TSW3 arrived in a bit of a rush and I must say I was surprised at how quickly it appeared. New features include a training ground track, dynamic weather, volumetric clouds, adaptive lighting, road traffic that actually uses level crossings, passengers that have weather-centric clothing and use umbrellas, visual touches like raindrops that actually appear to hit the ground, snow that slowly builds up and gets thrown up by a passing train and sparks from electric train's pantographs (but strangely no wheel sparks despite all the wheel spinning). The overall effect is gorgeous. The skies look amazing and the weather and lighting change in a subtle way, even though you may start a run in dry weather in the dark, drive through a sunrise and into a heavy rain or snowstorm. Oh–and you asked for longer routes? Well you got them.
The TSW3 Deluxe Version that we were sent to review has 4 routes; Cajon Pass, Kassel–Wurzburg, Southeastern Highspeed and Spirit of Steam: Liverpool–Crewe. These give you heavy freight runs through Cajon Pass with the ES44C4, high-speed passenger and freight services between Kassel and Würzburg, and Britain’s fastest train, the Class 395, streaking from St. Pancras to Faversham, or may prefer to take a trip down memory lane to 1950s Spirit of Steam on the Liverpool to Crewe route.
TSW veterans will know that only two of these routes are totally new, with Southeastern Highspeed receiving a substantial extension and Liverpool–Crewe getting the new weather effects after being released originally for TSW2. TSW3 can also be bought as a UK, US or German starter pack containing just the one local route, but with the attraction that people who bought Southeastern Highspeed and/or Liverpool-Crewe for TSW2 get a free upgrade to the TSW3 spec.
Cajon Pass is a 85-mile (136 km) route from Barstow, California to San Bernardino, California. The route features 2 locomotives, the ES44C4 & the SD40-2, both in BNSF livery pulling various freight train consists up (and down) the steep grades with up to 5 locomotives.
The 116-mile (186km) high-speed route from Kassel to Würzburg features both high-speed passenger services and possibly the fastest freight services too. Included locomotives are the DB BR 401 ICE & the newer DB BR 403 ICE 3 in DB white ICE livery, the DB BR 185.2 in DB red livery.
The Southeastern Highspeed: London St Pancras – Ashford Intl & Faversham Route is 89-miles(143 km) long. Stretching from London St Pancras to Ashford Intl & Faversham and also including Dartford. Multiple units include the BR Class 395 EMU in Southeastern Highspeed livery, the BR Class 375/9 EMU in Southeastern Dark Blue livery, the BR Class 465/9 EMU in Southeastern Blue Stripe livery and the huge BR Class 66 Diesel Locomotive, in EWS livery, pulling various freight loads.
Much shorter in length (36 miles/58km) than the other routes and set in 1958 on the Liverpool–Crewe line, Spirit of Steam supplies a very different experience and captures the steam age beautifully. There are 2 locomotives to choose from; the LMS Jubilee for passenger services and the LMS Stanier 8 for freight.
The trains are, as they have been throughout TSW's development, the main focus and the stars of the show. I think Dovetail really excel–maybe even overachieve–in this area and TSW3's trains look incredibly realistic. As in previous games though, as you get further away from the actual rails the overall detail levels drop off quickly, and this isn't helped by TSW3's draw distance, which disappointingly, is no longer than it was in TSW2. I'd term TSW3's draw distance "satisfactory," a mediocre word for a mediocre facet of the game, and a word that featured regularly in my school reports–often accompanied by "must try harder"– which is exactly what Dovetail need to do to rid the game of immersion-sapping scenery pop-up.
This could range from hills miles away just appearing suddenly to LOD (Level Of Detail) changes that happen far too close. I find it odd that they build routes that have trains that are 1.2 miles long and a game engine that can't draw half of it, and only draws some detail–like railcar bodies and shadows–50ft away from the camera.
TSW3 has a nice looking and much-improved UI over TSW2, but in game the font is still stupidly small at times and always of the tall and skinny variety–which often makes it difficult to read even on a large TV in 4K. I also can't understand for the life of me why some chosen selections are lowlighted (surrounded in black) rather than highlighted (brightened or surrounded in white). This is completely non-instinctive and has resulted in me selecting the wrong thing on more than one occasion. It's called HIGHLIGHTING for a reason Dovetail!
I thought they'd finally solved the tunnel/camera problem (with which the camera would frequently glitch outside the drawn scenery) by whipping the exterior cameras back to the driver view when you enter a tunnel, which always happened on the Bakerloo Line (London Tube Train) and so I'm not sure why this wasn't incorporated into all routes as it still happens, particularly on Kassel–Würzburg because it features several tunnels.
