Format: Steam, Frontier, PS4, XBOX One
Type: Space Sandbox
Demo Box: PC
Synopsis: Take control of your own starship in a cutthroat galaxy. Elite Dangerous brings gaming’s original open world adventure into the modern generation with a connected galaxy, evolving narrative and the entirety of the Milky Way re-created at its full galactic proportions.
I’m going to be honest here, when I first picked this up back in 2015 I had high expectations. So high I went out and spent near £400 on a HOTAS just for it! Yet back then all I had was frustration and bitter tears, as the game, for me, was a pile of trash and I was £450 out of pocket!
Flash forward to 2018 and I decided to try it again. The reason being the Horizons, the expansion, was on sale; and everyone I know was raving about how good Horizons makes the game. As well as how much better the game is after near 3 years of updates. So I picked up Horizons and reinstalled. However I wasn’t expecting much, partly remembering my past experience, and also the fact I no longer have a HOTAS.
So I was rather surprised to find it now supports XBOX One controllers, as well as keyboard and mouse. What’s more the controller integration is really solid, almost as if it was something intended from the start, and not added in later. Small caveat here though, the game (apparently, based on feedback on the steam forums), doesn’t support the xbox controller, with frequent crashes when it’s used. It only supports PS4 and XBOX One controller
Off I went to play the game, and yes, it was just as frustrating to get into as it was the first time. The tutorial missions (which are outside the game) were easy enough, bar the combat ones, as the ship handles like a brick in super glue! However after a few runs I got the feel of the ship and the flight style, and thus went into the main game.
This is where things can fall apart on you. Once you login you get get given a ‘starter mission’ that will net you some starting money, as well as introduce you to the core mechanics of the game: Combat, Trade, Exploration, and Planetary Exploration (the last if you have the Horizons DLC). It’s well worth doing these, if only to get familiarity with the trade and exploration side of the game as there’s no training missions for those.
Also bear in mind, that you can only have one character per account so if you mess up and want to restart you have to hit the ‘clear save’ option to delete your save. On the one hand I hate this, there’s no valid reason why you can’t have at least 2 or 3 (or 300 for that matter) saves. However on the other hand there’s no ‘levelling up’ or anything character based in the game. The only real stats in the game are money and ranks with factions. That said I restarted a couple of times, but clearing the save was fine then. However now I’m into the game I do feel having a separate character for exploration, so I could have my main as a trader, would be nice.
You can buy a new account, but because the game uses Steam (even the keys bought direct from Frontier are apparently Steam ones), that brings a host of it’s own issues with it. Though there are workarounds.
Back on topic, once you get in game it’s overwhelming, as you have essentially got nothing to guide you. There’s no story, no ‘quests’ or epic story mission to follow. You’re not a hero out to save the galaxy and woo all the women (or men), you’re just an average Joe Normal. And this game drives it home, as you start off with nothing and have to work you’re way up. Even the initial ship you have is nothing more than a loaner!
Now, while this is overwhelming, and given this is a sandbox game, it means you can create your own story. If you want to be the best space pirate around, go be it. Want to be the biggest hauler around, go do it. There only limitation is your imagination…sort of (more later)
This freedom is part of the problem for people first arriving, they’re left wondering what to do. I’ve also found people tend to jump into the game without doing the training missions first, and then get frustrated with how they cant fly properly.
Let me be upfront here. If you’re looking to get this, do the training missions. Seriously, if you don’t do them you’re just going to end up frustrated at the game. The ship flight mechanics have some subtleties to them, and if you go in blind you will regret it.
Also don’t give into the comments like ‘you need a HOTAS to play this game’, they’re bollocks. While HOTAS are nice from an immersion stand point, especially if you play in VR, you can get equal enjoyment out of say dual joystick, controller or even straight up mouse and keyboard. In fact some of the best PvPers in the game are keyboard and mouse users, and Bwana, a streamer I followed for his Elite Dangerous streams, prefers to use dual joysticks.
There’s no restrictions on how you play the game, play it the way that makes you comfortable, and gives you the most fun!
So if it’s a sandbox with no story and missions, does that mean it’s a static universe? Yes and no, I think that is the best way to answer that.
While there is no interaction between the players and the universe directly, there is indirect interaction. What I mean here is that Frontier are always watching, and if the community as a whole gets behind something they (Frontier) take notice and may make changes.
For example the Colonia Highway (a long route from the ‘bubble’ to a system called Colonia) was composed by the community at large and then brought to life fully by Frontier after seeing the communities efforts.
Another was the recent efforts of the community to help a dying cancer patient fulfil his desire of reaching Colonia, 22,000 light years from the Bubble where humanity is. This was a huge adventure, taking over a month (on average) to complete. However, grievers (and yes, Elite has a lot of them) decided to try and sabotage this by attacking one of the waypoints along the way. They succeeded in knocking it out of commission, which is no easy feat!
