Elite Dangerous Review

This article has been archived and is no longer being updated. It may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate due to the passage of time.

In 1986 I received a much loved and (old even then) ZX Spectrum and a copy of the original Elite.  I loved it, played it for days and weeks and it sparked a love for space games and open worlds that’s never gone away. The second caveat on this review is that Elite Dangerous is massive.  I mean massive – mind blowingly hugely amazingly huge. The original Elite was the first game to really make good use of procedural generation and Elite Dangerous takes this to a huge degree and adds in a number of tracks you can follow. Add that to the rapid iteration of patching adding new content and the upshot is that there is no way on Earth (pun not intended) that I can cover everything in this game.  I’ve put in a number of hours and even invested in a HOTAS flight stick to push myself and I’ve hit a lot but its by no means exhaustive.

So what is Elite Dangerous? In the simplest terms it’s a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) based in space. Start in a small loaner starship with a few credits and strike off into space and try and survive. Turn yourself into a trader, miner, pirate, mercenary, explorer or something in between. Upgrade your ship, join a faction and take over star systems or just strike off into the unknown to explore. That sounds like marketing speak and too good to be true and while it is all true there is a downside. This game rewards dedication and time put into it. Another way of saying that might be that even more than most MMOs this is going to consume your evenings and nights and there will be a lot of grinding and setbacks involved. This game is only the second that I have bought specific dedicated hardware for – the first being World of Warcraft – and it is potentially as all encompassing as Wow was.

Product Information

Retailer: Elite Website or Steam

RRP £39.99, currently on a discount to £34.99

About Frontier Developments

In 1984 David Braben wrote a game – Elite – for the BBC Micro an inspired a genre of space games and open ended games. It was hugely popular and was ported to a number of system at the time (I played it on the ZX Spectrum) and in inspired two sequels in the early 1990’s. The market moved away from space sims at that point and although there were several attempts to get a new game made it wasn’t until 2012 and the coming of Kickstarter that the game got off the ground with around £1.5 million in funding.

Design

  • Full Xbox controller support, full flightstick and joystick support, Occulus Rift DK2 support.
  • Language: English interface.
  • PEGI /ESRB rating T for Teen
  • Platform: PC and Mac for the main game and a spin off on the Xbox One

Open World and freedom

Elite Dangerous is procedurally generated based on the Milky Way. This means that rather than individual programmers working out each individual star systems they define a set of rules for how systems should be built and when the first player gets there it is generated on the fly. Add in a few special systems like starting points, Earth, constellations and nebulas and there’s a potential of around 100 billion star systems that could be navigated to. 

Freedom also means freedom to get different ships and to configure them. There are a number of different types of ships and they can all be configured with different equipment, weapons, drives, internals and even paint jobs. There might be a perfect ship for a particular job but the chances are that once you’ve settled on a play style it will take you a lot of time, money and tweaking to get your ship right. The ability to upgrade and choose a path makes the ship feel like it is yours. I got very attached to my Adder I was using for a hauler and loved my build but it was just for me and you would need to find your own style.

Freedom in flight. Elite uses a slightly altered Newtonian flight model and has a flight assist mode that makes it somewhat easier to control. You don’t get rotation on the spot while moving but you feel in control in a way that almost feels like a WWII flight sim. Elite also gives you two FTL drives – one that lets you jump system to system and one that lets you move about quickly but not instantly inside systems.

Self motivation required

Most games have a clear start and end point with a number of side branches that can be taken. MMO’s tend to have wider objectives and let you choose your path a lot more but Elite Dangerous takes this one step further. Elite does not hand hold or give you things to do. It feels like a real universe and in the real universe there are periods of intense excitement and adrenalin but also periods, occasionally long periods of boredom going from system to system trading widgets or just flying around trying to find that bounty that has to be here somewhere. You are not the centre of the universe just another cog in the machine. As that cog you can just try and make more and more money, explore or just build up your ships and resources but there is nothing to direct you.

The most recent patch (1.3) has added Powerplay which is somewhat similar to the endgame that most MMOs have. Powerplay lets you align yourself with a particular government, dictator or political system and interact with its systems and systems around it to try and increase its reach and power.

Trigger warning

triggers 100

 

 

 

Cost-effective

After the initial purchase cost Elite Dangerous is free with no monthly fees. There are some in game items that can be bought with real money – ship paint jobs and decals mainly but there are entirely cosmetic. Frontier have committed to updating Elite for the foreseeable future but have not ruled out a paid expansion pack in the long term. In all for the amount of hours you can play its very good value. One account with a Steam key or which can be run independently. The account is for a single Commander or character starting with a free basic ship and a few credits.

Specification

Online connection required but it can be single player or friends only. This is not persistent so you can play with other players when you want and on your own when you want.

Elite Dangerous6 System requirements 

Windows minimum spec:
OS: Windows 7, Windows 8
Processor: Quad Core CPU (4 x 2Ghz)
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTX 260 / ATI 4870HD
DirectX: Version 11
Network Broadband Internet Connection
Hard Drive: 7 GB available space

Windows recommended spec:
OS: Windows 7, Windows 8
Processor: Intel Core i7-3770K Quad Core CPU or better / AMD FX 4350 Quad Core CPU or better
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTX 770 / AMD Radeon R9 280X
DirectX: Version 11
Network Broadband Internet Connection
Hard Drive: 7 GB available space

 

 

Elite is not an easy game. Getting started and into the tutorial demos and you quickly realise that while you might be able to learn how to pootle around taking potshots at floating crates throwing more complicated things like multiple opponents into the mix gets more difficult. From that point its an odd combination of building your piloting skills while trying to balacnce the budget and upgrade your ship as fast as you can.

Verdict

I’ve written and rewritten the verdict for this post several times and I’m still no nearer something that I’m happy with. You see I have a conundrum. I love Elite Dangerous. I’ve been playing it in my small free time as well as its work time and it’s space opera, its intricacy and its freedom appeals perfectly to me. It has a number of accessibility problems caused by combining a flight simulator with an MMO but it tries its best to get past these giving a huge number of audio and control options.

My problem is that while it appeals to my personality, history and interests perfectly I’m not sure I’m a normal case. If you are considering playing Elite Dangerous and you’ve already tried and got on with the demo you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. Do you have the ability to create your own objectives in a near vacuum and do you enjoy doing so? Do you enjoy both the mental challenge of finances and the sudden adrenalin of combat? If you said yes to both questions then Elite Dangerous is probably the game for you.

Product: Elite Dangerous| Developer: Frontier Developments| Platform: PC, Mac, XBox One to come | Genre: Space trading and combat | Players: Single and Multiplayer Release Date: December 2014.

The review is based on the Elite Dangerous PC – Steam version kindly provided Frontier Developments. This article was first published on 1 July 2015 and is no longer being updated. Information may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate due to the passage of time.


Chris Ellis - Founder|Editor

Currently an Open University student, editor, tech and accessibility expert for ergohacks.com

Lives in Amesbury, Wiltshire in the UK – otherwise known as the town about a mile from Stonehenge.