Shortly after mentioning Elite: Dangerous at the end of my post about space games in January, I ended up purchasing the game on an impulse, despite stating that I was going to wait for the 1.2 Wings update (released in March) which would enhance co-op play.
I’m actually somewhat torn on Elite: Dangerous. I played the original Elite back on my Amiga 500, but I don’t recall getting very far along in the game nor do I recall playing any of the sequels. It isn’t a game I play constantly. In fact, I didn’t get overly far along before the 1.2 update in March, and I took a break shortly afterwards until just last week. Some of my trepidation is because Elite is a pure sandbox. I often love the idea or the potential of a sandbox more than the actual sandbox itself. At the end of the day, despite all you can pretend to create, there’s only sand in the box and that gets washed away all too easily. In the case of Elite, “all you can do” is fly a ship alone. There are a few activities you can do with that ship, such as bounty hunting (mostly what I do), trading (I only do this via missions for now, not “for real”), and exploring (I am so not looking forward to partaking of this aspect). A good deal of my frustration is because I’m a pilot by trade so computer flight games or simulations automatically rub me the wrong way in many aspects. To my knowledge, I’m the only professional (or even private for that matter) pilot among the blogger circles I dip in and out of. Many of you are some form of IT or web development, so just imagine how you’d feel about a “web development sim” that gets so much “wrong,” or at least bases certain things on assumptions or for the sake of gamification. That’s where I am with most flight-based games.
Oh, to be fair, Elite has a pretty darn decent flight model. I even read that it’s better than the current flight model in Star Citizen but that’s purely second- or third-hand information; I do not have Star Citizen myself to make that comparison. It’s the World War II aspect of Elite (and pretty much every other flight-based game) that irritates me. It’s the year 3301 and humanity has populated most of the galaxy. We have starships capable of transluminal velocities and stellar navigation yet at the same time lack basic features that our real aircraft have had for decades. Oh, and the combat. I suppose we can thank Star Wars and its reliance on WWII footage to inspire its space battles but seriously, all the advanced weaponry and computer targeting systems we would have come up with 1200 years from now but we still regress to dogfighting? To actively scan anything, I have to maneuver to keep that object in a very narrow cone out my front window? Yes, I totally get that all that is to make it a “game” and if I weren’t a pilot I would probably be fine with it like most Elite players probably are.
There are many other pilot-specific complaints I have that make me twitch in Elite (and others) but for the sake of my sanity and overall sense of fun I’m trying to just come to terms with them and take the game for what it is.
To some degree, I’m using a teeny bit of role-play to decide what to do in the game. In what is very slowly becoming a more common habit, I ended up re-using a character name for Elite Dangerous. I took the name of my Guild Wars monk, Benjeth and used it for my Commander’s name. Part of that pains me, as Benjeth was primarily a healer and his role-play was very compassionate whereas his space-faring counterpart is primarily all about killing wanted criminals for credits. I also partially regret not using the last name as well, instead of simply being Commander Benjeth. But whatever.
Benjeth got his start in LHS 3447, a Federation-controlled system. While learning the basics of the game, I lost his starting Sidewinder twice attempting to travel longer than the ship was able to (or at least longer than I was able to smartly plan at the time). I even purchased a fuel scoop but kept flying into systems with unscoopable stars. I cleared my game save once and started over when I realized I didn’t have the fuel to make the trip to the next system which did look to have a usable star. Little did I know all I had to do was simply auto-destruct my ship and I would have been placed at the most recent starbase I’d docked at for free or for the cost of the re-buy insurance. Live and learn.
My first ship upgrade was an Eagle, which I had a lot of fun in. It’s a very maneuverable ship, and the most television-style starfighter-looking ship in the game, in my opinion. But it’s the first upgrade so it’s not a very “high level” ship at all. Its shields were only slightly better than tissue paper, and while it had three weapon hardpoints, they were all of the “small” classification.
