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Lifewire / Zach Sweat
Beautiful graphics and details
Modern compared to older-gen flight sims
Extreme in-depth options
Higher price point and expensive DLC
Poor optimization for older PCs
Needs lots of storage space
If you’ve got a rig capable of running it, X-Plane 11 is an excellent next-gen flight simulator with lots of quality content and realism.
Finding a good, modern flight simulator these days doesn’t leave you with too many options. You could always stick with the classics like Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX), but what if you want something that can fully take advantage of your new gaming rig or high-end graphics card?
This is where Laminar Research comes in with their next-gen X-Plane 11 Global Flight Simulator—a modern take on flight sims built for more current hardware. While many popular flight simulators are starting to show their age, X-Plane 11 is a breath of fresh air in the genre, and a breathtaking one at that. Read our review below to see how the latest X-Plane release stacks up against classics like FSX.
Currently, the game is available to be purchased from a number of online retailers in either disc or digital download format. We opted to go the old-school route and purchased the game in a pack of discs, so we’ll cover this option, but if you want to grab the software online, the steps are mostly the same (even simpler).
With the complete disc booklet in hand, your first order of business will be to make sure you’ve got the space. We did mention that X-Plane 11 sports some stunning visuals, and that means lots of space is needed to store all those details. The game requires a whopping 60GB of free space, so hopefully, you’ve got some extra room on your drive.
Begin by placing the first disc into your internal or external DVD drive. The installer will start automatically and it’s easy to follow the on-screen prompts. You’ll need to swap out the discs one after the other as the instructions indicate until you complete the setup.
While many popular flight simulators are starting to show their age, X-Plane 11 is a breath of fresh air in the genre, and a breathtaking one at that.
Once your software is fully set up, you can now launch the game and get yourself flying. Be sure to adjust the settings in the menu to your specific setup for things like resolution, quality, controls, etc.
Aside from setting up your game, it’s a good idea to connect your HOTAS during the initial setup. A HOTAS, or “hands-on throttle-and-stick,” is a set of peripherals that allow you to control your in-game aircraft with more realistic inputs. Combining one of these with X-Plane 11 will increase the immersion considerably.
There are a number of these to choose from, but we went with the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS HOTAS which includes the added pedals. This unit is one of the more popular, affordable options, so we’ll briefly discuss how to set it up. Beginning with the obvious, connect all the cables to your computer’s USB ports. Don’t forget to connect the pedals to the throttle with the included cable.
Once you’ve got it hooked up, Windows should recognize the device and download the necessary drivers. When those have completed installing, you should be able to see the HOTAS connected in X-Plane 11 under the control settings. You’ll also be able to fine-tune things based on your preference from there.
Booting up X-Plane 11, you’re greeted with a host of available options to choose from before your flight. While not nearly as deep as FSX, there are a lot of things you can pick between. If you’re just getting started, the Flight School will teach you the basics of flight in the game and allow you to get acclimated. If you’re not a newcomer, however, you can jump straight into the plane and environment of your choosing.
X-Plane 11 allows you to choose from a limited range of aircraft like basic prop planes to huge jumbo jets (though you can purchase more in the form of DLC). For environments, there are lots of major airports and cities to pick, and you can either select custom weather effects or go with real-world conditions updated in real-time. These options allow for a good bit of diversity, but there aren’t a ton of cool custom missions aimed at simply having fun as you’d see in FSX (no landing planes on moving buses here). The game is definitely more geared for the enthusiast who wants to replicate true to life experiences.
Users also have the ability to fine-tune their aircraft’s specs, with options for weight, fuel level and more, allowing for some interesting setups. The menus in X-Plane 11 have been more streamlined overall versus previous installations of the series, which is a welcome addition. That said, they can quickly become too complex for basic users.
The game is definitely more geared for the enthusiast who wants to replicate true to life experiences.
Jumping into a session, the gameplay feels solid, with tons of immersion and a fully clickable cockpit for each plane. You can choose to make these as complicated as you like, but the realism here is top-notch. Taxing your small Cessna across the airport of Hong Kong with the bright lights of the city all around you at night, and taking off into the sky feels awesome—about as close as you can get to flying a plane in your house.
While testing out X-Plane 11, we did experience some issues, but more so in the graphics department than the gameplay itself, which we’ll touch on in the next section.
