After more than 30 hours of actual flying time in the game, I can officially report that this sim is both beautiful and exasperating. The game is beautiful because it does contain eye candy and stunningly realistic visuals. And this game has its exasperating moments when it decides to close/crash to desktop in mid-flight while looking at the eye candy. And why does it crash to desktop? In my experience the crashes are occurring randomly so their root cause hasn’t been easy to pin down. I will update this further if/when I find a permanent fix. (Note: The game was running flawless for about one week of off and on flying without any game crashes that is after I uninstalled MSI Afterburner. And so I thought I had figured out the root cause. But as of 9/16/20 the crashes have returned without MSI Afterburner anywhere in sight.)
Microsoft Flight Simulator is the successor to FSX the other popular Microsoft Flight Simulator released in 2006. I have been able to spend a few hours in the latest rendition of the simulator and will offer some thoughts and insights on my experience so far with the sim and whether or not it’s even worth your time.
First, I will start off by saying Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is not without it’s faults, graphical glitches and bugs but overall one word describes it for me. Wow. (and I don’t mean “wow”, that sure took a long time to download because it certainly does. Additionally that long download will contribute to inaccurate gameplay hours on the Steam version. I currently show over 110 hours but have only been in game for around 40hrs)
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 or MFS2020 has three tiers of pricing available depending on the package you get. I won’t go into many details of each (as you can find them here) but there are Standard ($60), Deluxe ($90) and Premium ($120) versions. Depending on the version you choose, there are five additional aircraft included along with five highly detailed major airports.
Downloading MFS2020 can be a daunting task as the sim is between 90gb- 150gb (depending on the version). I purchased the premium edition from Steam and left it to download overnight. It took at least 5 hours for me but many people have said it can take 9 hours depending on internet speed. (Note for Steam users: After small initial file download of are 1gb, the actual game content downloads within the simulator itself, not Steam)
How well does it run?
Performance wise this game will depend on the power of your system. I have a GTX 1070ti (8gb), i7-8700k (overclocked to 4.7), 16gb ram and on 1920×1080 the game runs quite well on higher settings. I would ignore the system requirements as listed for the simulator because I believe they are too low. Of course, each of our ideals for how a simulator should run will be as different as we are but in my opinion running a smooth a game on low and not being able to see quality scenery is not an option. On my system, the visuals are quite stunning while running near 60 fps in most places and 35-50 fps in larger cities. Certainly there is always room for improvement on performance so a better GPU, CPU and at least 32GB ram is probably recommended. I do not think I could run the sim satisfactory on higher settings using a 4k monitor for example.
Don’t forget one setting
Besides the general graphical options, there is one setting slider that is really important to have the ability to crank up. That setting is the Terrain slider. Everything else should be set to mostly high (if not all) with Terrain at 200%. There is a settings option for buildings but I don’t think this means how many of the buildings or their quality are rendered in the Sim. More on that in a minute.
Best way to fly
I would suggest you use at least a joystick and/or flight yoke (more expensive) to fly in MFS. Straight out of the box, I wasn’t able to successful use a keyboard or mouse for flying an aircraft. However, the keyboard is great for flight systems (gear, lights, trim, flaps, views) and the mouse also works okay for changing views. A usb Xbox controller works best when using the external drone camera.
The Cloud Connection and Limitations
MFS2020 uses the internet, a lot. In fact, in order to get the graphical map details and live weather data for the location you are flying around, it uses Bing maps as part Microsoft’s cloud server (Azure) and it is used with this sim. This sounds like it should make all the visuals and systems amazing and realistic but sometimes the things in simulator don’t look (or work) right. Sometimes textures flicker under the modeled objects where there shouldn’t be any texture at all. And sometimes rivers and waterways are hundreds of feet off the ground and traffic runs through it. And sometimes the airports and buildings are either nonexistent or misplaced. For example, I was visiting a small town in South Dakota and took off from the grass landing strip as it is rendered in the simulator. The town should have been on the left. I couldn’t find it anywhere near the landing strip. I checked the airport map and found the simulator had placed the runway at least 35 miles south east of where it should have been. This brings to me to buildings and how they are displayed in the game.
How do the buildings look?
It would seem that there are at least two different ways the simulator renders buildings. There are generic autogen buildings which can be found in many rural towns like my own (see KACV and KEKA areas). And in more accurately detailed areas, such as in the larger airports (such as KSFO, KLAX or even Redding near KRDD) the simulator looks like a work of art as long as your above 3,000ft. The buildings appear to be extruded models of the underlining satellite image. Modeling in this way doesn’t make for the best visuals at low altitudes but up in the air couple thousand feet everything can look fantastic and recognizable!
Something isn’t quite right with ATC
ATC in MFS has been a little bit disappointing for me. Compared to FSX, I actually think this simulator has gone back a step or two. FSX had multiple voices to choose from and more than one voice could be heard from other pilots communicating with the towers. However, I have only heard one voice used so far no matter the airport or location. And for whatever reason, the person speaking cannot pronounce the number three or five correctly. As far as I know, my call sign doesn’t have a tree in it.
Should you get this simulator?
Apparently MFS2020 is part of long process in continued development. So there are bugs, audio, graphical and data glitches to be expected. Should you get this sim? If you were a fan of FSX or even X-plane you probably will love this simulator. Overall, I certainly have been enjoying it. And if you are a fan of flying I would not suggest a version less the the Premium edition because let’s face it, you will most likely want the extra airports that are more detailed than their standard counterpart and you will be glad you have the additional planes that can only be found in the premium edition. If you are on the fence or new to PC flight simulators then you will want to watch some videos of people using the simulator. And keep in mind most of the videos on YouTube feature the simulator running on a higher-end computer system than my own.
So if you have the money, a little patience, like flight simulation, and have at least a mid to high-end computer, you will probably have a ball exploring and tweaking Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.
Images source: All images are screenshots from my own MFS2020