Elite: Dangerous Review

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Prepare for liftoff.

I remember hearing about Elite: Dangerous for the first time during the E3 announcements back in 2015. Microsoft revealed that they were going to start an early access program, called Game Preview, and that both Elite: Dangerous and The Long Dark were going to be the inaugural titles for its premier. I needed something like this in my life as soon as possible.

So why am I just now writing a review about Elite: Dangerous? It scratches that itch to explore space that so few games fill. No Man’s Sky has only reinforced this feeling in me, reminding me of what I was missing. I binged on No Man’s Sky for two weeks after launch only for Elite: Dangerous to steal back my attention after Frontier Games’ announcements at Gamescom reminded me of their games’ existence.

CLICK HERE TO SKIP AHEAD… WHATEVER

GAMEPLAY

Elite Dangerous Frame Shift Activated.png

In Elite: Dangerous you’re a pilot, a commander. The Milky Way galaxy is your playground and there are so many different ways for you to make your career. You can become a freelance trader, explorer, asteroid miner, smuggler, corporate stooge, bounty hunter, mercenary, or space pirate. If that sounds familiar, it’s likely because No Man’s Sky attempted to emulate the same structure. EVE Online has done the same thing with far greater success, while also bringing in thousands of players into a single environment. For the extent of my time playing, I spent my career becoming a trader who traveled across the star systems transporting goods from one station to the next.

You take control of your ship immediately, learning the ropes as you go (or you might have started with the tutorial). Left to your own devices, you set off in a starter ship and little required of you. You’re free to work for the locals in the system you started in, or set out to the rest of the galaxy. Your work doesn’t exist in a vacuum however. If you help a faction in one system, it can change the face of the galaxy as a whole. The known universe is in flux and reacts to your actions.

If you take a combative role, you can head down the path of a mercenary or pirate. There are bounties and high-risk missions that you can accept at a space station which may or may not result in a faction getting an upper hand. Combat takes the form of space battles, which unfold differently for you based on your ship type and loadout. It may seem obvious, but a Hauler handles like a bus compared to an Eagle. Performing well in combat also relies heavily on your ability to manage targets, your systems’ damage levels, heat, and even ammunition.

Pirate: “Yarrrr… Fire the lasers!”

You’re luckily able to equip your ship as you see fit. Weapons can be deployed from your ship from locations called “hardpoints”. These come in different varieties that can allow for larger sized weapons to be mounted, making your ship deadlier. Like hardpoints, most ships also have utility mounts, which are used to mount countermeasures or tools for mining or even piracy. Ships can also be upgraded with better life support, engines, frame shift drives, power plants, etc. Every system’s operation comes at a cost of power and mass however. You’re forced to choose if you want to travel quicker and maneuver more easily, or carry more equipment or cargo. Likewise, your power plant and the efficiency in which it operates dictates your ship’s performance. That isn’t even considering heat or mass.

A trader vessel like my Type-6 Transporter may not stand much of a chance in toe-to-toe combat, but it can haul goods like no other. Freighter class ships can also be versatile. My ship can be modified to not only haul goods but also mine asteroids for precious materials, smuggler illicit cargo, explore deep space, or even save stranded pilots. I’m not even kidding… If you’re playing online, you can call on other players to refuel your ship in the event that you run dry. Some intrepid pilots (like the Fuel Rats) will, for a fee, travel to your location and refuel your ship.

All of this is a perfectly viable, though highly illegal means to make a living in Elite: Dangerous.

And of course, there’s the topic of freebooting (okay, piracy… I like synonyms). There are a myriad of tools available to you as a stellar brigand. There are hatch limpets that can be used to override a cargo hold’s door to dump the ship’s cargo, frame shift drive interdictors that rip starships out of supercruise to make them vulnerable to attack, frame shift wake scanners to track targets, and good ol’ fashioned firepower. All of this is a perfectly viable, though highly illegal means to make a living in Elite: Dangerous.

What makes everything work however is the functional economy. As you play, you’ll come across tidbits of information that tell you what each settlement requires and supplies. This plays pretty well into a trader or smuggler’s hands, giving them the information they need to exploit the market. There’s also a black market you can take advantage of. There you can buy or sell all manners of illicit commodities like drugs, alcohols, banned paraphernalia, and even slaves. The risk/reward structure is pretty obvious here; you can make quite a bit of money by skirting the law, but you risk the penalties associated with peddling banned goods.

Exploration is one of the other ways you can make some cash. As you travel through the Milky Way, you log information about the celestial bodies you discover, which can be sold to governments and corporations at various ports. You’re at mercy of pirates, heat, fuel usage, and even space anomalies (like black holes).

There’s just so much on offer in Elite: Dangerous that it is difficult to adequately write out without creating a huge list of things to do.

PRESENTATION

Elite Dangerous White Dwarf External.png

Elite: Dangerous is a space nerd’s dream game. The Milky Way galaxy is surprisingly beautiful considering that the art design isn’t varied. The environments, stations, planets, and ships all sport the look that would be expected of a hard sci-fi game. Ships are spartan looking, with designs that are almost purely functional. Space stations look like industrial installations, with holographic displays outside that look reminiscent of movies of Blade Runner or The Fifth Element.

Most importantly perhaps is the fact that space is the blackest black that can be shown. The screenshot above speaks volumes about the lighting. Without the light of a star shining on something, surfaces are black. The interior of your ship provides the only artificial light in most cases, with the HUD and interfaces emitting a dull orange glow.

