Before we start, two other guides you may find useful: Before you buy FAQ - is this a game for me? Guide to career squadrons for steam players - best milaege from least DLCs
With so many DLCs there is lot of room for confusion as of which one to buy, whether you need them all or any at all. The way the planes are bundled is little confusing (like, why D.II in Bloody April pack if D.III would make more sense). So I took a look on each pack - as single product if possible - and try to tell you why would you want to buy or why don't you need it and what does it add to your game. I am not going to review each plane in particular - if you want to learn more about them, I suggests Benders excellent guide here.http://riseofflight.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=49&t=26651
If you don't want a long read, here are some flowchats showing succession of planes and DLCs in career: German Career Flow Chart v 1.01[riseofflight.com] British Career Flow Chart v 1.00[riseofflight.com] French Career Flow Chart v 1.00[riseofflight.com] American and Belgian Career Flow Chart v 1.00[riseofflight.com] British and German multicrew planes Career Flow Chart v 1.00[riseofflight.com]
My experience is mostly with single player career mode, but I've seen enough multiplayer to add comment from both points of view. Multiplayer is every plane for itself, anyway; you really want the plane, you buy the pack it's in. It's career planning where people need different planes in succession, and question which planes you need to run which careers for each nation that I'm after.
The seven plane packs offer extra planes and their non-standard modifications. The first two (Bloody April and Furious Wings) bring out the career span to full length (first for Britons, second for other Allies, both or just second for Germans). The other two (Birth of Warbirds and The Ultimate Best Fighter) flesh out the very beginning end very end of career, mostly for Germans, and bring utility two-seaters. The last three are mostly oddball stuff to be run alongside (or regardless) of "mainstream" career tracks - alternative fighters, fighting two-seaters, strategic bombers, seaplane and odd utility two seater. Ace Pack
The Ace pack includes extra instruments, gunsights and weapons for your starting planes and personal affects for your pilot. Depending on producer, your factory standard planes come fully equipped or have only tachometer (and maybe compass). Ace packs adds missing instruments, better gunsights and sometimes bullet counters or non-standard weapons. In single player and on some multiplayer servers you can turn on "simple gauges" which give you the same instruments in HUD form, you only need these instruments if you want full realism.
Without simple gauges, you need these instruments for both Nieuports, Albatros and Pfalz. Both F.okkers and S.E.5a benefit from them somewhat, while SPAD and Camel benefit mostly from extra gunsights that every plane receives. Depending on your plane preferences, you may want this DLC badly or skip it.
The personal packs are coloured scarfs and streamers to decorate and help identify your plane and pilot. The pistols are of marginal use against enemy planes, but great for headshooting griefers who jump into gunner positon of your plane without asking first. But the packs are mostly for fun, a streamer flapping in the wind brings more pleasure from flying.Furious Wings
(SPAD 7.C1, Albatros D.III, Halberstadt D.II, Nieuport 11.C1)
This is easily the most useful pack for flying fighters in maximal length Career mode, unless you fly only British squadrons when it is just helpful. It has all planes used by American, and Western Front French fighter squadrons and all but one Belgian fighters (which appears in onnly one squadron. For German pilots, Halberstadt and Albatros D.III are enough to start career in fall 1916 and play until the end of the war. More importantly, every German squadron in the game flies Albatros D.III exclusively at some moment (may 1917?) so you need this plane to "bridge the gap" between early planes and Albatros D.Va. Some British squadrons flew SPAD 7 as early as winter 1916/1917, so you can have long alternative British career using this one only.
Multiplayer players want this one to fly planes other than N.17 on early 1917 servers. In particular, servers that don't host Albartos D.Va usually host D.III. Bloody April
: (Albatros D.II, Sopwith Pup, Nieuport 17.C1 GBR, Sopwith Triplane)
Second in my ranking of most useful packs, it does to Britons what Furious Wings does for other nations. Three fighters in this pack close the gap between 1916 and Sopwith Camel / S.E.5 and at least Pup is flyable from fall 1916, so you can fly full-blown British careers by buying just this one. Albatros D.II is a powerful 1916 plane; most German players will want to fly it in career instead of / alongside Halberstadt D.II. The only long-running French squadron on Channel map uses British plane types before switching to SPAD 7, so you need both this and Furious Wings to play that unique unit.
In multiplayer, you need this one if you want to fly British planes on every server. You do; most servers are Brits vs Germans.Birth of Warbirds
(F.okker E.III, Airco D.H.2, R.E.8, Roland C.IIa):
The early planes and utility two seaters, another Brits vs Germans pack. If you play fighters, it's great addon to one or both DLCs above. The E.III an D.H.2 are very early German and British fighters, allowing you to start the career from the very beginning. They are not easy planes and are quickly replaced with planes from Bloody April / Furious Wings, but are very characterful and fun to play. You skip just few months if you run career without them, but I always keep one German career on E.III stage and spent more time on D.H.2 career than on all other British planes together.
It's also one of two pack with utility two-seaters - R.E.8 and Roland, British and German. If you want less action packed careers involving photo recon, artillery spotting or bombing missions, I suggest these two. You may use these two seaters to bypass the Bloody April / Wings of fury era planes - fly on D.H.2, transfer to R.E.8 squadron then switch to Camels or S.E.5 as they become available.
In multiplayer, E.III and D.H.2 are useful mostly against each other and to show how badass you are by flying them aganst later types. But with introduction of Roland, new British F.E.2 and Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter, we start seeing proper early war servers.
