Review

Elite: Dangerous Review

  • First Released Dec 16, 2014
    released
  • PC

Mundanity is from Mars.

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I am skillfully piloting my Zorgon Peterson brand Hauler through the rotating port of one of the eighty bazillion space stations in Elite: Dangerous. I fiddle with system checks on the holographic dashboard, wearing an expression of self-satisfied disinterest. Almost casually, I flip on the landing gear, invert my ship, and reverse thrusters, deftly drifting into landing pad number 44. I'm master and commander at the far side of the galaxy. I'm an ace. I'm the Star Lord. I'm...not docking?

Well. In a Whedonesque bit of bathos, Elite: Dangerous has glitched, and instead of the chirps of the landing guidance system, I'm being rewarded with the angry, electric snapping sound of my shields grinding on raw space station. No problem--I'll just cancel my docking request and resend it. I make the requisite clicks. And that's when things go very, very bad. "TRESPASS WARNING" flashes in deadly red text, and a timer begins counting down from thirty. "Loitering is a crime punishable by death," a female voice helpfully intones over a loudspeaker, as I'm perforated by what is, frankly, an irresponsible amount of laser fire from station security. End scene.

Exiting hyperdrive up-close and personal with a star is wonderfully jarring.
Exiting hyperdrive up-close and personal with a star is wonderfully jarring.

Lasers, explosions, dystopian public service announcements...that was one of my more dramatic deaths in Elite: Dangerous, but it's actually in the routine of the parts preceding my demise that I experienced the quintessential sci-fi experience. It's the genre's unique thrill: seeing the incredible trappings of futuristic life fade into the background, turn second nature, become mundane. It's Chris Pratt punting alien lizards while dancing along to a cassette, or the way Cowboy Bebop segues from interstellar gateways to bell peppers and beef. The science is still there, of course, doing all the work to keep the cold void of space safely on the other side of the glass. But all the fussy details have been neatly elided, the edges gently worn and rounded from use. That's my kind of sci-fi, and Elite: Dangerous often delivers it, like a spacefaring Euro Truck Simulator.

But in Elite, that sort of familiarity is hard-won. Even if you do your due diligence in the game's tutorial--tampering with the controls, pitching and rolling until you can parallel park at half the speed of light--the game's vision of spaceflight simulation still proves aloof. It's quite a thing, to dump a player into a scale representation of the entire Milky Way galaxy with only the vaguest hint of direction. There's no expressed goal in Elite: Dangerous; if you're looking for signs of progress they might be found in your reputation, a one-word descriptor ranging from "Harmless" to "Elite." But you could just as easily mark your improvement by the accrual of bigger and better ships, or in cold hard credits. A few intersecting occupations are accounted for: trader or smuggler, pirate or bounty hunter… and miner for those who prefer the company of floating bits of rock.

You have the freedom to go where you will and do what you want, but friction and false starts ensure that you won't be going there very fast or doing it very efficiently for some time. There's the inscrutability of your cockpit dashboard to contend with, loaded for bear with functionality that never gets articulated. That, and the imposing galaxy map, with its disorienting scale and legion of similar-sounding star systems. There are the glitches, like the time I spawned into the game to find a shiny new "Wanted" label I'd earned for no reason, or the aforementioned docking snafu. And there's all the missing data that can only be found outside of the game, from critical trade information to a plain-words explanation of how your ship's fuel tank actually works.

No Caption Provided
In supercruise, astral bodies fly by like billboards.
In supercruise, astral bodies fly by like billboards.

It wasn't until I totalled the shiny new spacecraft I'd been loaned and tried to make a go of it with the chintzy, standard-issue Sidewinder that I came to better grasp Elite's systems. The Sidewinder's rinky-dink frame shift drive forced me to take a more considered look at the galaxy map or risk leaving myself stranded between long system jumps. The absence of a docking computer meant that I'd be guiding the little craft into station on manual instead having the autopilot unceremoniously dump me onto landing pads. Elite is at its best when it’s forcing this more deliberate level of engagement, and I wish it happened more often. Tellingly, there's a pre-flight systems checklist that you can run through every time you take off, but Elite pulls its punch and lets you opt out. Even as I write this, I'm hurtling through space on a trade run at 16.64c, window minimized. It's perfectly possible, as it turns out, to conduct an intragalactic smuggling operation en passant. All that's necessary is the occasional alt + tab to make sure I'm not about to plow headlong into a star.

