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Everything you need to know about Microsoft’s Flight Sim 2020

by Ben Miles
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Great flight sims are a rare breed and Microsoft’s series of titular Flight Simulator sims, is one of the most lauded. Flight Sim X, the last-entry in the franchise, is more than 13 years old, though, so it’s definitely time for a sequel. Thankfully, Microsoft Flight Simulator, colloquially known as Flight Sim 2020, is less than a year away from its debut and boy does it look impressive.

When will Flight Sim 2020 be released?

Microsoft Flight Simulator, or FS2020, is currently slated for a 2020 debut. Microsoft hasn’t been more specific about that, but it has confirmed that when the sim is released it will be made available on both Windows PCs and the Xbox One console.

If you can’t wait until next year and want to get a taste of what Flight Sim 2020 is all about before its official release, you could always become an “Insider.” Like Microsoft’s Windows Insider program, you don’t need to pay anything to join, just register your interest. Doing so will give you access to closed and limited alpha testing and preview builds with specially selected spheres of content to explore well ahead of the final sim’s release.

Screen capture from Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 of the front of a propeller plane during golden hour

Who’s making FS2020?

When Microsoft closed the developer of Flight Sim X, Aces Studio, in 2009, there was some concern about the future of the Flight Simulator series. With 2020’s Microsoft Flight Simulator, however, Microsoft has chosen French developer, Asobo Studios, to create it. Asobo was once known as the developer of major Pixar sims like Wall-EUp, and Toy Story 3, but more recently has been lauded for its efforts with A Plague Tale: Innocence.

What’s new in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020?

With a near decade-and-a-half gap between the release of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator and its predecessor, it should come as no surprise that Flight Sim 2020 is a major update, upgrade, and overhaul of previous flight sims. It features massive improvements in graphics, with a brand new engine, and heaps of exciting cloud interaction. Not only that, but it also features real-time satellite data tracking to create a world that is not only better looking and more immersive than ever before, but as close to the living and breathing contemporary world as is possible.

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More, More, More

Microsoft Flight Simulator’s new engine adds far more detailed models, higher resolution textures, more realistic lighting. It creates a far more detailed world, from trees with individual leaves, to moving traffic on roads, to wild animals in fields, plains, and forests. It also opens up the entire globe to fly in, letting pilots select from any of the 40,000+ airports, located in more than two million cities. Each is rendered accurately to their real-life counterparts using more than three petabytes of real-world satellite imagery that Microsoft’s Bing maps utilize, as well as 3D photogrammetry data, with the smallest elements in the world rendered at just three centimetres. This will deliver deeply detailed three-dimensional buildings and natural features for pilots to explore from high above and in low altitude passes.

You’ll even be able to explore them in multiplayer, but Microsoft nor Asobo have made clear how that will work just yet.

In total, the sim world will feature the same 197 millions square miles of ground and airspace as the real world. That already makes this the largest and most ambitious flight simulator ever made, but it doesn’t even touch on what Asobo is doing with the sim’s real-time, real world tracking and integration. That will make the in-sim world not only as close as possible to the real world as it was, but as close as possible to the real world as it is at the time it’s being flown.

Screen capture from Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 taken from the ground showing 3 planes in the sky amongst clouds with a mountain range in the background

Making the real world real-time

Alongside using the latest maps from Bing to generate a realistic world, Microsoft and Asobo will also leverage real time weather data to create up to the minute weather conditions in sim. While individual clouds won’t be tracked and rendered, the sim will factor in precipitation, wind direction and speed, humidity, and more, to generate the kind of weather in-sim that is being experienced by real pilots in the real world, in real time.

Rainbows, storms, turbulence, and more will all be rendered and experienced dynamically in-sim based on the latest weather data from a multitude of tracking sources, making the skies of Flight Simulator 2020 the most realistic and up to date experience possible with modern technology.

This isn’t just a flight simulator, it’s a real-time weather tracking tool that is being utilized to fly virtual planes in. It’s an astounding achievement even in its earliest incarnations and if Asobo and Microsoft can remotely pull it off, this could be a landmark sim in a genre that has generated some serious landmark experiences in its history.

Will Flight Simulator 2020 need a Powerful PC to run?

The answer to this is both yes and no. Microsoft hasn’t released the minimum or recommended specifications for FS2020 just yet, but we would expect them to be relatively strenuous. But alongside a powerful CPU and graphics card, for the best experience, gamers will also want a fast internet connection with a hefty download limit, as the high-end assets they’ll download as they fly will only stream effectively if the bandwidth is there to take advantage of it.

While Microsoft will have offline options, the sim will look its best when online, so having a fast connection will help make the most of that.

That said, Microsoft and Asobo are keen to make Microsoft Flight Simulator playable on the Xbox One and likely Project Scarlett, with compatibility with the gamepad and Xbox Adaptive Controller. So, if you can meet Xbox One specs, you’ll be able to run this sim well enough.

For serious 4K gaming though, you’ll likely need quite the monster of a machine to run this at high frame rates.

Screen capture from Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 from inside the cockpit looking out the side window down at the city and harbour below

What planes will be in Flight Simulator 2020?

There is no definitive list of aircraft in the sim just yet, but Microsoft has confirmed that there will be everything from “light planes to wide-body jets.” Previous entries in the series have seen Microsoft work with many commercial aeroplane manufacturers like Airbus, Boeing, and Textron, among others. We would expect it to much the same with the upcoming sim.

2020 and beyond

One of the hallmarks of Flight Simulators are their long-tail of additional content and support for community-lead modifications. Microsoft has confirmed that the next-generation flight sim will also support modding. While it hasn’t touched on DLC content as of yet, Flight Simulator X had a lot of it and was a strong earner for Microsoft for many years, so we would expect additional aircraft and features to be added in the years following the sim’s 2020 release.

The sim will get prettier and more detailed over time too, whether pilots mod or expand their sim with DLC, or not. Asobo has suggested that it won’t correct problems with textures in sim that arise from incomplete map data. That will be up to Microsoft’s Bing maps division to fix, but as that tool improves, so will Flight Simulator 2020.

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Flight Sim 2020 will also be playable in VR, so check out this article that details the best VR headsets for Flight Sim!

Follow that with this article about the best PCs for VR!

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