Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 Update 5 : First Impressions

Update 5 for Microsoft Flight Simulator was released on on 7/27/21 this week, and my first impressions (after waiting 2 days for my download to complete) are … WOW.

It’s smooth, buttery smooth. In 1080p with a Ryzen 5 3600XT and a RTX 2060 I was previously getting around 30 fps at best, and dipping below that in heavy city areas like New York. After the update with the same settings I’m now getting around 60fps, but the even without the increase in fps, the sim is noticeably smoother with less stutters that I used to notice before.

There’s plenty of other updates and changes:

  • the world map now shows satellite imagery and place names on the map which makes it much easier to find interesting places to fly (unlike the plain grey non-descript map we had before)
  • while the game load time seems about the same, the load time from creating a flight from the map and arriving on the runway ready to fly has definitely been improved (it seems at least twice as fast as it was)
  • particle effects have been added for water, dirt and snow landings. For float planes, you now get a somewhat realistic wake behind your plane when you land or taxi on water. This is a massive improvement over none at all that we had before
  • there’s a number of ski and float plane options added for the stock planes
  • seaplane harbors have been added to the map, so you can start a flight from a harbor or see the locations of harbors on the VFR map
  • more POI markers on the maps and in game as you’re flying

I’m sure there’s plenty more to find, but these are the major changes I’ve seen so far.

Am I happy with the update so far? Yes, definitely. I’ve had one crash to desktop (CTD) so far after just flying for an hour, which is far more that I’ve experienced before. Posts in the forums suggest a lot of CTDs right now, so hopefully there’ll be more fixes to come. Right now though I’m enjoying being able to take off and land from water and have it look somewhat realistic, and feature we had on most of the MS FS versions.

As a comparison, shortly after launch I was comparing taxiing on water near the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in FSX:

Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, NY – Microsoft Flight Simulator X

Here’s what it looks like after Update 5 with the wake effects (but still a shame about the rendering of the bridge itself):

At least the water wake effects now look realistic (where previously there wasn’t any):

… those solid bridges really need to get fixed though.

On the plus side, one final screenshot – how stunning is this?

Microsoft Flight Simulator: UK cities with photogrammetry

At launch in September 2020, there were only two UK cities in Microsoft Flight Simulator that had photogrammetry (source) :

  • Portsmouth
  • Southampton

After the UK update in February 2021, an additional 5 cities were added (source) :

  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cambridge
  • London
  • Oxford

I’ve been checking out each of these looking for odd scenery glitches in the photogrammetry imagery, and have found some interesting examples.

In most locations even at a low altitude, the scenery is almost indistinguishable from real life:

However, where it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work with weird and comical results. Here’s some examples from Southampton:

Sunken boats along the River Itchen:

This is what happens if you don’t move your car when the city resurfaces the road:

Weird plants turned to stone:

B&Q having a meltdown:

I’ve posted a few other examples before, and I’m sure there’s plenty more weirdness to be found:

Butter verses Potato: Elite Dangerous vs Microsoft Flight Simulator using a Quest 2 VR

I bought a Quest 2 specifically to play with Microsoft Flight Simulator using a Link cable. I had a GearVR previously, but this has been my first experience with PC based VR. It’s been a mixed experience. Does it work? Sort of. But you have to put in a ton of time either following settings recommendations or spend time yourself tweaking settings to find what balance works for you. It’s currently a compromise between graphics quality and framerates – unless you drop a few thousand dollars on the fastest hardware and current top of the range Nvidia 3090 (which alone will cost you around $3000) you have to make a compromise.

I’ve followed a lot of online guides for settings recommendations and came up with a combination that worked ok for me. However, I’ve come to accept that this is really two different games with completely different experiences:

  • playing with Ultra everything on desktop and enjoying the incredible graphics (which honestly is incredible)
  • playing in VR with seriously dialed back settings to get it to run smooth, but being amazed at the emersiveness and believable feeling of being in a plane cockpit and actually flying

These are not the same two things for me, at least with the hardware I have. It’s two different games with two different experiences.

Knowing that I’d probably get a much better VR experience with native Quest 2 games, I’ve tried out a few had a great experience (Star Wars Pinball, Job Simulator). so I know the Quest can give a good experience. Standalone it works great.

I’ve played a lot of hours previously with Elite Dangerous, and I remember it was one of the earlier games to get PC VR support. I’d been so focused on getting the settings just right for MS Flight Simulator that I hadn’t even tried any other PC games. So I gave it a go.

I was surprised. So very, very surprised. Compared to MS Flight Simulator it’s a night and day experience. I didn’t bother bringing up the Oculus tray and tweaking any settings, I was just initially curious to see what it would be like. I started up the game, turned on VR headset support in game (didn’t even start it from Steam, and since I’d already started Link it just went straight in. The experience was smooth, it was fluid, no lags, no stutters, it was really an incredible experience. No tweaking settings, no lowering graphics features, it just worked.

The incredible thing was the sense of massiveness of the environment that I’d never experienced playing the game sitting in front of a monitor. The insides of the ship are massive, the ships themselves are massive when viewed from your SRV outside. Flying across the vastness of space feels like you’re there. Approaching a planet you get the sense of how massive the planets are as you approach.

In summary, MS Flight Simulator has not been optimized enough to be comfortably playable yet. Elite Dangerous on the other hand is incredible in VR. The Quest 2 with Link cable can work flawlessly out of the box. I hope MS Flight Simulator will get there but it’s hit or miss whether you can get the settings tuned enough to be playable on your hardware.

Admittedly I have’t tried any other PC games at this point, but if you want a showcase experience of what’s possible, try Elite Dangerous with the Quest 2 over Link. It’s incredible.

“Purchase Pending” error in Microsoft Flight Simulator Marketplace (if you purchased MSFS via Steam)

If you originally purchased Microsoft Flight Simulator via Steam, you may run into an error where any in-game purchases in the Marketplace never complete successfully, you yet a “Purchase Pending” message on the alerts/bell icon in the top right of the screen.

In order to complete in-game purchases, the Steam Overlay needs to be enabled in 2 places:

  1. In the Steam client settings here:

2. On the Flight Simulator game settings in Steam here (right-click game in Steam, then Properties):

By default in-game you should be able to press Shift-Tab and the Steam Overlay will open. If it doesn’ go back and check the settings above, and chec k the key combo is not mapped to anything else. If you can’t get the Overlay to open, the in-game purchase via Steam will not complete either, because the in-game purchase pops up a Steam purchase dialog.

Now when you purchase an add-on in the in-game Maretplace, you should get a Steam dialog popup to complete the purchase via Steam, and then you download will start.