Elite: Dangerous is a fun if time consuming and difficult to pick up romp through the universe.
It’s amazing to think of an age where games like Elite, Freelancer and X were the norm. These were games where you could explore the infinite outreaches of space and truly decide your own fate, be it through combat or simple trading. Nowadays, Freelancer creator Chris Roberts is busy plugging away at his next sci-fi space sim opus in Star Citizen. X has seen much better days especially following the release of the excruciatingly terrible X Rebirth. At this point, Elite: Dangerous – Frontier Developments’ crowd-fund, massively multiplayer online space sim – is the closest we have to a truly open galaxy in video games.
"What is your drive in Elite: Dangerous? That can be answered by first deciding at any given time what you’d like to pursue."
And what a complex beast it is, especially on Xbox One. If you’ve never experienced it on PC (which we reviewed back in January), then you’ll have to quickly learn the ins and outs of lifting and taking off with your ship, engaging warp speed to travel to distant star systems and figuring out how to dock with stations without careening hull-first into them, dog fighting different groups of enemies while practicing evasive maneuvers, targeting and weapon switching, etc.. To Frontier’s credit, it manages to get the control scheme just right on the Xbox One controller but it will still take a couple some time before all the controls become second nature. Be prepared for some trial and error because Elite: Dangerous doesn’t try to babysit you or solve problems for you. If you don’t get it right, you’ll often find yourself trying again and again until a solution is found.
However, when you enter into the universe of Elite: Dangerous, it’s easy to be blown away by its scale. Planets are massive and intricately detailed, asteroids dot the empty reaches while the stars serve as a beautifully dramatic backdrop and both the HUD design and ships themselves (though not terribly innovative) look good. Oddly enough though, there isn’t too much of a soundtrack; thankfully, the sound effects work is more than capable of truly delivering that authentic deep space experience. It’s almost enough to excuse the vastness of it all but eventually, when you get right down to playing Elite: Dangerous, you slowly begin to realize just how much it demands from you.
What is your drive in Elite: Dangerous? That can be answered by first deciding at any given time what you’d like to pursue. Perhaps you want to be a space pirate, careening through the star system, attacking stray ships and stealing their cargo. Maybe you want to join a faction and participate in system-wide wars, scoring territories and netting both powerful weapons and new ships besides feeding into a greater purpose with other players.
"Sure, space is beautiful and there’s always something new to explore but some people may lack the patience to simply travel for hours on end, taking in the sights. "
You could also just hop into PvP courtesy of the CQC mode and participate in some truly intense dogfights with other players, whether you’re capturing flags or annihilating enemies. One could also simply explore the universe and harvest different minerals, selling them off and scraping by an honest living without killing any one. The variety of ships on offer allows you to choose what works best and customize its modules for your purpose, be it for battle or trading. The choice is really up to but with a game like this that has an overwhelming amount of things to do – and hundreds of billions of stars to explore – it’s easy to drown.
In that respect, Elite: Dangerous isn’t perfect. Its activities can get a bit monotonous, depending on what players are looking for. Sure, space is beautiful and there’s always something new to explore but some people may lack the patience to simply travel for hours on end, taking in the sights. There isn’t too much of a plot to be found, though there is an overall story governing the universe, and it’s really on you to decide what kind of name you want to make for yourself. It’s cool that there are different bulletin boards in Elite: Dangerous that let you seek out players interested in the same thing but the game isn’t as co-op heavy now as one may think. The Horizons expansion will bring some truly intriguing new features like multi-crew ships and the ability to land on planets. For now though, it’s you and a few randoms working together for a common goal (which can still be fun in itself).
It should be noted that Elite: Dangerous isn’t the game you play for a good 15 minutes at a time, finishing up dailies and then perhaps doing a few side-quests. The CQC update does allow for some quick PvP matches but if you want to explore the universe, further your rank with factions or earn any new ships/credits/weapons, you’re going to have to be prepared for the long haul.
"Learning curve and time commitment aside, the game currently feels like it could use some more work to truly make it great."
This is very reminiscent of MMOs in a sense…except that more and more MMOs are looking for ways to help players optimize their time spent with the game. In Elite: Dangerous, even when you’re absolutely focused on what you want to do, it will still eat up a good amount of your time in the process. And honestly, the distinct lack of variety in some missions can wear on you after a while. It would be nice to see a greater variety of missions in the future, which seems almost a given when the Horizons expansion finally does arrive.
This isn’t to say you won’t have fun. Space battles are genuinely endearing in Elite: Dangerous, the star systems are gorgeous with very minimal performance issues and there’s a wide variety of activities to accomplish. Learning curve and time commitment aside, the game currently feels like it could use some more work to truly make it great. That being said, it’s come a long way since its initial launch on PC and it feels like there’s a lot more fun stuff to do. In the meantime, if you’ve ever wanted to explore the deep reaches of space and be a modern day Han Solo – complete with the long stretches of space traveling and docking – then Elite: Dangerous is worth a look, especially on Xbox One.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Beautiful visuals and a well designed universe. Plenty of avenue for pursing whatever path you choose, be it in piracy or faction work. Great variety of ships, each with their own uses. Fun PvP mode that fits the Xbox One controller very well. Performance is stable throughout despite the odd frame dip.
Steep learning curve, especially for those not used to space sims. Scale of universe can be overwhelming. Some activities are monotonous. Feels a bit light on the plot and overall story direction. Definitely not for everyone.
Elite: Dangerous is a colossal experience that isn't easy to take in even after a dozen hours. However, it's a beautiful space sim with the largest scope yet that allows you unparalleled freedom even as it demands oodles of your time in return.