OTOH, Roland and R.E.8 are often required for multiplayer missions involving bombing or photo recon.Ultimately the best fighter
(Airco D.H.4, Breguet 14.B2 , F.kker D.VIIF, F.kker D.VIII) :
Late German fighters and two allied two-seaters. You can skip this one if you fly only fighters and don't fly as German. You can play full length German career without it, but you don't want to. D.VIIF is D.VII on steroids and does everything that basic variant does, only better; D.VIII is probably best vertical fighter in game (and surely my single favorite fighter in game) and great fun to fly. Breguet and D.H.4 are late-war two seaters; Breguet is the main multi-crew French (and American) plane we have.
In multiplayer, D.VIIF is the titular ultimate best fighter and reason enough to buy the pack. It won't outturn the Camel (or Dr.I) and it won't outfly the SPAD, but it can fight them all and it's very forgiving to pilots errors. The D.VIII, Breguet and D.H.4 are all great planes, D.H.4 seemm to be preferred by aggresive Entente players when available .Battle of Saint-Michell
(Halberstadt CL.II, Sopwith Dolphin, Pfalz D.IIIa, Bristol F2B)
Aaah, the oddballs fighters and combat two seaters. These planes don't add extra service months to basic pack or do "the same, only better"; they run in parallel, offering very different experience. You can easily live without them, or let them make you forget you had "mainstream" planes. Pfaltz is intriguing alternative to Albatros D.Va, not as noob-friendly but more capable in some respects. Once you are comfortable with Albatros, you may want to switch to this one. Ofter overlooked Dolphin is an jack of all trades like D.VIIF, quite unique for Allies whose fighters are often specialised. It's pleasant to fly but not forgiving to unexperienced pilots. Halberstadt is a two-seater ground attack plane, daddy of Ju-87 Stuka and IL-2, grandgranddaddy of A-10 and my single favorite plane in game, be it fighter or not. Cl.II career is full of low-altitude bombardment of front lines, truck convoys and occasional parked aeroplanes. Bristol is a green mean two-seated gunboat that can be used to bomb things like utility two-seaters and dogfight with single-seat fighters - often in the same mission.
In multiplayer, many people prefere Pfaltzes to Albatroses; Dolphin players are somewhat rare but those I see do well. Halberstadt often appears in realistic missions in support of utility two-seaters. On dogfight servers where people normally bring only fighters, Halberstadt and Bristol are seen over enemy airfields, braving ground fire and bombing fighter pilots from tree-top level.
EDIT: This pack includes also Battle for St. Michelle single player campaign; I must have overlooked it every single time i was looking at DLC. A good set of scenarios (from what little I played), on top of four interesting planes makes good DLC even better. Thanks to Ahab for pointing it out.Legendary bombers
(Gotha G.V, Handley Page 0-400, DFW C.V, Brandenburg W12)
Another oddball pack, full of big multi-crew planes, three of them German. The Gotha and Handley-Page are two-engine strategic bombers capable of flying over British channel to bomb stuff on other side. DFW is *the* German utility two-seater, with longer service span than Roland. Brandemburg is Bristol wannabe with floats - a two seater fighting machine that can't, in fact carry bombs.
Like previous pack, these planes are great alternatives in career and don't require any other pack - their squadrons fly the same type for the whole war, be it strategic bombing, sea patrols or general utility flights (ok, some DFW squdrons start on Rolands) . In multiplayer, DFW is the default German two-seater; other three fall into "to fun not to have, to niche to miss if you don't" category.Intrepid Flyers (F.E.2.b, Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter / Strutter B, Hanriot HD.1 / HD.2)
The newest DLC, gathering planes released after launch of Channel Battles edition, is another odball. It has three planes, two of which come in two variants. All planes are niche for some reason - a pure Belgian fighter, fighter-bombers, night bomber and a floatplane fighter. These specialisations, often narrow, are so different that taken together DLC pack offers very broad, varied and unique career experience.
F.E.2 is a British-only all-purpose fighter-bomber that is already obsolete when career starts. The double machine gun mount confuses AI gunner who spends most of the time switching between guns, and rarely get to shoot with human pilot. So, it's difficult in it's intended role of a fighter. However, it really shines at night bombing missions, which it flies at later stages of career. Night missions in RoF are stunning and F.E.2 is stable, pleasant to fly plane with good forward field of view. Dare I say "pleasure boat with bombs"? Most F.E.2 squadron switch to Bristols, so you want Battle for St. Michell to continue your F.E.2 career.
Strutter is a bomber that excells as a fighter ;) - much like the Bristol. A true working girl, you can fly it's two variants it in British, Belgian and French squadrons, as bomber, fighter or recon, from 1916 to early 1918, doing bombing missions with strong dogfighting element... or was it other way around? Buying it leads to very varied career experiences.
Hanriot HD1 is a fighter, alternative to Nieuport 17 and Sopwith Camel. It appears only in one (Belgian) squadron and not having it does not block your Belgian career that much; you'll more likely be playing this squadron to fly Hanriot then needing Hamriot to fly that one squadron .
Hanriot HD2 is floatplane fighter, used only by one French squadron. It's career is full of sea patrols, where you are shooting down any German planes that venture over sea rather than look for ships. This squadron flies only HD2s, so you don't need to look any other planes for full career.
Both Hanriots and Struttres are widely flown in multiplayer; not most popular choices, maybe, but far from weak.