Review – Elite: Dangerous
My ship drifts silently in space just over 10 km out from the space station that’s my target. I’ve rigged the ship for silent running to avoid detection while I plot the next steps of a plan that’s dangerous enough to end with the utter destruction of my ship.
It seems simple enough – line myself up with the entry hole on the massive station, enable the ship’s systems again and boost to full speed, then shut them down and go silent before getting close enough to be detected and scanned by security forces. Inertia will carry me forward to where, if the station accepts my request for docking clearance, a landing pad will wait my ship and its illegal cargo.
The list of things that can go wrong is high. Another ship – whether player or NPC – can choose that moment to leave the station, for example. Though the entry/exit slot is large enough for two ships to pass by, and it’s even marked with offset green/red lights to tell people which side they should be going into, it is a high collision area and contact is usually fatal for a ship that’s foregoing shields to try and avoid detection.
I could also have miscalculated how long it would take to get into the station and away from the prying eyes of the law, with the buildup of heat from running silent forcing me to enable my shields and draw attention. I’ve fallen to this before, allowing my ship to overheat to dangerous levels once. I made it into the station on that run only to find the heat had damaged the hatch control systems, dumping my cargo into space.
Today though, all the dominoes fall into place. I get immediate docking approval, cruise through the entry portal without a hitch and nail the landing on my assigned docking pad. Seconds later I deliver my cargo and I’m 135,000 credits richer – not a bad haul for a low-level purveyor of illicit goods.
This is your day-to-day life as a smuggler in Elite: Dangerous, hereafter referred to as E:D, available now on PC and in Game Preview on Xbox One – the version reviewed.
You don’t have to trade in illegal wares, but it was an overwhelmingly lucrative means of earning credits that proved too tempting for me to pass up. I also experimented with being an explorer, cruising solar system to solar system (the game boasts a universe with 400+ billion stars in it), charting out the planets and stars then selling that data to make a living.
Find map-making a little on the boring side? You could choose to be a space pirate, taking down transports to steal their wares, or perhaps try your hand as a bounty hunter and rid the universe of pirates one blown-up ship at a time.
What E:D provides is a great space sim where gamers can write their own tales. You get a starter ship and a tidy sum of credits to start out, but where that ship takes you is entirely up to you. The sim-style space physics provide a steep learning curve that makes it worth going through the tutorials a couple of times, but the rewards awaiting you are worth the effort. There are a lot of controls packed into the Xbox One controller, so it’s tough to pick up and play, but means there’s a ton of versatility available once you master it.
Jumping solar system to solar system, checking bulletin boards for missions that range from humanitarian efforts to flat-out assassinations…for space nuts this is already close to the ideal game and there’s a lot of improvements planned for it.
Note that this, as a Game Preview title, is under active development so you’d expect to encounter the odd crash, but I had it freeze up only once in dozens of hours of play. While it seems stable enough, there’s a lot that Frontier is looking to add – including better documentation of what’s already available in the game. There’s a social aspect to E:D, for example, called PowerPlay – an ongoing war for control of the stars – but players really need to go outside the game to find out what it’s all about.
E:D is a great start and already has enough to it that I keep coming back, earning money to upgrade my ship or buy a new one to try out a new way to play. I wish exploration could be as lucrative as smuggling, but I guess with risk comes reward…