Once you've gotten your space legs under you and upgraded to something resembling a viable ship, it's easy to settle into semi-comfortable routine. Check the station bulletin board for courier missions or a tantalizing bounty payout, or the commodities market for a decent-looking buy-low option. Set a course, leapfrogging from star to nearby star. Arrive at your destination system, drop out of hyperspace and into a slightly slower supercruise, and throttle down so that you don't overshoot the beacon for your target station or combat zone. Deliver your supplies, ply your wares, blow up your mark, and repeat. Profits can be reinvested in your ship once you're safely docked, towards upgraded cargo holds or, say, advanced lasers. The nuances of kitting out a good ship are as obscure as any of the rest of Elite's systems, but generously, anything bought can be sold back for the same price if it turns out you've made a colossal error. Elite is less charitable when it comes to trading outside the garage. The game plays it coy when you look for trade data in other star systems--the best you can hope for is a suggestion that "maybe" a given product is "sometimes" exported from some station therein. Often times it isn't there, however, and let me tell you: there's a real novel frustration in traveling eighty light years away to find out they're all out of tea this week.

No Caption Provided

You have the freedom to go where you will and do what you want, but friction and false starts ensure that you won't be going there very fast or doing it very efficiently for some time.

It’s enough to drive a fellow to tea piracy, which happens to be well accommodated for in Elite's laissez-faire frontier. One can buy interdiction systems that forcibly drag an NPC or a player character's ship out of supercruise, opening them up to predation should they fail a minigame of “keep the crosshairs aligned.” Thus engaged, combat unfolds with straightforward but precise dogfights, where momentum and trajectory are the secret killers, not the missiles or lasers. I confess that I’m not particularly good at this sector of Elite, whether it comes to gauging an enemy’s skill from afar, or sticking to his six in the heat of battle. I even have trouble remembering to keep my speed at the sweet spot that lets you turn quickest. But a more practiced hand can make use of the more advanced tactical offerings, redistributing power to the parts of one's ship in the most need, or pulling the slick-looking maneuvers conferred by a stick and throttle system or Oculus VR headset (the peripherals pair so naturally with Elite that the game almost seems built just to leverage them). That's a wrinkle I've yet to master, but the promise of dramatic, large-scale battles between federal armadas tucked away in distant systems is more than enough incentive to learn the ropes. Would that you could effectively team up with other players to run them--Elite’s tools for inter-player cooperation are almost nonexistent.

The little joys of Elite: Dangerous' solo play suffice, though. Peals of thunder rumble past your ship in supercruise, and I don’t care if they're as fake as the pumped-in crowd noise at the Georgia Dome, because they sound great. Ditto for the sudden, 18-wheeler horn that accompanies a drop out of hyperspace into close proximity with a giant, iridescent star. The hottest of these visibly cook your ship if you get too close, which happens to be a requirement if you want to use a fuel scoop to replenish your stores on the fly. They're also functional light emitters in the game's engine, and you can see the shadow of your craft ripple down the side of a station if you get between the two bodies. There are a few curiosities out in the ether, too, though they’re harder to appreciate if you’re not an astrophysics hobbyist. For example, the chance discovery of a station orbiting, well, nothing, struck me as odd. There’s a term for this, apparently: a “LaGrange Point,” but instead of making me contemplate the wonder of the universe, it mostly brought ZZ Top to mind. Still, this a game where light years can be hopped in a moment, and yet the prospect of traveling from one end of Elite's map to the other remains inconceivable. It's hard to overstate how remarkable that is, how the simple act of playing a game can engender such an acute awareness of size and scale.

It's an accomplishment in its own right, but that breadth doesn't come into play elsewhere in the experience. Like most space sims, Elite: Dangerous partitions the universe into discreet "rooms," in this case representing individual star systems. At a glance, it appears that almost a third of these systems purport to be in open rebellion, though you'd never know it from the pervasive quiet. Slaves are purchasable and tradable commodities, an inclusion that's sometimes played for ironic humor in the missions but usually rings as off-putting. The only way to interact with that underbelly of rebellion and slavery is from the comfort of my captain's chair, through a market speculation interface or a salvo of missiles. I pick up contracts for the assassination of high-ranking government officials on the same screen that I get my tea delivery requests.

