Most of us will never be given the chance to fly our own plane, which is why it’s so tempting to take to the virtual skies. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is probably the best way to do that now, but the game will run you $60 at least, plus the cost of additional planes. And that probably won’t change any time soon.
As is the case with most simulator games, flight simulators have a long shelf life. X-Plane 11, for example, is still a full $60, despite being three years old, and it has over $2,000 worth of DLC. With those kinds of prices, you’ll need to track down the best free flight simulators to take to the skies on the cheap.
There are plenty of free-to-play games out there, and that includes flight sims. Our list has civilian flight sims, which are all as realistic as possible, as well as combat-focused sims, where the developers trade a bit of realism for action. Although a game like Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has more bells and whistles — not to mention better graphics — these titles will at least let you dip your toes in the world of flight simulation without spending any money.
An aerial spinoff of World of Tanks, the aptly titled World of Warplanes puts players in large battles against one another, allowing them to pilot everything from the wooden biplanes of WWI to modern jets. Like World of Tanks, Warplanes follows a “freemium” model — you can start playing for free, but a number of the planes require players to purchase them with real money or in-game currency. At the start, participants only have exclusive access to the Great War’s archaic warbirds. As you continue to win, you earn in-game currency, which allows you to unlock and purchase advanced planes. Making enough money to buy a new aircraft takes a bit of time and effort; however, in the meantime, there are tons of vehicles you can score for a lower price. The Warplanes game is probably the most arcade-focused setup on our list. Developers whittled the controls down to only the bare essentials. You won’t have to learn or operate dozens of gauges to enjoy the game. While this feature objectively makes it easier for people to learn how to play, it takes away some of the authenticity you’d learn from a flight simulation. Many people value more depth and complexity. For example, in Warplanes, you can easily start a dogfight, but combat lacks the hallmark nuances of more realistic simulators. If you’re a history buff, the game’s variety of locations will feel mighty familiar, but even if you aren’t, you’ll be able to appreciate the visuals. The view is stunning and enjoyable for players. Fortunately, the game’s consistent progression from plane to plane can keep players coming back for more, even without the depth of a more accurate flight sim. World of Warplanes is an ideal choice for players who’d like a single or multi-player casual combat game.
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