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In 2020 Microsoft released the latest incarnation of its 40-year old Flight Simulator and, well, it’s quite possibly the best-looking game of all time (providing you have the PC capable of running it in all its glory).
The developers have already said there is a 10-year roadmap in place so Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is going to around with us for the next decade. It’s taken next to no time for a thriving ecosystem of devs and home-modders to expand the world beyond all imagination. here we will have a look at just some of the things you can do to expand your game
Paid v Free addons and mods for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
There was initially a bit of panic that all addons were going to be behind a very high paywall when it was announced that the game would have its own built-in marketplace.
In reality though that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only can you install free add-ons as well as those you buy from the Marketplace in the sim, but it is also remarkably easy to do it. Simply a case of dragging and dropping files in Windows. This means we can expect to see a huge quantity (and therefore varying quality of addons) over the coming years and means even those without the budget to buy the inevitable high-end aircraft will be able to add extra playability in the form of new airports, scenery and aircraft liveries without spending a dime.
Even professional scenery company ORBX has released a freeware airport to help promote its payware range. Everybody is getting in on the act!
Official updates from Microsoft
Microsoft themselves have continued to busily keep adding new content into the environment in the shape of World Updates which have taken large sections of the globe and upgraded what came initially.
We have had a Japanese, and the USA, and the UK update so far and now, they have released World Update IV covering major European destinations such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
Third-party devs and general users have been filling the void with stuff like the Eiffel Tower for many months, but now the official update should render a lot of that moot.
How to install free addons in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
- If you have installed the MSFS contents in a custom folder, go into that folder and you should see your Community folder in there
- If you have bought it from the Microsoft Store Go to %localappdata% (search using windows search), then go to Packages\Microsoft.FlightSimulator_RANDOMLETTERS\LocalCache\Packages\
- If you have the game through Gamepass Go to %localappdata% (search using windows search), then go to Packages\Microsoft.FlightSimulator_RANDOMLETTERS\LocalCache\Packages\ If you bought the game on Steam… Go to %appdata% (search using windows search), then Microsoft Flight Simulator\Packages\Alternate Steam Method (If Above Does Not Work)… Go to %localappdata% (search using windows search), then got to Packages\Microsoft.FlightSimulator_RANDOMLETTERS\LocalCache\Packages\
- Alternate Steam Method (If Above Does Not Work)… Go to YOUR_STEAM_LOCATION\steamapps\common\
Installing any addon into Flight Simulator 2020 revolves around the ‘Community folder’. Find this holy grail and you can drag whatever you like in there. In all honesty, finding where this is located may well be the hardest part of boosting your Flight Simulator 2020 library as it can live in a number of locations, depending on where you acquired the game. If you bought it on Steam it will be in a different location to if you are playing on Game Pass and so on.
Either way, it’s a 90GB (yup, you read that correctly) which, perversely, helps you to find it using any kind of software that sorts folders by size (Foldersize for example) as there aren’t many folders of that size lurking on your hard drive.
To look for it manually, the team at MSFSaddons.org have come up with a handy location finder depending on your install, so the next few lines will enable you to locate it and then, we’d advise you to make a shortcut on your desktop so you don’t have to mess about finding it again.
Note, where it says RANDOMLETTERS, don’t look for that, just look for random letters!
Also to find your AppData folder you may need to click on View in the bar at the top of the Explorer window and click on Show hidden files if it is unchecked.
The best free addons for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
Now you have located your community folder the world is your oyster. There are new add-ons seemingly arriving every few minutes at the moment – I have just looked and there are at least another two that have appeared since I first check this morning.
When we set out with writing this page the goto place was MSFSaddons.org. Since then the excellent flightsim.to has appeared and there is a ton of different content on there all easily searchable – Want famous stadiums from around the world? They have them? Live in a city not really covered very well by the base product? Check it out with a quick search to see if another user has sorted out some landmarks for you.
So what kind of add-ons can you expect to find there?
Best free liveries for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
One of the few things that might irk you when you first play the game is the distinct lack of recognizable liveries (paint jobs on the planes to you and me) that are in the game. The A320neo airliner for example comes with a really basic white paint job with lettering but imagine you can take to the skies in a Delta or British Airways Airbus? Or even an old-school Lufthansa paint job from the 70s?
Well now you can because on the site is a megapack containing over 70 liveries (update – There are now over 150 liveries in the pack!) for the various planes in the game and it just a case of dropping the folders from the zip into the Community folder and the next time you load the game you will be able to choose a brand new look for your aircraft.
Perhaps the only slight issue you might have with such a large number of liveries for something like the A320 is that there is currently no way to search them so you will end up horizontally scrolling your way through the list to find the one you want. Some have thumbnails and others only have carrier logos at the moment so it perhaps takes a little bit of the polish of the game, but you can always delete the ones you don’t want and they really do add a new layer of authenticity to the sim.
Two days ago there were 40 liveries in the pack, today there are 70 so chances are by the time you read this and go to install it there could be even more.
