“Elite: Dangerous” is a space trading and combat sim made by developer David Braben and Frontier Developments. It is the first game in the Elite series since 1995’s “Frontier: First Encounters and it’s safe to say the wait has been well worth it.
The game takes place in a 1:1 scale model of the Milky Way Galaxy, with thousands of real star systems to visit( including our own) and billions more procedurally generated systems based on scientific models. Elite can be played both offline and in a massively-multiplayer fashion in which players can interact with each other in number of ways. A crowd-funding campaign for the game was started back in 2012, and after several stages of development and testing; the full release came in December of 2014.
Like many space sims, the player is able to control every aspect of their ship, from lights and landing gear, to power regulation of the various systems. Unlike past space sims, Elite allows the player to look around the cockpit of their starship and actually interact with the various screens and HUDs present. Almost any ship function from targeting to silent running can be manually controlled by the player through this method, adding a level of depth that makes Elite unique among current space games.
Elite: Dangerous, akin to many of its predecessors, is completely open-ended. Players have can choose a number of different ways to make their mark in the galaxy, from legitimate activities like mining and trading to the more underhanded tactics like piracy and smuggling. One of the best aspects of the trading system is that every system has its own economy which is completely player driven. Market prices depend on supply and demand, and smart players will work out complex trading routes to maximize their profits. Star ports also have “bulletin boards,” which allow players to take missions to assist various factions that operate out of the system. Completing these missions not only means both credits and renown for the player, but also affects other missions available to other players. For example, if one faction gains more ground in a system than another, it will change the types of missions available to players.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Elite: Dangerous is its tremendous scale.. It is impossible for any one person to explore every system, even if you spent seconds in each one. Players can spend hours exploring only to find that they have only traveled a few dozen light years away from where they began. Exploration is actually a great way to make money starting out, as any scan data from stars or planets can be sold to stations that are 20 light years away or more for big money. While that seems far, every ship is equipped with a “frame shift drive”, which allows for speedy travel from system to system. The FSD is essential even for traveling to different planets within a system, however, as traveling at sub-light speeds could take hours, days, or even weeks of real time in some cases. The vastness of the galaxy in Elite may also be a detractor for some, as players can spend hours flying without encountering much more than a single star with no planets or stations. Elite lives up to its “simulator” label; just as in real life, space is big and mostly empty. There is also no way to visit the surface of planets- only the stations that orbit them. While some may find this disappointing, it is understandable considering for Elite’s budget and time frame.
Elite also may be a bit tricky for those without a controller or flight stick, as ships are able to fly not only up,down and side to side, but forwards and back as well. Those who play flight sims may be a little thrown off, as normal rules of atmospheric flight don’t apply in the vacuum of space. New players would be better suited to treating their ships as fast moving submarines rather than “flying machines”, as space is more a vast ocean than an open sky. The game does, however, offer full controller and flight stick support, and even has built in options for Saitek joysticks, a flight industry standard.
Overall, Elite has enough variety to keep both lovers of the space sim genre and newcomers entertained for hours on end. It is easy to simply get lost in the beauty and vastness of this 1:1 scale model of our galaxy, and exploration alone will keep many occupied. Some players may have issues with the open-ended nature of Elite: Dangerous, as the game drops the player in without much direction, albeit with an extensive tutorial if they choose to play it. The various jobs and activities are both enjoyable and add depth, and the ability to look freely around the cockpit makes Elite feel even more real. With future updates to include the ability to walk around ships and star ports, as well ships that require a multi-person crew, Elite: Dangerous is definitely worth checking out.