Microsoft Flight Simulator has big plans in store, with the company's return to the genre already disrupting through a cutting-edge replica of planet Earth. Its technology established an impressive out-of-the-box foundation from the backing of its cloud empire, layered with two petabytes of satellite imagery, mapping data, and advanced aerodynamics.
But Microsoft isn't stopping with its August 18 debut, now talking what's next for its latest Flight Simulator. The developer positions the title as an "ever-changing, ever-evolving platform," discussing its first content roadmap, split across both regular free updates, offset with the odd paid downloadable content (DLC) expansion. Here's what to look out for beyond take-off.
How Flight Simulator handles 'world' and 'sim' updates
Future free updates come split across two primary forms: world updates addressing its globe, and changes to the simulation. The team hopes to deliver focused updates, cycling between the world and simulation, to achieve "something meaningful" every month.
The world of Microsoft Flight Simulator is continually updated with the latest available data from Bing Maps, automatically refreshing on a 28-day frequency. Changes made to Microsoft's mapping platform will also be reflected in-game, ensuring Flight Simulator remains up to date beyond release. Other real-time elements like weather and air traffic keep gameplay current, without substantial input from the development team.
Formal "world updates" will further expand on these automated processes, compiling manual changes and tweaks into a more "consumable" format. They package up designated areas with new data, more handcrafted airports, new landing challenges, and other refinements to the globe.
Microsoft offsets world updates with its simulation changes, aiming to enrich moment-to-moment aviation instead. That includes new features and improvements, still to be announced, focused on the flight mechanics. The list of aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator will also undergo expansion with time.
Microsoft Flight Simulator will get paid DLC expansions — first including helicopters
Microsoft Flight Simulator will also introduce paid DLC every "two to three months," set to add new flagship features outside of the free updates and content refreshes. Those milestones will delve into new facets of simulation, beyond its initial focuses for launch content.
The first DLC for Microsoft Flight Simulator plans to introduce helicopters, expanding its simulation with a new class of transport. The team has explored helicopter models, set to provide a framework for the vastly different systems and aerodynamics, over the existing plane roster. It expects the paid DLC to include a selection of helicopters, helipads, playable missions, and other luxuries beyond the raw implementation.
Microsoft will announce further paid DLC packs as they come, remaining coy on upcoming plans. However, with experimental gliders already in the pipeline, they're a likely future candidate for premium offerings.
Yes, VR is coming to Microsoft Flight Simulator very soon
Microsoft Flight Simulator will also explore virtual reality (VR) post-launch, with its development team recently outlining intentions to deliver support through a free update. The optional mode provides an added layer of immersion for those with VR headsets, helping bring its hyper-realistic globe and detailed cockpits just inches from your eyeballs. That added immersive layer appears hotly anticipated for some, among the first points of interest for what's next.
VR first hits Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 in a somewhat limited form, initially tied to one headset according to the company. The HP Reverb G2 will be the only compatible headset for testing, birthed through a collaboration between Microsoft and Valve, and scheduled to release later in 2020. While VR will arrive later this year, a later update will expand compatibility to more headsets.
That accompanies the existing TrackIR support, scheduled to arrive alongside Microsoft Flight Simulator on August 18. Expect additional refinements with time, providing a head-tracking alternative compatible with a non-VR setup.
More in-store for Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft has also discussed further planned content for Microsoft Flight Simulator beyond launch, and by extension, likely some of the first title updates to see over the months ahead. And based on its previously outlined roadmap guidelines, these will likely remain free by building on its simulation depth.
Shared cockpit functionality is planned for Flight Simulator 2020 in a future update, allowing multiplayer pilots to control a single aircraft within one environment. For a title that thrives on authenticity, integration would fully support multi-crew aircraft for multiplayer.
The team also expressed interest in expanding its seasons beyond current weather and climate systems. Flight Simulator 2020 has robust support for sun, rain, snow, and other environments, but future seasons may consider ice, wind conditions, snow acclimation, and animal behaviors.
And with Flight Simulator's open-world now more accessible than ever, the title also draws a broader audience of newcomers to the franchise. After launch, the team plans to explore formal missions or a career system designed to provide additional guidance beyond its basic flight lesson systems.
That's just a sample of what Microsoft Flight Simulator has in store beyond its August 18 street date. The title launches exclusively on PC, both via Windows 10's integrated Microsoft Store and Steam, with preorders now live starting at $60.
The Legend Returns
Prepare for take-off.
Microsoft Flight Simulator takes to the skies on Aug. 18, promising a cloud-powered globe, with authenticity on an unmatched scale. It's headed exclusively to Windows PCs, with preorders now live in three flavors.
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Buy one of these gaming PCs to play Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is a demanding game and it needs quite the PC to run it comfortably. If you don't have a PC yet dedicated to gaming, you'll want to pick from one of these to really bring the cockpit to life.