Elite: Dangerous Review – PC

by

I was 13 years old when Frontier’s Elite II was released. The perfect, ripe age of a budding gaming enthusiast to truly experience a moment of transcendence into a world that, previously, seemed impossible.I remember the utter frustration of that game. I remember overshooting my target by light years because I was too impatient and immature to understand why it was necessary to start slowing down at the halfway point.

But I also remember the near heart-bursting sense of pride that I experienced the first time I managed to successfully dock with an orbital space station. I probably celebrated by going out and picking a fight with the local government ships and getting completely annihilated in the process, but that’s what 13 year olds do, isn’t it? I regret that I never got into the game enough to truly understand the depth and vastness of what it had to offer. But, I’d like to think that I still understood that it was there. Even subconsciously, I knew there was something special about that game.

Skip ahead about 20 years. We can do that easily because something happened in meantime. Something wrong. Essentially, games changed. We lost sandboxes for the most part and moved toward theme parks. But, in the last few years, we have been graced with the re-emergence of the sandbox genre and I, as a gamer, have had my faith restored in the future of gaming. Sure, we have had EVE Online for several years. But, time and time again, it seems to be the exception to the rule. We sit back and marvel at the news articles that come from the EVE Universe on a regular basis. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “Why don’t I play EVE?” But then I remember. I don’t have enough time to devote to the game to justify it. In order to experience any of the awesomeness that occurs in the EVE Universe, you practically have to live inside the EVE Universe. Even if I played the game, at the level that I would be able to commit, I’d still be just a spectator, watching from the sidelines as all the awesomeness happened around me. On top of that, EVE is an MMO before it is a space sim. And I have always kind of wanted a game that was the other way around.

A while back, I heard rumors that the original creator of the Elite franchise was returning to make a new, updated version of the game with full online multiplayer capability and my brain about melted. Unfortunately, I was way too cheap to fork over the money to pay for early access, but I lurked on the forums and on Reddit, scouring for as much information as I could about the upcoming game. I watched youtube videos and twitch streams of other lucky bastards who were thoroughly enjoying themselves in a world that I wanted so badly to be a part of.

And then, I got the call. I was lucky enough to be graced with an early access press copy of the game. I was literally shaking with excitement the first time I booted the game up, and I can assure you, after experiencing it first-hand, and having some time to think about it, the excitement has not worn off.

I started my journey just the other day, during the late phases of Beta 1.06 with the imminent launch of Beta 2 just around the corner, but even as I stepped foot into the relatively limited galaxy, compared to what will be available upon the game’s full release, I was immediately overwhelmed and agape at the sheer size and depth of the world that the developers at Frontier have created for us.

The universe is alive.

That is probably the single most important thing I have noticed about playing the beta so far. As you travel, you will find yourself going to spaceports that are abustle with in- and out-going traffic. And these are real players. Other people. Playing the same game as I am. Doing their own thing. Possibly friendly, but possibly hostile, as well, as I quickly found out when I unwisely entered a highly contested area in the I Bootis system without even so much as a plasma beam armed. I was blown out of the sky by a Commander ZEROCOOL (if you’re reading this, I don’t hold a grudge) before I even knew what was happening.

And I loved it.

I felt frustrated at having lost my ship and the credits that I had only just earned from completing my first bulletin board mission. But, it is that sense of loss and frustration that brings you back, yearning to do better the next time. To not make the same mistakes.

I will say it again: The universe is alive. The game offers you the ability to play solo or with friends only, but I don’t know why anyone would choose to do that. I feel like it would be taking a step in the wrong direction. I think that the presence of the other players, all making their own choices, causing conflicts in systems between factions, causing shortages or surpluses of supplies that changes the way you have to play the game in order to make a living and survive, is what sets this game at another level from its predecessor.

I mean, yeah, the game is freaking beautiful. The ships feel amazing to fly. I can use my CH Combatstick, my CH Pro Pedals, and my TrackIR to fully immerse myself into the cockpit of my Sidewinder (I haven’t played long enough yet to upgrade my ship to anything cooler, but I don’t even care). Jumping into hyperspace to cross the vastness of empty space between systems is a wet dream straight out of every space opera I have ever fallen in love with. The sounds of the engines, the ambiance of the space stations…it’s all beautifully and artfully done.

