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My experience with DCS as a GA Flight Simmer

So I’ve always had a soft spot for metal tubes that can defy gravity and fly. I remember my first experience with flight sims was with Microsoft FSX.. Revolutionary graphics back then, you almost couldn’t believe your eyes. The feeling of starting the engine and hearing it roar as you race across the runway will never get old, or piercing the clouds in a massive Boeing 747 feeling like a sky whale.. It was amazing. But I began looking for alternatives, a more modern and realistic alternatives. Now I know, no matter how realistic you go it won’t be the same as flying an actual aircraft. But I wanted autism tier realism anyway because I love doing the procedures and I love flying aircrafts that feel heavy, bulky and not feel like it’s attached to some ropes (Looking at you, MSFS). So I settled on X-Plane 11. X-Plane scratched my aviation itch perfectly. The realism was there, the sound design wasn’t that great but it was good enough.

After a few years of on-off flight simming.. I got kinda bored of GA flight simming so I decided to look for something with more “action”. I’ve heard of DCS before but never really bothered to get into it and I was already giving IL-2 a whirl. So you could say I already started entering the combat flight sim field. DCS, however, looked absolutely terrifying. The amount of detail there made me scared of it, to the point where I didn’t know where to start. So I said screw it and decided to give it a shot anyways!

First module

I was obviously doing my research on which module to buy as a beginner to DCS.. And FC3 kept popping up. FC3 this FC3 that.. I was confused at first, but generally, FC3 is a bunch of easy-to-get-into aircraft that aren’t terribly realistic but they’re good enough. For examples the flight models aren’t modelled perfectly, the cockpits are non-clickable and the (sub)-systems aren’t fully modelled. You could say they were simple aircraft.

I jumped the gun, bought the module and downloaded DCS straight away. The choices of aircraft I could fly overwhelmed me.. From the F-15C all the way to the MiG-29 and the SU-33. I obviously went for the F-15C first because of American propaganda. After learning how to start the damn thing, taking off and flying felt very natural. It felt just like X-Plane 11 and IL-2 which was good since realistic flight sims pretty much share the same physics and flight models.. They reference the real world.

So after I got accustomed to the “feel” of DCS, I’ve decided to learn the weapon systems. Here’s the thing, FC3 cockpits aren’t clickable which makes it a massive pain to actually do anything. You have to have a lot of keybinds and remember said keybinds. It was awful. But firing my first AMRAAM and splashing a hostile out of the sky for the first time felt very satisfying so I forgot all the pains of keybinds. So except flying and shooting.. How is it really?

Performance and replayability

Update: Eagle Dynamics has implemented multi threading support. Giving players incredible FPS boosts ranging from 50% all the way to 500%!

Sooo.. Here’s the thing. DCS has awful performance. The optimisation just isn’t there. The entire simulator runs on a single thread! Eagle Dynamics is apparently working on multi threading and even DLSS but that’s far off. There’s also the occasional quirks and things that break with every update but they’re usually solved rather quickly.

Replayability.. I’d like to think of DCS as a sandbox. Like Garry’s Mod, it’s very replayable and it’s up to the community to give it content. The community made amazing campaigns and missions for DCS and for each module. Maps like the Persian Gulf are available to be bought to expand the theaters you’re able to fly in and also to expand versatility. Which brings us to…

The pricing model

Yes, DCS is absolutely expensive. At first sight you may think it’s too absurd. But here’s the thing, the modules take time to develop. They’re made to be as realistic as possible and it’s very very hard to develop a module let alone a realistic one. DCS is a very niche game in an already niche community. And the modules take a lot of time and money to develop as stated earlier. So what happens? The prices go up to make up for the time spent developing the modules. Don’t get me wrong, I wish the modules were cheap too. But the reality is.. The developers need to get paid for their efforts and their market is already tiny to begin with.

Where to go from here?

After getting bored of FC3 I decided to get my first high fidelity module.. The F/A-18C Hornet. Absolutely beautiful and versatile aircraft. The cockpit is fully modelled and the sound design is just top notch. Still flying it AND learning new things about it after 200+ hours of flying it. It’s been fun and the carrier ops are even more fun. If you’re getting into DCS and want to jump straight into high fidelity modules, then the Hornet is your best shot. It’s “easy” to learn, versatile and forgiving. Yes, you can transition from air-to-ground to air-to-air in a few seconds. It’s that versatile. A jack of all trades master of none type of aircraft.

Final verdict

Although DCS has its massive glaring issues such as performance and the pricing module, I think it’s still enjoyable. Flying feels natural, the weapons are modelled fairly accurately and the community is fairly friendly to beginners. Would I recommend it to people who aren’t willing to learn how to start a plane for a whole week? No. Would I recommend it to avid flight simmers who want to get into the combat aspect of aviation? Yes. 100%. And DCS is getting better by the week.