I’m going to admit something right away. I’ve never played any of the Elite series before. I’ve heard of it, but didn’t get the chance to give them a try. However, since playing Elite Dangerous, I’ve now gone back and looked at the entire series all the way to its BBC Micro origin. I’ve learned quite a lot, and become a real fan.
However, that’s not to say I have never played any open world space trading games before. I was a huge fan of Wing Commander Privateer, another open universe space game that I played in the summer of 1994, and aside from TIE Fighter and X-COM, it was the one game that got the most playtime on my PC. There was just something about being able to fly my beat up, inherited vessel in space just trying to make money by any means possible, no matter how unethical it could be, and it was so much fun. Unfortunately after Privateer there wasn’t as much enjoyment for me. Privateer 2: The Darkening, was a bug ridden FMV overkill mess (which is ironic because the FMV Wing Commander games were amazing,) and the eventual successor, Freelancer, would have been just as amazing if they didn’t ruin it with mouse-only control.
So yeah, since Freelancer there wasn’t any chance for me to relive my space pirate/smuggler days until I heard about Elite: Dangerous being released. While I knew I wouldn’t have a fast enough PC to play it that way (my laptop’s graphics card would not be able to handle it,) hearing that it would come out on the Xbox One, and being one of the first games to support their new Game Preview program, I was interested. Needless to say I decided to give it a try. In fact I’ve played this game all the way from the preview start up to the full release.
And let’s just say I’m happy to be back to where I was when I played Privateer.
Elite: Dangerous is as open a game as it can possibly be. You start with a low level Sidewinder craft and some credits. From the space station’s bulletin board you can choose a job to either earn pay or as a charity service to boost your reputation with the requesting faction. Missions consist of the usual fare: transfer cargo (both legal and illicit,) bounty hunting, combat assistance, or mining and refining asteroids to name a few.
There is also the commodity exchange, complete with the ability to tell if the cargo you deliver will result in a profit or loss, something I really needed in the original Privateer.
Once a job or cargo delivery is made, gameplay consists of launching from the space station or platform, jumping to hyperspace from system to system then travelling via supercruise once you get to your destination star system, and then landing. It’s a relatively simple game process but when travelling through supercruise it does get a bit on the time consuming side, especially when you have a long distance to travel. Normally I’d say this would be the perfect time to go to the kitchen and get something to eat or drink, but that’s not the case. At times your ship can be the subject of an “interdiction.” What that means is another ship is trying to slow you down and attack. It is possible to escape if you keep your ship facing the escape vector long enough. If not, prepare to fight back.
Combat feels like the good old days of Wing Commander, especially Wing Commander 3 with its power distribution settings. And power distribution will be key based on my experiences. As my Cobra MK III had four burst lasers, my weapon energy drained rather quickly. Thus, I had to either shut down two of them during battle or direct all my power to the weapons system. But when successful in a battle, not only do I feel the glory of payback from an interdiction, but most of the time I will even get a bounty claim that I can redeem at an affiliated station, possibly multiple factions for one bounty.
However, not all claims are good, and it also results in one of the few issues I have with the game. In fact, I like to think of it as a possible exploit: transporting illicit cargo. One of the biggest fears in a game like this should be getting busted for smuggling drugs or slaves, as I did in Privateer, where if you are found with contraband, the militia or Confed come charging at you with guns blazing. But in Elite Dangerous, you are just slapped with a fine, and most of the time the money you get for completing a smuggling run is way more than the fine itself. So in the end being busted for illicit cargo is nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Hopefully Frontier will patch the game to make smuggling more risk based.
The other issue that many people will have with Elite Dangerous is the control system. Considering that this is a PC game designed to play with an Xbox One controller, there is a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully there are training missions that can be played prior to starting the main game, and I strongly recommend doing so.
Thankfully with the credits I earned in all my jobs and smuggling runs, I was able to purchase a new ship and customize it with anything I wanted. And the amount of customization is just insane. In addition to weapons and armor for my ship, you can choose whatever options you want based on your job. Favor cargo runs, increase your cargo hold. Mining? Add a mining laser and mineral refinery. Bounty Hunter? Add a kill warrant scanner to see if the bounty is worth it. Explorer? Add a detailed surface scanner.
And lastly, for those who have trouble with landing their ship, and I admit from experience myself that it is a challenge to perform, you might want to add a docking computer which does all the work for you. While I’ve heard many people complain about the docking computer being very faulty, with the exception of one strange incident, my docking computer has ran flawless, even during the game preview. In addition, the docking computer features one of the coolest features I’ve ever seen, or heard in this case, as it plays the Blue Danube by Strauss while docking. I don’t know why, but it just sounds awesome. Memories of 2001 perhaps?
Sadly, as far as sound is concerned there really isn’t as much otherwise. There is some atmospheric music, and the voice of your ship’s computer. Coriolis based space stations also feature some voices in the distance but that’s about it. But then again we are travelling in a vacuum, although for some reason we can still hear the lasers and explosions.
Visually the game is impressive. For most of the time the game runs very smooth on the Xbox One. It does chop up a little bit during hyperspace as it loads up the next star system, but compared to how it was in the preview program, it has been improved a lot.
Recently both the PC and Xbox One versions of the game included the PowerPlay expansion, an online based battle between ten ruling factions of the known universe. By doing missions and deliveries for the power of your choice, your actions will affect your power’s influence in the system you are in. And in doing so you can earn extra credits to your bank. It’s a fun little experience.
Exclusive to the Xbox One version (for now) is the Elite Dangerous CQC tournament, PvP based combat in individual and team deathmatches as well as Capture the Flag. However as I concentrated more on the single player aspect of the game, I did not have a chance to try out CQC at the time of this review.
I’m about 100 hours into my Elite Dangerous experience, and even with all I have done, I keep going back to this game because there is so much to do without getting bored. I don’t know what it is about Elite Dangerous, but it’s so addicting, something I rarely see in a game these days, even in an MMO. With this, No Man’s Sky, and Star Citizen, I’m really hoping this is a return for space combat/exploration games, as it is a genre I have sorely missed these last few years. Frontier Developments took the concept they started back on the BBC Micro and perfected it for the next generation, and with the Horizons expansion in the works, I’m ready to take my Cobra ship to the next level, namely planetary exploration!
Pros: Space exploration/combat/privateering is back! A MASSIVE universe to explore. Ship customization is elaborate. Tons of ways to earn credits. PowerPlay expansion adds a new level of intrigue and competition. Blue Danube when docking!
Cons: The controls have a pretty steep learning curve. Some graphic slow down issues on Xbox One, especially during hyperspace jumps. Supercruise travel can be time consuming at times. Sound is barren but then again, we’re in space. Not many penalties for performing illegal actions.