“I don’t think any of these ships are being played by other humans,” my gaming buddy exclaimed.
“Hmmm…I think you’re right. They all have generic sounding names, and fly in controlled patterns,” I replied, a bit miffed that we’d just spent the better part of our afternoon playing in Elite Dangerous’ AI mode.
We promptly switched over to the game’s massively multiplayer mode, and soon discovered it to be (thankfully) populated by both AI and human ship commanders. The first thing we did was to connect over Elite Dangerous’ built-in voice communication system. This little feature is absolutely delightful—you can hear each other’s voices as though they are being transmitted through the vastness of space, static, crackling, and all. It’s these little touches of science fiction goodness that ascend this game from merely being good, to being great.
We began our space MMO adventure by locating each other at one of the many starports which orbit around the many planets that populate the numerous star systems, and set off to earn money through various low-level missions—delivering data codes, scanning debris fields for specific items of value, and the like. Since my gaming buddy was better at dogfighting than myself, he eventually began taking on bounty hunting missions.
Another immersive aspect we discovered about Elite Dangerous was within its space ship customization systems. Granted you have the credits, you can purchase all sorts of engines, hyper-drives, weapon mounts including blasters, missiles, and torpedoes, shield systems, gizmos, do-dads, and so forth and so on. Tinkering with your ship is almost like a mini-game on its own, and it’s so fun seeing how your ship becomes altered cosmetically, by what you outfit it with. Also, little things that you add to your ship’s equipment list can really alter your commander’s trajectory within the game itself.
For instance, my friend purchased an “interdictor” device. After he bought it, he squealed like a school girl because of what this little contraption allowed him to do. From that point on, he could attempt to interrupt a targeted vessel’s “supercruise” travel. Supercruise is effectively a sublight speed mode of travel that is much faster than regular flight, but still slower than hyperspace travel. In essence, he could now pull ships that had bounties on them, right out of their travels and engage them in direct combat. So the fact that he now had this device pushed him further into a bounty hunter career path.
Indeed, the amount of vocational options available within Elite Dangerous’ 400 billion star digitally rendered Milky Way galaxy, is almost as expansive as the galaxy itself. You can mold your ship commander into an explorer, miner, smuggler, mercenary, pirate, tour guide, and so on. No, that wasn’t a typo, you can actually be a tour guide. As of this writing, since I’m not that good at ship-to-ship combat, I make most of my money through transporting sassy little tourists around specific regions of space. Some of my more imperious guests have some seriously silly idiosyncrasies, too.
When it comes to game mechanics, Elite Dangerous has probably the best ship-to-ship space combat system out there right now. The controls are super responsive as well as highly intuitive, and there are handy toggles for adjusting power to your shields, engines, and weapon’s system as well. So things start to go south and you need to get out of a particularly sticky situation? Boost power to your engines and wink out of there. Trying to take out a ship with some seriously hardened defenses? Apportion more power to your blasters and blow it to smithereens.
Another fascinating feature is that once you gain a certain amount of experience or notoriety (or both) you can align yourself with one of the many galactic powers. Each of these competing entities have their own set of principles (or lack thereof), traits, and ethos. Once you become a part of one, should you choose to, you can take on special missions which are intrinsic to that particular galactic power, such as hunting an enemy empire’s ships, or defending a friendly starport that is under attack.
Elite Dangerous’ gameplay is very unpredictable and dynamic, and I’ve really grown to love that aspect of the game, too. For instance, one minute I could be hauling some materials to some distant world, and suddenly get interdicted by AI or human ships who feel that I’m a ripe, juicy target (which I usually am). There are other times when I’ve been quietly mining resources from an asteroid, and have had some sort of space battle spill over into my work area. Once, I even engaged and destroyed a pirate that was being chased by federal police ships, and thereafter reaped a hefty reward for my valiant efforts (which also improved my standing within that sector of space).
The graphics on hand in Elite Dangerous are absolutely stunning. The planets, moons, and stars are rendered with such gratuitous detail, that I’ve literally flown right into a star because I was staring at some sort of stellar body. The in-the-cockpit details are likewise gorgeous and dripping with science fiction juices galore. For instance, when you want to chart your course to a particular star system, a beautiful, luminescent sub-menu panel pops up which allows you to do so. There are other similar, well-lit panels for other spaceship controls and features, such as checking messages, consulting mission information, and inspecting detailed planetary information. The Elite franchise has indeed come a long, long way, visually, since its inception way back in 1984.
Elite Dangerous is a very immersive science fiction space opera that has compelled me (and my friend as well) to play it until the wee hours of the morning, on many occasions (more than I’d like to admit). It has an addictive quality to it that sucks you in and makes you want to accomplish “just one more” mission, or to keep playing until you have “just the right” ship setup. And with all of the new content that Frontier Developments updates the game with on a regular basis (I suggest getting the Horizons Season Pass for all of the bells and whistles), it’s just going to keep getting bigger and better. All of these factors make it the perfect time to strap on your commander’s outfit and jump right into to your new ship’s cockpit. Epic adventure awaits…