It’s very hard not to draw comparisons between Elite: Dangerous and the bevy of other Space Sims out there. As a longtime fan of the X series of games, the idea of building a complex mercantile empire managed and protected by an army of minions with nothing more than a single ship and whole lot of bloodshed has intrigued me for years. Elite: Dangerous however lacks the complex scripting and AI systems of the later games in the X franchise, so you alone are responsible for building your dreams from the dust and emptiness of the cosmos.
In 2013 when the KickStarter for the project raised nearly $1.6 million; A lot of people got very excited about a massive and engaging space sim finally being realize to it’s full potential. Here we are two years later, and the dream is alive. But frankly, it’s still a long way from perfect.
The game itself functions in a persistent world where players actions have some impact on the universe around them. However, unlike in EVE or the X franchise, you won’t have to build vast mercantile networks or fleets to defend your holdings. The game does a good job of balancing the feeling of player agency with the need to maintain balance.
Elite’s system for random encounters known as unknown signal sources, can range from random stray cargo waiting to be grabbed; all the way to roaming bands of bloodthirsty pirates. Frontier have also added in spawn for resource collection and mission spawns for helping the factions in a given star system gain power.
These factions play against each other in a galaxy-wide competition of sorts determining who holds the most influence in a given system. The mechanics for Powerplay constitute one of the major ways in which players can directly influence the galaxy around them.
Elite is first and foremost a game for two types, both of which enjoy Space Simulators. The first type is the explorer. If the idea of getting lost on purpose in the vastness of space; while gathering data about distant stars, planets, and celestial objects in the game’s 400 billion systems appeals to you, then this is the category for you. The other main player group within Elite is the Capitalist. The types who enjoy the transport, haggles, and market manipulation aspects of other space sims will fit fine here. However, both groups better bring a gun, or twenty, as their travels will no doubt be fraught with danger. One of the first lessons you learn in Elite: Dangerous is that nothing is permanent one string of bad luck can wipe out all of your hard work up to that point.
Elite includes various systems to incentivize players learning to shoot early and often. From faction based PvP and PvE driving conflict in the universe; to the interdiction and bounty mechanics that will be the main conflict driver for small skirmishes. Everything within the universe is screaming at the player to jump in and experience all that the worlds of the stars have to offer.
This is where the first real criticism of the game comes into play. Jumping into the void is definitely daunting, and the various menus and mechanics will take some getting used to. It does have an impact on the game experience, however slight.
The 400 billion star systems of the Milky Way are the stage for Elite: Dangerous’ open-ended gameplay. The real stars, planets, moons, asteroid fields and black holes of our own galaxy are built to their true epic proportions in the largest designed playspace in videogame history
The freedom of players is further reflected In the nearly limitless economy of the galaxy. The supply and demand of various systems can be directly affected by player action. And political events within the game’s lore can even further influence the dynamic situation. Players can customize the variety of ships in the game in a veritable mountain of different parts. Although each ship does serve a certain role that it was designed for.
That player freedom is balanced by a seeming lack of life in the game economy. It’s blatantly obvious how the game’s algorithms work and the players lack the influence the players of games like EVE Online have on their economies.
Perplexingly, the seeming predictability of the game economy is not present in other mechanics. In fact, it’s sometimes so hard to predict what’s going to happen that an outing to go looking for combat can take the longest time to even find a chance to pew pew. Although I suppose, the vast emptiness of space is more to blame for that.
All told, Elite: Dangerous makes for an interesting and engaging experience that seems to need a bit more filling out in some areas. But by no means do the few obvious flaws make it a bad game.