The early 2000s saw a boom of advancements in technology of all kinds: one of the most unique, and perhaps most underutilized, is drone technology. The first commercial permit for drone use was issued in 2006, and since then they have become increasingly popular. This is due to a myriad of factors, but if I had to take a guess I’d say more affordable prices are a primary cause for the rise in popularity.
That being said, cheaper drones tend to break easily and their battery life is nothing to write home about. Even drones that cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars are still plagued with low battery life – often unable to last more than 20 to 30 minutes before needing to be charged. That’s not a concern in The Drone Racing League Simulator though, out now on Xbox One.
Right off the bat, The Drone Racing League Simulator is first and foremost a simulator. It was made to be as realistic as possible on the hardest settings, with a focus on physics and realistic drone behavior. More specifically, realistic yaw and things of that sort are emphasized. They even use real-life flight paths layered with simulated flight paths to see how much the sim deviates.
In fact, The Drone Racing League, the DRL, is so confident in this simulator that it is apparently possible to even get drafted into the DRL by being good enough at it. That’s about as much of a guarantee a company can give you that their product is legitimate. It’s like if you could get a pilot’s license by being good enough at Microsoft Flight Simulator.
But this puts me in an awkward position for this review, because I have never flown a DRL racing drone. And as cool as it would be for them to send me one to practice on, me crashing a few hundred dollars worth of tech into a wall to establish the fact that I can’t fly a racing drone isn’t going to help anyone. Not to mention the fact I’d have to be trusted with another expensive drone afterwards to see if I actually got any better. So I can’t speak to whether or not The Drone Racing League Simulator is actually going to give you the skills you need to succeed at drone racing.
What I can say is that it does a very good job of walking you through how everything works. The beginner mode has automatic flight stabilization and other boons that will assist in learning the basics of flying a drone. It goes over the actual terminology that drone pilots would use and breaks things down into manageable bites of information. The tutorial, which I think is a defining feature of The Drone Racing League Simulator, will take a couple hours to get through. By the end, you’ll be flying unassisted in first-person view just like an actual drone racer would be. But from my experience, a few more hours will be essential to actually getting good at it.
If you opt to skip the tutorial and have no prior experience flying drones, then be prepared to play on the lowest difficulty setting or you can expect to constantly crash, flip, and just have an altogether unpleasant time.
There are a ton of other features as well that really do flesh out the experience. There are tournaments, races both offline and online, a physics engine, and custom drones that allow you to practice in any kind of environment with any kind of equipment. It’s a bit overwhelming for me, seeing as I’m a layperson when it comes to drones. But again, if the DRL is confident enough to recruit drone pilots through this sim then I see no reason to doubt if it will actually teach you how to fly. So on that end, I’d say this game passes with flying colors.
On the other side of things, this is a review for a game on Xbox One, and there are a few issues that need to be mentioned. First are the menus. The Drone Racing League Simulator was released on PC in 2017 which means it’s a port to console. This also means the menus are designed for mouse and keyboard, making them clunky to navigate with a controller. I also got a frequent stream of invites from other online players to join races, and while I could decline them, it wasn’t uncommon for me to accidentally select the invite before having to close out of it. I also would accidentally select things while navigating and sometimes lose my selection because the menus were so busy.
The second issue is less the fault of the game and more a hardware issue, but if your controller has any amount of stick drift, and I mean any, the game will register it. The controller I was using to play has never exhibited any sign of stick drift, but I was constantly drifting to the left while playing. There is a calibration menu but I struggled to adjust things – which ties back to the menu issues – and even when I thought I figured it out I still couldn’t get it to work perfectly. Now, this is probably a good thing for practicing real drone racing, but stick drift is not an uncommon issue and I wasn’t even aware my controller had this issue until I started playing the game.
Thirdly is the fact that the freestyle maps aren’t very engaging. Without a set goal you just aimlessly fly around, and while I’m not one to usually judge a game by its graphics, the flat landscapes aren’t much fun to explore. This isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but it’s something to keep in mind if you decide to pick it up for yourself.
Again, this is a weird game for me to review because I feel like the end goal is for it to prepare the player to fly a real drone. As a simulator I can rate it fairly highly, despite its issues. Everything feels real and I can definitely see how it would improve someone’s ability to actually fly a drone. On the other hand, for casual gamers or people who are looking for a more game-like experience, The Drone Racing League Simulator on Xbox One isn’t going to be the answer. It all comes down to what kind of experience you want.