Thanks for making this thread @vyshka.
I've played civi flight sims since Microsoft Flight Simulator on my C64 (I recorded my first landing on VHS for posterity!). My favorite flight sim of all time was Flight Unlimited III.
Looks horribly dated now, of course, but back in the day it was way ahead of it's time.
Despite spending tons of hours in various sims over the years, I've mostly just puttered about. Never really got too serious about systems or procedures, and never graduated to airliners. I just find it mostly relaxing to jump into a Cessna and find my way via VOR's to another airport. I would be interested in getting a private pilot's license if I didn't know I would be a horrible pilot, so the virtual version is an outlet.
Oh, man, installing FSX or Prepar3D is the worst. I've got so much crap, there's so much tweaking to be done to try to get reasonable performance. Installing my Orbx scenery and various planes meansa lost weekend, essentially
The consensus for the Dovetail version of FSX is fairly positive, I think (I don't own it). Some slight visual, stability and performance improvements over default FSX.
X-Plane folks swear by it. MSFS folks try the new versions, grumble about it, and then go back to MSFS. There's a few reasonable folks in the middle who like both.
X-Plane is a perfectly reasonable sim. Personally, I don't care for the scenery -- unless you go crazy with satellite scenery add-ons it just looks a bit too surreal, and the lighting is always so muddy and dark. I also just don't feel like it conveys the feeling of flight all that well, and the UI is obtuse in the extreme (some improvements with the new version on that front, though, I hear). It's worth trying the demo for V11 for sure.
Prepar3D is pretty solid. It's relatively expensive (or REALLY expensive if you want to be super-by-the-book and feel likke you don't qualify for the student edition). It's stable, has some nice lighting, and pretty much has the full support of developers. IT requires less fiddling than FSX to get decent performance. That said, it's duct tape on creaky, ancient engine. There's rumors of the 64-bit version coming out this year, which might prove to be a much better foundation, but will also face compatibility issues with existing/old add-ons. Double edged sword.
If you want to dive into FSX again, I would say Prepar3D is the way to go.
Surprisingly, I would say yes. There may be some major releases this year with P3D or Dovetail, and one of those might emerge as the new standard. Aerofly 2, mentioned upthread, is a promising dark horse. It performs great, looks great, and really conveys a feeling of flight. Plus, it offers a fantastic VR experience. Scenery areas are relatively limited, but I don't fly long haul so that's fine by me. It's my sim of choice right now. Fingers crossed that the developer continues to improve the platform (still early access), and that third parties jump on board (Orbx supposedly releasing Chicago!).
So, yeah, a reasonably bright future for simming without the pew-pew.
To your other point, I really wish we had a Euro Truck Simulator level career mode for a civilian flight sim. Add-ons such as Air Hauler and FSEconomy exist, but aren't particularly fleshed out. You hear me Aerofly developers? Come out with some Caribbean scenery for island-hopping, or Alaska scenery for bush flying, and wrap it up in a robust career mode. I would play the crap out of that.