Elite: Dangerous’ galaxy map zooms from galaxy-wide, down to individual stars.
Elite: Dangerous’ galaxy map zooms from galaxy-wide, down to individual stars.

The old problem remains: when time and distance are bumped out to these impossible ranges, the only systems capable of following them out there are the most discreet and elastic ones. Trade just happens to scale well, a daisy chain of supply to demand, demand to supply, all the way to the white nothing at the edge of the universe. Perhaps the next true frontier is the search for a procedural generation system that can create something more ostentatious, something that can surprise…something not so visibly derived from an underlying system of ones and zeroes. But then, maybe it's there in Elite: Dangerous, in its way, and the problem is that I need to learn to start being more impressed by LaGrange points.

Back To Top
The Good
Simply existing in Elite: Dangerous is enough to drive home its incredible scale
With practice, piloting a spaceship becomes second nature
Stars, ships, and space stations are rendered with a balance of realism and beauty
Scales well to the setup of your PC and all the accessories you can bring to bear
The Bad
Most of space is populated only by stale trading systems and fetch quests
Insubstantial tutorial isn’t enough to prevent a steep learning curve
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Elite: Dangerous

About the Author

Nick Capozzoli spent dozens of hours in Elite: Dangerous, traveling, trading, fighting, and discovering new and interesting ways to run afoul of space station security systems.
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Avatar image for cyborg100000
cyborg100000

I'm playing this game in the small amount of spare time I get each week and it's one of the more odd games I've played. It's very much a simulator at heart; it's relaxingly mundane, vaguely complex all the while throwing in rare unexpected jolts of adrenaline via the odd combat encounter (usually gone wrong in my case), with a constant sense of underlying tension and fear that you'll be hunted down. I'm still in awe of the sheer size of the galaxy, wondering what mysteries lie out there, and the novelty of piloting your ship faster than the speed of light across space hasn't worn off. It is admittedly barren and too void of personality though, I hope it receives frequent and meaningful updates that enrich the games impressive foundations in the near future.

Avatar image for manglegrinder
MangleGrinder

@cyborg100000:

Odd is definitely the right word, but not in a good way.

I'd also have to dispute the simulator tag. It's way more arcadey than being a proper sim. DCS is a sim. Kerbal is much more of a sim.

Airplanes in space and the fakeness of the galactic 'sim' is just way too obvious. Like you I *hope* it improves, but I can't say I'm optimistic really.

Avatar image for crazboy84
crazboy84

@manglegrinder@cyborg100000: I cant belive someone just called ED arcadey... absolute blasphemy.... you can turn flight assist off if you want true zero g flight. If you want any type of combat in a space game there must be flight assist, it just doesnt work. We wont have space battles in real life like you do in star wars or BSG because space doesnt work that way. Imagine combat in KSP it just wouldnt work

Avatar image for LoneWolf21Bravo
LoneWolf21Bravo

@crazboy84@manglegrinder@cyborg100000: Well, it is definitely less of a "simulator" than the previous games in the series, Frontier:Elite 2 (1993) and Frontier: First Encounters (1995), that had proper Newtonian physics and orbital flight. I was hoping they would have it in Elite: Dangerous, but they decided not to implement it. But than again, it probably wouldn't work in a game with online elements.

Avatar image for GrahamZ
GrahamZ

I backed the game because of some misplaced nostalgia over the original. Then I waited until the release to play it because I didn't want to deal with another beta.


Then I found out I couldn't even get through the tutorials without getting seriously frustrated with the game. I'm too old for games like this, and it was an expensive lesson on my part. It may be a good game, but people without any kind of hand-eye coordination should definitely stay away.

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Sparky100

@GrahamZ: Practice makes perfect. I'am 67 and love this game. Practice and then get back to me. When you get good enough..hit the "Z" key and practice some more.

Avatar image for bl8kes_7_
BL8kes_7_

@GrahamZ: I'm 44 myself, and although it took me a few early games to get the hang of it, I haven't really had the difficulty you are describing.


It feels very much like the original, which is nice, but it sure needs quite a bit more content before I could call it a great game.