Still, that Eagle was my baby until last week. I’d finally been keeping my overall credit balance over 1 million and was ready to get the next ship but couldn’t decide between a Cobra or Viper. The Cobra is far more versatile with what activities you can do, but I’m still in a combat-focused frame of mind so the Viper is my new ship! It’s mostly geared out the way I want it. I’d love better thrusters but I’m not sure I can power them with recent changes made to the way power priorities work.
The Viper is a dedicated combat ship, so that’s pretty much all its good at, whereas the Cobra is a good trading, exploration, even mining ship. But I’m not yet to a point where I want to engage much in those aspects of the game. Especially exploration, but even the hardcore trading will be off my radar. I fly across the country for hours at a time for my job, the last thing on the planet I want to do when I come home is flying a 7-hour each-way trade route. When I do feel like lighter trading, I’m thinking I’ll get a Lakon Type 6 just for that and keep the Viper docked somewhere handy for my bounty hunting and combat missions. Right now I’m looking for a region where I could keep the Viper but there’s also profitable trade routes nearby so switching ships won’t be too time consuming. I will agree with many other players that the Viper has a really unique and sexy engine sound. Its growls and purrs go along with its deadly maneuverability and firepower. For weaponry, currently I have dual beam lasers set to the small hardpoints as firegroup 1, then dual gimballed multicannons on the medium hardpoints as firegroup 2. A kill warrant scanner on the utility hardpoint to get the extra cash if a criminal is wanted in multiple systems and a shield cell just in case some baddies manage to strip the Viper’s powerful shields.
The next major update, PowerPlay, will focus on the impact the various factions have on the galaxy. That’s an area I’ve been giving a little thought to lately, but no progress toward deciding where my loyalties may lie. I think all new pilots begin in Federation space? I was excited last week to finally be able to make the journey to the Sol system and see Earth, birthplace of humanity and heart of the Federation. The Empire seems very popular with players, though for the life of me I don’t see any reason in-game to change my loyalty, other than to get the Imperial Clipper. The Alliance doesn’t yet have its own faction ship. Maybe it’s because all I’ve done in-game so far is bounty hunting with a few courier jobs mixed in but I haven’t yet seen any actual in-game difference between the three major powers. I’m sure I could go read some wiki entry somewhere, but who gives a crap if the lore isn’t in the game being played out? If the Federation is run by corporations and turns a blind eye towards rampant slavery then I want to actually see this while I’m playing. If the Empire is so much better, again, I’d love to see the faction play out in-game and woo me that way not just dangling a sexy ship as a reward. The Alliance needs more development, period, though I’m reading it’s gradually becoming a popular faction for players as well.
I guess I did title this post my “initial thoughts,” so what are they? Elite: Dangerous is actually a pretty good game that’s doing very well at what it set out to do. Thing is, what it set out to do might not be enough for a lot of gamers. Chris at levelcapped.com was very specific to me that he was not going to actually recommend the game to me. A co-worker has recently been asking me about Elite: Dangerous and I found myself parroting Chris’ reaction: I gave some pros and cons but outright said I was not going to make a recommendation because I didn’t want to be held responsible if he didn’t like it. There’s technically a “demo” (I suspect it’s the single player training portion of the game?) out there people can check out some of the basics to get an idea how the game will play. I do like the game’s flight model for the most part. I like that the game has been released, unlike Star Citizen. I like that Frontier listens to the players, and that Frontier continues to develop the game in large almost MMO-like content updates. So overall, I’m pleased with my purchase even if the game isn’t something I would be itching to play for hours a day every day. But then again, no game has been that for me in several years. I’ve put more time into Elite than many of my Steam purchases, that’s for sure! On that note, Elite recently was added to Steam officially and on May 28 Frontier is giving players who bought the game through Frontier’s store the option of a Steam key to transfer their game to Valve’s digital distribution platform. I’m giving serious thought to that, but haven’t made a committed decision yet.
See you in space, commanders!