Elite: Dangerous started out as an ambitious Kickstarter project in the Fall of 2012. The developers envisioned a revival of the long forgotten Frontier: Elite franchise incorporating modern design and technology. The games were known for their 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque take on space exploration and design. Sparking the interest of many fans and intrigued newcomers, the Kickstarter was successfully funded raising over 2.5 million dollars as of January 2013.
Personally, I don’t have any experience with the Frontier franchise, so Elite: Dangerous is my first foray into the series. Fortunately for myself and many others in my position, I don’t think having that familiarity is important here. The moment that really grabbed me was the first time I did a light speed jump in one of the tutorials. You press a button to start charging your engines, and right at the last moment you slam your throttle up to propel you into hyperspace. It is an impactful moment the first time you do it, and it doesn’t lose it’s edge any time you do it afterward. This is good because it will quickly become your main way of traveling.
"The moment that really grabbed me was the first time I did a light speed jump in one of the tutorials. "
There are a wide range of tutorials to ease players into this complex world, and I would implore anyone to take a run through them before hopping in. There is a lot to keep track of, so knowing how to fully utilize all of the features of your ship will be crucial. I honestly felt like the game didn’t teach enough about it’s systems but maybe that was intentional to get players to just hop into the game and figure it out on their own. And that’s fine if it’s what they were going for. Regardless I feel like this has to be one of the more accessible space simulators.
Flying the ship is relatively easy here; it isn’t like other sims where you’ll need to master two keyboards worth of key bindings, and keep a user manual handy just to get in the air. In the first tutorial, I was tasked with shooting down some fuel canisters, and the game let me explore and figure the controls out for myself. Bound to W,E,R, A, S, D, and F on keyboard, the controls for thrusters/throttle immediately made sense to me and I was able to get the hang of it quickly. I later tried it out on controller and found that to be a viable way to maneuver as well. As is the case with most flying games, flight sticks are fully supported as well. I found the controller to be best when flying the ship, and then switching back to the keyboard and mouse for hud elements. It makes for a good bit of immersion.
Whenever you dock at a spaceport you have the option to take on missions and earn money in order to purchase better ships and upgrades. This is an extremely important aspect of the game as the massive universe makes faster travel and enhanced scanners necessary tools for efficiently scouring the universe. Before you can dock though, you have to learn how to land. It can be tricky as first but the game guides you in well. It really feels like the docking sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I’m pretty sure that’s the feeling they were going for.
"Flying the ship is relatively easy here; it isn’t like other sims where you’ll need to master two keyboards worth of key bindings, and keep a user manual handy just to get in the air. "
Missions usually involve delivering various forms of cargo to other systems in the allotted time period. It may sound a little boring at first, but once you get out into deep space, you never know what surprises you may encounter. Unfortunately that’s about all you can do right now. The developers have promised a whole lot more for the full release, but I got bored of this aspect of the game very quickly so I hope they can deliver.
The universe is divided into hundreds of smaller zones separated by lightspeed travel. These zones are completely instanced to a smaller number of players at a time to decrease load. This ensures that docking stations aren’t completely clogged every time you need to refuel or pick up a quest. It is similar to the way Guild Wars handles it’s zones. Unfortunately, there was some weirdness with groups when I played that prevented us from being in the same instance.
I won’t lie, I am a bit concerned about the technical problems I’ve encountered during my time with the three Beta builds. The game has been very unstable for myself and other participants, and even in the latest release, basic functions like grouping are broken. I worry because the game is little over a month away from release, and there hasn’t been a stable build yet. I had crashing issues from the day I installed the first version of the beta, and when I reached out to PR about the issues I was having, I received no reply. Unfortunately, I was not alone in this as evidenced by various forum posters reporting similar issues. I’m hopeful these problems will be fixed before launch.
"I won’t lie, I am a bit concerned about the technical problems I’ve encountered during my time with the three Beta builds. "
With that said, Elite: Dangerous represents a bold shift in the way hardcore sims want to be perceived. It extends an olive branch to the uninitiated, and welcomes them to the fold, encouraging them to dig deep into the sprawling universe. The game is constantly developing with new things being added to the beta every few weeks. It will definitely be one to watch going forward as it opens the door for many players who have found space sims too obtuse. Look for more news on Elite: Dangerous when it releases December 16th, 2014.
This preview was written based on the Beta 3.04 build of the game and may not be representative of current build features and bug fixes.