Last year I wrote an article about Train Sim World, a sim that I had picked up and was having some fun with when I wasn’t flying a flight simulator. Recently I’ve had some hardware issues that had me looking for non-flying sims to play and I jumped right back into Train Sim World with the latest version. What’s new? What’s changed? How does it compare to the latest in flight simulation? This is a look at Train Sim World 2!
The on rails experience, upgraded!
Just as it is with flight simulators, there’s a wide variety of train simulators out there including more recent titles and some classic ones that live on many years after release. Dovetail Games, the makers of Train Sim World, previously released and continue to provide support and content for the legacy Train Simulator title that some fans still prefer. I, however, prefer the newer and somewhat flashier experience of the Unreal Engine 4 supported Train Sim World of which this version 2 release has introduced some interesting upgrades and new content.
Train Sim World at a base level is a detailed simulation of real-world trains and routes. The biggest difference between it and other simulators is the first-person experience where you can get up and out of the train and walk around in an FPS-style experience. Minus the shooting of course. While walking around you can admire the detailed stations, change the direction of switches, and complete fun side tasks such as putting up route posters, marking safety hazards and fixing fences. You can also get into a train and ride it as a passenger if you really want to. However, all of that is the sideshow to the in-train action where you’ll take command of a wide variety of trains and operate them on multiple different types of routes.
Under the hood, the developers upgraded the base version of Unreal Engine 4 to a more recent iteration for TSW 2. That has brought with it some performance improvements along with improved lighting. SimuGraph, Dovetail’s proprietary “vehicle dynamics engine,” has added adhesion physics for the first time. That layer helps the physics engine determine things like wheel slip under different circumstances. That is something that becomes especially relevant with the new high-speed trains and doubly so when there’s some inclement weather involved.
The sim’s user interface has also been upgraded to be clearer and easier to read. The HUD has been reworked and for the most part displays more information in less space. I did find that the accelerometer was a bit harder to read but everything else was much improved. The menus that drive the experience have also been reworked and clearer now. One negative for me was that they took away the menu music which I kind of liked.
There’s also a new Livery Editor for those who want to change their look of their rolling-stock. You have a wide degree of latitude to make whatever you want. Much of the liveries in the community appear dedicated to making realistic renditions of liveries from other train routes which is not unlike the detail oriented work that we’ve seen from IL-2 and DCS World livery creators creating historical skins for those sims.
I’ve also noticed that the audio appears to have been improved, headlights seem to work moderately better in tunnels than they did before, and the new routes have more attention to details. Those details include announcements in the train stations, the sound of passenger jets flying past from nearby airports, and interactive sign boards that display the actual route information including if you’re running late (or early). More can still be done here (such as adding some crowd sounds) but it is an overall improvement over the previous TSW iteration. Even some longstanding issues with specific trains have seen at least partial resolution which is good to see happening.
Another thing that TSW 2 has done is ensure that old content from the previously released TSW 2020 is part of the new release. This is true for all routes with the exception of the North East Corridor (NEC) route which apparently has some technical glitches that make it impossible to bring over in its current state. Fortunately, the others did make the jump including my old favourites – namely Main Spessart-Bahn and the Peninsula Corridor route. Some routes in the preserved collection such as the Long Island Railroad (or LIRR) have also seen several upgrades improving longstanding issues too. Even better, new features developed for TSW 2 are being brought to these preserved routes. The new interactive information boards for example are slowly showing up in routes that are part of the preserved collection.
The experience bringing these routes over was seamless too. I bought TSW 2 on Steam, installed and loaded up the new game and my routes were right there and ready to go. It doesn’t get any easier than that! The only downside is that your progress has been lost from TSW 2020 so if you’re a completionist you’ll need to redo a lot of the scenarios.
New routes and layers
TSW 2, in addition to come core upgrades, also introduces three new routes that offer wildly different experiences to players including some new experiences for the series. Let’s look at each of the routes.
Schnellfahrstrecke Köln – Aachen is a relatively straight route between Koln and Aachen that takes you between two urban areas and across the German countryside. The route has two trains to drive on it including the DB BR 406 ICE 3M and DB BR 442 Talent 2. These are both modern trains with the Talent 2 being a commuter train making multiple stops along the route while the ICE 3M is the very impressive high speed ICE train that can, on this route, speed along at 250 km/h. The ICE 3M is one of the trains that I wanted to check out when I bought TSW 2 and is one of my absolute favourites to operate.
Bakerloo Line is set in the famous London underground. Operating the 1972 era rollingstock that they have on the line, Bakerloo has two outdoor sections that descend into the underground and let you have the unique experience of operating on a subway line. On the plus side, this route lets you visit several iconic Undeground stations including Piccadilly Circus and Baker Street. Each station is also uniquely modeled which is great! On the negative side, you do spend a lot of time staring into the dark. That made it my least favourite of the new routes. Still, I applaud Dovetail for providing a unique experience.
The third and final route added to the base title is Sand Patch Grade. This is a remake of the original CSX Heavy Haul from the original TSW (another line that was not easily importable from the earlier version) and it has much improved scenery that also works, for the first time, on consoles. It operates on one of the steepest main line freight route grades in the United States as it cuts through the Allegheny Mountains. AC4400CW, GP38-2 and SD40-2 locomotives are part of the experience and the team has ensured that the scenarios include short 10-minute shunting sequences as well as 90-minute long hauls across the length of the route.
