The reveal of the Thargoids, the mysterious and often aggressive insectoid race that has haunted pilots of the Elite series for decades, was a lengthy process. With alien probes, ruins and crash sites for players of Elite Dangerous to explore, the whole story was being drip fed over months of in game fiction which finally lead to the official reveal of update 2.4 “The Return” at this year’s E3.
Of the updates I’ve seen so far since the game’s launch two years ago, this is quite possibly the first one that is going to require players to really commit to the narrative if they want to see all the good stuff that’s going to be coming over the next year. With community goals (a method developer Frontier uses well to let players push for certain outcomes in the game) already focusing on accruing Thargoid materials, a lot of players are now congregating around the known hotspot of the Maia system in the Pleiades Nebula.
Early wins by players in completing objectives have resulted in anti-Thargoid weapons being developed quickly but Frontier were soon to swing the pendulum away from humanity with news that our alien foes have adapted. Did anyone think it was going to be that easy? This back and forth approach is likely going to be a regular occurrence to ensure players stick closely to whatever journey Frontier has planned on taking us on.
Right now I’m currently on the outskirts of the Pleiades working through community goals in a bid to build out my cash reserves. A couple of costly mistakes involving exploding Anacondas left a mighty dent in my bank account so I need to build that back up again to cover insurance costs. Though I think it won’t be long now before I try to stick my nose into some alien business. I certainly don’t want to fight them or risk losing my most valuable ships, I just want to see what the fuss all about is myself in true explorer style.
And that’s the dilemma players will face with update 2.4. We have some quite substantial improvements to the game which are much appreciated and add to the experience of the existing game but on the other side of the coin we also have what feels like the game’s first attempt at trying to push a major overarching narrative to help draw larger groups of players together. There’s a chance that players wanting to focus on one may not appreciate the work done on the other unless they have the time to do so. And you may need a LOT of time too.
Right now you still have to put some effort into seeing a Thargoid (carrying alien artifacts still does the trick apparently) but I’m sure that alien engagements will become more prolific over time by going hand in hand with the rolling schedule of content additions during the course of this update. But I do wonder if it’s an experience that not everyone will be a part of. That’s likely going to be a continual problem for a game as open as Elite Dangerous so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in this case. Will it change how people play the game?
New players are definitely going to need to earn themselves some decent hardware to travel out this far and might miss out on the early stages of the narrative drive. Space trucking veterans might skirt around this entirely and continue to play as they have always done without consequence for the time being. Luckily I can swap my Anaconda for an Asp Explorer I have in storage which will be a much better option during these encounters if I need to turn tail quickly. Anyone who is curious though will need to keep an eye on GalNet (in game news network) and other feeds like Reddit, Frontier’s newsletter / forums or Obsidian Ant on YouTube to help point you in the right direction.
Improvements made to the game itself might be considered small scale in comparison to the big picture playing out but they are already making life both easier and more interesting. The galaxy map is faster now and remembers your last plotted route though I wish there were simply a “go back” button to re-plot return trips. The map even displays markers now to indicate when you need to make fuel stops. For traders and explorers who live through this screen you’ll find all of these conveniences make for great additions.
Missions now feel more organic with factions sometimes offering you additional work on the completion of jobs. These chained missions are either found on the mission boards or will be communicated to you directly on the enhanced comms panel. For players who enjoy taking jobs as they go (a good approach when you’re just starting) this could help keep them busy while also making the galaxy feel far more dynamic.
These are just the early days of a new chapter in Elite Dangerous and chances are good that there’ll be even more features being added before the story reaches a conclusion. For those players though who’ve decided on a path steering clear of aliens it is very much business as usual which isn’t a bad deal either.
Right now this feels like an interim update with some needed quality of life additions and what appears to be a greater push for a focused narrative within the game. Anyone expecting to see aliens attack instead of pirates will be mostly disappointed. As the game evolves over the next few months I’ll keep on sharing my experiences and the high and lows that come with it. Hopefully I’ll soon get to face off against some dragons out in the black and live to tell the tale. 🙂
Elite Dangerous is out now for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Reviewed on PC and Xbox One.