Elite Dangerous Review
I love space, even to the point that I once even worked for NASA on many satellite missions. I get a huge sense of joy and excitement seeing the stars, moon, and planets knowing that we have the technology to journey to or see those things in significant detail. Space has always been about the known, unknown, and striving to discover the unknown or unlock the hidden secrets of the known. Those that aren't already working for NASA in some capacity have to rely on media, games, or a telescope to scratch that curious adventurous itch. Luckily we have Elite: Dangerous to scratch that itch in a huge way.
Elite: Dangerous is a sandbox space adventure simulator taking place in the year 3301 with an open-ended galaxy compiled of 400 billion star systems. More than 150,000 of the star systems are even modeled after real-world astronomical data. To modify the old saying, "the galaxy is your oyster". Starting with a small starship and a small amount of credits the player has free rein over how to begin their adventure. I was immediately hooked on the concept and couldn't wait to dive in, so I skipped the training - big mistake.
I had started in a hangar with no guidance and literally started poking around trying to figure out what to do, soon becoming completely lost and very frustrated. So I went back to the training which consisted of 10 different tutorials, which proved to be very overwhelming - so far, not a good start. After hours of target practice, combat, supply strike, launching, docking, and travel training I finally felt ready to take on the galaxy for a second shot. You may double back and think to yourself, "did he just say hours on tutorials?" Yup! Elite by far has the most controls I have ever seen in a game before. Combine that with the limited buttons on a controller and you are in for a nasty treat. Don't get me wrong, the developers have done an outstanding job of exhausting every button combination on the controller, though for me the hardest part and most critical aspect of the game is flying and docking. PC gamers rejoice because I can easily see how a keyboard or even a joystick would easily remedy the issues I was experiencing. The easiest example of my struggles is landing. You must engage a certain sequence with the station you are attempting to land on. Once approved, a timer starts and you are assigned a docking bay which you must find and navigate your way to. The landing timer is set for ten minutes and in most cases that entire time is needed unless you are an ace with navigating your ship with the controller. Again, the docking sequence is a huge part of the game and averaging at ten minutes each time it adds up and becomes an annoyance fairly quickly.
With my navigation woes aside there are many other aspects that shine. The setup is simple; you can fight, trade, mine, or explore your way through the galaxy. You can partake in all of those categories, though I found it easier to focus on one at a time. When docked at a space station you can access a number of quests that vary depending on your ship's capabilities, aka how far you can travel. Once your mission(s) have been selected you must enter orbit, get far enough away from the station, select your objective in a heavily populated map, find the objective in orbit, warp to the objective, come out of warp and travel just a little bit more in regular orbit to your destination, and then complete your mission(s). Yea, that is a lot of stuff in order to just complete a single mission. The time it takes to get to an objective is almost outweighed by the reward. The act of fighting another ship, stealing cargo, mining ore from asteroids, scanning planets, or just taking in the scenery almost outweighs such stress, almost.
With every mission completed you gain credits and sometimes reputation. The credits are used to purchase subcomponents of your ship or even newer, more capable ships. This is yet again another aspect that takes simulation to the next level. As I mentioned earlier I would focus on one category at a time because each component of a ship is geared towards something specific. For example, if you are looking to become a trader or mine ore, then you will probably want a component that increases your cargo hold or increase the capabilities of what you can mine, but then you take a hit on weight and speed. With positives usually there are negatives as well, and you must find a balance between them. There are just way too many stats related to your ship to count on your fingers and toes, which is another aspect of the game that drives me up the wall and hinders my enjoyment. The one critical thing to remember is that there are prebuilt ships that are already geared towards the missions you may be interested in, so don't go spending all of your credits on your starter ship.
While on your missions you will encounter a lot of friendly, neutral, and hostile NPCs that are either on their own or a part of a Faction. Factions are good to note and easily looked up in your map menu system and color-coded. The Factions are categorized by threat level and will determine how you are handled when entering their space. Over time, when completing your missions you will gain reputation with these factions, essentially deepening your friendship to gain more missions and safe travel through their space, which conversely will increasing the threat against you from other factions, which unless you have a combat ship you should really stay clear of if you want to survive. I didn't end up focusing on this as much since it didn't seem to take away from the experience, but it is something that shouldn't be completely ignored when checking your map to get your final destination.
Since there had already been so much going on from the start I primarily played the solo experience, though one of the biggest draws of the game is its multiplayer experience. Just like focusing on the factions, now throw thousands of real players into the mix who are also trying to get a piece of the galaxy, some friendly and others not so friendly. Nothing really changes, but the in-space traffic does get cluttered and slightly more intimidating. There is a completely separate multiplayer experience called Close Quarters Combat Championship which can really hone your combat skills. There are three game modes: Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. This experience is similar to your modern FPS in the fact that you are given a choice of ship and loadouts with unlockable perks. Complete a session and gain experience to rank up. Reach the max rank of 50 and you can choose to start over and gain prestige ranking, which increases the amount of credits earned and places a nifty new icon next to your name to show how awesome you are and gives you access to a special star port. Definitely a great distraction from normal gameplay, but again, flying on the controller just doesn't feel natural to me.
I haven't even really begun to scratch the surface of the amount of detail in this game. Elite: Dangerous is a master of a space simulation and one of a kind. The game is truly open-ended unless you consider getting the best outfitted ship for your style of play as an end point. Even with the "best" ships, you still will have plenty more places to see and maybe even be the first to discover a planet. There is a lot that Elite: Dangerous has to offer and it is graphically stunning, though being a true simulation to me is its downfall. I found myself spending more time nose deep in unnecessary traveling, worrying about system components, and sifting through the overloaded map and menu system than actually completing the missions themselves. Combine that with the very clunky control system on consoles and I had to hold off many times from rage-launching my controller into the Solar System. In the end, if you have the time, patience, and dedication, Elite: Dangerous will reward you in epic proportions like no other space adventure game has before.
Final Rating: 70% - A space simulation taken where no developer has gone before.