Dune Expansion Released for Microsoft Flight Simulator – Review

Today, Microsoft Flight Simulator welcomes a new world! The MSFS team has embarked on an ambitious crossover with the legendary universe of Dune through a new expansion, introducing the Royal Atreides Ornithopter and the planet Arrakis, offering a unique flight experience that transcends the boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere.

For the first time in Flight Simulator’s 40 years of history, flight simmers can take to the skies on a new planet in an entirely new kind of aircraft. The Dune Expansion opens the opportunity to see the world of Arrakis with your own eyes while flying the uncanny Ornithopter, a flying machine capable of incredible maneuvers and whose speed and agility will leave you exploring the landscapes like never before. Not only in Arrakis, but on Earth too!

Expansion Content

The Dune Expansion is accessible from the “Dune Activities” section within the Activities tile on the MSFS main menu:

  • Three Tutorial Missions: Designed to acclimate pilots to the Ornithopter’s unique flight mechanics, covering takeoff, freefall, and landing phases. These tutorials are crucial for mastering the distinct aspects of flying a craft not bound by conventional aerodynamics.
  • Five Touch-and-Go Challenges: Named Desert Run, Race To Arrakeen, Mountain Dive, Hole-In-The-Rock, and Canyon Rush, these challenges are timed trials that test pilots’ agility, precision, and understanding of the Ornithopter’s capabilities within the diverse landscapes of Arrakis.
  • One Advanced Challenge: The Coriolis Storm Escape presents a high-stakes scenario that pushes the pilot’s skills to navigate through one of Arrakis’s infamous sandstorms, emphasizing quick decision-making and mastery of the Ornithopter’s advanced flight dynamics.
  • Free Flight on the World Map: Beyond structured missions and challenges, pilots have the freedom to explore the vastness of Earth with the otherworldly Ornithopter, sharing the airspace with airliners and other more common aircraft.
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I’ve had the opportunity to try the Dune Expansion over the past week and found the experience to be fun, well designed within the boundaries of MSFS, but ultimately short-lived. Let’s get straight to the point. The Dune Expansion is squarely aimed at fans of the Dune Universe. Simmers with a focus on realism and authenticity will find little to engage with here, unless they maintain an open-minded approach and wish to enjoy some fun with a fictional aircraft.

The Royal Atreides Ornithopter is actually quite fun to fly and surprisingly challenging. It’s based on Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (whose second installment hits theaters in a month, on March 14th), and is perhaps the most dramatic recreation of Frank Herbert’s vision. It’s been brought to life with remarkable detail in MSFS, in very high fidelity compared to the source material, capturing the essence of the ‘thopter’s design – from the oscillating wings to the unique flying characteristics.

You can fly the Ornithopter from a cockpit perspective and also from a unique external view, designed specifically for this aircraft, that perfectly showcases the “dragonfly” wings and how they react to your control inputs. Besides the awesome looks, the Ornithopter flies incredibly well and sounds as epic as you’d imagine. It’s awesome!

Learning to Fly the Ornithopter

Thankfully, a nice introduction to the Ornithopter and to Arrakis comes in the form of three tutorial missions that teach you the basics of how to fly this machine. It’s quite unique and fun, especially given the Ornithopter’s capability to quickly accelerate to speeds of more than 500 knots, come to an almost immediate stop with the use of air brakes, or dive off a cliff to drop thousands of feet within just a few seconds. Totally unrealistic, but undeniably fun!

Once you’re comfortable with the basic controls, there are a series of time trials that will have you doing your best taking off and landing between checkpoints on Arrakis.

Most interesting is the simulated rescue mission that challenges you to find a crashed ship and save the surviving crew member as an absolutely massive sandstorm approaches. You’ll then have to fly as quickly as possible, navigating through rock formations, into tunnels, and tight curves, perfectly showcasing the Ornithopter’s impressive aerodynamic capabilities.

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An interesting aspect of the Ornithopter is that it makes use of new rotorcraft technologies developed by Asobo for the base engine in MSFS, especially the support of multi-rotors alongside CFD dynamics. These new technologies will become available for developers to implement in their creations come Sim Update 15. This will enable more realistic multi-rotor helicopters to be implemented in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and the Ornithopter already showcases these unique flight dynamics.

A Whole New World… Kind of

From a technical perspective, the Dune Expansion showcases the versatility of MSFS’s engine, adapting to the unique physics of an alien world while maintaining the simulator’s hallmark realism. But Arrakis is much simpler than Earth, with mostly desert and some admittedly impressive and huge rock formations.

The whole Earth was rendered in MSFS thanks to massive amounts of satellite data and AI that turned that into a 3D world. But, there’s no satellite data from Arrakis, so how did they make the scenery? Well, by building it “by hand,” so to speak, in the traditional way, and this shows.

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For one, the Arrakis scenery in MSFS is very small compared to having a whole planet to explore. A positive point is that it looks very detailed, even if it’s a barren world made of rock massifs and large stands of desert sand. There’s really not much to look at, but what’s there is well-made.

So, you end up flying in Arrakis but only within the scope of the included tutorials or missions. There’s not a whole planet rendered here, and it’s not even available in free-flight mode. Experiencing Arrakis in MSFS is solely contained within the activities.

An Alien Invasion on Earth

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this expansion is that it effectively adds the Ornithopter as a flying aircraft that you can use as you see fit. It sits in your hangar as any other aircraft, and it’s a great choice to speed through the planet at low altitude, scaring the poor imaginary inhabitants below with the prospect of an alien invasion.

Taking the Ornithopter to the skies above New York, London, or any other place on Earth feels both very unnatural and empowering, and I have little doubt that casual MSFS users, especially on console, and Dune fans too, will love to make the crossover a reality. After the initial fun ends, though… and the hype of the movie fades away, I’m afraid the Ornithopter, for most users, will be parked in the hangar of “aircraft I have but don’t care to fly.”

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In the end, the Dune Expansion is a cool experience for enthusiasts of the Dune universe, but, predictably, offers little to serious simmers. It’s essentially a marketing play between Microsoft Flight Simulator and Legendary, who produces the movie, to drive interest to both products through the hype around Dune: Part Two.

As a fan of both, I personally found the experience fun, albeit short-lived, and for the price of FREE, there’s really nothing anyone can complain about. Try it if you have any kind of interest in this stuff, and then move on with your study-level life in MSFS. Or ignore it at all and carry on with your regular duties.

Microsoft Flight Simulator – Dune Expansion is available now from in the-sim Marketplace.