Are you willing to go beyond to enjoy infinity?
P lenty of metaphors have been made about choice. Elite Dangerous is a game all about creating your own adventure, assuming you’re willing to sit with it through the astronomical learning curve. Elite Dangerous is shamelessly a simulator and knows its audience perfectly, but as the casual observer I came into this as, and who I like to think I write for? It’s hard to say what exactly the value of such depth is to most players.
Presenting players with the entirety of a year 3300 A.D. Milky Way galaxy, Elite Dangerous is primarily a multiplayer affair, though solo play does exist. Direction however, is just as lacking as the endless vacuum of space is of life. Even after fumbling around with the tutorials, which do little beyond surface level explanation of a few elements, players are more or less left to make their own way in the galaxy.
" Direction however, is just as lacking as the endless vacuum of space is of life "
It should be clarified though that Solo play is not offline play. A constant connection is required to play the game, with the solo play option simply populating the universe with the occasional bot instead of the usual human pilots. Either mode will still leave you with an underpopulated galaxy, as my time with both modes rarely saw me come across a ship.
How you make that path is again, up to you to figure out yourself. Legally or illegally, you can become a trader, assassin, explorer, miner, bounty-hunter, and several more. What these jobs entail, again, on you. It’s overwhelming at best, being presented with infinity, and makes it hard to go beyond a few hours.
In fact, several hours into the tutorial missions might still not be enough to even get the controls. Barely explained controls are easy to lose command of, until they become muscle memory. More than a handful of times, I found myself hurtling through space, spinning endlessly because the mouse glanced a bit too far to the side. Targeting is nearly useless, as you still need to carefully take aim and don’t automatically follow the enemy bogy.
" Barely explained controls are easy to lose command of, until they become muscle memory. "
The controls are set up to feel like realistically piloting a ship, though they are entirely too sensitive and can be seen as poorly done. Pitching up and down, for example, is handled with the mouse moving up or down, but turning the ship is done with the A and D keys. What does that leave the mouse with? The barely useful function of changing the ship’s pitch, which more often than not, frustratingly sends you pirouetting into the void instead of turning toward your decided destination.
You are left to command every aspect of your ship, much like your time, from deploying weapons, to tracking a target, to scanning surroundings. It serves genre fans well, but again, to the average gamers, the only real word to use here is “overwhelming”
The game is detailed up the wazoo, and I’m sure somebody out there likes that they need to perfect the art of docking just to buy ammo and drop off the mining efforts of the day, but gamers looking to just try the game are going to give up far before climbing the obtuse difficulty curve.
" There isn’t much to the sound design outside of sound effects, which on the bright side makes it a perfect podcast game. "
Visually however, the Milky Way is gorgeous. Space is super smooth and surprisingly detailed for a understandably empty environment. The distant glow of star systems and the halo of light surrounding asteroids and other celestial bodies gives a surreal look to space exploration.
The eye candy is super important, as you’ll be drifting through space a lot while figuring out what you’ll be doing. The game isn’t super demanding either, and easily ran on my underpowered notebook on high settings. There isn’t much to the sound design outside of sound effects, which on the bright side makes it a perfect podcast game. A more cynical take of course being that the lack of music makes the experience boring.
Elite Dangerous is a strange title to me, with a learning curve steeper then particle physics and the least hand holding I’ve ever seen. I did not enjoy my time with Elite Dangerous, but i’m also equally as sure that this is not a game for me. Some of you out there might find enjoyment out of a life in the stars, but know that it might take years of your life to get a handle on everything it asks of you.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
A huge, expansive universe and a million ways to make a name for yourself within it make Elite Dangerous fantastic for the sim enthusiast. Great visuals that run well on weaker machines helps maintain immersion.
The galactic learning curve is probably going to drive away the casual observer, well before they see any reward for their time. Sound design is limited to effects.
Elite Dangerous is not going to be the game for everyone, and in fact most are going to be turned off by all it demands from players. The fact remains though, that the game does exactly what it wants, and does it very well. It isn't here to please everybody, but those who it is for are going to have a good time.