As point releases go, DCS World 2.8 brings in some nice new features and refinements but it doesn’t jump out at you the way DCS World 2.7’s new clouds might have. That doesn’t mean that what we’ve got now isn’t a couple of steps forward in most ways and so I thought I’d write a short piece on some of the standout features.
One of the things that Eagle Dynamics has been very good at is making sure that DCS World is one of the most visually impressive sims around. DCS World 2.8 keeps that reputation as it punches the visuals up another notch or two – albeit in mostly subtle ways.
Unlike 2.7 where the clouds were a defining feature that fundamentally changed the visuals, 2.8 is more of a refinement of the overall system. Eagle Dynamics weren’t too specific what they changed but I know that the clouds received another pass with their team working to make the experience better for VR pilots – from what I hear that was a bit hit and miss. The effect for this 2D player here, however, is that the clouds look as good as or better than they have before.
Another change is the lighting. This is a more subtle update than past efforts but I do notice that areas where there’s a wide range of contrast that we have an overall better, more detailed, sometimes more subtle picture. Where necessary we get a great amount of contrast but in other areas where 2.7 was too dark and too contrasty we see the system back off and give us a better image.
The DCS: Mi-24P mission on the Persian Gulf map where you do disaster relief and take out some insurgents was always a bit dark in the mostly overcast scenario. Now, its still darker but its more readable than before. Less dark and more dull – if that makes sense.
Cockpits that were intensely shadowed before now have a more subtle shadowing effect. It makes it easier to see things but I think it’s also a bit more realistic. Even the Mirage F1 with its very dark cockpit seems to contrast a little better than it did before.
Meanwhile, the play of light and shadow across the aircraft remains impressive and none more than on Heatblur’s F-14 which, somehow, manages to look even more beautiful than it did before!
Cloud and weather system update
DCS World 2.8 brings in new dynamic weather systems as a headline feature for the sim. As near as I can tell, this dynamism at the moment seems to mostly be a matter of taking the weather patterns as they were before and then dragging them across the scenery.
It’s a simple thing but one that probably required some core updates to the DCS World engine. The result is that we do see weather systems now moving across the scenery in a convincing way. During some of those missions with denser cloud packs we now have instances where a target may start out with cloud over and then be unveiled later on. The opposite can happen too.
There are some new visual effects too including rainbows and ice halos which come in several varieties. The ice halos are an effect that appears around the sun and they typically happen when the atmosphere at higher altitudes is extremely cold. Usually this happens when surface temperatures are also very cold but not always.
I’m less of a details oriented person when it comes to dogfighting. This is something I more “do” than think about most of the time and while I can break down some of the basic moves that I make, its less about specific moves and more about an overall “dance” that matters to me.
Most of my testing reveals that DCS’ AI has taken several steps forward. In the limited tests that I ran, they seem to be smoother and better able to judge the situation particularly when versus aircraft that are a known quantity. They make somewhat better choices tactically and when looking at the whole situation.
I don’t think this completely eliminates the DCS “UFO AI” situation as the AI are still flying on a much more simplified flight model. But it does cut down on it some. This update, together with the BVR tactics update that came in several patches ago, does make the DCS AI overall more of a challenge at the highest levels and generally more realistic in their approaches no matter what skill level they are set to.
It’s not the end of a process but it is an excellent step forward. As someone who does a lot of single player or multiplayer PvE in DCS, this is a welcome update!
Some map GUI updates
It’s been a long time since DCS World made any changes to the map GUI but DCS World 2.8 brings in a few.
For one, we now have a placeable compass rose with both magnetic and true north plus all of the other degrees around the rose. From what I understand of the feature, the settings are tuned for the map that you’re on so you’ll be able to get an accurate course using just the rose should you be flying an airplane that doesn’t have its own INS/GPS nav system.
Another feature is a new bullseye feature that uses the bullseye position as a center point and then lets you draw distances and degrees out from that spot. The result? You have a new tool to use bullseye radio calls and then plot them on your own map. Nice!
There are a couple of other quality of life updates for GCI players. Aircraft icons now display altitudes and callsigns! So you will have an easier time finding people and knowing what their situation is compared to before avoiding the need for LotATC for the more casual GCI.
There are countless other changes to DCS World 2.8 with dozens of items for several modules. I haven’t gotten into those details because it’d probably take me a couple of months to discover and report on the changes everywhere. The community have discovered changes to things like the F-15C’s radar range (which gets a long awaited buff) and undocumented changes to the AV-8B. There are changes to night lighting with lights casting light into the cockpit and onto aircraft now and more.
I have heard anecdotally that there are some performance issues for some with some VR players reporting significant FPS drops. On my 2D, 4K display, DCS World 2.8 was running extremely smoothly and looking fantastic at the same time.
DCS World 2.8 is available currently only on the beta release cycle. Those on stable won’t see these changes for some time to come but it will also hopefully mean that some of the growing pains of the release of 2.8 will be sorted by the time it gets to you.
This is a big update in a lot of small ways. It doesn’t address some of the long standing requests for core changes to the engine (better multi-core, Vulkan API, etc.) but it does still move DCS World forward in a bunch of different ways and that’s a good thing. Some of those core updates will hopefully come together in a future update… maybe that will be DCS World 3.0.