Every few weeks I see someone ask about what aircraft module and scenery package they should buy for DCS World. Ready to make the jump to full fidelity combat flight sim, many are uncertain on which module they should buy. In the decision making process, the type of aircraft, the way they want to fly, and virtually everything else seems to be secondary. What is at the top of the list? Experience. People want a good experience and they want the most bang for their buck. So when I try and answer the question of which aircraft to buy is it really just a question of a single module or do people want to know what gives them a fun and worthwhile experience overall. This is my recommendation.
An integrated experience
I used the word ‘integrated’ in the headline of this piece and that’s because I’m not just recommending a single module or scenery package. I’m recommending a collection of materials that together add up to more than the sum of their individual parts.
DCS World is fraught with examples of great individual modules that don’t have very much to do. Take for example the F-86 and MiG-15bis. Both good DCS World modules, modeled to a high level, great to fly, and fun to fly around in. But there’s no Korean War backdrop with which to have that full integrated experience with (although there are a couple of good campaigns. What I am looking to recommend is something that offers a bit more.
The first part of my recommendation is the aircraft module that you’ll be flying. This is the centerpiece and the most important part of the experience and my recommendation will be unsurprising to many- it is the DCS: F/A-18C Hornet!
The Hornet in DCS World is a full fidelity, fourth generation fighter jet that has been built for DCS World by Eagle Dynamics over the last few years into an incredibly capable representation of a flexible and widely used modern fighter jet. If you think about fighter jets in the early part of the 21st Century, the F/A-18C almost certainly has to be on the list as a highly representative type.
The Hornet is a fully capable fighter jet with beyond visual range air-to-air engagement capabilities including the ability to simultaneously engage multiple targets at once. Once the range has closed up, the Hornet has a wide variety of tricks available to it including the thrust vectoring AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, the JHMCS helmet display that allows the Hornet to point and lock targets using the pilots head, and an unprecedented ability to convert speed to angle and point the nose at a target in a high stakes fight. The Hornet also has Link 16 datalink functionality that gives you a top down view of the battlefield with data being fed in by other jets.
Intended as a multi-role jet almost from the start, the Hornet is equally capable in the strike and support role. The list of available air to ground ordinance is impressive and ranges from the unguided MK80 series of weapons to rockets and the integrated M61 Vulcan 20mm gun (also used for air to air). It can also lob precision guided munitions such as the Paveway II and Paveway III laser guided bomb, the JDAM GPS-guided bomb, or the long-range AGM-154 JSOW glide bomb. Enemy air defenses are not immune either as the Hornet can carry up to four AGM-88 HARM missiles which seek and guide in on enemy radar emitters.
The Hornet was also designed to be a carrier capable aircraft. It can launch and recover from the deck of a carrier and land base alike.
The DCS: F/A-18C Hornet does all of these things and it does them all well. It’s not the best in any one category but it can go between roles in the same mission and it offers a tremendous range of experience all in one jet. For all of that complexity, it’s also not the most difficult jet to learn and it’s surprisingly tame and easy to fly thanks to its fly-by-wire control system. Whatever you command on the joystick, the Hornet will do it’s best to do it for you with minimal fuss. And that landing gear intended for rough carrier landings? It makes landing on conventional airstrips that much easier for anyone just setting out in their first full fidelity simulation.
In short, the Hornet is a do everything kind of aircraft that is easy enough to fly that it can get out of your way and let you focus on the fighting like few other modules in DCS World can do. Some call it a flying spreadsheet but I think that it’s an excellent combat aircraft that lets you focus on fighting the jet rather than flying it. That’s not a knock against some of the aircraft in DCS World that have more “character” but when it comes to putting people in a modern jet fighter simulation, some of them for the first time, I think the Hornet offers an easier learning curve. Veterans can still appreciate this too by focusing on the bigger picture of tactics and fighting the jet.
DCS: F/A-18C Hornet is still in early access right now but with its substantial array of capabilities it already offers a full fidelity experience that is rivaled by only a few other modules.
In DCS World, maps are bought separately from aircraft and while the sim offers the perfectly adequate DCS: Caucasus map for free, you may want to enhance your experience with another map in your collection. There are several good choices out there right now, however, when I look at this recommendation as an “integrated” experience I can easily jump to one ideal suggestion: DCS: Persian Gulf.
Featuring 200,000 sq km of terrain centered on the strategically important Straight of Hormuz, the area has been the site of modern tensions and makes a terrific hypothetical battle space for a combat flight simulator. The map has significant range of terrain types from the extremely mountainous northern region of the map to the flat desert sands in the south. The Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas as well as the highly mountainous cities of Shiraz and Kerman offer unique areas on the map that are rivaled by the high-tech and modern skyscrapers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Both the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf are part of the map and offer enough room for carrier battle groups to maneuver in.