Avatar image for LoneWolf21Bravo
LoneWolf21Bravo

@bl8kes_7_: That's essentially the plan - they did not have the budget to release all the content they wanted in a polished manner, so they released the core, earned some cash and now can make the rest of the features with just as much polish. I think it's a good idea and I hope it'll be worth the wait.

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crazboy84

@GrahamZ: To me it doesnt take any more hand eye coordination than driving does, let me ask did you play with a stick, controller, or mouse and keyboard? If you played with M+K thats your problem this game is near imposssible to play and enjoy with M+K

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GrahamZ

@crazboy84@GrahamZ: Mouse and Keyboard -- I don't own any special controllers.

Avatar image for oflow
oflow

I enjoy the game but I also got kind of bored with it. The thing that many people realize about E:D is that its sort of a reboot of the original Elite, so for what it does do it replicates that pretty well.

Theres a lot of minor things that could be added to make the game a lot better. Prime examples being the colored trade routes reflecting the real location of resources, and a better more interesting mining dynamic. The commodities UI needs some work it should be much more useful. At least they could let you track certain items and make notes on the galaxy/system map for future reference, maybe even steal an idead from No mans Sky and let players name discoveries etc.

I hate having to have a huge notepad of stuff written down that I have to shift thru while playing. I understand there are external sites like Thrudds I'm just saying. The Galnet UI could also use some work. The news should have hyperlinks that direct you to the planets on the system map and maybe even plot a course for you. This would make the news actually interesting and make players gravitate towards certain in game events. Maybe there should be an option for players doing the exploration route to actually contribute to the news in some way?


I think in time it will get better, but probably by that time Star Citizen while come out and probably siphon off most of the player base. I know they are still planning on adding the Thargoids.

But just for the sheer beauty of some of the space physics etc it was worth buying for me.

Avatar image for lindallison
lindallison

@oflow:

It will be downright criminal if FD doesn't build something incredible on top of the game's extremely impressive interpretation of the milky way.

In addition to quality of life stuff like you mention, I'm hoping for some stellar forge improvements that will allow bodies to interact in appropriate ways, like massive stars pulling apart nearby stellar neighbors or black holes displaying accretion discs if sufficiently massive...

More art and more complicated astonomical interaction algorithms would really spice up exploration.

As it stands its fun to strike out into the unknown, but there's little actual mystery in what you'll find.

Avatar image for manglegrinder
MangleGrinder

@lindallison@oflow: Again, it's all fake though. Planets orbiting binary systems, yet the shadows are all wrong, with the nearest star casting the shadow, the next nearest having no effect.


The predecessor 'First Encounters' from 20 years ago was a much better game really.

Avatar image for LoneWolf21Bravo
LoneWolf21Bravo

@manglegrinder@lindallison: Well, with more content, I'm sure it will be an awesome game. Also, my computer is chugging calculating only one star's light onto the surface, imagine what two stars will do to it? But, I have to wholeheartedly agree with the last line - Frontier: First Encounters was absolutely amazing, especially if you don't use autopilot. Orbiting planets and exploring their surfaces really immersed me into the game universe.

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Bigmike7717

If you trade in this game, this site is an absolute must have.


elitetradingtool.co.uk

Avatar image for FuBi2k
FuBi2k

I got bored with this one pretty easily. The ships don't handle like they're in space and repetitive A to B quests with little variation don't go far with me. I just didn't feel like I was actually working toward anything new or exciting. Big game verse but size is nothing without gameplay elements which may or may not come with more development time. I can understand the nostalgia factor in regards to the classic though and from that standpoint, it's nice to see the franchise back in action but comparatively, I think I might enjoy a game like Star Citizen a bit more.

Avatar image for lindallison
lindallison

@FuBi2k:

Relative to other space sims, the ships feel great, certainly as good as the ships in Freespace 2 and Xwing but with additional movement options and of course, much greater freedom of travel.


I like Newtonian flight models as much as the next guy but more casual models are the mainstay of the genre and Dangerous really does it well.


Avatar image for LoneWolf21Bravo
LoneWolf21Bravo

@lindallison: I agree, but DAMN, I'd love me some Newtonian physics and orbiting in E:D. It would literally make up for its current bare-bonesy state. But I understand it would probably not work in a multiplayer game. Just hope that someday they will remake Frontier: First Encounters.

