I have been playing this sim since about five months ago via early access so what I will say here is really only based on that experience and not with the final product, if it is possible to edit/update my review once the final release occurs in September, I will be sure to do so.
1.) first impressions.
The menu/UI is slick and easy to work with, not a lot of fussing about is required to do anything at all and it is quick to get from your desktop to the cockpit. The overall menu presentation is pretty nice as well with the hanger containing your aircraft (the last one you flew with), this is not unlike 777's previous sim Rise of flight with it's museum backdrop with your aircraft in it.
Setting up controls was pretty straightforward and will be easy for anyone with any exprience in simulations previously or even War thunder, in fact, it shares some interesting ideas in terms of control binding with War thunder (in a good way).
Setting up the visual options is pretty basic with presets, I am not sure if this is going to be a permanent thing and sadly I suspect this will be something that really gets hit hard from those that are arbitrarily judging games based on the video options (due to some influence from certain youtube personalities).
2.) The visuals.
Visually this sim is stunning, the snowy backdrop may not be the most colorful or feature rich but it looks very impressive, easily giving you a sense of immersion, you will almost feel like you need a hot cup of coffee after flying your first sortie, it really does give the impression of winter very well.
The terrain itself is very highly detailed despite it's rather sparse nature, the snow is not just a flat texture but instead gives the impression of varying depths and snowbacks.
The Sky is very nice, the lighting helps sell the winter setting with a bright, cool sunlight that you would expect from that season, the cloud effects are probably the best I have ever seen in a sim with amazing effects as you fly through them, it really gives the whole thing a dramatic feeling when you set the flight time to early dawn or dusk as the colors get very beautiful.
The aircraft models are fantastic, they are detailed and well animated with rather impressive texture work, including a really nice reflection effect off the metal (this highlights very well that some aircraft were not entirely metal but instead had some fabric or wood parts). Additionally, the damage effects are great, the billowing smoke when you cause a fire is the most convincing I have seen in a sim and the fire effects are second to none at this point.
Like Rise of flight before it, IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad is a survey sim first and foremost, it is not trying to be DCS WWII or anything like that, nor is it trying to be very arcade like War thunder or Birds of prey, it's realism is found in it's flight models, weapon strength and damage models but like Rise of flight, you don't have a clickable cockpit or anything like that.
One thing to note very clearly however, you still need to manage your engine and it's cooling systems, these controls are not handled with your mouse in the cockpit but instead you bind these controls to your flight stick/throttle so you can easily access and manage them in combat. Additionally, the methods you use to manage your engine/cooling are realistic, you need to understand your aircraft's limits before you hop in the cockpit or else you will be blowing engines all over the place due to neglect.
The combat is the real star of the show (as it should be in a WWII air combat sim), the action feels fast, brutal and visceral, this is punctuated by the brutally effective weapons at your disposal, you will be knocking down aircraft pretty quickly due to the way these planes were armed (usually with a cannon through the nose cone and two machine guns on top of the nose), it will only take a few bursts to utterly trash a opponents aircraft.
One final note on gameplay, the feeling of flight (as I mentioned before) is something really special here, the sound, the control responses and the visuals all combine to really sell you the idea that you are flying in a aircraft, it just feels right in a way that is difficult to describe.
4.) The game modes.
This is a spot that will expand greatly as the game reaches completion, as it stands, you only have quick battle mode and some pretty limited online modes to choose from, this is understandable since these servers really only exist for testing and not for varied gameplay.
Once the mission editor is made available publicly (something that will happen despite what some have said on the forums), there will be a great deal more available for both single and multiplayer gamers.
The campaign mode is not yet implemented but it is probably coming soon to early access in some form or another, if it is like they describe, it will offer a good, historical experience that will span specific phases of the Battle of Stalingrad in a realistic way.
5.) Final thoughts.
I can understand the feelings that some may have when they visit the store-page and see the price and the "DLC" but it is important to note that in the flight simulation market, this price is indeed not only fair but very much business as usual, the seemingly high price comes from the fact that flight simulations are a extremely niche genre with a relatively small built in user-base, this is why IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad is not price the same as you might find from a more mainstream genre game, it is the only way that they can make enough money to justify the continued work on it.
As far as the "DLC" goes, it was made clear on the forums by the dev's some time ago that the extra planes were added as a fun extra for those willing to get the premium edition, they were not "removed" from the main game at all since they did not even serve in the Battle of Stalingrad anyway. More to the point, they are not "Pay to win" since they are not really the best aircraft anyway.
Those that are complaining about the extra planes should keep in mind that they were never really part of the main game anyway, they were simply a extra for the premium buyers, they are not objectively better, they are not "pay to win" they are just like any other premium edition of a game with extra content.
As a flight sim enthusiast first and foremost, I can happily say that this sim brings back a lot of the fun that one could find in IL-2 1946 while still offering a experience deep enough to keep DCS players intrigued.
If you like flight sims, if you like interesting multiplayer opportunities or even just the Eastern front air war in general, this is a great sim that will give you hours of fun.