Ever since Dovetail first laid down the tracks of the Train Sim World franchise in 2018, it’s been steadily building up this rail network on a nearly annual basis. Now, a half-decade later with Train Sim World 4, it seems that these tracks are beginning to follow a dedicated pattern.
For better, or worse, jumping into the conductor’s chair of Train Sim World 4 is the same routine as past iterations.
Checking out the toy box
What you get started with in Train Sim World 4 will depend on which edition you get and what you’ve experienced before in past iterations. Most routes and locos from the past are compatible with this new release, some of which have been given some minor upgrades for Train Sim World 4.
That said, I got to try the Dresden route in Germany (returning from TSW2,) as well as the Antelope Valley Line in California, USA, East Coast Mainline in the United Kingdom , and S-Bahn Vorarlberg in Austria.
Each contain a variety of scenarios to take on, though Train Sim World 4 does now contain a new Free Roam mode that allows players to spawn trains and set paths at will. Personally, I never got around to using it prior to publication. Part of that is because I was too busy with the tried-and-true scenarios and it’s also partly due to their being so many ways to get into the game.
For instance, there are a variety of options for jumping into a session. You can use the aptly named ‘Quick Play’ mode to pick between either a session that will take a half-hour or less, or something more substantial that could take up to an hour. Here, the design isn’t so bad. But, then you get into other modes such as Rail Journeys which are said to provide a “guided experience,” but I didn’t find it any more helpful than loading up a session in other modes.
Perhaps I’m missing something there. Nevertheless, aside from a bit of decision fatigue (on my part,) the flexibility offered in jumping into a session is notable. But, what about the ‘on-the-job’ experience itself?
Life on the rails
As said at the onset of this piece, Train Sim World 4 looks and plays much like its predecessors. There was an element of deja-vu for me, because despite not having touched its predecessor since last year, I quickly got re-acclimated to the controls and gameplay flow.
The guided prompts when starting up a session are helpful and I don’t recall if they were there before. It reminds me of the interactive checklist feature in Microsoft Flight Simulator, which is one of that sim’s greatest tools. Although, I did encounter a few situations with the same loco (the Azuma) where I was told to open the doors at the start, but the buttons wouldn’t function. I had to manually start up other parts first, but those weren’t mentioned in the beginning instructions.
Nevertheless, when things run as expected, the gameplay loop continues to be a mixed bag. What I mean by that is that some of the scenarios are more hands-on than others.
For instance, there’s one mission on the East Coast Line with the Class 801 LNER that was particularly straightforward, both literally and figuratively. The route itself had very little in the way of dangerous bends and gradients to watch out for, as well as green signals most of the way through (up until right before the very end.) I actually got a chance to take notes during this route instead of having to watch the HUD like a hawk.
On the other hand, there are examples like the short but very attention-demanding “Just Like in the Movies” mission along the S-Bahn line with the OBB 4024. This scenario features a lot of spots where you need to purposefully slow down and speed up. Another more hands-on scenario is a very lengthy mission on the Antelope Valley Line with the Metrolink F125. Here, you have to navigate through the urban areas and a bit of the mountains in and out of LA. Due to the terrain, keeping an eye on the speedometer is essential to not go over the speed limit.
The most fun time I had by far was taking the Flying Scotsman out for a jog on the East Coast Main Line. Steam engines are still incredibly interesting to look at, despite not being as capable as more modern machines. With assists, there’s not much to manage in terms of minding its coal and water usage once you get it up to speed, however.
The ability to get in and out of your locomotive remains as a great feature in Train Sim World 4. That said, I do wish this was used more frequently. Seeing that that in real-world operations such a feat would only be common in primarily cargo operations, it’s somewhat understandable why you spend most of your time in the cab during the sim.
Painting a picture of pistons
Train Sim World 4 brings with it some minor graphical improvements over its predecessors, such as enhanced lighting and anti-aliasing, but of course the extent of these improvements for each player will depend on what they’re running the game on.
In my case, using a mid-range gaming laptop, I got mostly decent performance with the sim defaulting to a mix of ‘Medium’ and ‘High’ across the settings page. In open areas, framerates would keep up at around 60, but in more dense areas such as large stations with a lot of passengers and building detail, my framerate would halve.
Considering the fact that there are other recent sims out there like Farming Simulator 22 that take advantage of the Nvidia DLSS, I’m surprised that Dovetail hasn’t opted to roll it out in time for Train Sim World 4’s launch. There’s also currently no telling if it will come in this iteration. Its implementation would certainly help as this is somewhat a demanding title.
Beyond performance, however, the visuals remain quite clean. Train models are well crafted with great texture work and a wealth of interactive surfaces like buttons, switches, doors, windows and more. Great texture work applies to the surrounding buildings and structures, too.
While looking close at some scenery elements, including cars that are hustling and bustling around you, you’ll see the seams coming undone as their wheels don’t even move. This is a minor gripe, however. The whole sim still looks great and past content that’s been ported over does somewhat benefit from the visual enhancements of this newer iteration.
As the fog clears
Similar to many railway journeys, Train Sim World 4 is a mix of awe and “ugh.” On its own, this is a very solid sim experience.
While there is a wealth of other train sims out there, Dovetail continues to nail the formula of providing a good, somewhat dynamic gameplay experience, mixed with some large environments and detailed train models.
With that being said, there’s no getting around the ‘cheapening’ feeling of the annual releases. Each new iteration feels like just a minor bump up in quality.
Meanwhile, there are a wealth of add-on packages that are the meat and bones of the entire experience and they’re certainly not cheap. The most expensive packages go for over $30 USD, making it very costly to ‘keep up’ with the entire experience. It is a big benefit that these add-on packages are cross compatible between titles, however; credit given where credit is due.
Nevertheless, I certainly wouldn’t mind more space between sim releases. Or, perhaps just sticking with one major iteration and building upon that over time until it outgrows its shell and needs a major overhaul. That said, clearly Dovetail is going where the money is at and that probably won’t change until the charts turn red.
Train Sim World 4: Train Sim World 4 brings some minor improvements to the series, along with a few beautiful new routes. Despite its upgrades, the annual release formula cheapens the deal, making the whole experience feel less impactful as a result. – A.K Rahming