Elite: Dangerous Noob Thoughts

Immersion and strategic challenge are probably the two things that get me into a video game. Some games provide one or the other; not many provide both. Right now Elite: Dangerous is pushing both pedals clear to the floor.

Steam says I’ve played for 72 hours but that’s not actually true; Steam’s logging the time based on how long the launcher has been open. But I’m probably pushing 30 or 40 and am enjoying it enough that I’ll almost certainly pick up the “season pass” expansion.

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Elite: Dangerous is in some sense the ultimate sandbox. It has all the hallmarks of sandbox gaming, in that it is almost entirely undirected. You set your own goals and do what you want within the confines of its universe. But the key is that its universe is so unconfining — the entirety of the Milky Way galaxy, a hundred billion stars or more, all out there waiting to be explored. No other game has anything close to this kind of scope. And it’s visually pretty stunning.

To be sure, there are holes in it. Balance is an ongoing problem as it is in any game of this kind. The multiplayer tools are rudimentary; planetary landing and other features are locked behind the Horizons paywall. Right now you don’t even have an avatar (that’s coming soon, though.) There’s a cash shop, but importantly it resides outside the game and offers only ship cosmetics, paint jobs, cockpit decorations and the like. The development cycle is slow but steady.

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Elite: Dangerous offers several modes of play, including the full-on MMO Open, solo and a closed group mode. The notion that this is an ideal arrangement is growing on me; if you’re getting griefed you can just laugh it off and hop over to solo for a while. If you want to run with people of like persuasion you can hop into one of the dedicated private groups. Regardless, everything is happening in the same universe.

In terms of the mechanics that the player interacts with immediately, it’s not as deep as EVE Online… but it adds the huge additional dimension of actually flying your ship instead of picking selections from a menu. In EVE you are the captain, giving orders; in ED you are a pilot. Too, a massive background simulation is running behind ED that the players can interact with and affect; in EVE one never really has the sense that there’s anybody but players impacting the universe.

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Elite: Dangerous is one of the most immersive things I’ve played. There’s a joy in warming up your HOTAS and actually having to take off and land your ship, or in navigating to a new destination in deep space, or in hopping to a new system and finding something you didn’t expect.

The learning curve is pretty high, with the additional complication that some of the learning is in the actual flying of your ship. In that sense it is somewhat twitch-based, but not to a degree that it bothers me. And I’m pretty far from the best pilot in the galaxy.

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One response to “Elite: Dangerous Noob Thoughts

  1. Welcome, Commander!

    As you already have noticed, there’s a lot of stuff to learn. But as long as you fly to have fun and don’t fall for the trap of thinking that you’d need one of the big (and expencive) ships to enjoy the game, you should be fine. 🙂

    And yes, as you have mentioned there’s a lot of weaknesses to the game, but as somebody who spent several hundred hours there, i’d end up as a hypocrite if i’d bring them up here. But one thing i like to point out, you already noticed the risk of griefing and the different game modes to avoid that. Mind you, griefing happens rarely when just flying around randomly. But doing that also comes with the feeling of being in solo, the galaxy is just so large, there are not enough players to keep a presence everywhere. But once you visit community goals and other events in the game, the open game on one hand is where you meet other players, but also where griefind happens.

    Luckily there also is a workaround: the private group Möbius. Unlike open it has rules of engagement. There are valid reasons for PvP in there, but random ganking is forbidden and anybody breaking the rules will be banned. And while once in a while somebody “invades” Möbius to kill some people (a feat which is as hard to do as “invading” a bluecollar bar on a friday evening), they tend to end up removed soon, so they are not an often seen problem. Sure compared to the games sales number, a community of 30k or so people might seem small, but thanks to how the games instancing works and the population limits in them, the actual number of players you encounter at a community event is the same in either open or the private group, while the atmosphere is better in the second.

    I just thought i’d add this here, as this group seems to have saved the enjoyment of the game for a number of people. Wish you good flying, remember to put all energy on your shields whenever you expect to get hit (it makes a huge difference!) and have fun in space. 🙂