Weirdly, although I think it's amazing that all TSW2 and most TSW 2020 trains and routes can be used with TSW3, some training tutorials still have keyboard instructions which are only relevant if you play on PC with a keyboard and on-screen instructions that refer to the 'Classic' control option even though you're almost certainly using the "Immersion" control setup introduced in TSW2. Other niggly things like; there being no station lights at night on Southeastern Highspeed, a scenario in Spirit Of Steam called Edge Hill Coach Shunting was broken at launch and still hasn't been fixed, as well as things like the HUD gauges continually flashing in the Class 52 tutorial while the Speedometer remains see-through, graphical artifacts on the BR 204 (just two things we found when trying older locomotives/routes in TSW3) and the game actually crashing back to the dashboard every time you want to drive the BR 423 via the New Journeys Expansion on the Schnellfahrstrecke Köln route (not found by us but I can confirm it happens.) These are all clearly bugs that shouldn't be there and need fixing–more work for Dovetail's overworked 'Preservation Crew,' which has been given the new title of "Engineering Crew," but which should probably be known as International Rescue or something similar.
The new enhancements are very nice, but to have no working game save at launch was absolutely bizarre, and a real downer for gamers like me who like to play for 30 minutes or so. They have now patched in the option to enable game saving but include a disclaimer that they "do not recommend the use of it yet"! But why should I be surprised when they never got a game save working 100% in TSW2 and couldn't even get the game to remember basic settings like crosshair visibility (cursor size), or that you wanted the hideous motion blur (that made the train's wheels look like furry 50 pence pieces) turned off. It's nice to be able to report that sounds have generally been improved, both train engines and horns, by using AP's vast, high quality sound library.
Sadly when it comes to navigation TSW3 has the same crappy operational map. In this map you can actually change points/switches (with difficulty thanks to a lack of Xbox controller optimisation), and the same even crappier separate map with locations marked on it with a font so tiny (that blends in with the line drawing) that you can barely read it–which is only possible for me thanks to the Xbox's zoom function. I was confused to discover that sometimes the two maps don't even correspond to each other! I cannot believe that this awful 2-map idea wasn't junked and replaced with something legible and user-friendly. C'mon Dovetail, this needs to be put out of its misery and replaced.
As in TSW2 you can still get situations in which a locomotive will just pack up and you'll get no help resetting and restarting it. A new optional "Driver Assist" feature is supposed to help with those unexpected failures to start/restart procedures but really doesn't go far enough and seems rather half-hearted. Some dead locomotives are a complete mystery to me even as a 2-year TSW "veteran"! Why, for instance, on the very first scenario for the ICE 1 train on the new Kassel to Wurzburg route, do I have to search the dashboard and press a tiny button marked "HL Füllen" to reset the train's brake pressure after an application of the emergency brakes without any help from the "Driver Assist"? In preview streams Dovetail clearly stated that TSW3 was going to be more user friendly, but this friendliness seems extremely limited. They treat you like an idiot in pointing out that the reverser should be set to "forward" at the start of this run and then don't tell you how to reset an emergency brake application, whether it's intentional or unintentional? Why don't the HUD speed limits always reflect the actual speed limits accurately? These are bizarre omissions and errors.
My honest thoughts are that TSW3 should have been optional Premium DLC for TSW2 and not a sequel. I'm sure this would have caused technical problems but so does TSW3 as it stands. To me it feels like it's pushing Unreal Engine 4 beyond its or Dovetail's capabilities. As it stands it looks and feels rather like a testbed for the next title–TSW4 or whatever it may be called–which must surely be Gen 9-specific (PS5 and Xbox Series X/S), powered by Unreal Engine 5.
TSW3 still has the same old red lights a few yards after a "Stop At Location" marker, the passing of which means a SPAD (Signal Passed At Danger.) These are not only unrealistic but annoying as heck when a lengthy service ends in a mission failure. This is most likely to happen on a freight run because freight trains take a lot longer to stop, and so a SPAD at the end of a 2-hour run because you've overrun by inches and didn't save the game because it might glitch the game out is annoying to say the least. I'd go as far as to say it's unacceptable, and moving the red lights is an easy fix.
The popular Livery Editor doesn't really seem to have been given much love, other than a couple of improvements to the user interface it still has the same issues and when it actually comes to running a train with downloaded creations matching locomotives to sets of rolling stock still seems to be beyond Dovetail. Creator's Club also has the same problems as it's always had since its launch, with downloads often simply not happening when you subscribe to them. The only reliable way I've managed to download a livery for TSW3 is not through the in-game interface, weirdly it's via the phone app!
In TSW3, priorities seem to have gotten messed up. Yes most of it works but gorgeous skies, improved lighting and dynamic weather effects don't really matter if your game has niggly little bugs here, there and everywhere. Past experience shows that Dovetail will try and fix them... eventually.
So how do you put a score on a game as flawed as TSW3? Well it's a good question and I'm determined to not let my love of trains and fondness for the developer and the franchise affect it. Despite a bundle of new features and a more polished look I think TSW3 is no more than a 7/10–with the potential to be rated higher as problems are fixed. I just hope Dovetail are genuinely committed to doing so because despite a lot of issues, Train Sim World 3 is still the best train set in the world.