With the release of Elite: Dangerous late last year on PC and its arrival now on Xbox One, it’s possible to say that the franchise is now one of the longest running in gaming. And at a time when games have become more focused on bringing experiences aimed at giving players a tightly knit campaign, the openness a game such as this provides could just be the breath of fresh air some gamers will be searching for. It’s always been hallmark of the games and it’s great to see that it’s still there now its latest iteration.
But first, a little bit of history…
The first Elite was developed by David Braben and Ian Bell and arrived back in 1984 for the BBC Micro. Even in the playthrough video below, you can see a lot of familiar elements that became standard in later titles in the series, especially the ship and station design.
With eight galaxies to explore, each with 256 star systems, there was plenty in the game to keep a devoted player occupied.
Elite wasn’t available on the Atari 8bit so I didn’t really become aware of the games until Frontier: Elite II (FE2) arrived on the 16bit platforms by David Braben and his team at Frontier Developments. But it was that game’s sequel on PC where my own addiction began. Believe it or not, it has been twenty years since the last Elite game was on store shelves with Frontier: First Encounters (FFE) in 1995. At that time gamers were still using DOS and 3D accelerator cards were still years away from becoming mainstream.
Not only did the game increase the amount of systems and worlds to travel to significantly (including some real world versions such as our own), the game also allowed for players to not only land on space stations but the planets they are orbiting too. This is something we’re going to start seeing again with the upcoming Horizons expansion for Elite: Dangerous as well as the still in development No Man’s Sky.
FFE was massive technical achievement at the time but one that sadly shows its age now even with the brilliant graphical patches dedicated fans have produced over the years. The CD-ROM version had a nice bonus with the inclusion full motion videos of station crew to help add a little more colour to a galaxy that could sometimes feel lifeless due to the lack of interaction with people.
A crowdfunded return
It’s been a couple of years, but after a successful Kickstarter in January of 2013, Frontier are back with a new Elite game which arrived on PCs at the end of 2014.
But this is not the Elite of old; this time around players get to experience a shared universe where every job can influence the changing nature of the worlds you visit and can make you a hero, a target and sometimes even both.
And not every opponent you face will be AI driven; there will also be other gamers out in the void who may jump into your instance looking to make ends meet in their own ways. For players intimidated at the prospect of dealing with real players in the “open game”, there is still a “solo mode” that lets you play the game but devoid of other players jumping in on you.
Since launch, the game has continued to evolve. One notable addition was Wings, allowing a group of players to travel together and share in the profits of the more lucrative missions. Being able to work with friends adds a social aspect that goes a long way to letting players feel less cut off from the world around them. That development went a step further when it was announced the game would appear on consoles.
In June of this year, the game made its first appearance on Xbox One as part of the new Game Preview program which allowed players early access to the game as its being developed for the console. The Xbox One version also introduced the CQC (Close Quarters Combat) mode to the game, allowing players to face off, deathmatch style, in their ships… with my obvious lack of talent in combat missions so far, this is a useful way to practise.
The great part about the preview has been seeing how solid the Xbox version is with comparable visuals to the PC and a controller setup that really works. Over time it may end up being the version I will play the most.
A tale about a lone trader
The game starts you off as a lowly trader with a few credits to their name and a tiny Sidewinder class spacecraft. From that, it’s your task to earn money by any possible means; be it trading goods, undertaking contracts or outright piracy. As your successes accumulate you gain prestige with numerous factions which could eventually help you get the coveted Elite ranking.
When you first begin playing the game, the word of the day will be INTIMIDATION. There is a massive amount of information and processes to understand before you get proficient in the basics. The tutorial missions help somewhat but don’t be afraid to watch a few YouTube videos too as there is a lot to take in and some of it is easier to grasp when you see it demonstrated.
And there are some deep techniques to learn too, such as making the most use of your ship’s silent running features, as demonstrated in this great video below.
In the beginning, the simplest method for players to make ends meet is to head to a station bulletin board and take up any jobs on offer, both legal and illegal.
Once you get the handle of delivering goods and accumulate enough credits you can begin to invest either in your ship or in commodities for trading yourself. The game provides a lot of information to assist you in determining what to buy and sell as systems and stations will all deal in different products and services.
Those of you keen on obtaining profit in more creative ways can also play the part on hunters in the capacity of a pirate or bounty hunter. With equipment available that’s oriented to those kinds of vocations it can be tempting but your actions can have consequence so if want the life of a pirate expect to be pursued at any opportunity by both real and AI pilots.
And there’s not just yourself to consider here too. A number of factions exist in the galaxy all vying for control and the actions of yourself and others can tip the balance of power if you decide to take up the cause of one over others. Though this was part of an earlier update called Powerplay, it doesn’t really present itself to players and could potentially be missed for good or ill.
My own experiences started off well with me running deliveries with my little Sidewinder (your beginning ship) the progressed to smuggling when I was offered a lot of money to deliver slaves to a nearby system. Money talks and I was keen on upgrading to a bigger ship quickly.