Like most science fiction, Elite: Dangerous violates the laws of physics a little by allowing sound waves to magically transmit through the void of space. The thing is though that I’m not complaining. The sound design of Elite: Dangerous is excellent (I’ll shill a little for a game I love). Noises are severe and sometimes grating. Docking at a space station is met with sharp sounds and clanging of metal as your ship makes contact with the landing pad. Emergency systems blare at you when you’re bombarded with attacks from an aggressor. Then there’s the incredibly satisfying spooling up of your frame shift drive as you’re catapulted to your destination at impossible speeds.

Last but definitely not least is this (make sure sound is on for the full effect):

I feel that speaks for itself. Get an auto-docking module asap.

ORIGINALITY

Elite Dangerous Auto Dock.png

The framework of Elite: Dangerous isn’t terribly groundbreaking. It’s a fairly old series that hasn’t evolved much mechanically… The newest iteration has actually been pared back on some features even, namely the ability to land on planets (sans the Horizons DLC). Where it sets out on its own is in the realm of realism paired with the massive galaxy, which allegedly consists of more than 400 billion stars. If that sounds familiar, it’s because you probably remember hearing similar assertions from Hello Games about their newest game No Man’s Sky. Their procedurally generated game consisted of far more territory to explore, though it isn’t designed on a 1:1 scale.

That’s what sets Elite: Dangerous apart. It takes place in a realistic representation of the Milky Way galaxy, on a 1:1 scale, with accurate distances between planets, and realistic physics. Like I said earlier: It’s a space nerd’s dream game. Traveling to new systems still takes place in loading screens (like the elevator loading screens of Mass Effect) but each star system is fully explorable in real time, allowing the player to travel to any location at their own discretion and without restriction. If you felt the desire to do so, you could even travel to a new star system without using your frame shift drive, though it’d take a terribly long time.

STORY AND MULTIPLAYER

Elite Dangerous Mission Board.png

I’d be wrong to say that there’s no story in Elite: Dangerous, but I’d be lying to say that there’s an intricate narrative to speak of. The storyline of the game takes place in the actions you take and the results you witness in the news releases that crop up as a result. You can help shape the territories of the galaxy, helping organizations and governments gain power if you wish, or setting out to sabotage them instead. Like most open world sandbox games, you can dodge any sense of story to set off on your own, though you’ll still make an impact on events regardless.

Elite: Dangerous’ multiplayer is instanced to allow players to interact with each other fairly seamlessly. These instances hold up to 32 players and are opened or closed based on the distance players are from each other. For instance, if 40 players are within the required distance, 32 of those players may be phased into an instance together. To top that off, players can do missions together as a wing (which includes up to four players) or just fool around.

Then there’s the CQC arena where pilots are shoved into fighter-class ships and allowed to blow each other away.

I mean, there really isn’t much here to be honest. The multiplayer is serviceable, but comes up lacking. Outside of just being able to fly around with friends and wreck things, there isn’t much to do that you can’t do in single player. The same goes for the story (if you can consider there to be any). It’s cool to see that you’ve made a bit of an impact in the galaxy but there really isn’t some grand quest to carry out.

WILDCARD: THE FINAL FRONTIER

Elite Dangerous Witchhaul Planet 02.png

The Milky Way is a vast and largely unexplored frontier of territory, filled with astronomical wonders and all manners of people trying to make their way in life. As a commander, you’re free to pursue your dreams (or die trying). This is what made Elite: Dangerous such a hit with me. I can’t explain why traveling from system to system as a space-trucker is so friggen fun, but I get so much enjoyment from it.

I used my profits from hauling goods to buy an Eagle class ship (for bounty hunting) and I’m saving for not only a Type-7 Transporter, but I’m keeping my eyes on an exploration vessel and the Beluga class passenger ship (I know I’m weird). The sense of progress seems to be present constantly, though it takes a long while to save up the money to get ahead. In a way, this struggle to make money puts emphasis on your successes and cements in your mind the cost of failure.

Revelations


Elite Dangerous Red Star.png

Elite: Dangerous does what hasn’t been done in a very long time: it fills the gap of space simulator. It isn’t perfect by any means… It requires an internet connection, lacks story elements, has limited multiplayer functions, and requires the Horizons DLC to land on planets. The game can be dull, frustrating, and you can miss your damn target when you’re trying to use supercruise to reach a space station.

What it does right though is that it leaves you to make your own way. You’re free to do whatever you choose. If you want to attack a convoy of ships and steal their cargo, you’re free to do it. If you want to become a privateer and whittle down the security forces of a foe of yours, go for it. If you want to set off to the outer reaches of the galaxy, or even visit the supermassive black hole at the galactic core, do it.

You get to do whatever the hell you want, in space.

You’re left to your own devices, and that’s fine for those like me that don’t need every game to provide a massive and deep narrative. However, if you’re the type who wants all games to include something more to the motivations to play, this isn’t a good choice. Elite: Dangerous is a game for the players that want to be a miner, explorer, mercenary, merchant, bounty hunter, or plunderer… IN SPACE.

IN SPACE, PEOPLE.

 

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8 thoughts on “Elite: Dangerous Review

  1. This sounds so interesting! I have to say, reading about it here makes me think of EVE Online which is the big one I want to play. I just keep putting off buying a PC (mine is super tired and can’t quite run it) to play it. But yes, this sounds fantastic because I love the idea of being able to do whatever I want, in space! I might have to pick this up soon. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always been interested in trying EVE Online, but the barrier to entry is so high since it’s a primarily multiplayer game.

      Elite just seems to do the things that EVE would do for me personally, without the grief. It’s already on Xbox One as well, and supposedly coming to PS4 sometimes.

      Thank you for reading!

      Like

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