Dovetail Games has returned to the train simulation market once more to deliver an entirely new title — Train Sim World 3. Two years since the release of its predecessor, this new sim may come armed with some new content and features, but overall, it’s still a relatively familiar experience for those returning to the series.
But, like any numbered sequel in a franchise, the burning question is whether or not it’s a marked success above the previous entry. As it relates to Train Sim World 3, to put it simply, it’s like seeing an old friend again for the first time in a while; familiar, but exciting.
Train Sim World 3 tries to spice up its experience with an emphasis on a new dynamic weather engine and a more refined training mode, as well as an update to the graphical engine. All of this is in an effort to make the sim both look and feel more realistic.
From the various scenarios I played during my time with the sim, I can say that while these additions and improvements do carry some difference, I wouldn’t call them earth-shattering.
The refined visuals do look nice, though, such as the new volumetric cloud technology.
Other modern sims like Farming Simulator 22 and Microsoft Flight Simulator have also implemented this beautiful new tech, yet, Train Sim World 3‘s effects don’t offer as much punch as I expected. Truth be told, across, I struggle to see a huge upgrade compared to that of Train Sim World 2. That doesn’t mean that the new sim somehow looks bad, it’s just that its predecessor already looked pretty sleek. Thus, it’s like Train Sim World 3 got a minor touch-up rather than an extensive visual overhaul. The new weather effects, which are a big part of the “new” content, do look marginally nice, I’ll say.
Snow accurately blanketing the top of the train and getting kicked up as the train whizzes along the track, rain giving a nice gloss to the environment; these are all nice touches. Not to mention the weather affects the gameplay, too (more on that later).
That said, some of the sim’s visuals still could use some work. For instance, windshield effects during rain and snow storms are a mixed bag. Depending on the train, some of them look good, while others very obviously use 2D animation. This pales in comparison to modern implementations of similar effects in other titles which look far more complex and three-dimensional, even implementing realistic physics to the droplets.
Nevertheless, the environmental detail is still nice with a healthy amount of AI traffic (both within the scenery and on the track) and relatively decent animated passenger models. They’re leaps and bounds better than the rough polygons of Trains 2004 that merely faded onto and off of the station platform. Truly, the way graphical tech has advanced in the last few years is remarkable, and Train Sim World 3 makes great use of it.
Whistle while you work
The train models themselves are absolutely gorgeous, with a lot of intricate texture work that can be seen in the images above and below.
I’m also a big fan of the sim’s soundscape, which has deep and rich sounding ambient environments. This its combined with the great audio of each train both inside and out. The sim even features some small details like cabin announcements in some commuter trains.
But again, despite these highlights, there are some oddities. I noticed some passengers quickly rising out of the cars and above the map. There were also some instances where ground textures would overlap or elements would be awkwardly placed, such as the track having a visible gap between it and the ground. I also noticed some particle effects also flickered as they were being triggered. Thankfully, Dovetail Games can iron out all of these issues with a patch or two.
Having said that, the sim’s performance could use some tweaking too. Despite having a capable set up, I still regularly experienced some micro-stutters, especially when running on a line with a high-speed train. I found this especially odd since I installed Train Sim World 3 on an SSD.
The loading speeds are exceptional, however. So, it definitely does benefit from the extra speed, hence is why it’s strange that the map seems to have a hard time loading when in motion.
Thomas & his friends
Even with these complaints, my experience with Train Sim World 3 has been great, to say the least. When I first took proper control of the LMS Stainer 8F, a steam engine, and was able to get it moving, I had the biggest grin on my face while I gleefully blew its powerful whistle. For a moment, my childhood memories of watching the classic cartoon Thomas The Tank Engine came flooding back.
Then I observed the surrounding European scenery, which faintly resembled the cartoon’s fictional island of Sodor. Honestly, in this moment, though probably quite unintentional, Dovetail won some serious nostalgia points from me.
As I alluded to earlier, I’ve been a fan of the train sim genre for quite some time now, so I’ve had the opportunity to seeing how the games have evolved overtime. So when I compare Train Sim World 3, not just to its predecessor but to the legacy of the entire genre, it truly stands out to me as a solid experience.
Each of the included locomotives have their unique quirks; they don’t feel like simple model swaps. As you go through the well-designed training course for each, you learn about them in a way that helps you solidify the procedures to muscle memory.
While some locos function similarly, such as the electric commuter trains, they all have different attributes, layouts, and capabilities. For instance, the small Class 375 commuter feels almost like a Fisher-Price model with how simple it controls, whereas the German-made ICE BR401DB/BR403 FB high-speed trains feel almost like spaceships by comparison.
So-called “steamies” and diesel engines are in classes all their own, as they each have different valves, gauges and levers to keep an eye on to ensure proper operation. Once you factor in extra modifiers such as weather conditions (like wet traps causing wheel slips), the weight of the entire train (very important factor when braking and accelerating), the elevation grade, it all comes together to form a very meticulous experience that always feels hands-on.
You can’t ever turn your attention way for too long, even on a lengthy route, as speed limits often change and upcoming signals require you to adjust accordingly. You never want to break too hard or accelerate too fast, either. If you make a mistake and miss an objective, the entire scenario will end.
Really, it’s here where, despite its strong points, some of Train Sim World 3‘s quality-of-life features are just flaws that have been inherited from its predecessor.
Tracks, trials, and errors
Picking up from the issue just mentioned, the lack of checkpoints or even the ability to manually save a session is quite strange. Seeing that some of the sim’s scenarios can last for over 30 minutes, sometimes going past an hour, having the entire mission end abruptly after making one mistake is infuriating when you’ve invested a lot of time into it already. While this hyper-brutal result does encourage diligence and focus, it’s an over-correction in my eyes.
In addition, if there’s a moment where you need to step away, you’re basically forced to decide whether to leave the sim suspended or quit the mission to start it yet again another time.
Oddly enough, while missions in the Scenarios menu have both a difficulty score and time estimation, starting one from the Route Journey menu will only show you a description. Here, then, you’re going in blind. Sometimes, I found myself wondering “this isn’t over yet?” — not out of boredom but simply due to there being no indication that the mission would take so much time.
Another quality-of-life improvement I’d love to see implemented is that of simply having more on-screen help. When you go through the introductory missions with a new locomotive, everything is explained thoroughly.
However, unless you write down the procedures on your own, there’s no quick guide or sub-menu that you can pull up in later missions. Seeing that each machine is different, this would be a tremendous help, especially if you end up like me and accidentally bring the entire train to an emergency stop and find yourself completely unable to power it on again.
An interactive checklist similar to Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s would work wonders. To be able to quickly backtrack and take a look at each of the many switches, buttons, valves, and levers to make sure everything is in order would only benefit Train Sim World 3. If you find yourself frequently jumping from loco to loco, keeping track of each of their quirks all on your own is a tall order to ask of any player.
Train Sim World 3 still has a lot going for it. It’s beautiful, intricate and content-rich. Some might scoff at that last point, as this sim is riddled with DLC. But thankfully, Dovetail has made all previous DLC from Train Sim World 2 backwards-compatible with this. So you can enjoy your favorite existing routes in addition to new ones.
While there are still some imperfections in its frame that stop it from a delivering a rattle-free ride, this is still one of the best train sims in its class. The newest improvements offer a minor bump up in quality, but the core experience was already solid enough. Being able to literally hop in-and-out of the driver’s seat and fully interact with the locos and the world around them continues to feel remarkably immersive.
This train could use a bit more cars to really flesh it out, but Train Sim World 3 still manages to do a solid job of realistically and intuitively capturing the railroad experience.