Elite Dangerous 3

Elite Dangerous Review

Before I get into this review I should register a couple of interests. 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.

Elite Dangerous6


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.

Product Information

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.


RRP £39.99, currently on a discount to £34.99
Retailer: Elite Website or Steam


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

Included in the price

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.


Players: 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.
Full Xbox controller support
Full flightstick and joystick support,
Full 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

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

Mac OSX minimum spec:
OS: OS X Yosemite (version 10.10.3)
Processor: 2.3Ghz quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GT 650M 1GB (or equivalent)
Network Broadband Internet Connection
Hard Drive: 8 GB available space

Mac OSX recommended spec:
OS: OS X Yosemite (version 10.10.3)
Processor: 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M (2GB video memory) / AMD Radeon R9 M290X (2GB video memory)
Network Broadband Internet Connection
Hard Drive: 8 GB available space

Ease of use

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.




It isn’t highly accessible to anyone with a mild-moderate visual impairment, including the blind and those who experience visual symptoms, like photophobia (light sensitivity) or colour blindness.

Most of your time in Elite is spent in the cockpit or on menu systems and Frontier have chosen to use a consistent UI system for both. This is semi-transparent brown background with orange text in most places and blue text in some HUD notifications and labels. The text itself is all uppercase and of a fixed size and font. Important information is often bolded but is not otherwise emphasised. All of these are fixed in game although with a little editing of the configuration files it is possible to change the colors. I’ve read that the color scheme was chosen because it is the most visible in low light conditions such as you would find in space and it does not interfere with night vision. I’m honestly not sure if that’s realistic or not but it does feel like driving a higher end car and works reasonably well.

There are several places in the game where color blindness could be an issue – for example when moving inside a rotating spaceport there is a green lit lane and a red lane for in and out but I have not as of yet found any that are crucial.


It is moderately accessible to anyone with a moderate hearing impairment, including the deaf and those who experience auditory symptoms, like tinnitus or hyperacusis (sound sensitivity).

Elite gives you a lot of controls over your sound and lets you switch on and off music at specific locations. Sound effects are likewise controllable both in volume, equalization and whether or not specific effects trigger. These sounds are a very useful notification system once you have learnt them but they are always accompanied by a visual notification of some type.

Storyline, narrative and in-game information is never presented verbally, only in text.

Elite is completely playable with no audio component.

Input and touch

It isn’t accessible to anyone with a mild to moderate upper body impairment and those who experience symptoms that affect their hands, wrists and shoulders, like a tremor, reduced dexterity and precision or fatigue.

Piloting your ship takes a fair amount of accuracy, precision and fine motor control. I had problems using a keyboard and even after I upgraded to a HOTAS flight stick I was unable to play the flight portions of the game when my hand was trembling. I’ve seen people using Xbox controllers to fly but despite practicing was unable to get as good as I had hoped.

If you are unsure about if you would be able to handle the controls I would recommend downloading the training demo and trying it out. Elite tries to give you as many control options as possible and even has voice controls built in for some systems and it may be that you can find a system that will work for you.

Movement and mobility

It isn’t accessible to anyone with a moderate mobility impairment, including wheelchair users and those who experience physical symptoms, like severe fatigue or chronic pain.

Elite allows a lot of control of your flight and motion in space with a huge number of possible maneuvers and to get good at anything from landing on up you need the ability to control and press several things at once. I found Elite difficult to play with a keyboard and mouse but it feels natural with a flightstick.

All of the ingame quests give on the Bulletin Board have a real world time limit and in many cases this can be difficult to reach even without anything slowing you down. When you get later in the game it is possible to take some things such as exploration much slower but it can take some work to get there.

Motion sickness and balance disorders

It is highly inaccessible to anyone who experience a mild motion sickness or dizzy spells. Over half the game is spent in a first person view looking out the cockpit of your ship. Elite supports the Occulus Rift and and is stunning and totally immersive when using it. The downside of this is that that quickly shifting 3d first person perspective can make you nauseous with motion or simulation sickness if you are at all vulnerable to it. We t

Frontier does you to download a demo which lets you fly a basic ship in training so if you are at all concerned about this I would recommend downloading the demo and trying it out. If you are okay with the demo you will probably be okay with the full game. One further point – do not rely on the videos. Lily cannot watch them at all but if she is flying herself and is very careful she can handle it as she can anticipate what will happen.


Elite is a very complicated game. Some parts of the game such as commodity trading have been described as flying spreadsheets rather than ships. To get much out of any part of the game you will need a good grasp of mathematics, reading, a good memory and the ability to judge and make snap and reasoned decisions.

It isn’t accessible to anyone with a moderate cognitive impairment, including those with a learning disability like dyslexia those who experience cognitive symptoms, like problems with memory, concentration, planning and organization. Conversely it may be ideal for those who are very detail orientated or obsessional such as those on the autistic spectrum.

Elite comes with a set of repeateable tutorials which teach the basics of ship handling and combat and a reasonable video series which takes the player through the most common in game starts and experiences. When in game the player is offered prompts the first time that they try and do things but these are only for a single time and often a little confusing.

Social Interaction

Elite allows you as little social interaction as you want. When you start the game you are offered the choices of Solo, friends or open worlds. You log onto the same servers and the game is the same with the same systems, ships and jobs but in the first you are the only real player, in the second only those on your friends list can see and interact with you and the last is everyone. It is possible to select this every time you log in so if you do not want to interact with anyone its possible to avoid it as often as you want.

Another point is the size of the galaxy – its huge and there are a relatively small number of players logged in at any one time. Get out of the start systems and avoid big name systems and its perfectly possible to go hours without encountering another player. The game also does not have a wide area general chat system which adds to the feeling of isolation.

Trigger warnings and age ratings

A space trading sim might not seem to be the obvious place for trigger warnings but Elite Dangerous has you trade in violence, alcohol, sex, gambling, drugs, prostitution, slavery, smoking, smuggling and most human vices. They are rarely graphic and often only referred to in the text quest logs but they are unavoidable there.


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

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