It’s hard to believe that five years have already passed since Frontier Developments launched their latest game in the long running Elite franchise. After many years of speculation and followed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, the initial launch of Elite Dangerous gave players a whole galaxy to explore, trade and hunt within. Anyone who played the game early on the PC and later Xbox One would have found it to be a very intimidating experience with a load of mechanics to learn to get a hang of. Even taking off and landing could be exercises in frustration. You really had to rely on the online training videos to understand what was required as the in game tutorials were minimal. Those early times felt like a spaceborne version of the Wild West – if you selected the open play mode and mixed with the rest of world you could find yourself often being the victim of griefers who relished taking down rookie players who traveled too far from the core systems.
But getting past that for me it’s been a great experience playing the game over the years. It’s not always been smooth sailing and fans have been disappointed from time to time but I’ve still found plenty of picture perfect moments in the game that make me stop and think “this is cool”. And there’s definitely no shortage of screenshots that I’ve posted here over the years either! Something about how they’ve nailed the look of space and the machines inhabiting it works for me. Flying through a Coriolis station (Elite‘s iconic space stations) for the first time was mind blowing and updates have continued to add further detail to its impressive design. And also to my screenshot collection too. 😉
There’s been plenty of changes and tweaks done to the game but there’s a few that I’ve felt have been fundamental to the game over that time and what it offered players.
The Horizon expansion can’t be underestimated in how important it was to Elite Dangerous. This brought planetary landings to the game and opened up even more locations for players to visit. It wasn’t perfect as you could only land on worlds with limited atmospheres (ie. not Earth) but it was a taste of what might be possible even if it didn’t progress much past that. It was also the one and only paid expansion to the game making it the odd one out in the game’s history of releases but was also necessary for players to get access to everything the game offered in subsequent releases. Was also the only way to get the Cobra MkIV too which I think was the first of the new ships added to the game post launch.
Wings added to prospect of co-op to the game and having friends join in on the bounty hunting and/or Star Trekkin’ (across the universe) but even with the later addition of wing missions where players could contribute to an overall mission goal there was still a feeling of isolation I couldn’t always shake. Multi-crew did let players hitch a ride on your ship too (if it was big enough) which actually worked too but it also felt like the only reason to ever worry about the appearance of your “Holo-Me” avatar. Squadrons take this to a whole new level allowing larger groups to actively compete against each other. Still… that we couldn’t take our avatars for a walk through ships and stations still feels like a missed opportunity.
Ship launched fighters have been great in giving players backup when chasing down bounties or needing protection. You still need to have ships big enough to install the fighter bays and be willing to part with a percentage of your income to pay for crew but it can make a massive difference in surviving many encounters. The limit of one crewman per ship means that you’re also limited to one AI controlled fighter and that can be frustrating as you can install fighter bays supporting two ships. But despite this having that backup is incredibly helpful for solo players.
The community has improved a lot since the beginning. I did mention earlier about being a victim of griefers in the beginning but that’s one aspect that happily feels like it’s changed a lot. Many of the pilots you encounter in your regular travels are quite friendly and willing to help out or offer advice. Even if the default method of communication is via text messaging from the in-game console, those moments when you’re out there and get an acknowledgement from a fellow pilot can be more arresting than times spent with a crew of friends. One of these experiences helped me collect blueprints for new fighters so being friendly out there can have its rewards!
Confirmation that there’s life in the galaxy had been a long time coming and for many people who first come up against the Thargoids it didn’t end well. And for a period there was an active conflict within the game and the sight of stations on fire was an impressive twist to the usual docking and take off mechanics. Improvements in ship technologies may have pushed the Thargoids back but players do need to work for access to them. The rest of us still keep our fingers crossed we’re not intercepted. The idea of there being wider scale conflicts has appeal and maybe even an opportunity for a “reset” of some regions too. There’s more out there for players to find… not a huge amount at this time but maybe a sign of things to come.
Finally, the variety of missions on offer to players deserves mention for how well it gives players options to make a lot of credits outside of combat. All of these do require specialized equipment for your ships (passenger cabins, refineries, etc) to maximize your income but generalized builds are still possible with the right choices. Finding that ferrying passengers could be profitable was a big change in how I played and most of my larger ships have passenger cabins already installed in case the right job turns up. In a galaxy like this you’d imagine that many privateers would have multipurpose vessels so being able to manage that is nice. Community goals also provided opportunities for players to contribute in their own ways and for those starting off it was also a fantastic way to make money towards your next ship or upgrade. It can be a grind but if the game works for you there can be some good rewards for those taking taking the time to work with the community and earn a bonus.
Five years for any game these days can seem like a long time but to put it into perspective Star Citizen also went through its initial crowd funding at the same time as the Elite Dangerous Kickstarter and has not been officially released (still in open alpha). The scope for that game might be different but both were offering planets to explore and a (virtual) life to live and ED got there first so has been the game to consume a lot of my time. It could all change next year but I’ve got a lot of value out of this game so far and that’s good enough for me. 🙂
Elite Dangerous is out now for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.