Bells and Whistles
From minute one, Elite: Dangerous is impressive. Developer Frontier is building an open-world universe with Elite, and that's not an exaggeration.
A space flight simulator, Elite: Dangerous is an MMO played entirely from the cockpit of your spacecraft. Being a simulator, it's a game best played with a full flight stick setup, though the entirety of my time was with a mouse and keyboard. Elite is all about giving the player an insurmountable sense of freedom and scale. It gives you a ton of things to do, but doesn't force anything. And while it's beta state has its clear limits in variety, it boasts an incredibly polished base for Frontier to build upon in years to come.
It was the moment I realized that you have to "request docking" in Elite's massive cities to legally land and refuel that I knew what it was going for. Frontier isn't simply building a gigantic place to fly around in, but also a living, breathing society with its own realistic rules and consequences. Elite wants to make you feel like you're living Cowboy Bebop, or a regular James Kirk, or anybody, really. Want to be a bounty hunter? It's a risky business, but can pay off really well. More of a inter-galactic trader? Go ahead, but you better be ready to protect your cargo. Smuggler of illegal goods? Possible, as long as you're skilled with avoiding the law. The game exudes the same kind of excitement and potential that I feel whenever I see a trailer for No Man's Sky.
"Elite wants to make you feel like you're living Cowboy Bebop, or a regular James Kirk, or anybody, really"
Elite: Dangerous is very much unfinished, though. The recently released beta—a one time buy-in of $75 that includes the final game upon release—drops players into the open world with nothing but a ship and a few credits to get started. From there, everything is up to you. The navigable galaxy is already incredibly large, spanning over a dozen systems with plenty of locations within the systems to visit. Though, in the game's current sate, there's not much worth exploring. Most locations are simply non-navigable planets to be flown by. Most of the game's immense scale come from promises for future add-ons and expansions, like FPS combat taking place on planets. That's not to say there isn't currently plenty to occupy your time. The locations and cities that are explorable offer plenty of missions (though not especially varied) to partake in, as well as a deeper economy and trade industry to study and master to quickly earn credits.
Dogfighting is really tough in Elite: Dangerous. Hitting your mark, even with predictive targeting, takes a lot of patience and skill—and after over ten hours, a skill I have yet to hone. Similar to rouge-like darling FTL,Elite: Dangerous conflicts are all about balancing power reserves between different systems. When out of combat or simply transporting cargo, I will divert extra power to the engines to raise my maximum speed. When in a conflict against heavy weaponry, it makes sense to pump more juice into Systems so that my shields can regenerate faster. It's an interesting practice in give-and-take that never fails to keep me on my toes.
I find true satisfaction in Elite: Dangerous hidden in the details. Even lacking a "proper" flight stick setup, Track IR motion sensor, or Oculus Rift, Elite immerses me like no other flight simulator. After the main menu that launches the game, absolutely everything is controlled from the comfort of your cockpit. Manually looking left and right summon panel displays that serve as everything from a navigation guide, contact list, and mission summary, to a control deck, weapon organizer, and cargo bay. I truly feel like I control every aspect of my ship, and its continued success in not blowing up is all my doing. That is, until I actually DOblow up, which has happened on all too often an occasion.
"I truly feel like I control every aspect of my ship, and its continued success in not blowing up is all my doing"
My concerns with Elite: Dangerous stem from uncertainty—the question of whether the game can deliver on its promise of scale, and diversify its current lineup of tasks. As of right now, there are only a few mission types per style of play, meaning you may find yourself doing a lot of the same "deliver this cargo to this system" over and over with little variety in-between. Currently there are a welth of different weapons, attachments, and new ships to save up for and experiment with, so all of the mission grinding might be worth it to some. But I hope for an infrastructure that eventually matches the incredible base game in complexity, realism, and sense of infinity.
It's hard to say whether or not you should buy Elite: Dangerous right now. $75 is a big commitment to a game that's in its early stages, so it truly comes down to whether or not the game sounds fun enough to play to be worth it right now. There's a lot that's yet to be added to Elite that sounds great, but it's impossible to know if Frontier's grand plan will pan out the way they describe. I love everything about piloting my ship in Elite: Dangerous, but the thrill of flight can wear down ten hours of the same sorts of missions. But if what Elite has to offer right now sounds worth its hefty price, it's one impressive ride.
Morgan Park is an associate editor at Front Towards Gamer from Bakersfield, Ca. Destroyer of evil, watcher of Chuck, and craftsman of sandwiches. That dude with the deep voice.