TSW 2 also has introduced the concept of layers. Layers basically means that if you own other routes that have similar rollingstock, you’ll be able to see and use the other kinds of rollingstock on other routes. It makes several DLC packs especially valuable for adding variety to your routes.
So, for example, if you have the old Main Spessart Bahn route from TSW 2020, you’ll have access to the same rolling stock on the Aachen – Koln route too. Presumably, this will become more relevant in the future as more routes are added and more can be potentially layered in.
With the high-speed aspect being something of a focus for TSW 2, I thought I’d record a little gameplay so you can see what a 250km/h train run looks like. I get the same kind of rush running a route like this that I do hugging the valleys during a low flying attack run in IL-2 and DCS. The sense of speed is great!
Gameplay remains accessible
TSW 2 offers essentially the same gameplay experience as the previous version. Each route includes a variety of scenarios that start off with training and basic operations before setting you free into different situations. There are shorter routes due to track-work or the occasional situation where there’s an equipment malfunction and you need to inspect it before moving on to the next station. Sometimes you’ll be asked to start the train from “cold and dark” and others where the train is ready to roll to the next station.
There is also the timetable mode which lets you pick a timetable operation to conduct with your choice of weather and time of year. This allows for near unlimited replayability. It is also all based on real world schedules which I applaud.
I appreciate how TSW is structured because the tutorials and pop-up tips help you start to understand the operation of each train. It rarely assumes that you have prior knowledge and you quickly learn how to operate and then slowly master the operation of each train.
The learning curve is easier than most flight simulators and it makes getting in and driving some trains around relatively quick. You can optionally make use of some of the more complex safety systems that are installed on many of the modern tracks which does increase the difficulty level.
The HUD really helps to interpret everything from speed limits to signals ahead. That too can be turned off to increase difficulty if you want to.
TSW 2 already has a growing list of DLC packages that have come out since the release last year.
Some of these routes include the Southeastern High Speed that adds a UK based high speed route between London St Pancras station and Faversham. There’s also LGV Méditerranée: Marseille – Avignon (a route that I bought) puts you in command of the latest generation of the French high-speed TGV train. This route lets you get up to 320 kph as you scream along the countryside. An incredible experience! Finally, Isle Of Wight: Ryde – Shanklin Route comes from third party developer, Rivet Games, who built this shorter but scenic route.
A couple of new routes have just been announced as of my writing this. Clinchfield Railroad, an American freight route set in the Appalachians brings a 1970’s historical flair to freight operation and will have the famous EMD F7A locomotive. Arosa Linie: Chur – Arosa will be the second route from Rivet Games that puts you deep into Swiss mountains on a route that includes 8-percent grades, unique signaling systems, and sections of the route that take you onto the streets and through a town centre. Cool!
One area that the line-up is missing so far is a new American passenger route. An Amtrak Accela would fit right in with some of the other high-speed trains that have recently been on offer and I’m very hopeful that we’ll see something like that come eventually. Dovetail have hinted at it but haven’t confirmed anything more.
Cost and value
Not unlike DCS World, IL-2 or Microsoft Flight Simulator, Train Sim World 2 offers a base package plus plenty of DLC options that expand the experience. Of course this all costs extra and some have charged that Dovetail is asking for too much. Relatively speaking, however, the pricing is not too different from what we see in other sims and won’t be at all shocking to flight simulator fans that are used to paying for $30-100 aircraft updates.
TSW 2 is itself a paid upgrade from the last version and some have suggested that jumping to TSW 2 and making users pay for a core system upgrade is a bit of a downer. To some extent I agree, however, they have sweetened the pot by offering three routes with the upgrade for a regular MSRP of $29.99 USD. Locomotives tend to run for $19.99 USD and routes are $29.99 USD. That means that the base game upgrade is essentially three for the price of one which isn’t bad. The DLC can get still get expensive if you buy a lot of it. If you want to buy every single experience in Train Sim World, you’re looking at a pretty hefty figure in the hundreds of dollars range.
Dovetail offers regular sales with good discounts including up to 55% off the base game and similar pricing for some of the older DLC packs. Newer ones like LGV Méditerranée: Marseille – Avignon that I purchased was 15% off the regular price. Not bad for an almost brand new offering.
As for value, just like a flight sim, if you end up spending a lot of time with these doing the different scenarios or running your own timetable route, you can easily cut the dollar per hour of entertainment ratio down to pennies on the dollar. I’d say that IS good value for money!
I’ve had some recent hardware issues with my flight sim setup which had me looking at other sim games to play and TSW 2 filled that time in nicely. Train simulation isn’t my focus but I do like to check in from time to time and I’ve become a fan of the Train Sim World experience. I know there are other options out there but this one offers the right mix of accessible gameplay, good looking graphics with some improvements to the core experience together with interesting and varied real-world routes.
TSW 2 combined with the preserved collection seem to offer something for just about everyone whose interest includes rail travel and operation. Different styles of gameplay including freight, subway, commuter, and high speed provide for plenty of variety and different routes and timetable options mean you can pick short or longer routes as your own personal time allows.
If you’ve exhausted your flight sim collection and want to do something a little different, I can definitely recommend checking Train Sim World 2 out. Especially if you catch it during one of the many and frequent sales!
Train Sim World 2 and all of its associated DLC is available on the Steam Store for $29.99 USD.