Microsoft Flight Simulator: 5 things I wish I knew before taking flight

I had no idea what I was getting into when I first booted up Microsoft Flight Simulator. I saw a bunch of YouTubers crashing planes into their childhood homes and I went “haha, that’s funny!” I thought I could just hook up my Xbox One controller and fly around a brilliantly recreated version of the very planet we live on.

Boy, was I wrong. Even the simplest planes in Flight Simulator are a complex mess to fly. This isn’t for the casual. This is for people who want to control individual fuel dumps to each engine.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze some fun out of it if you are clueless like me. I stumbled through the experience so you don’t have to. Here are my tips for the uninitiated.

#1 – For the love of god, install this on an SSD

My rig is getting on in years, but it’s also no slouch. I was able to run it at ultra-high spec without any frame drops, and while the smooth performance made me proud there was one thing that I was not prepared for was loading times. Sometimes it took up to five minutes just to get past a loading screen, and sometimes I had to go through multiple loading screens before I got into a flight! Doesn’t matter how good your computer is as pushing graphics, the sheer amount of data included in any given flight will slow you down.

Unless that is, you install it on an SSD. You see, for the most part, I install my games on an HD for space reasons, since I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t like deleting stuff to save space… DON’T JUDGE ME. This was so, so, so incorrect for Flight Simulator. Installing the game on an SSD cut down my load times DRAMATICALLY! It still wasn’t instant, but I wasn’t getting up to cook dinner between flights anymore.

#2 – You need, at minimum, two controllers

Look. I tried to play Flight Simulator with just a keyboard and mouse, I really did. The thing is… there are just too many controls. You’ll have stuff mapped to your number keys and F keys, and number pad, and most of your letter keys, and by the end of the day, you’ll barely remember them all. Not to mention it’s never quite clear how much you are adjusting, say, a wing-flap with a keypress, which will very often send you spiraling down into a hilarious crash well before the actual hilarious crash you planned later in your flight.

You can play with a gamepad… sort of, except the too many controls problem, still exists. Also, it’s not intuitive at all. Don’t expect Ace Combat controls here. Imagine my surprise when I tugged down on the left analog stick to try and pull my plane up, only to find that I just lowered my landing gear.

Flight sticks are obviously the way to go here, but even then most flight sticks simply do not have enough buttons. That’s when you realize that Microsoft Flight Simulator is, well, a flight simulator (duh). Think of how a pilot flies his plane. He has his flight stick, but he also has all of the controls on his console, and you need to recreate that if you want to get control of your plane. This means you are going to need more than one controller, one for basic flight controls, and another for every other control the game has to offer. I suggest a keyboard and flight stick, although, a flight stick (or gamepad) and customizable arcade controller, like a hit-box, is equally as enjoyable. There’s just something about the tactile feel of buttons versus keys that made the experience more enjoyable for me.

#3 – If you have a second monitor, use it

Isn’t it absurd that I’ve recommended an SSD, two controllers, and a whole other monitor to get the most out of Flight Simulator? Well, that’s how it is. This is a game built for hobbyists with money to spare, and it knows is.

So why is a second monitor so important? Well, the heft of the experience of Flight Simulator involves reading a lot of meters, from GPS maps to your Air Traffic Control info. All of these meters and windows clog up your screen and actually make flying a little difficult. Some have suggested shrinking the Flight Simulator window and having all your meters surrounding it, but you can just as easily click the middle button on any of these windows to pop it out and put it on your other monitor.

When I was playing, I had all my relevant meters and gauges along with a cheat sheet of all my controls on my second monitor. That left my primary monitor open for flying over the countryside and watching the sunset over the mountains.

#4 – Understand how to search

If you are a filthy casual like me, you probably just want to see cool stuff. You can easily type in landmarks into the search bar on the world map, but if you really want to control where you are going, you’ll need Google Maps.

Once you find a place you want to visit on Google Maps, it will give you a set of coordinates. Copy-pasting those coordinates into the search bar will let you start your flight directly above said landmark. However, you probably don’t want to do this because by the time you hit active-pause and start looking around, the landmark will be behind you. Just adjust your flight to be a little bit before the landmark in order to get the best sightseeing opportunity.

There are also keywords you can type into the search as well, in case you aren’t looking to visit a particular place. For example, you can type “fauna” into the search bar in order to see locations with animals. Want to fly over some elephants running through the plains? You can do that.

#5 – Download regions ahead of time

Microsoft Flight Simulator is a massive game. Aside from the 90+ GB of air-traffic control audio, you’ll also need to download the actual location data for wherever you are going to fly over. By default, Flight Simulator is set to stream data as you play, and for most setups with a decent internet connection, this is good enough. However, if you want to ensure the fastest gameplay experience possible, you can go into General options and then select Manual Cache. Here you can select certain regions and download their data ahead of time, allowing you to fly without relying on your internet connection.

What tips do you have for the new pilots that are lost in a forest of keybindings? Let us know in the comments.