Normally that would have been the end of it, but the Elite community is nothing if not dogged, they decided they were going to get this guy to Colonia and nothing was going to get in their way! The only way to get the station back up in time was for huge amounts of materials to be shipped to the damaged Megaship. Now, remember this is waaaaay out in the middle of nowhere, not an easy place to reach, yet the Elite community rose up and did it. While no actual numbers have been mentioned, hindered of players making multiple trips would have been required to bring this station back online. It had such a huge impact that it was actually referenced on the in game news (Galnet). The name of the Megaship hit? Dove Enigma, apparently a tribute to the guy dying of cancer but making the run: CMDR DoveEnigma13.
So yes, while there’s no direct impact on the story as a whole, actions players take, can have an impact.
Honestly this sort of gameplay feels more rewarding, because you know you’re not a super hero, your not Flash Gorden, Buck Rodger, or Captain Kirk, rather you’re Joe Normal. So when something you’re a part of has an impact and does cause a story changing event, the satisfaction you feel is significant, more than if you kill a boss in WoW or something similar.
However also because of this you’re going to have to spend a significant amount of time developing your character. Boosting yourself up, and getting decent ships and rigs. Yet even in a starter ship, you can make a difference.
This is very much a take charge type of game, it’s not going to hold you’re hand and guide you around. No visual arrow pointing you to a destination, or colour coded map telling you the thing your looking for is in this or that area. You have to be the driving force, create our own story. This means the game is perfect for role playing.
Now, onto the bad of game, and there are some sadly. Firstly, and for me it’s possibly the biggest issue, there’s no player driven economy. Money in this game is all but meaningless, Frontier could wake up tomorrow and give everyone 100billion credits, and it would have no impact on the universe. It also means things like trade hubs can’t spring up naturally (like they do in the likes of Eve Online). There’s no ship crafting, and no need for space truckers. Lets say for example you’re main ship is a T7 Transporter, but you decide to buy an Asp Explorer and go exploring, so you leave you T7 in Station A. You’ve gone and finished you’re exploration and you’re now in Station W and want you’re T7 here. In Eve (and here) you can fly all the way back again, and then return, but thats a long winded time consuming.
In Eve you would set up a contract and have a Hauler Company transport it for you. However in Elite there is no player trading. So you cant hire a hauler, rather you go to the ship yard and pay a few thousand credits and wait a half hour or so and then bam your T7 as been moved from Station A to Station W.
This lack of player interaction is, for me, a weakness of the game. There’s no fear you’re stuff is going to get stollen by the courier company. There’s no worries over you’re company being hijacked by someone. In fact there’s no fear or anything in the game (beyond the normal threats in games like this) . Which means the game is a little on the dry side.
Even death has little meaning, since when you die you get everything back again, so long as you have the ‘buy back’ aka insurance fees. Which are negligible when compared to the cost of actually rebuying everything again.
Next up is something that left me wide mouthed for a while. Despite this being an online game, there are no player tools. What I mean is there is no way to make, guilds or corporations or anything like it.
Right now Frontier are in the process of allowing player groups and factions, but to get these you have to apply directly to them and wait for them to make the changes in the back end of the game to get you in. Which they’re saying is taking upwards of 3 months!
Finally there’s no trading (as mentioned before), you can not give ships or money to other players. So if you have two accounts you can’t boost your alt account. Again I’m left wondering why, it’s already established that money is meaningless, so why limit the trading?
Those detractors aside, this time around I’m actually finding myself enjoying the game significantly. I’m currently focused on exploration, just running around scanning systems and planets, which gets you data that you can turn in for money. The data can range anywhere from a couple of thousand to a couple of million. However whats even more satisfying is if you come across a planet or system never explored before. That will net you big bucks, as well as have your name attached to the system and in game for life.
There’s nothing as satisfying as flying into a system and seeing you’re name attached to it as the first person to discover it. What’s more there’s literally a vast universe to discover out there! According to the Dev Team we’ve discovered less than 0,05% of the universe, after 4 years. Which now I’ve written it seems to highlight something, there’s nothing to push you to explore….or is there….
There’s surprisingly a lot to do in the game, once you’ve decided on what you want to do. The mission board is filled with trade, bounty hunting, data, exploration, passenger and hauling missions. Admittedly these initially pay nothing, but with each completed one you gain influence and prestige, both with the company and station you’re working with, but also the Powers that Be that govern that area of the galaxy. As these increase you’ll gain ranks and unlock better paying missions, and faction specific ships. Essentially it boils down to how well you’re known and liked.
However it doesn’t stop the initial foray into the game being overwhelming, and the lack of in game guidance to be frustrating. Thankfully the community as a whole have come together to produce various tools and guides to help out, here’s a few I’d recommend.
Firstly, the afore mentioned Streamer, Bwana. I can not recommend him enough, drop by his channel over on twitchtwitch he’s a funny guy to watch in general, but is also open to helping newcomers to the game out, answering questions and giving pointers.