With such a monster storage requirement, it’s no surprise that the details and graphics in X-Plane 11 are pretty remarkable. Planes themselves are the focus here, so the textures are superb. Also because Laminar chose to focus on fewer aircraft overall, the ones they’ve included all feel exceptionally well fleshed out. That tradeoff might not appeal to those who want hundreds of vehicles to select from, but it does make the selection in the game quite impressive.
Cities like New York City feature not just accurate buildings, but traffic and road layouts that really add to the experience of a living, breathing world below you.
Aside from the planes themselves, the environments you pick from feel great, with realistic cities properly laid out to their real-world counterparts. Cities like New York City feature not just accurate buildings, but traffic and road layouts that really add to the experience of a living, breathing world below you.
The skybox is an important one for flight simulators, and while X-Plane 11 improves over predecessors, it isn’t the best either. Clouds themselves are a particular eyesore, even with the settings turned up. Weather, on the other hand, looks splendid, with rain creating streaks on your windows and falling all around in spectacular fashion.
Another particularly bad graphical element is the trees. They’re one-dimensional and stick out in an otherwise beautiful environment. This is a bit of a disappointment, but isn’t a huge issue when you’re up in the air away from them.
One of the highlights of the visuals in X-Plane is the lighting. It’s high-quality and realistic, creating some incredible moments depending on your environment. Night flights are especially beautiful in the game, which has long been a favorite among fans of the franchise.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the optimization. It’s not very good, which can lead to some frustrating experiences. Even running on our PC with a high-end graphics card and CPU, we had some instances of stuttering and frame drops (though nothing horrid). While turning down the settings can remedy this somewhat, the setup we were using shouldn’t have an issue and is a clear indication of poor optimization. For lower-end users or those looking to run the game off integrated graphics, you’ll likely have a crippling experience in performance, even when the graphics are low. The RAM requirements are also quite high, recommending 16GB, which puts it on par with AAA games.
Perhaps the biggest issue overall with the game is the optimization. It’s not very good and can lead to some frustrating experiences.
Lastly, we do recommend running the game on an SSD if you can, as HDDs are known to create annoying pop-ins while loading landscapes during flights.
Because X-Plane 11 is a relatively newer game, the price is what you’d expect from most current AAA titles. The game is currently priced at about $60-70 depending on where you purchase it, so it’s not exactly cheap, but it is average for the market.
The biggest issue is that the X-Plane, like most other simulators, has an endless list of DLC that can quickly add up if you want to get everything possible in the package. While these aren’t necessary to enjoy the game by any means, they will add replayability and offer additional experiences if you’re willing to stomach the costs.
Without a doubt, X-Plane 11 is the best current-generation flight simulator you can currently purchase.
One nice feature with X-Plane is that you do have the option to install mods. These free packs of user-generated content can really spice things up by providing custom aircraft and environments if you’re looking to add content without adding more money. They aren’t as numerous as the mod options for FSX, but they’re there if you want them.
Comparing a classic staple in flight simulators like FSX to a more modern one like X-Plane 11 might feel a bit strange, but these two games are the most popular around even today. Given that FSX is about a decade older than X-Plane 11, you’ll need to understand that there are some big differences in terms of modernization between the two.
Despite its age, FSX is still a very capable sim, offering an unmatched amount of content, DLC, and mods to users looking for the absolute content. There’s something to be said for a game as old as FSX that’s still getting support and love from the fanbase. Even X-Plane 11 can’t hold a torch to the amount of replayability FSX offers.
However, X-Plane 11 is more modern, and that means you get a host of improvements over older simulators. The graphics will look much improved, environments are more current, the support will likely be better in years to come, and the gameplay feels tighter due to the vast advancements in tech. X-Plane 11 offers a next-gen experience that FSX will never come close to.
If your primary deciding factor is visuals, X-Plane is your go-to. If you want more content, well FSX is unmatched in that department. The price is also a bit better with FSX, but each of these titles will quickly add up if you want to get all the DLC available.
Another quick note is that there are rumors swirling about for a sequel to FSX, due out in 2020. This game will undoubtedly advance the tech to either match or exceed X-Plane’s current offering, so potential shoppers should be aware of this.
The best current-gen flight simulator available now.
Without a doubt, X-Plane 11 is the best current-generation flight simulator you can buy. While there are some issues with optimization, if you’ve got the computer for it, the game is stunning and currently provides the best real-world experiences.