approach. On the Allied side, the MiG-3 and I-16 offer unique experiences that many enjoy while the Axis fighters offer classic versions of the Bf109 that are among my favourites to fly.
Two other titles in the series
IL-2: Great Battles is primarily focused on WWII air combat on both eastern and western fronts. The next title in the series, IL-2: Battle of Normandy, will only add to that variety. They are joined by two additions to the series that include Tank Crew – Clash at Prokhorovka which is a tank simulation from the famous Battle of Kursk during WWII while Flying Circus Vol 1 brings to life the canvas, fabric, and wood aircraft of World War I.
Flying Circus Vol 1
Flying Circus includes 10 aircraft – the S.E.5a, Sopwith Camel, Sopwith Dolphin, SPAD XII, and Bristol F.2B for the Entente and the Fokker Dr.I, Fokker D.VII, Albatross D.Va, Pfalz D.IIIa and Halberstadt CLII.
There’s also the Arras map which is smaller in scale than some IL-2 series maps but works just fine for the biplanes of the era and historically appropriate for the spring offensive of 1918 that matches the aircraft set.
Tank Crew – Clash at Prokhorovka
Jumping over to Tank Crew to round things out, we have the biggest departure of the series in terms of subject matter with 1CGS and their partners at Digital Forms doing a tank simulation integrated into the series. Combined arms with aircraft and tanks are part of the Tank Crew experience.
Tank Crew is not yet finished but is available for early access with a wide variety of famous tanks including the Tiger, Panther, Sherman, and T-34.
IL-2 has a series of aircraft available known as ‘Collector Planes’ and someone new to the series might have some difficulty deciphering how this works. All of the premium titles include two Collector Planes each which typically add to the variety of the series. There are, however, some aircraft that are not part of any of the Premium offerings and are sold completely separately.
There’s the Yak-1B Series 127, the Ju52/3m, the U-2VS, the La-5FN Series 2 and the Bf109G-6 all available at present.
There are also three new standalone Collector Planes in development right now. The Hurricane Mark II (with a, b, c, d and field modifications), the Yak-9 and the Yak-9T. These will be available later in 2020.
Steam vs from the developers
Another question asked by people coming into the series surrounds the question of “should I buy from the developers directly or use Steam?” There are a couple of answers to that question.
If you buy directly from the developers you give them essentially the full amount that your paying. For a small scale developer like 1CGS, those few extra dollars all matter so I elected to buy directly and use the IL-2 launcher to update. For me this hasn’t been a problem, however, in some countries and using some internet service providers, Steam may be the better option.
Steam offers greater flexibility for payment options and Steam also maintains a larger network of servers that can do the patch downloads. This can be beneficial to many who may have concerns with that.
There is a third way. A lot of players will buy IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad (a required first purchase with Steam) and then do the rest of their purchases from the 1CGS website. This gives you the best of both worlds. Your IL-2 website account has information on how to walk through the linking of your Steam with your IL-2 account which should help make this work.
What do I recommend?
This guide is meant to help give you an overview of the IL-2 series and steer you in the the direction that you want to go in getting into this series. I’ve been a long time fan of the IL-2 series and I’m pleased to see it grow and expand. It can be a lot of fun and offer a lot of flight sim enjoyment.
As for my personal recommendation, I think the best thing to do is have a solid look at each battle in the series and decide based on the aircraft that you want to fly as my first suggestion. Having a personal connection with the aircraft you’re flying can help you get into the series.
My second recommendation is counter to the first – don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new. If you’ve never flown an aircraft on the eastern front before, if you’ve never even hard of Yakolev, Ilyushin or Lavochkin, this is a great opportunity to jump into something new and maybe discover that the novelty is just as fun.
A lot of experienced pilots still recommend IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad as a good starting point. It’s combination of aircraft and the ability to use many of them in both earlier and later battles along the eastern front along with it being the first of the series make it one of the most popular choices. It’s certainly worth bearing in mind.
Whatever you pick, I hope you have a lot of fun with jumping into the series because at the end of the day, the whole point is to have some fun.