I'm a sucker for aerial combat. Let me get that out of the way first. I'm also a genuine fan of the "World of Tanks" like business model, though not entirely. I was a hardcore WoT player back in the early days, and if you follow my reviews, also a fan of Mechwarrior Online. I put some serious hours into the airplane combat in War Thunder too, and my joke-named character Large Marge in Star Wars The Old Republic was a force to be reckoned with in Starship Battles (The multiplayer one, not the on-rails one).
So it is no shock that I jumped at the launch of Cloud Pirates. 6 axis movement + World of Tanks style ship progression + Sky Pirates!? Sign me up.
People post that combat is slow, but in reality combat moves at mid-speed. If SW-TOR is at the top of the speed list and World of Tanks at the bottom, the combat in Cloud Pirates is pretty much smack in the middle. Faster than Mechwarrior, slower than War Thunder Planes.
What makes it shine against other 6 axis games is the wide variety of ships and abilities to build unique load-outs. Despite being a competitive WoT player at one time, a gripe I had is there was nearly ZERO reason to ever use any weapon, turret, or other tank part other than the "most expensive" one. The only decision making was in the components, and typically that was always the same across classes of tanks too.
While Cloud Pirates does not move away from this entirely, you often see 2-3 completely different weapons with linear upgrade paths, plus ~5 special abilities you can select from per ship. This means a wider variety even within the ships themselves.
Combat feels mostly crisp and smooth, though there's some fun problems they have with camera angles and terrain clipping, where you'll accidentally fly into a wall because the game has decided that showing the wall would block your view. On the whole though, it is very skill based. While they have a handful of ships with auto-aim weapons, those auto-aim abilities are far less dangerous than weapons you must aim. Fighting someone who's landing every shot is a true terror. On top of that, ships have shields that cover various sections. A battleship may have 3 different shield segments, making rotating your behemoth an important part of survival. Smaller ships like the stealthy torpedo ship only get 1, leaving their high alpha DPS and stealth their key to victory.
Hoist the Jolly Roger!
The game does suffer from two issues in my opinion on the design side.
1) No damage attrition.
Mechwarrior, SW:TOR, War Thunder, and World of Tanks benefit from the idea of "No healing." This has a wide variety of impacts on gameplay, making players play more cautiously and "deathball" a little less. It also lets worse players feel they are contributing more, because they are. Even if a player does only 100 damage, its 100 damage that never goes away. In a game with healing, a bad player suicide into a team that can heal means they're effectively worth nothing.
2) World of Tanks Upgrade Paths.
I know the idea is premium time means less time grinding, but the grind between a "maxed out" ship in Cloud Pirates is especially painful, just as it is in World of Tanks. I'd much rather grind out a bunch of unique weapons or quirked weapons (Higher rate of fire with lower alpha, better weapon heat but lower rate of fire, etc) where my starting gear still feels relevant. Because of that every time you "tier up" you're constantly faced with feeling inferior, and for me, it gives massive incentive to find the tier I like best and never leave it. In World of Tanks that is Tier 5 and 7, for the record.
Despite these two issues, I plan on putting a lot more time into this new entry into making my mark as a true Cloud Pirate and seeing if there's some more nuances to uncover beyond my first 5 hours were able to reveal.
Check it out at http://store.steampowered.com/app/559460/