DCS: Persian Gulf has been out for a few years now (read my Persian Gulf write-up here), is content complete, and is relatively well used in the online server community. In 2021, this may shift to the new DCS: Syria map which is visually even more impressive visually and offers a ton of great airbases to fly in and out of (not to mention the Mediterranean for carrier ops) but hasn’t quite caught hold just yet.
Expanding the experience
In keeping with the integrated theme, taking your DCS World experience up another notch sometimes involves purchasing something that doesn’t seem like it matters all that much. Except in this case I think it does. I am talking about DCS: Supercarrier.
I was a skeptic of the module and although I could see the potential, I wasn’t sure what Supercarrier would offer me above and beyond what I could get with the freely included USS Stennis model available to all DCS World pilots. I was wrong.
Although you don’t explicitly need DCS: Supercarrier, the experience I’ve had with it both online and offline has been intensely satisfying. Flying operations from the included carriers has been a lot of fun and doing it from the highest detail supercarrier experience I’ve seen in a commercial flight sim is well worth the experience. What it offers to pilots of the Hornet is a detailed series of procedures for carrier takeoff and landing that include animated deck crew that are almost worth the price of admission on their own. Having the crew guide you on to the catapult using realistic hand signals that precisely match their real world counterparts was so worth it.
So were the realistic landing operations complete with LSO grade on landing. It’s made me a better virtual carrier pilot and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.
For the singleplayer pilots out there
If you’re a multiplayer only pilot, everything above is probably all that you need to have an incredible experience. But if you’re like a large majority of DCS World pilots, you either enjoy single player or only play single player and so you’re going to be looking for something a bit more.
The DCS: F/A-18C Hornet offers some great opportunities for a great integrated experience here too. Starting with the recently released DCS: Raven One campaign that makes full use of DCS: F/A-18C Hornet, DCS: Persian Gulf and DCS: Supercarrier. The campaign was authored by famous campaign developer Baltic Dragon and supported with active participation of author of the Raven One Novel, Kevin Miller, and by Vincent “Jell-O” Aiello, host of the Fighter Pilot Podcast. This story driven experience includes 15 missions and 2,200 voice overs adding tons of atmosphere to the experience.
The included Task Force Challenger campaign (see my write-up on mission 1 of Task Force Challenger) also offers an adequate experience piloting the Hornet using the basic DCS: Caucasus map and there are also some great free campaign and missions out there including one of my favourites, Eastern Friendship by mission and campaign maker SEDLO (see my write-up on Eastern Friendship mission 1).
The one thing I haven’t talked about yet is price so let’s go over this. Brace yourself as this is an expensive proposition and DCS World is one of the more expensive sims to get into.
|DCS: F/A-18C Hornet by Eagle Dynamics||$79.99 USD|
|DCS: Persian Gulf Map||$39.99 USD|
|DCS: Supercarrier||$39.99 USD*|
|DCS: F/A-18C Raven One Сampaign by Baltic Dragon||$13.99 USD|
*early access discount
At $173.96 USD, this might be more cash than you’re willing to part with, however, I can strongly recommend that you look for one of the many frequent sales (as of writing this, there’s a sale on that reduces the price on nearly all of these items) and add to your collection slowly. Buy the Hornet first, then the map, then Supercarrier and then finally pick-up Raven One. Nothing says that you have to own all of these at once.
If you are of the means to buy that much at once but are uncertain about the value, I again suggest starting with just the DCS: F/A-18C and seeing if the aircraft experience is what you’re after. If that works for you then the rest of the experience awaits.
This assumes you already have other aspects of your flight sim experience already ready to go including a powerful gaming PC and joystick, throttle and rudder peripherals that range in price and capability – but that’s a whole other article.
My goal in writing this was to think about DCS World as a modern combat flight sim and come to a conclusion on what offers the best possible experience for the greatest number of people. Many of you will undoubtedly have other suggestions and opinions on what constitutes the best DCS World experience and there are other aircraft modules out there including the DCS: F-14 Tomcat, the DCS: MiG-21bis, DCS: UH-1H Huey, DCS: P-47D Thunderbolt and dozens of others that offer great singular experiences or integrated experiences of their own.
My guiding light on this piece was not to recommend a single module and instead suggest something that comes together to provide the greatest breadth of experience. An experience that was also accessible to newer virtual pilots that are looking to expand their collection and really dig into something interesting. It is this combination of the Hornet, Persian Gulf, and Supercarrier (and Raven One for single player pilots) that come together in a unique way that offer years of flight sim enjoyment.