The popular movie quote says “in space, no-one can hear you scream.” By the same token, then, no-one in space can hear you curse either! Well not unless you decide to share it via the public communications channel. Welcome to the world of Elite: Dangerous, where players can never quite be sure whether that ship idling over there is just someone eyeing up the view (as this is one pretty game) or a pirate eyeing up their next victim. Like its more widely known counterpart EVE Online, this is a world where players are actively encouraged to role play their way through its open-ended environment. Where such griefing would be frowned upon in other MMOs, Frontier Developments want their players to be whoever they want to be and get there by any means possible.
Elite: Dangerous is the fourth game in the Elite series which originally debuted way back in 1984 on the BBC Micro/Acorn Electron. The series has come a long way in size and scope but the core of the game has remained the same; exploration. The early games, especially Elite, were trade- and exploration-heavy with the only antagonists being an insect race called the Thargoid. Thanks to the wonderful thing that is the Internet, Elite: Dangerous no longer has to make up enemies for they can now come in the form of fellow players if you play in the game's main, ‘Open’, play mode. Whilst human contact can be avoided altogether by taking on the game in ‘Solo’ mode where NPCs will try their best to foil the player’s plans, the greater variety is only found by taking on fellow players.
The game starts things off in the basic Sidewinder ship with only one thousand credits in funds. Tutorials are on offer before choosing whether to play ‘Solo’ or in ‘Open’ play and they’re well worth doing as trying to dock a ship manually without learning how to do so beforehand will, most likely, end in a fiery display of embarrassment. The final few training scenarios aren’t essential as they advance combat knowledge but tackling the basic ones will, hopefully, make sure you look like you know what you’re doing the first time your rock up to port and need to park your ship. That said, the tutorials don’t cover everything and some things are even overlooked when investigating the controller layout. We spent a good twenty minutes trying to figure out how to retract my primary weapons in order to jump to hyperspace, with no advice offered in-game. In the end it took an online search and a bit of reading to find out that one simple button would solve the issue. It’s a strange oversight especially when having them deployed stops you from pretty much going anywhere beyond the station you just left. An even stranger omission from the tutorials is knowing which direction you have to be facing when docking. This isn’t a big issue when docking inside stations, but on external docking pads you need to be facing the control tower but this salient fact is omitted from the tutorial.
Given the type of game Elite: Dangerous is there are many ways to take on the universe at large and make a name for yourself. Whilst not essential, to decide on a play style early on can help focus the first hours in the game so that the player can quickly move on from the basic kit everyone starts out with. There are essentially five main careers in the game: a pirate, a trader (or smuggler), an explorer, a bounty hunter or a miner. Each have their pros and cons and players can switch between different trades but each requires a hefty amount of time and energy to get going and so the most likely result is ending up being some sort of a hybrid. For example, taking the path of a trader/explorer makes sense as to yield big profits the player will almost certainly end up travelling to the depths of the Galaxy. Picking a path will also influence the choice of ship and loadout as to avoid spending hard earned credits on erroneous purchases.
The early days are a mixture of hard work and research. There are many online tools and guides to help the player on their way depending on which career is selected. Some are easier than others and certainly being a trader is one of the quickest ways to reap large returns, especially given the plethora of data available online that will help with playing the commodities market like a pro. It sounds rather laborious and, quite honestly, it is, but this grind is softened by just how pretty the game is. Every time hyperspace is hit the world turns to a blur, inter-system travel shows off the beauty of space and every now and then there is an urge to enter free look mode to just marvel at its magnificence. In Elite: Dangerous it really does feel like you are floating around in the big black with a reputation to uphold. Some may be put off by the grindy nature of the game but given time and patience it’s hard not to fall in love with the world Frontier Developments have created. Looks, however, will only get one so far, and no matter how beautiful and immersive this game is it is not without its faults.
Whilst other players will cross your path within the Galaxy it is not guaranteed they’ll be hostile or up for a scrap. This is where the CQC Championship comes in as the PvP component of the game allowing for instant action. There are three different game modes to choose from, consisting of ‘Team Deathmatch’,’Deathmatch’ and ‘Capture the Flag’. Unfortunately, despite repeated efforts to do so, we were unable to join one round let alone a match in any of these games modes. Searching through the forums yields some explanation as it seems players are avoiding the game mode and without enough players searching for a match either sees the player waiting there in lobby purgatory or kicked back to the menu whilst being advised there’s no-one out there to play with.
Whilst the game has a shared game universe between PC and console gamers with respect to the markets and the overarching story of the factions, direct play isn’t there yet. The game has been in XBox early access since June, however it has only been on full release since the start of this month. In time one would hope console players will start to embrace this game mode and finding a game will become easier, but at the time of writing it is looking very much like a lame duck. Perhaps now more than ever Frontier Developments might want to invest some time into getting the cross-platform play up and running before matchmaking infuriations likely resulting in console players continuing to avoid the mode altogether.
Perhaps bigger than this though, depending on whether you care for PvP or not, is how repetitive things can get. No matter how much the player plans to live their life out in the Milky Way, game time will be spent picking up contracts or commodities, flying to a destination, docking, selling your merchandise, checking the bulletin board; and rinse and repeat. There is also little variation in the types of space station and systems that can be visited. For added spice Elite: Dangerous do have factions with which players can align themselves, however these are NPC-controlled. Unlike EVE Online there is no ability to set up one’s own corporation or faction and battle for territory and glory. A powerplay update was released in June which kicked off conflicts between these NPC factions, however it all seems a bit too fake. There’s no room for something completely left-field to occur like a coup in one of the major factions or a miner from nowhere to rise to absolute power. The missions that are picked up and completed will affect players’ standings and over time can adversely affect the ability to go safely about business in certain areas of space but completing them is not essential.
With all that said Elite: Dangerous is a superb game with plenty of room for growth and maturation. We get the feeling many of the shortcomings are perhaps related to its crowdfunded roots and over time these will be ironed out and remedied as the less hardy folk make their voices heard. In addition, given that the playing field is a 1:1 scale Milky Way (derived from some actual data with the rest procedurally generated) there is so much that’s yet to be explored. It is this remaining unknown that will hopefully keep players interested long enough for Frontier Developments to work out the problems with PvP and the game's repetitive nature. The early parts of this game are hard work, yes, but once conquered the game repays you with something of such epic scope one can’t help but sit back in awe at what the developer is trying to achieve.