He also wrote several great guides on getting started in the game. For example his recent post on what to do now that passenger missions are nerfed is a must read! Here he covers some of the great ways to make credits from early game and up. He also gives sample fits, something that for newcomers can be a pain to figure out (especially for haulage and trading!) Even old timers should have a read of this! His other blog posts written in recent days cover other aspects of making money in the game, they’re all essential reads IMO.
The following programmes are paid for, but while aren’t essential, make for amazing QoL tools, as well as great immersion assets.
VoiceAttack is a small program that listens to your vocal commands and then does the pre-programmed responses. For example you could say ‘request docking’ and it would do the key commands needed to request docking. This is great way of immersing yourself in the game, as well as taking some ‘clunky’ out of it. Also not that this program will work with any game or program, not just Elite Dangerous.
On the surface you might be dismissive of this, but when you try it out it’s worth becomes apparent. I was personally very dismissive of the service till I tried it out! Even just on the immersive side of things it’s worth investing in. It’s currently on sale for £8.99/$11.99 on Steam.
Next up is HCS Voice Packs. If you go and get VoiceAttack then I highly recommend you look into buying one of these packs. These packs are essentially pre-programmed commands for VoiceAttack, only with vocal responses as well. So you can have the likes of Kirk, Data and Q from Star Trek in your ship. Making smart remarks and stuff as you fly around! I’m not kidding, they hired William Shatner and Co to do these voice packs. It’s not limited to them either, there’s a lot to choose from and all sound pretty damn amazing! Whats more with the upcoming (27th Feb 2018) patch the new Singularity profile leaves beta. What this profile does is allow you to have multiple voice packs running at the same time. So you can Have Kirk on navigation, Data on Engineering, and Q doing everything else. So from an immersion aspect this is the holy grail!
What’s more the price is just £14.99 a pack!
Disclaimer: Both VoiceAttack and HCS Packs require you to have a working mic, and to spend a good amount of time training your computer to recognise your voice. In my case it was initially 45minutes, but I’ve spent around a further hour doing it. Also bear in mind that it will get your commands wrong, if it happens a lot then you need to spend more time teaching your computer. It’s frustrating and time consuming, but it’s part of the process and has great benefits!
Now we have some free stuff:
If you’re going to get into trading in any fashion, then you need to use EDDB a site devoted to trading. It’ll help you find profitable trade routes and loops. But even if you’re just after a single thing for a mission, this is where you need to go to find it. Mainly because the in-game UI for this is a disaster! (Though the UI is getting a huge overhaul in an upcoming patch)
EDDi (scroll down to the Read Me section for more info, as well as installers and set up guides)
This is a plugin for VoiceAttack, I’m still figuring this one out myself, but think of it as plugin that reads you’re game journal and gives verbal feed back. So for example when you scan a planet it’ll tell you a little about the planet, but also how much the data you get is worth. When docking it’ll tell you where you’re docking pad is and other little tidbits. It will read the news to you when you first login as well (Though I got annoyed with this and turned it off). However it’s a lot more than this, and needs a lot of time to really learn it all.
EDDiscovery (scroll down to the Read Me section for more info, as well as installers and set up guides)
This is a tracker, it tracks everything you do, trading, exploration, combat, money earns and lost, and gives you a log of it. It can also give you a 2D or 3D map of your current journey (bear in mind this will reduce your computer to a snails pace if you choose the 3D map due to it’s size!)
EDMarketConnector (scroll down to the Read Me section for more info, as well as installers and set up guides)
If you used EDDB consider using this. Every time you land at a station it sends updated information of the station to the various sites, such as EEDB and the various other sites for making and trading. This helps those sites (and ultimately you) have the updated data and pricing.
So, lets wrap this up shall we!
You’re looking buy the game (either normally or on sale) and you’re considering which version to buy, just the base game or the commander pack, which includes the Horizons DLC and a couple of skins. Take my advice, ignore the base game. Buying that will cripple you, as a lot of the features that make the game fun and worth while these days are locked behind Horizons. Also bear in mind that it’s going to take you longer than 2 hours to get a feel for the game, so if you think of buying to try and then refund, I wouldn’t recommend it.
That said, I would recommend picking this game up. As it stands now I’ve had a lot of fun with this. So much so I’ve dumped over 100hours into this in the last 3 weeks!
VoiceAttack and HCS while not essential (though after using them for 2 weeks now I’d say they are essential!), they make for amazing QoL improvements and while they do cost money; I find them to be a good investment. Also worth noting is that some of the HCS packs also work with No Mans Sky and Star Citizen as well.
So in short, yes this game is absolutely worth buying, so long as you go in eyes wide open, and understanding it’s going to take you a while.
Edit: Forgot to add this! On Feb 27th a huge update to the game is being rolled out. This update (dubbed Beyond Chapter One) is game changing, new ships, new UI overhaul, changes to mining and engineering and a load more. I will possibly do another post down the road on this update.