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DCS World Beginners Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Start Flying

8 Mins read

So, you want to get into DCS World, but you don’t know where to start? Lucky for you, you’ve come to the right place, because in this beginner’s guide we’ll provide answers to all of your burning questions about DCS, like: Do I need a HOTAS? Can I use a mouse and keyboard? Track IR or virtual reality? What kind of PC specs do I need for a good experience? What module do I start off with? All of these questions to come and without further ado, let’s go ahead and get started.

1. Essential modules

So, let’s the start off with the number one question: What module do I get to start off my DCS experience? Our recommendation above all else, is to choose something that you are passionate about. If you grew up loving F-14 Tomcats that might be a good place to start. At the end of the day DCS is a study level simulator and if you purchased an aircraft that you are passionate about, the motivation to learn the aircraft will get you through the hard times of reading page after page of instruction manuals.

The F-14 Tomcat is one of the best planes in DCS World

Don’t come into DCS thinking it is going to be like some other aircraft arcade games where you can learn the controls in a few minutes. For example, a couple more minutes and you’re off the ground and within a couple hours your piloting like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. It is not going to be like that. It’ll probably be days of learning and studying how to use the radar before you fully understand what’s going on. But again, if you have an aircraft that you’re passionate about, you will be motivated to push through and learn the systems of the aircraft, and it will even be fun in the process.

With all of that being said, if you’re still confused about what module you should get we can offer you the following advice. DCS offers something called Flaming Cliffs 3. Referred to often in the community as simply FC3. This package includes the F-15, SU-33, SU-27, MiG-29, A-10 and the J11. These aircraft are modeled in a much more simplistic nature and are not full fidelity, which means you can’t click things in the cockpit. The controls are input using a keyboard, or if you bind it to your HOTAS system. However, the more basic modeling of these FC3 level aircraft makes them much easier to learn. Keep in mind, just because these aircraft are more basic doesn’t mean they lack realistic flight models or that they are at some sort of disadvantage relative full fidelity aircraft when it comes to air-to-air or air-to-ground combat. In fact, the FC3 F-15 Eagle is among the most potent air-to-air platforms in the simulator.

If you want to deep dive into DCS, then the F/A-18C Hornet is the right plane for you

But there are still people out there who want to get the full experience of DCS with a full fidelity module, and they want to dive right into the deep end. So, what do we recommend for people like this? The F/A-18C Hornet is our first pick. The reasons are simple. The Hornet being a multirole aircraft provides you with the most things you can do to learn. For example, the Hornet is capable of air-to-air, air-to-ground, sea and even antiship operations with a wide range of weapons for every task. The Hornet can operate from ground bases, or even give you the experience of naval operations from a carrier. Unlike the Tomcat, the F-18 Hornet’s radar is operated by the pilot himself, and therefore also provides you with the opportunity to practice your radar management.

Once you become proficient in your first aircraft, all others become much easier to learn. So coming to the sim with realistic expectations, coming ready to study, ready to learn, ready to put in the time that you need, before you know it you’ll be doing all of these stuff with ease.

2. System requirements

So let’s talk about what kind of PC specs you’re going to need for a decent experience in DCS. As you have probably already noticed, flight simulators have made a real comeback in the last decade, especially in the last 2 to 3 years. This may actually be one of the reasons why you’re even reading this guide. There are some really awesome things on the horizon, especially with companies pushing the boundaries of flight sims with ever more complex flight models, clouds, weather conditions, and better and better resolution ground textures. It is more important than ever to have a decent PC to get the most out of the emerging experience provided by flight simulators today.

Minimum system requirements (LOW graphics settings): OS 64-bit Windows 10; DirectX11; CPU: Intel Core i3 at 2.8 GHz or AMD FX; RAM: 8 GB (16 GB for heavy missions); Free hard disk space: 120 GB; Discrete video card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 / AMD R9 280X or better; requires internet activation.

Recommended system requirements (HIGH graphics settings): OS 64-bit Windows 10; DirectX11; CPU: Core i5+ at 3+ GHz or AMD FX / Ryzen; RAM: 16 GB (32 GB for heavy missions); Free hard disk space: 120 GB on Solid State Drive (SSD) + extra space for paid content ; Discrete video card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 / AMD Radeon RX VEGA 56 with 8GB VRAM or better; Joystick; requires internet activation.

Recommended VR systems requirements (VR graphics settings): OS 64-bit Windows 10; DirectX11; CPU: Core i5+ at 3+ GHz or AMD FX / Ryzen; RAM: 16 GB (32 GB for heavy missions); Free hard disk space: 350 GB on Solid State Drive (SSD); Discrete video card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 / AMD Radeon RX VEGA 64 or better; Joystick; requires internet activation.