Not long after that I moved onto a bigger ship, a Cobra MkIII, and attempted to continue my illegal ways until my ship was quickly destroyed by others who fancied my cargo too. Insurance helps to get you back in a ship again quickly but will leave you with debts to settle over time so quickly losing a second ship did not improve my bottom line at all.
Thankfully after realising the folly of some of my chosen ship upgrades (be mindful of power management) I was able to build a swift little vessel that gets me where I need to go quickly and helps me avoid too much trouble. Spending time at the ship outfitters and upgrading your ship with the right parts will be integral to your success the further you dive into the game.
In the end I was rewarded with a half million dollar tobacco smuggling run that gave me a substantial boost in both my confidence and my ship. But I know that’s just the beginning…
PC versus Xbox One… who wins?
From launch, a big selling point of the game has been it’s graphics which include some of the most spectacular imagery you’re going to see in a game of this type. And those players blessed with Oculus Rift headsets have been enjoying it even more thanks to the game’s early support for the platform.
The galaxy is a beautiful place and the game does well to present that scale while providing systems to allow players to traverse it quickly. Exiting a jump from your Frame Shift Drive to see a brilliant red sun before you or a space station that make Babylon 5 look like a matchbox car will thrill any space cadets out there.
For those wanting the best visual experience, it is going to be hard to go past the PC version. Those players with high end systems will be in for a visual feast but even those with lower spec machines are going to enjoy what they see. A neat feature of the PC version is you can take screenshots in 4K regardless of the resolution you’re playing the game in which is perfect for those special space moments.
The Xbox One version actually does hold up pretty well in comparison and players won’t feel cheated by it in the slightest. It’s only when you play them one after the other that you notice an additional layer of graphical polish on the PC version that gives it the edge.
Where the Xbox One excels though is with controls. Having a single standard controller means everything has been optimised to work with that single layout and it makes jumping into the game far easier on console. A nice bonus is that controller guides pop up on screen when you hold down the A, X and Y buttons which make learning so much easier. Being able to join up with players on your friends list in a Wing is a very simple task here too.
The PC supports multiple configurations (all customizable) and inputs. Controllers are still supported but so are flight controls and joysticks for players looking for a more sim-like experience. Even using a mouse is possible and it gave me flashbacks to playing Freelancer that way. There is a lot to tweak in the control menus so expect to spend a little bit of time finding the set up that best works for you. Controllers seemed to lack the pop up guide on the PC version which was a shame as it does a remarkable job of making the Xbox One game more accessible to players. [UPDATE] – Elite: Dangerous on PC can also support controllers this way, use either the Default or Classic control presets.
It feels right now that it is a toss up between what you’re looking for with the game – if you’re wanting the best possible experience and are willing to invest time into learning the game and setting up your gear to support it, then the PC version is the one for you. However, if you’re looking for an easier entry into the game the Xbox One version fits the bill thanks to the way the controller is handled and how the Wings features are nicely integrated with your friends list.
If there is one downside to the game, it’s that Xbox One and PC players are treated separately. So for those who invested in the game early on, there’s no way to import your ship/commander and carry on. It is a bit of a shame as the game supports cloud saves on PC, allowing players to jump from Windows to Mac and carry on where they left off. Owning both a PC and console version of the game, I’d be happy to have that feature here too just so I can continue playing.
It’s hard to not be impressed with Elite: Dangerous – for a game that’s less than 6Gb in size on Xbox One, you get a galaxy of systems to explore and make a name for yourself in. There’s a lot to learn to start with but if you can travel with a group of friends, it will be a far more enjoyable and sociable experience than you might think.
However I will say that you will be spending a fair degree of your time traveling so if the prospect of seeing this…
… a lot seems boring, you might lose interest long before you get into the meat of the game. In that case it is unfortunate but the series has always been this way. Just never EVER this pretty.
But I’m genuinely loving it. The game is giving me the same buzz that First Encounters and Freelancer did years ago but backed up with graphics to die for and an almost limitless scale.
Both myself and Grocs (who has a lot to say about ED too) have already spent many hours traveling and it’s a great game to play either in a Wing together or simply just comparing stories as we go solo. It worked out well too as Grocs was able to provide support for me during a run which resulted in my first kill in the game; considering my luck so far with ship losses, that’s an achievement in itself.
With more expansions on the way there is plenty to look forward to. I for one am glad we once again are in a world where Elite can be played at its best.
Side note: This review was likely one of the longest drafts I’ve ever had sitting around here as I had made a start on it back in February but put it aside until I had played enough of the game to get a decent impression of it. Getting to grips with slow Internet and running it on a lower spec PC made matters worse. But the ease in which I was able to jump into the Xbox One version during its time in Game Preview gave me a much better understanding of the game in general and has even helped me enjoy the PC version more. That’s helped me to finally get my thoughts down into words and get this thing finished. 🙂