But, it is the unpredictability of other people that puts the icing on this cake. It is what is going to make this game truly amazing and not just great. Even if you don’t directly come in contact with another player, the effects the other players have on the galactic economy and the governmental alliances (or lack thereof) will be ever present.

People got concerned and started saying things like, “David Braben is discouraging PvP in Elite: Dangerous” but the reality is that he just said that the game world is going to be so flipping massive that it will be unlikely, unless you’re traveling in hub areas, that you will encounter another player directly, so there won’t be a whole lot of cause for PvP in that regard. It’s not that PvP isn’t going to happen. It just isn’t the crux of the game. And that is beautiful.

You can spend hours upon hours exploring and not coming in contact with a single other human being, but then when you do spot one, your heart races and you have to make choices. Unscripted choices that can mean the difference between life and death. And I don’t think that it will be fully realized until the game is complete and more people begin playing once the price point is more palatable for the general consumer. I hope, that come that time, this will be realized. I hope that through articles like this, people will be able to see the true potential of a game like Elite: Dangerous and really give it a chance. Because it is games like this, games that take us away from the theme park and place us squarely back into the middle of a sandbox, a true sandbox, that will bring us out of the doldrums and put us back on the course to what I see as the destined future of gaming.

I’m not saying that Elite: Dangerous is the savior that we have all been waiting for. There are other games out there that are offering similar things, and I don’t even need to mention them.  I’m 34 years old. But when I sit down in the cockpit of that Sidewinder, I’m 13 years old again. I have a little more patience now, but the hope and dreams and eye-widened wonder are there.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store. I will be coming to you with more about Elite: Dangerous as the game moves through the final stages of Beta and then I will do a proper review of the game once it goes gold. Also, I will occasionally be streaming gameplay on my twitch account at http://www.twitch.tv/tred26, so be sure to follow me if you want to see some live gameplay. I don’t promise to be good, but I can guarantee that it will be a good time.

Elite: Dangerous – Beta 3 (10/31/14)

I got on the Elite: Dangerous party train right at the end of Beta 1. I only got to play it for a few hours prior to the full wipe and subsequent introduction of Beta 2, which pretty solidly blew my mind.

I played Beta 2 as often as my schedule would allow, soaking in the universe and just being generally amazed at how incredible the potential of the game was. Beta 3 release was October 28th and I downloaded it feverishly as soon as the patch went live. There were a few minor hiccups, which are completely expected when releasing a new patch. The thing that I’ve learned, though, is that Frontier, as a development team, is absolutely amazing. I really don’t know when these guys sleep. Not only did the initial Beta 3 release when they said it would, which is pretty much unheard of when it comes to video games, but they then followed up with not one, but 2 point patches plus another smaller hotfix in a single day, and then another point patch the next day. These guys work very hard to make sure that they are putting out a product that works and that is pretty impressive, when you look at so many other games out there that are broken on launch (and I mean gold launch, not early access) and then you have to wait weeks or even months before anything is done about it.

And what about the features of the new release? Well, first of all, there are 2 glorious new ships, which are stunning and unique in their own right. That’s something I’ve noticed. Each ship in this game has a purpose. There is not necessarily one “best” ship that everyone strives to have. There are ships that are better for transporting goods while there are others that are designed for combat, and still others that are designed for deep space exploration.

Other cool features that were added with the new Beta are the ability to mine metals from asteroids. This is cool not only for the people who want to go out and blast chunks of rock off of bigger rocks and then sell when they scoop up, but it also presents the opportunity for the more “pirate-y” type players to lie in wait for the miners to do all the hard work for them, blast their cargo hatch, steal the material, and make their own profit. But, knowing this, the miners, if they’re smart, will have escorts, who will protect them from the aforementioned pirates. This, my friends and readers, is how you get some very fine emergent gameplay.

For those who like to explore the now-expanded playable galactic area, there is now also the option to scoop fuel from nearby stars instead of having to budget your fuel use and pay for it at every station, you can just park near a star and refill for free straight from the source. But watch out for other ships that might see you as an easy target while you’re focusing on not burning your hull to a crisp.