In the section above you can see the minimum requirements for DCS for low and high settings and also virtual reality settings. One thing we’ll mention here from our own personal experience is that if you want to come and join larger PVP servers that function from anywhere between 50 to 60 players at a time, you will need a minimum of 32 gigabytes of RAM. From our experience, 16 gigabytes of RAM is enough for smaller servers, with 5 to 6 people, for a semi-decent experience. You will have massive load times with just 16 gigs of RAM for larger servers. Keep in mind that DCS is currently very CPU dependent. So, it’s probably a good idea to get something decent in that department.

If you don’t have the time or will to build yourself a custom gaming PC from ground up for DCS World, then be sure to check out CyberPowerPC’s latest offerings. All of CyberPowerPC’s prebuilt computers feature high-end PC components, and will run DCS World without any performance hiccups. We recently tested their Gamer Supreme Gaming PC featuring the latest 12th Gen Intel Core CPU and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, and were very content with.

Read also: The Best Gaming PC Build Under $1,500

As many of you know, things have been hard in the past couple years, for a lot of people. And one thing we like about CyberPowerPC is that they understand this and will work with you through programs like Affirm to pay monthly installments instead of one full payment, which can put you inside your favorite DCS aircraft without breaking the bank. You can check out CyberPowerPC’s offerings at Amazon, Newegg, or on their official website.

3. Additional accessories

So, you might be asking yourself: Do I need a whole HOTAS system or setup to get into DCS? The simple answer is “yes”. If you want to have a semblance of a good experience with DCS, you need to get a HOTAS, or joystick, or throttle. You don’t need to get crazy and get the higher-end stuff that’s $400, $600 or even $1,000. There are cheaper joysticks out there, like the Trustmaster T.16000M that can get you started without breaking the bank.

Thrustmaster T.16000M is an excellent budget HOTAS for DCS World

Your next question might be will you be less effective if you don’t get the $1,000 sticker throttle? No, absolutely not. In DCS you can easily get killed by guys using $50 sticks. You can upgrade to a better stick and throttle down the road when the funds are more available to you, but until then, a basic stick will do just fine.

Read also: Logitech X56 HOTAS Revisited: Is It Still Worth?

And one of the biggest questions we get about DCS is track IR or virtual reality. This is one of the bigger questions when it comes to DCS. What kind of head tracking should I get and do I even need one? The answer is “yes”. You do need one. You need some sort of head tracking. Why do you need one? The answer is simple. You need to be able to look around up and down at your systems, at your instruments, and maintain visual during a dogfight among the many other reasons. Basically, if you want a decent experience, you will need some sort of head tracking. We’ve tested both track IR and virtual reality, and we can honestly say the two are equal in the sense that they both have pros and cons. In the end it really comes down to your preference.

Compared to VR headsets, the TrackIR5 is much more affordable and accessible

Track IR will provide a flat 2D display experience, but the graphics will be far more pleasing. Virtual reality will be a 3D experience, but generally speaking, provides a far lower graphics experience, as virtual reality is fairly strenuous on the PC in comparison to track IR. This also means if you plan to go down the virtual reality road for head tracking you will also need to invest in a semi-decent PC to get a decent experience. Not to mention the already higher cost of the virtual reality headset versus track IR.

4. Stable vs. Open Beta

So when you finally decide to download DCS and you head over to their website, you will notice that there’s two different versions of DCS for you to download. The stable version and the Open Beta. Stable DCS theoretically has less bugs and issues. But Open Beta is where all the servers are, with the high player counts. Open Beta is also where all the new weapons or modules are released first at the cost of increased bugs. For the most part, Open Beta is really fine, and you should definitely give it a try. There’s not a whole lot going on in Stable version in terms of new things for you to play with.

5. Money

Can you try DCS without spending any money? Yes, yes you can. You can download DCS right now and get the main Caucasus map 100% for free. Along with this map you can also get the T-51, which is an unarmed version of the P-51 Mustang and also the Sukhoi SU-25. But there is something a lot of people don’t know. You can also install the A4 Skyhawk mod and get yourself a free third aircraft to try. The A4 is one of the best mods in the DCS community and is not an official module sold by ED. Therefore it’s free and it’s maintained for free by a dedicated mod team. This is a really good opportunity to try out DCS for free and see if your PC can even handle it before you jump in fully.

6. Tutorials

How do I learn my aircraft? There’s lots of aircraft tutorials on YouTube. Eagle Dynamics YouTube channel does a great job of breaking down and teaching functions of some of their new aircraft, like the Hornet or the Viper. Chuck’s Guide is also a great resource for learning and sometimes you just want to talk to real people to ask questions, in which case you can join aDdiscord community and meet and ask questions there.


And that’s it from us. These were some of the most burning questions about DCS. We think we’ve answered most of the ones that we could think of that you guys asked, most commonly if there’s anything that I forgot, or that is on your mind, go ahead and put in the comment section below and I will do my best to answer them. Thank you for watching guys. I hope you found the video helpful and I’ll see you in the next one by guys

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About author
Frank is the Editor-in-Chief at ViCadia. He is an avid PC gamer, as well as a tech enthusiast. Besides being a tireless writer, he is also ViCadia’s web developer.
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