Gaming

Elite Dangerous: Beyond Chapter One (Review)

With the release of the first “chapter” of a new season of content for Elite Dangerous, developer Frontier Developments is seemingly attempting to have a more structured schedule of releases throughout the year that are broken down into well defined parts. The Horizons update ended up taking a year longer to complete its objective so this might signal a shift on Frontier’s part to generate momentum in some of the weaker aspects of the game. Impressions so far make me think they might be off to a decent start.

Most of my focus in this post is on the more legitimate vocations in the game as trading and travelling are what I do the most and the methods most players will use to earn credits. However for those who like to work on the wrong side of the law, you should check out the details regarding changes to crime and punishment so you know what you’ll soon be facing.

Once you arrive at a station and ccess it’s services again you’ll notice that there’s been some substantial changes to the mission boards which should give players plenty of additional options in how they conduct business. First up is players can now have choices presented to them in their mission rewards. Depending on your needs you might forego a big cash reward for a smaller payout in exchange for improving your reputation further, or maybe even the goods on offer might be of more value.

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Complete the task and you might be able to choose the appropriate reward. In this case it can improve your bank balance, your reputation or your influence.

For example, if your current objective is to increase your ranking to obtain system permits (for visiting systems such as Sol, ie. Earth) or access to a specific vessel you can forego the full credit reward to improve your reputation with the associated faction. And if you choose influence you might help push a lesser faction into prominence and change the politics of the system you are in, much like how the Powerplay metagame works.

Long term players might not be impressed with it reducing the grind for new starters but it does present players with opportunity to follow paths more aligned with their long term objectives. I see it now like being able to apply experience points in an RPG where you can focus on boosting stats specific to your class.

Next are the wing/co-op missions which allow players to truly work towards completing missions. Most appear to be for shipping substantial amounts of cargo to a destination (more than any one player can handle) but you occasionally see combat related ones too. With the bigger rewards for these missions they could almost be looked as being like miniature community goals, just for a (much) smaller team of contributors. There’s an achievement on Xbox for completing your first in a group so it’s worth trying out at least once.

The interface for managing the wing missions is integrated into the mission screen and allows players to manage how much cargo they are transporting or delivering at a time as well as see running statistics on how much each member of your team has contributed. A summary of this is also available in your ship during flight so players will have a good idea of how close they are to completion. It’s much simpler than it might sound and works well for what it is trying to achieve.

All of these changes and improvements appear to have come at a price because the mission and passenger boards are taking substantially longer to load. Considering the additional options now available it’s understandable but it feels like it’s double the wait time to see these screens and that doesn’t seem to justify what you are getting in return.

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Three years after release and the game still looks pretty. And I continue to take screenshots of space stations any chance I get (4K).

Players who were previously dealing with engineers will now see new options for all the materials they have accumulated. First up is the Technology Broker who is a dealer of exotic gear, much of which is tied to the evolving narrative of the game such as Guardian tech and anti-Thargoid weapons . Like the engineers you’ll need to have very specific materials to trade in order to get these. But if you don’t, there’s now also Materials Traders that will give you a chance to swap for what you need.

With the increase in inventory for both materials and data, it can now be treated as a useful commodity beyond the engineers (who aren’t always easy to find) and not simply something that you occasionally have to dump into space because you need to make room for other stuff.

Visually the game continues to impress with some spectacular scenery as you travel throughout the galaxy. Improvements to the planet generation system are going reduce the “beige-ness” that had crept in and it was much needed. With so much of your time spent in transit between locations, having planets look too similar only makes each system you visit less interesting than it should be. I’m a massive fan of the design of the space stations and bases and seeing how over time the variety presented to players has been increasing it makes each and every visit one I enjoy. There are still some noticeable changes in the level of detail though when approaching stations that I wish weren’t necessary when running it on the Xbox One X.

In terms of performance it does seem like the transitions between FSD jumps and planetary landings are a tad faster now though I do wish that they could find a way to mitigate the noticeable pause on the planet approaches. Of the two that one breaks immersion the most and makes the experience feel much less seamless – it’s been a problem since planetary landings first appeared (in the Horizons expansion) and I imagine finding a solution will be a tricky one.

Audio in the game has received another facelift with players now able to choose different voices for their ship’s COVAS (Cockpit Voice Assistant). The default is still “Verity” which has become familiar to players but a new male voice “Victor” is there too. These can be changed through the Livery menu at most starport services. Additional voices are on the way with the first (“Celeste”) available now for purchase.

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Galnet Audio (highlighted button at bottom of screen) is a nice addition for players wanting to be drawn further into the game without having to read too much.

Reading out your ship status is not the only place you’ll be hearing voices in the game now. Though it might seem like a totally unnecessary feature, I have to say I think I might get to really, really like Galnet Audio. The in game news service (Galnet) exists both to push forward the game narrative and inform players of events of interest however it was all just pages of text which is something that doesn’t really help entice you to visit it regularly. But now you can have the latest news read out to you while you travel and for long trips it can be a nice distraction – some broadcasts even revolve around game history and are useful for filling in gaps in the lore of Elite.

When people talk about games it’s usually the graphics that get all the praise but audio can be a big part of making the experience stick and I think I may have been lax in not giving the sound in Elite Dangerous its due over the years. There’s a lot of subtle work done in there that may not always be noticed but are just great work. Like how sounds take on an echoing quality once you enter docking bays or the scary silence that comes when your cockpit is blown out. A lot of this has been there from the beginning and it really is amazing work.

The way I’m looking at Beyond Chapter One is that it is being tightly focused on giving a fresh coat of paint to the core tenets of the classic Elite Dangerous experience and giving us “space truckers” a much more efficient and rewarding experience as we trade our way around the galaxy.

By land, air and (maybe) sea… We always deliver. 😉

Elite Dangerous is out now for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Impressions are mainly from playing the Xbox One version.

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