Elite: Dangerous is a truly massive open-world game full to the brim with possibilities. It’s a staggering achievement in design and function that’s transitioned from PC to console spectacularly well, with only the most minor compromises. However, with such broad scope comes a lack of direction and drive, requiring the player to set their own objectives and make their own fun.
Indeed Elite: Dangerous achieves the lofty goal of realising the space exploration freedom of previous Elite titles with precisely the kind of refinements and features we all expect from modern titles, and it’s a remarkable feat to behold. Given a measly sum of credits and a small jack-of-all-trades ship, the galaxy is your playground; ready for you to explore, trade in, fight in, and enjoy however you like.
Space stations allow you to buy goods which you can then trade elsewhere, playing the market and making significant credits from identifying where those goods are most needed. Or perhaps combat is more your thing and you’re tempted into serving a faction in the ongoing conflict between The Federation, The Empire and The Alliance. Or if the war doesn’t concern you, then perhaps mercenary work accepting contracts from space stations to hunt certain individuals is more your style. Or you could look at less legal enterprises, such as pirating or the trade of illegal goods. Then there’s exploration. 400 billion star systems have been generated for you to explore with wondrous sights and secrets, and data gained from visiting systems can be traded at space stations for credits. The choice is completely up to you and this ability to do whatever you want within this huge galaxy is a tremendously exciting prospect but also an overwhelming one, and unfortunately Elite doesn’t do the best job in preparing you.
A set of tutorials are on offer to teach you all the basics but these are largely concerned with showing you the controls. Once you dive in to the real game you’re completely left to your own devices. Elite doesn’t hold your hand, instead it’s more of a simulation, one that’s highly immersive but daunting all the same. This includes the controls and interacting with your ship. Whilst the controls are well mapped to the Xbox One pad, with sub-menus popping up on screen when certain button are held as well as instant actions tied to single presses of the same buttons, there’s a lot of them to master. It may sound and initially seem complicated, but it’s pleasantly immersive once you get the hang of it, this even extends to a button that allows you to look around the cockpit of your ship and access additional menus through the on-board interfaces. It all fits so nicely into the fiction and avoids throwing you into game menus, allowing you to truly feel like the pilot of a sophisticated spaceship.
But with the complexity of controls and options comes hesitation and indecision, and these can severely effect the fun you glean from the experience. Without your own plan for where to go, what to do and how to do it, it’s hard to find the drive to experiment with and explore what Elite can offer. Furthermore, not fully understanding the navigation interfaces and flow of combat can lead to perceived unfair deaths and confusion. This truly is a simulator; dog fighting is slow and tense, exploration is over vast distances and dangerous in its own right, with fuel limiting the distance you can jump with hyperspace, and supercruise within star systems taking considerable amounts of time to reach specific destinations.
It all comes with practise, however, and when it does all click into place for you it’s powerfully compelling. Engaging NPC and fellow player ships in combat zones is a visual spectacle of deadly lasers and explosions with the promise of considerable credits for the skilled or lucky pilots. Meanwhile, detecting a signal within a star system and investigating it can offer opportunities to pick up some valuable goods left behind from a battle, introduce you to trader vessels less concerned with precisely how your found the goods you’re selling, or even pirate parties expecting to ambush you and not expecting a tough fight.
It’s an MMO with a bias towards singleplayer experiences. You can play in an offline mode of NPCs if you like, or join the online mode full of both Xbox One and PC players, all flying around the galaxy chasing their own objectives, and this adds a terrific element of emergent storytelling and gameplay. Other players are unpredictable enough to make things interesting, whether that’s the foolish players looking to pick fights with NPC authorities, providing a beautiful laser show for you to watch or even get involved with, or interacting with you more directly, friendly or otherwise. Yet it’s big enough for you to never meet another person, either because you’ve travelled to a star system no else has ever been to, or because the vastness is so well realised all you see of other players are lights darting across space. It’s a rare MMO experience that can surround you with other players yet leave you feeling utterly alone.
Once you figure out what you want to do in the galaxy and start making credits, you’ll be on the look out for newer ships, weapons, engines, shields, power generator, etc. to buy, and these can be purchased from the larger space stations. This truly allows you to customise your experience and build the ship you need for the job you want to do. Large hauling vessels may lack speed and weapons but have huge cargo space for transporting more goods at a time. Meanwhile, swapping your cargo bay for a fuel scoop allows you to fuel up from suns rather than purchase fuel at station, making that an ideal upgrade for explorers or mercenaries that aren’t welcome at certain stations. New parts to your ships take up internal or external slots as well as add mass and power consumption that you need to manage, frequently offering you expensive upgrades or new ships that require you to get back out there and earn more credits.
Elite: Dangerous is a tremendously immersive space simulator that can eat hours of your time with it’s endless possibilities, awesome scope and beautiful visuals. It doesn’t have the warmest welcome for newcomers to the genre, and the fluidity of a mouse on PC makes for better combat that the Xbox One pad, but it’s still a remarkable game that plays splendidly on the Xbox One. There simply isn’t anything else out there like Elite right now, and with new features on the horizon and long support promised, there may be no end to the enjoyment it offers if you’re patient enough to explore this frontier.
Thanks to Xbox and Frontier for their support
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