Sim Update 5 for Microsoft Flight Simulator is a big moment for the sim and while my overall opinion is that this is a good update that will be a key moment for both the sim and the franchise on the whole over the long run, it’s also been a bit of a shaky launch. This piece is a flight journal but I also want to get out my editorial hat for a moment and talk about some of the changes to the sim. There are good changes, bad changes and some ugly ones too!
The update process
Soapbox time. I started the update process for Update 5 within the first hour that it came out. That was 11 am local time for me and I let it run until completion. That took about 5-hours, far longer than any update has previously. I suspect the combined excitement over the new version and the Xbox Series X|S launch had a significant effect on server performance but I also expect Microsoft with its vast resources to be able to direct enough servers and network hardware at this job to make it go a little quicker.
Then after that update was complete, I also had to update virtually every package that I own. The various World Updates needed to be downloaded (seemingly in their entirety) once again and that took almost as long as the update itself. I left the house, I ran errands, I came back and made dinner, and I worked on various projects and articles for this blog while I waited for it to finish.
It was an all day affair and the UI experience is a bit frustrating. Asobo and Microsoft, my message to you is this. Find a new update system for Flight Simulator so that everything can be managed from outside of the sim and that updates can be completed in the background. Maybe find a way to do package updates instead of having to update the entire sim and every piece of content too. These are big downloads and while I don’t sweat those anymore with an unlimited bandwidth package, not everyone is so lucky.
Excitement at the airport
I decided to do the reverse flight of a memorable journey I took earlier in the year during my Japan tour. Departing from Haneda Airport located in Tokyo on the waterfront, I flew an IFR route over to Osaka International Airport. It’s a 40(ish) minute flight and a fun one to do in a fast jet like the Citation Longitude.
Even before I loaded into an aircraft on the tarmac at the airport, it was clear that this place was busy! A lot of virtual pilots were flying all over the place at the airport and while some may have been put off by some flagrant rule breaking when it comes to flying rules, I was excited to see people having fun with the sim again. I don’t know how many were on Xbox but it was cool to see people and aircraft flying around.
New control scheme
There’s a new control scheme in Microsoft Flight Simulator. You can use the legacy method or the new method depending on your preferences.
Controls are better labeled and highlighted and the ways in which you interact with them are better communicated through the UI as well. Traditional click-pit simmers may reject this new scheme but new Xbox players will surely benefit. I’m going to keep it on for now.
The VFR map also seems to be sharper and have more detail than it did before. I’m not sure if this is just at Haneda or if it applies elsewhere but I was able to clearly make out the runway markings so that made things a bit easier. I’d love some more labels for taxiways and other features later but for now, this will do!
I like to use the built in ATC. It’s not perfect but the interactions feel engaging and the language has been tidied up in past patches so it feels a bit more realistic.
I did, however, have trouble on transition from tower to Tokyo centre after takeoff. I hit the button, the radio changed the correct frequency but I wasn’t able to interact at all after that. And my radio stayed broken until I switched to the frequency for Osaka tower on landing. I’ve heard of others having problems too so this doesn’t seem to be isolated.
Time compression troubles again too
The dreaded autopilot issue is still, sort of, with us too. Everything was fine until I hit the time acceleration button and then the autopilot and control systems malfunctioned. Almost immediately at 2x speed, the aircraft throttle’s pulled back to 50% (I had them around 65%), the aircraft began to wobble and the stall buzzer started to sound even though speed was just fine.
This carried on even after I dropped out of the time compression but it then took several more minutes of diagnosing issues to try and find out why the jet wouldn’t respond to control inputs anymore. Eventually it resolved itself making me think that it was somehow out of sync because of the time compression.
Eventually I regained control… and resolved not to use time compression for the rest of the flight.
Visual detail problems on approach
My last leg of my flight was also problematic as I descended into Osaka. A previously beautiful sight but slightly marred by more pixelated textures than before and extremely short building draw distances. The short distances were less of a problem than the constant reloading that they were doing.
On approach to Osaka, and not captured well in the screenshots, buildings would appear and disappear ahead of me almost at random. Even at close distances, where they should absolutely appear, they we flickering in and out. Something is wrong here and I’m not sure if settings tweaks will solve it.
I will say for all of the problems I had that the weather was magnificent. I had it on live weather and time and the clouds looked great and there were frequent rainstorms in the Tokyo area that seemed to clear out by the time I got to Osaka (although looming in the distance).
I loved flying around the clouds and up through them and while they obscured my visuals of Mount Fuji, I’ll put up with that because of how good they looked. Hopefully this means that some of the weather issues that have cropped up periodically before are solved. I had few problems myself but this was particularly good!
That damned handlebar
I was going to edit it out but I’ve decided to make a point of it instead. On the top of every screenshot, you’ll notice the “handlebar” which is a visual representation of where the quick menu is. I like the quick menu a lot because it allows for quick access to plenty of powerful features from cameras to ATC to weather. But normally that handlebar disappears after a moment and then I can get back to taking screenshots.
Right now, it’s kind of stuck up there and it won’t go away. There’s a mod that someone made that apparently has mixed results with Update 5 but I’m going to install it anyways and see if I can fix this problem. It definitely mars my screenshots and while I could use the healing brush in Affinity Photo (or in Photoshop) to remove them… I’m just going to leave it for now.
Performance IS better!
I saved it for last because the other issues are a big annoyance but I will say in my completely non-scientific analysis that this update has indeed ushered in some serious performance improvements. Frame rates are higher, I have fewer stutters on my six year old PC, and the sim mostly looks just as good as it did before.
There are problems and they need to be resolved but I am very appreciative that performance improvements remain a priority. That along with these other issues are ensuring that MSFS is a great sim experience for quite a few virtual pilots. We just need to get through some of the other problems.
I’m a big fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator and I love that the series continues to grow, expand, and draw in new players. I’m excited for all of the great experiences that Xbox players are going to have and that even more people will be joining us on PC. While you do that, be sure to check out some other fun sims like IL-2 Sturmovik, DCS World, and X-Plane too.
Update 5 is a big deal for the series and I’m very excited where it will lead to. Development is often not something that happens in a linear fashion and nor does it always end up being a forward motion at all times. Update 5 is a mixed bag of frustration, solid improvement, and door opener to new sim pilots. I just wish it was a little less turbulent.