Clouds 2.8: An Opinion on DCS 2.8's New Dynamic Weather
I have hopes that the fair weather flyer status quo will begin to change
It has been well over a year since the flight simulation enthusiasts of Digital Combat Simulator dreamed of the possibilities that volumetric clouds could bring. In April 2021, DCS update 2.7 would finally do away with the well-worn clouds and weather that could be traced back to Flanker 2.0 circa 1999, and the cloud-powered hype train was hitting full steam. We wrote a few pieces about it ourselves. While DCS 2.7 certainly has had an impact, the recently released DCS 2.8 builds upon it in a few minor but significant ways.
Thinking back on roughly 17 months of operations with volumetric clouds in multiplayer servers, my assessment of clouds today is somewhat different than what I thought they would have been when they were first introduced. In retrospect, the clouds of DCS 2.7 were treated more as a part of the background scenery than a part of the missions/servers I found myself flying in the majority of the time. Clouds were present, but clear weather flying with great visibility and scattered clouds at high altitudes were near constant. The gameplay was noticeably different in servers that utilized more unique presets.
For pilots accustomed to using targeting pods and the old mark. One eyeball, DCS 2.7's clouds, and weather were immovable obstacles. Literally. With no changes to their position, particular cloud and weather presets could seal off entire areas of a map to combat operations. I can think of many cases where a mission was designed with no consideration to how the clouds actually appear on the map, but once weather effects were applied, the objectives were entirely obscured by clouds that go all the way down to the surface. In those situations, there would be no way to complete the objectives unless there were coordinates for GPS-guided weapons or turning on unit labels that are visible through all weather.
It's probably safe to say that the complications caused by limited visibility scenarios were more detrimental than expected to mission editors and people hosting servers as they tried to maintain an easy-to-access gameplay experience.
With DCS 2.8's new dynamic cloud and weather systems, I have hope that this fair weather flyer status quo will begin to change. Now with even the thickest cloud banks rolling across terrain due to wind and rain, sleet or snow coming and going with time, the genuine issue of forever obscured targets has been negated.
The unpredictability of the weather during long-play sessions revitalized a few missions and specific servers I am all too familiar with. During sorties in public multiplayer servers that immediately took advantage of the update and private testing on Skyward's own DCS World server, the randomness of the environment made even the most well-worn missions play differently. It was noticeable among the general player population too. There were more pre-planned attacks and lower-altitude flying, which is quite the contrast to the usual high-altitude, long-distance guided weapon approach that permeates most of the experiences out there.
Now that arriving over a never moving cloud bank no longer means a guaranteed botched mission, I'm hoping that mission editors will incorporate dynamic weather while taking the initiative to integrate new priorities. For example, with better fuel management being a factor in how much time they have to loiter in the event of weather being in the way, better placement of air-to-air refueling tankers could be a welcome addition.
DCS 2.8 brings a considerable amount of minor and major changes. There's a lot more to unpack, but with weather being such a big part of aviation as a whole, it seemed like a good subject to start with.
About the Author
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.