Another interesting mechanic that was introduced is ship interdiction. Essentially, it allows one ship to pull another ship out of Supercruise, which is the faster-than-light travel mode that you use within systems to get from one place to another. Before Beta 3, flying in supercruise was oftentimes referred to as boring or a waste of time by many of the players on the forums. Now, with the possibility of being suddenly yanked out of supercruise by another player or NPC, you are always on your toes. But it isn’t something that is automatic. When you are the target of an interdiction attempt, as I was in this video you have the opportunity to fly towards the escape vector and break the interdiction attempt. It makes even flying in supercruise something that requires your vigilant attention and awareness now, which I think will quiet some of the complaints on the forums about it not being interesting enough.

On top of the new features, the graphics got an overhaul and there are many more audio features as well as new music. The planets got a detail pass as well. The planets now have dynamic water levels, ice caps, volcanic features that, depending on the atmosphere, may have plumes of volcanic gas ejecting into space, and ice planets now have the ability to show cracks in their surface.

I was blown away when I first played Elite in Beta 1. I was blown away again when it hit Beta 2. Now, with Beta 3, I was expecting it. I thought I had ramped up my expectations enough to not be too overly blown away by it, but I was wrong. I am so thoroughly on board with this game now that I can’t wait to see what comes next. I read the forums on a daily basis. I scour the r/elitedangerous subreddit. I’ve been talking about the game to my friends, family, and neighbors. I watch twitch streamers play the game when I don’t have time to play it myself. I stream it when I am playing it, in hopes that I can spread the word about how awesome this game is and how much more awesome it is even going to be once it is fully released.

And, as far as that goes, Frontier has said they are going to fully release by the end of this year and if their track record for releasing when they say the will speaks to that, then you can fully expect to see the fully released version before the end of the year. They have also announced that the last time you can opt into the Beta version is on Nov. 22 and that they will announce a release date for the game sometime next week. So, for those of you who are considering buying into the pre-order Mercenary Edition or who have already pre-ordered, you’ll know for sure when you will have a chance to play this unbelievable game by then.

If you have any question of what features are in store for the final release or for the planned expansion features that will be added after release, you can always check out the list that has been compiled on the forums here: http://forums.frontier.co.uk/forumdisplay.php?f=36

If you have been debating getting into Beta, perhaps a piece of information that was announced in this week’s newsletter might convince you. They have said that there will be certain areas in the final version (Earth’s Solar System, is included) which will require you to earn a special permit to even be able to go there. If you are a Beta backer, you will automatically have that permit, but if you aren’t, you’ll have to earn the permit in the game in order to be able to travel there and see your home planet of Earth.

This game is amazing. I can’t believe that so much is being done with it and yet it still seems to be existing in the shadow of that “other” space game that is being developed right now, as well. The more I play Elite, though, the more I am convinced that it is going to shine and stand alone as a very unique gaming experience that even the most die-hard Star Citizens will have to experience for themselves.

And, with that, I’ll bid you adieu, and see you all in space, Commanders. I have some scrap that I need to take to Dohan for a few extra credits.

Elite: Dangerous:  Federal Dreadnought Located Live Gameplay Video (11/3/14)

Located a Federal Distress Signal near Eranin 4 and dropped in to check it out. First time seeing a capital ship in game. Jaw-dropping experience.

Elite: Dangerous – Gamma and Beyond (12/5/14)

I started playing Elite during the Beta phase, but I have been aware of it since the Kickstarter. I was sold way back then. As I mentioned in my initial Beta review, I remembered the days, 30 years ago, of playing Elite II on my dad’s Commodore 64. I knew that, even if the game were nothing more than an upgraded version of that game, it would be something special. But then I started doing research and discovered that the promises that Sir David Braben was making were so much more beyond what the previous games had ever realized.

Needless to say, when I got my hands on a copy of the game, I was elated. I was ecstatic. And then, I started doing even more research. More reading and delving behind the scenes, trying to glean every last little detail that I could about what was to come. I wanted more.

And that’s just what many people have been saying. No, not really saying, more like screaming at the top of their lungs. Even with a 400 billion star system galaxy at their fingertips with a living, breathing economic and political system that is influenced by the actions of the players, and an attention to detail that far surpasses any previous space simulation that I have ever laid eyes on (previous meaning not including that other title that we are also anxiously awaiting). There are still those who will complain that there “just isn’t enough to do”.

