There’s something oh so addictive about any game like Elite. It’s difficult to explain why but for some reason I just can’t stay away. Just one more trip, just one more delivery, just one more bounty. At the peek of this addiction you will hardly care that you’ve now been doing the same thing for countless hours. Every time I had to request landing permission with a few satisfying button presses on my keyboard I felt totally immersed. The spectacular mundanity of it all is invitingly engrossing. Just going about you’re daily space life delivering space cargo is cool, and Elite is cool enough to understate things and just let it be cool.
There isn’t an attempt to push you along your way or suggest that you complete certain objectives to gain xp. It doesn’t suggest what modules to equip on your ship or even which ship to use. There’s plenty of room for error in Elite: Dangerous which allows for a true sandbox experience. Luckily there’s plenty of support available online in forums or on YouTube to help you on your travels which is more than enough to get started.
To say that Elite is a grind is an unbelievable understatement. You start off in a Sidewinder which doesn’t really have enough cargo space to do any decent trading and certainly doesn’t have enough potential firepower to realistically fend off anything other than Sidewinders. But slowly but surely you make 100 credits a run. Then a few hundred. Then you break 1,000. You make a few 10s of thousands and you can treat yourself to a new ship and start again trading larger amounts. Somehow despite the unbelievable amount of grinding required and the occasional feeling of despair that can cause I still kept going back and steadily worked my way through the ranks as a trader.
At times Elite can feel exactly like what it so often is. An unending and slightly dull grind to the finish, which is really a self set goal anyway. I know it’s a sandbox and most of the fun is usually from self motivation but there are times were a little bit of direction, or a few token objectives, wouldn’t have done any harm. At times you can feel like a direction-less delivery boy sent to hell to perpetual deliver goods, at any time able to stop – but never stopping. The fear is that eventually I’ll realise I’ve been trading for 10 or 20 hours and only got a slightly better ship than the one I started in. And that I’ll spend hours more in that ship trying to get the next ship. Problem is I always want the next ship.
Then you flick around the responsive sci-fi UI that appears when you’re docked and check stock prices before loading up your ship. Closing it down you bring up the galaxy map and plot a course to your destination system. Your ship rotates and elevates up to the launch pad and after a satisfying voice confirmation you’re free to smoothly leave the station, taking care to avoid other ships. Once back into the deep black you carefully line your ship up before engaging the oh so satisfying countdown that is the hyperdrive. Upon exiting hyperdrive you urgently pull away from that system’s star and find the station you want to dock with. Once you approach you request landing permission and make your way to your allocated docking bay, ensuring not to violate any infractions like loitering in busy areas. Your ship is swallowed into the depths of the station and your trip is complete.
It’s a simple trip from A to B back to A again but there’s always something to do. Or at least something to stare at. The knowledge that there is just so much out there to see gives a sensation of scale and isolation that I’ve never felt before. There are dangers even during these basic trading runs. Assuming you don’t get pulled out of faster than light travel to be raided by a pirate, maybe you get caught in the gravity of a star. On one occasion I got too close to a white dwarf and my systems overheated forcibly disengaging my hyperdrive. Suddenly I was sat there staring at a seemingly infinite space travelling at speeds relatively so slow I might as well be stationary. I had to divert all my power to my systems and engage my frame shift drive as quickly as possible to escape the star; although it looked so amazing I was happy to just sit and stare. There’s a vast and intimidating emptiness to Elite: Dangerous that makes the galaxy really feel like a galaxy. It’s a shame you can’t get out at stations and walk around but I guess we’ll just have to wait for another certain space sim for that kind of depth.
Aside from the scale and uncanny good looks the ships themselves are another reason to keep you coming back. The light, agile fighters and multirole craft feel responsive and elegant. The larger ships and haulers feel heavy and wide, and clearly don’t perform so well in combat. Each ship has clearly had care and attention paid to it which allows the flight mechanics and combat to feel natural. It took me very little time to start flying accurately and the map in the HUD is a joy to use – not an easy thing to get right in 3 dimensions. Arming and firing weapons along with diverting power is another one of those fantastic manual tasks that Elite makes fun. Diverting all power to engines before accelerating and out turning your enemy then shifting power to your weapons before attacking is endlessly entertaining.
Unfortunately the combat can often become a series of head-on attacks, as is so often the case in space simulators. It’s a shame not to have the feeling of proper dogfights even though they’re perhaps not all that realistic for a space sim. But still the combat in Elite feels right especially given the power balancing ‘mini-game’ which lets you really feel like a captain; and every self-respecting sci-fi fan wants that. You can even give voice commands to your ship using a microphone with the right equipment and software.
And there’s good money to be earned in combat completing bounties or hunting down pirates is a good way to make cash. If you’ve got the skill, and the ship to pull it off, it can be much more lucrative than trading. It’s likely you’ll want to do some trading first to get a comfortable cash flow but hunting down pirates is fun. Or even becoming one.
The many modules that you can equip to customize any of your ships allow you to switch easily from trader to mercenary to pirate. Traders might want to go all out for cargo space while mercs will want a warrant scanner to identify targets. Pirates will likely want a cargo scanner to identify valuable ships and an interception module to drag ships out of faster than light travel so they can attack. Obviously it’s not a good idea to take the space equivalent of an articulated truck up against the space equivalent of an F-16 so ship choice plays a big part in deciding your role too.
Elite: Dangerous is nothing short of spectacular. It’s grand in design and beautiful in execution. Sitting in your cockpit going about the daily grind is uniquely, and superbly entertaining. Exiting hyperspace in the orbit of an enormous, intimidating star looks incredible. Elite: Dangerous doesn’t look to change all that much but instead it makes sure it gets the important things right. The galaxy feels just barren enough to get a sense of scale with enough awesome space stations, stars and other players that it never feels completely empty.
At times the grind can seem endless, and even a little pointless, but Elite: Dangerous cleverly makes things interesting by making what should be boring anything but. With ongoing updates Elite: Dangerous will be amazing. There’s already a good amount of content and a decent community but more ships would be desirable, especially for the mid game. There’s nothing but huge jumps between ships rather than a gradual progression up and there’s rarely much of a choice to be made. It can be a pretty linear path. It’ll definitely be interesting to see what happens in future updates but even as it is Elite: Dangerous is a great space sim with tons of content and an amazing galaxy to explore. But it’s lack of help for new players and intimidating grind will turn plenty of people away from this game.