Best free airports for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
Airports are a big deal in Flight Simulator. While there are already 37,000 or so airports in the game, most are rendered with generic scenery. They still look great, but if you know a particular airport well, they aren’t necessarily going to cut the mustard. A range of paid, premium airports are already available in the Marketplace but creators are already starting to produce their own local airports and on MSFSaddons a number are already available for free. These, at the moment, are generally small airfields in picturesque locations such as Alaska or Norway but we can certainly expect bigger and more elaborate projects to enter the scene as time goes on.
At the moment one of the best freeware airports is Sandane in Norway, which is a beautiful sloped strip where take-off is over the lake. Just don’t try it in a jet, as I did for kicks, because the tarmac is not long enough to get the Airbus up in the air.
In the hours after we published this article, ORBX, mentioned and praised elsewhere, released the freeware Fairways Airport (OG20) – a beautiful little airfield in Oregon. You need to download it via their Orbx Central program, which means another install, but it is a great place to manage your ORBX account if you intend to buy any of their premium products.
Even though you may not have thought of it, a lot of people head to top-secret places in Flight Simulator with popular UFO conspiracy hotspot Area 51 being a prime example. If you fancy checking out the airstrip there it has been enhanced with this piece of freeware, featuring night lighting and more military buildings.
There are more airports appearing seemingly by the hour at the two sites above so check to see if anywhere near you has been added yet.
Best free scenery for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 does such a stellar job on scenery anyway you might wonder how could anybody possibly add anything new. Gone, surely are the days of companies such as ORBX selling high definition terrain packs.
There are a couple of payware scenery add-ons packs out there already – ORBX do a great London skyline pack with all the famous buildings from England’s capital city, and more recently a complete overhaul of Sydney, Australia, but in terms of freeware at the moment the creators seem to be concentrating on fixing some of the issues we are finding streamed into the game from Bing Maps.
Two main packs out there right now offer fixes for incorrect water heights around Bergen in Norway and in Alaska. These correct around 400+ bodies of water that are at the incorrect height, leading to odd-looking scenery with rivers higher than trees and so forth.
If you are keen to see what freeware scenery devs can do along similar lines to the Orbx skyline pack, there is a great Stonehenge pack there that will bring the ancient wonder of the world into your game.
More scenery is appearing all the time and one of the best ones we have seen to date is for the Toulon province in France, which doesn’t just model one thing but an entire region – turning the existing blurred area into one that comes alive. It’s a work in progress at the moment but already weighs in at 1.5GB.
Fans of the Olympics can also now add in the London Stadium – home of the 2012 games too, but these days home of soccer team West Ham United.
Meanwhile, if you fancy going to Hollywood but don’t think your acting skills are up to scratch, the rebuild of the famous sign in the Hollywood Hills (see the gallery above) doe a great job of replacing the rather awful default scenery in the base game.
Another thing in the vanilla game that surprisingly doesn’t seem to get as much love as you would expect are bridges and modders around the world are busy putting major world structures into the game. The example we are going to use here is the great work on the famous wartime bridge, the John Frost Bridge at Arnhem in the Netherlands. There are plenty of other great ones on the sites above too.
Best free plugins for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
This is an area we definitely expect to see a lot of work on in the coming months. Many devs are hard at work making their existing plugins for older versions of the sim, or even entirely different sims, compatible with the new kid on the block.
If you have played Flight Sims before and yearned for the VR-esque ability of being able to look around you may have heard of Track IR which is a clever camera system that watches your head movements and swings the view around accordingly. Clever stuff. Even more clever is the plugin that lets you use the camera on your iPhone (or even webcam) to carry off the magic so by sticking your iPhone in front of your monitor and running the program, you can look around your virtual cockpit without the need for a controller to be bound to the camera.
There are early versions of other plug-ins including a mod manager which negates the need to keep opening your Community folder but they aren’t very mature yet. Other options you may be interested are VFR Map (which translates your aircraft position onto Google Maps on a tablet so you can see where you are and what you are approaching, and has recently been updated since we first published this article.) and Spacedesk that lets you use an iPad or such like as a secondary screen and pop out instruments and so on to keep in view all the time (pro-tip, holding the Right-Alt key and clicking an instrument will pop it into its own window on top).
One of favorite plugins at the moment is a real game enhancer called LukeAir – basically, it is a way of streaming real-world flight sounds into your game – all the bings and bongs of flight, air steward announcements such as safety briefings, and so on are included for many popular airlines. Is it necessary – nope, is it cool. Very much so.
(Not Free but) best yoke, pedals, panels and joysticks for Flight Simulator 2020
Playing Flight Simulator 2020 with a keyboard and mouse is possible but adding a few choice peripherals into the mix to improve the handling, let alone realism, of your experience is a great way to get more enjoyment from your new hobby.
Check out these options to greatly increase your fun, and the best thing is you can add and upgrade your home-cockpit as the months go by. None of these items are particularly expensive and people end up spending over time to create the perfect set-up.
We will keep this page up to date in the coming days and weeks so be sure to bookmark it and keep an eye on us. And if you have any addons we haven’t mentioned that you cannot do without, pop them in the comments below and we will have a look at them.