Well, I read those complaints and I started to wonder. Is there enough to do? I mean, yes, even when you have an entire galaxy to explore, sometimes the systems start to look pretty much the same. And there are things about it that get slightly repetitive. But it’s the little things. Like finding a mining site that has copious amounts of palladium or platinum and a port that has a high demand for it. Or hunting all over to find that one upgrade for your ship that you’ve been looking for. Or surviving that battle against that pirate that you shouldn’t have won. Or bumping into that one other CMDR (other players all have their names preceded by the title CMDR for Commander) and interacting with them in some way. Or deciding to leave the civilized territories and strike out into the vast unknown portion of the galaxy to see what you can see. These and countless other things are all there, even though the Gamma is essentially a paused snapshot of what the galaxy will offer on Dec. 16th. It is basically holding its breath in anticipation of the big day.

When that day comes, there are many out there who are clamoring for more features. They say that the game is bare-bones as it currently stands and they demand more content or else the game will feel empty and pointless. I have gone back and forth in my head about this argument. The truth is, though, however many features are there or not, I can’t stop playing this game. I find myself jumping into the cockpit of my ship at every chance I can get. If it’s only to fly around a system for a little while, looking for a wanted ship to challenge, or to mine a little ore to make a few extra credits, or just to sit and explore the galactic map for a while and let myself be amazed at the absolute vastness that is there.

And just because version 1.0 of the game will come out on Dec. 16th, Frontier Developments has clearly stated on multiple occasions that they aren’t stopping there. The content will continue to come. There are many more planned features and events that will keep breathing more and more life into the galaxy.

People are worried that there isn’t enough to do, but I worry that there will be so much to do that I’ll never have a chance to experience it all. Eventually, you will be able to walk around inside ships, inside space stations, and on planets. You’ll be able to crew a ship with a friend. But even with that stuff absent from the current game, it is still a magnificent sight to behold. A true landmark in the history of gaming.

There are other titles that are in the works that may yet end up making Elite look like a stepping stone, but that remains to be seen. Elite is here. It is now. And it is wonderful. The nay-sayers out there are either too dependent on hand-holding or lack the creativity to find new ways to have fun in the game.

The base game that will be available to us all on Dec. 16th is going to be a great game. I don’t think anyone will be able to argue that. It may not have everything that people want, but if the developers tried to put everything that everyone wanted into the game prior to releasing it, the game would never be released. Let’s have it. Let’s get into it. Let’s start experiencing what is there and be happy when more comes. Trust me, there’s enough there already to have endless hours of fun with.

I look forward to flying with you, Commanders.

Be sure to check back again after release for my final analysis and wrap-up of version 1.0 of Elite: Dangerous. And then, hopefully, I’ll be back again with more as new content is continually added.

edfinal1

Elite: Dangerous – Final Release Review (12/21/14)

This will be the official “release review” of the game from me. However, I feel reluctant to call this a review of the finished game. The fact is that this game is far from finished. Whether we choose to fault Frontier Developments for releasing an unfinished game, or allow that they released a solid, core experience that they plan on building upon over the course of an indefinite period of updates, expansions, and improvements is up to you, as a consumer. That being said, I could not, in good conscience, give the current game, as it stands today, a full 5 out of 5 stars, as much as I might like to. I am fully one of those who has faith and is confident that, given time, this game will be a perfect space sim in its own right, but it still has a ways to go.

To be clear: in its present form, Elite: Dangerous is nothing short of a masterpiece in the space simulator genre. I have easily sunk more time into this game than any other game in recent history, and I show no signs of slowing. It consumes me. I think about it while I’m not playing. I read about it. I research the various play styles and future plans and nothing satiates my desire for more.

edfinal2

The biggest difference between the state of the game today from the game as it was during the Gamma phase prior to release is that the galaxy has essentially been put into motion now. Things are happening. It seems that each day, the GalNet news feed is headlined by a new development somewhere in the galaxy that has far-reaching effects and changes the way that people can approach the game. Changes the way you can make money. Changes the way that people will choose sides and claim allegiances to whichever faction they adhere to. There have been slave revolts, civil wars, and blockades of planets trying to export illegal drugs. There is so much. But it is completely up to the players to decide how and even if they will get involved. And the decisions of the players affects the outcome.

