Quite the space opera.
When I was asked to review Elite: Dangerous, I was legitimately intimidated. While I had never actually seen it played, I had heard this game compared to EVE Online and other massive space exploration games that took copious amounts of time and skill to learn and enjoy. As I say with all the games I review, I’ll give anything the “old college try” at least once. After putting a few hours into it, I figured out what I needed to to play the game efficiently, and after a bit more time I discovered what made this game really special, and I got to see firsthand how ambitious of a title it really is.
Players take on the role of a space pilot. Set in the distant future where faster than light travel is an everyday thing, galaxy exploration is expected, and space stations house just as many people as habitable planets, Elite: Dangerous introduces players to its world a bit jarringly. After allowing new players to go through numerous tutorials on how to control their ship, they will be able to begin playing the game. What do players actually do in Elite: Dangerous? Well, anything they want, really.
Platforms: PC, XB1
Price I’d pay: $37.49
That was the biggest and most daunting thing that struck me in the beginning – just how big and open the entire game really was. I really didn’t know where to start. I knew how to fly my ship, attack with my weapons, and jump from system to system, but where to go from there was anyone’s guess. So I decided to take on a bulletin board mission. The mission was simple: take this secretive cargo to a space station about seven systems away, drop it off, get paid. Easy. One stipulation – if, for any reason, the cargo were to fall into anyone else’s hands, I should destroy it immediately. Alright. I don’t ask questions. I then plotted my route, and started jumping from system to system using my Frame Shift Drive (faster than light engine.) I realized I was going to run out of fuel before I reached my destination, so I stopped off at a nearby space station to refuel.
While in the area, I was contacted by an unknown person telling me that the cargo I was carrying was actually for a corrupt corporation and has data that is going to be used to harm innocent, poor people. They wanted me to change my course and drop off the cargo with them at another station. I was actually conflicted. Do I do the easy mission and deliver the cargo and collect the credits? Or do I help out this unknown resistance who claim they are doing the good work? This is just one of the many situations I would run into during my time with the game. This is also when I came to the realization that Elite: Dangerous is rather brilliant.
Whether it was mining, trading, bounty hunting, or just exploring the galaxy, there is something here for anyone. Players can easily go hours without firing a single shot, or do nothing but that when engaging in some pretty great Wing Commander style space dog fighting. Exploring and travelling to unexplored territories would collect data that could be sold for some quick profit. So just doing what I naturally did in the game could potentially be rewarding. I quickly fell into the trader gameplay style where I would go to certain space stations, buy a commodity at a rather low price, then travel to a distant station that has a much higher demand for the goods and sell them for a nice profit. It sounds easy when I write it out like that, but knowing what to buy, when to buy it, and where to sell it became an obsession for a while there. It was also complex when I got into the nitty-gritty. Oh, let’s not forget that when carrying cargo, I place a nice big target on my back for any potential pirates out there looking for some quick and easy loot. Luckily, I could ask for a wingman or two to come along as protection and they would get a bit of the profit for escorting me. Working together adds so much more to the game.
It’s a highly populated universe.
Speaking of teamwork, there is a solo mode and an open mode. Open mode, while a bit intimidating, it where the meat and potatoes of the game really are. In open mode, it becomes a quasi-MMO. Here, players will be in the same universe as others, and can either help or hinder them accordingly. I immediately thought this was going to be a game full of grievers, but after a while, I realized most people mind their own business, and some were actually really friendly and helpful, making the online experience far more inviting. I was happy to lend a hand to a trader or miner who asked for some help.
The economy is all influenced by the player base. If people keep selling the same things to the same space stations, the selling price will go down. Credits are not only used for refueling ships and buying goods, but also for purchasing new ships and upgrades for those ships. It all really depends on what the player wants to do in the game, if they want to upgrade their guns, add more cargo space, or try out a new class of ship altogether. It is a complex system that has as much depth as what else I could do in the game.
The visual style of the game is fantastic. While players spend their time in the cockpit of their ship, how everything controls and is displayed is brilliant in and of itself. I was never staring at a pause menu or any kind of selection out of the game. Everything from communications, to navigation, to even landing positions and cargo capture was all displayed on the screen in-game using the cockpit interface. How everything was so seamless and intertwined with the ship was so well done and impressive, and how Frontier Developments implemented such well done controls with multiple key bindings on an Xbox One controller is beyond me. Everything is intuitive, simple to navigate and use, and done without a hitch.
While impressive in its own right, there are a few issues I had during my time with the game. Travelling can become slow and monotonous. When going from hyperdrive to then moving in supercruise and travelling to the nearest station, it can be a five or ten minute journey of watching a dot on the screen get bigger. While the tutorial does a great job of showing players how to control their ship, there is no guidance or tutorial on what to actually do when players start the game. It can be very overwhelming. I know it most certainly was for me. It takes a few hours for it all to “click.”
Elite: Dangerous is a massive game. I can’t even begin to talk about how many star systems there are in the game, and you can go to them all if you choose to do so. That statement is both what defines this game as well as holds it back, but it only does that for the first few hours. The lack of direction is its biggest gift and its biggest curse. It is up to the player and player-base to make the fun for themselves. This is one of the best space sim games I have ever played. It can be a scary game, but if you let yourself get into it and really dig in deep, you will begin to see just how brilliant this game can be, just like I did.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.