A gritty space simulator is the type of game which has been left out in the dark in recent years, and Frontier Developments (creators of Planet Coaster) have done wonders with their latest installment of the Elite series. With a few credits to your name you start in a random space station orbiting a far away moon or gas giant. All you have is your trusty sidewinder and a grim determination to make a name for yourself in this galaxy. You lift off from the platform, line yourself up with the station exit and depart on your journey.
The journey is what this game is all about. There is no single villain who must be vanquished, you are not the sole protagonist with a mission which must be accomplished at all costs, the drive for this game is to be a part of something bigger, to collectively alter the flow of the galactic powers, perhaps eventually creating a galactic power of your own and becoming the most dominant of them all.
You take direct control of your craft from within the cockpit. Look around the inside by clicking the right thumbstick and marvel at the details all around. There are many ship functions, too many for the Xbox controller to have a button for each so the developers have put together a tap and hold feature. Tapping A, B, X or Y will activate its primary function however if it’s held down, a second menu will appear, selectable with the D-Pad or bumpers. This is such a simple solution yet it works so effortlessly too.
When it comes to scale, quantity and sheer breathtaking beauty, Elite: Dangerous must be the most ambitious game on any platform I have ever seen. The entire galaxy is available to free roam in. Many known celestial objects have been recreated within the game, from our own solar system to distant stars. Each one can be visited, scanned, data recorded and sold elsewhere. This brings me to my first means of making money.
From the very start you can set course for that tiny star, engage your frameshift drive and disappear into witchspace at many times the speed of light. Physics has been taken into account from all aspects however this is of course science fiction, faster than light travel is of course possible, or we really wouldn’t see much at all! Curiously, it is quicker to travel from one star to another, than it is to get from one side of a solar system to the other. This is due to the 3 different modes you’re able to travel in. Normal speed, which is measured in metres per second – this is used for dogfighting and docking. Supercruise, which is in multiples of the speed of light – used for travelling from one planet to another and full control of the ship is still available. Hyperspace which is for travelling between systems. There is no control here, once it’s activated sit back and watch.
Exploring allows you to visit system upon system and collect data about the stars, planets, gas giants and moons. Once back at port, this data can be sold for a reasonable amount of money. It may sound exciting and some of the views you will see are absolutely stunning, but there are dangers out there, not least of all running out of fuel, there are black holes, brown dwarfs and neutron stars. Remember, if you lose your ship, you lose all the data too.
If you don’t have the nerves for disappearing into the black just yet, you can outfit your ship with mining lasers and limpets, then find a tasty asteroid belt laden with valuable metals to harvest. This could be the safest method to earn credits but it is far from the fastest.
So exploring and mining isn’t for you? You want to make money quick and are not too worried about putting miles on your brand new trading vessel? Then here is where you will spend much of your time if you want that shiny ship which is way out of your price range. There are websites built around helping Commanders find the best trade routes to earn the most. You can’t find one route and stick to it for weeks on end, this game is a living entity. Prices will change, famine will strike, epidemics will freeze trading and you will have to adapt to keep in the game.
If you’re not too worried about the law, or think you can avoid being caught, smuggling is always a highly paid service, if you’re able to deliver without being caught!
Resource extraction sites, combat bonds and bounty hunting are the top places you with get into a scrap. Wing up with some friends and watch each others’ backs whilst you navigate asteroids in the dark and take down the enemies’ most fearsome fighters! There are many weapons including various thermal and kinetic based weapons, and an array of defensive utilities to make you a stronger match.
The life of Elite: Dangerous is given to it by Powerplay. As with all regions which are contested, whether it’s on Earth or in space, there are factions which strive for control. At the moment there are 10 powers, and every commander is able to choose which one to pledge towards, however this is not mandatory. It is, in fact, quite possible to play the game and totally ignore Powerplay, but if you want to feel the immersion, read GalNet to keep up with the news and contribute to shaping the galaxy, this is where you will want to be.
What I have described so far has been the main game, and like many other recent games at the moment, Elite: Dangerous has its own purpose built PvP area. Close Quarters Combat Championships pits fighters against each other in beautifully crafted arenas designed for fast flying and out-maneuvering opponents. Sign up to one of three modes; Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch or Capture the Flag. Raise your rank, earn better ships and unlock customisable loadouts.
Throughout the game there will be times where you will just want to stop and hold your breath. No, not just when your canopy blows out, but when you’re cruising from one planet to another and you see the sun rise from behind that gas giant you’re near. Or when you pop out of witchspace beside a trinary star system. Taking pictures is something the developers have thought about, and there is a means of accessing a camera outside of your ship. It’s a bit fumbly to control but once you have the hang of it, you will be decorating your desktop with your own personal space pics that even NASA will choke at.
When plotting your a route from one system to another you have the galaxy map to browse through. The first time I used this I finally understood how tiny we are. The map takes a few moments to load up, however this can be forgiven after you zoom out and see our galaxy and realise you can pick any point of light and make it so.
Elite: Dangerous was one of the two first games to be debuted on Xbox’s game preview program with a price of £24.99. Once it was fully released the price was only bumped up by £5, so I believe that a game such as this with only a £30 price tag is a steal!
To re-iterate on my first point, this is game designed to give you the freedom and choice to do whatever you want. It is not a game which will hand hold you to the very end with tool tips and directions, you choose your own path. For some, this may make the game very empty, particularly RPGers who are accustomed to the ‘go here, prod that, bring it back, quest done’ routine. This is a simulation and if you like to take it easy, you can. If action is what you want, there are plenty of areas where you can spend hours fighting off the enemy ships.
With this simulation comes all the small details which would otherwise go unnoticed. The music has been well thought out with different locations and environments taken into account. Whilst travelling from one planet to another within the system you will be calmed by familiar sci-fi music, yet when you enter battle with dozens of other ships the band will strike up filling your ears with high crescendo music adding a level excitement and danger to your current situation. During the mayhem of battle you will evidently notice the sounds of high calibre rounds striking hull plating, thermal lasers taking down shields and explosions in the distance. A game such as this can be forgiven for over-looking, or better yet blatantly ignoring, the fact that sound does not travel in space, yet it would leave the game empty and hollow.
More detail can be found within star ports, which are far busier than I imagined. If you take the time to sit at a larger station you will see the NPCs aren’t just going through a routine of taking off and landing. Some will cause trouble and be shot down by internal security while others in huge ships will simply barge their way through the mail slot, wiping our smaller ships like bugs on a wind screen.
Absolutely stunning visuals which go well with gameplay mechanics. This game brings back the space sim genre and does not disappoint. There is a variety of career paths, none of which the player has to stick to, and there are deeper levels to the game, such as Powerplay, which may not be for everyone.
The ability to team up with 3 other friends in a wing to take part in bounty hunting or extraction sites makes Elite: Dangerous much more exciting.
Plenty of attention to detail has been given throughout, and it’s not often you find a game where you will put the controller down, sit back, relax, and admire the view.