Right now, there are hints that the Emperor is sick and will possibly die soon. When that happens, a political void will exist. There are already hints and rumors of various people having differing opinions on who will take the seat of Emperor once the current one is gone. I have a feeling that things are going to get much worse before they get any better.

edfinal3

And then, on top of all the political infighting and civil unrest, there is the rumor that the feared alien race, the Thargoids, will be making a comeback in this game. It will be very interesting to see what happens when that day comes. Will the various factions come together against a common enemy, or will we be split in an even more complex multi-sided conflict?

There are those out there that complain that features that were promised to them in the early days of the Kickstarter are not yet present and so they feel like they have been cheated or short-changed. There are those that complain that core multiplayer elements are not present, and for a game to claim to be an online multiplayer game, it needs to have those specific things. And, while I do not disagree that there is merit in those complaints, I also have faith that those things are being worked on and will be implemented as soon as they are ready. In the meantime, however, the game is still very playable and enjoyable. Indeed, the developers have stated that the first major content patch they are working on for a Q1 2015 deployment is one geared primarily toward the multiplayer components of the game that are frankly under-represented in its current iteration. I will say that I have been able to play with two other friends and fly with them in the same space, which makes the game all the more enjoyable when  you can play with others.

edfinal4

Many people get hung up on the things that the game doesn’t currently have that they felt should have been implemented, but they lose sight of the things that it does have that are amazingly well executed. First off, I have to comment on how amazingly well-optimized the game is. My computer is no spring chicken. It has seen more moons than it probably should have. It has a first generation i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a measly GTX 650 and I run the game, very smoothly (read mostly 60+ FPS unless inside busy space stations or asteroid fields where it dips down to 30 at the lowest) on the High Quality preset. Now, compare that to the “other” space sim that is being developed right now, where I am lucky to see 20 FPS on the lowest quality preset with nothing going on. I was floored when I saw how amazingly well this game runs on my computer. In fact, with its minimum requirements, there are few computers out there right now that would not be able to satisfactorily run the game.

Additionally, the launch of the game, though the final release day patch-notes may have been a little underwhelming to some backers, went phenomenally well. Without a hitch, even. I can’t recall a launch day for an online only game that has ever gone as smoothly, with as few disconnects and server issues.

edfinal5

The game looks stunning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped into a system and actually, out-loud, said “Oh my God”. Some people might think that with 400 billion procedurally generated star systems, that it couldn’t help but get a little “samey” after a while, but I can honestly say that the game continually surprises me with how amazing it looks. And everything changes. You can come back and visit the same starport over and over and the view will always be just a little bit different. The way the nearby star will light the starport itself, or the way the nearby planets will be fully lit, or in shadow. It’s the subtle things that really make this game pop.

The sound is another thing that really must be applauded. Everything from the drone of the thrusters and the sounds of the engines winding up in preparation for a hyperspace jump, to the catastrophic sounds of explosions and the amazingly atmospheric backdrop that is the soundtrack, it all blends together to make for an absolute treat to your faculties.

I don’t  have one, but I’ve heard that playing this game with an Oculus Rift is, basically, a life-altering moment. I can only imagine. But, for anyone out there who has one and is looking for a truly immersive experience, I’d highly recommend trying it with this game.

edfinal6

In the end, I am of the camp who applauds Frontier for releasing the game in its current state, getting it out there for the people to get their hands on and begin experiencing. I, for one, am perfectly happy with the game as it is now and am only excited and hopeful for everything that is yet to come. If there is one thing that they have stated from very early on, it is that the release of the game is only the beginning for them. We have only taken the first steps into this galaxy. It will change, evolve, and blossom. The direction that it goes is partly in our hands, as the players. The choices we make will shape the future of the world inside the game, but also direct the choices that the developers make in what comes next.

I end this piece with high hopes for this game. Excitement for what comes next. Eagerness to get back into the cockpit and be a part of the whole thing as it happens. I can’t help but feel like I am witnessing something truly spectacular and historic when I play. Let’s curb the cynicism, realize what an amazing achievement this game truly is, and get excited together for what is yet to come. This game has been released, but it is far from finished and the developers have made it clear that they have every intention to keep plugging away at it until it is.

Screenshot Gallery