Avatar image for manglegrinder
MangleGrinder

Quite liked the review, and the score is a lot better than some of the other puff pieces I've seen written.

The real problem for me is that after playing for quite a while, the whole fakery of the thing just keeps hitting you in the face.

Take for instance the latest 'moving station' thing they were trumpeting in the last newsletter. People were expecting something special, so what happened? The servers went off, and when they came back on again, the station had been moved. Pathetic!

Just so bored with the game and the developer promises now, I can barely be bothered to log in at all.

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Sparky100

@manglegrinder: It's space...you want an arcade, try Mario Brothers.

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Coocookachong

@manglegrinder: their background simulation is a total scam, and they put that up as reason for always offline? Pathetic. An no one is debunking their scam, and don´t expect anything from their gullible fans from 1984

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LoneWolf21Bravo

@coocookachong: I seriously don't understand what you are talking about. Please explain. If you're talking about the skybox - go explore a nebula. It'll take a while, but it might be worth it.

Avatar image for MrEon256
MrEon256

@manglegrinder: "People were expecting something special..."


That's the issue right there, is it not? People were expecting...the devs themselves never claimed anything else. They wrote that the station would move during the update process. After that people's imagination went wild anyway for some reason.

Avatar image for manglegrinder
MangleGrinder

@MrEon256@manglegrinder: Well that's a fair bit of semantic/logic juggling to be fair.

The reality is that it's 2015, and if you say a space station is going to move, most normal people are going to expect to see the darn thing move.

Not the server being reset and the thing being cut 'n' pasted.

Crazy people paying their $60, eh?

Avatar image for suppaphly42
SuppaPHly42

@manglegrinder@MrEon256: i'm not sure i get what your going on about. the stations have an artificial gravity generated by a rotation (centrifugal force) , that is supposed to be correctly calibrated to what you would need for 1g. they do that, they rotate and they also follow the orbit of the astral body that they are tethered to via the Lagrange points.one of these things is relatively imperceivable the other very noticeable so if you mean something else.. well please fill me in

Avatar image for nick_capozzoli
Nick_Capozzoli

@manglegrinder: Thanks, glad you liked the review : )

Avatar image for suppaphly42
SuppaPHly42
<< LINK REMOVED >>

i'm glad you thought better on that, attacking your fan base is not a good way to endear people to your style of writing

Avatar image for nick_capozzoli
Nick_Capozzoli

@suppaphly42: No attacks, friend. If you got through the review, I'm happy!

Avatar image for suppaphly42
SuppaPHly42

"and the problem is that I need to learn to start being more impressed by LaGrange points." and i might have gotten through this whole review the first time if i was more impressed by verbose banter

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kaziklu_bey

meh...can't go near eve's content, complexity, metagaming....it's not even comparable.

Avatar image for rlakhani
rlakhani

Even a modest single-player campaign would have worked for them a litte bit if the multiplayer only thing is as boring as people say it is.

Avatar image for Thuaxiz
Thuaxiz

Looks like it's back to begging for ports for the Master Race.

Avatar image for suppaphly42
SuppaPHly42

@Thuaxiz: why? a 7 is a good score ED is a good game, that consoles will never have and i for one could care less about GTA... anything

Avatar image for phbz
phbz

@Thuaxiz: Yes please I want a Driveclub port. Where do I sign the petition.

Avatar image for MrEon256
MrEon256

@walidras: FPS and seamless planetary landings are being worked on as we speak...some of it will most likely be released far before Star Citizen (PU) is official released roughly 2 years from now. Don't have anything against Star Citizen BTW...backed it myself and am looking forward too it. :)


Different approaches to development really. ED gives us the (sand)box first even if it's a bit empty to begin with and will now fill it out more and more as time goes on. Star Citizen will give us more of the content first (SQ42) and later the (sand)box to put those things in.

Avatar image for gamerspotter2
gamerspotter2

@MrEon256@walidras: "FPS and seamless planetary landings are being worked on as we speak"


Do you have any evidence of this? Because what I see Frontier working on as we speak is yet another hotfix attempting to fix the problems caused by the last update, including major map rot, with disappearing space stations, including even some in which players are docked.

Avatar image for manglegrinder
MangleGrinder

@MrEon256@walidras: Please give one single piece of recent evidence to support that.

I think you're confusing what you *want* with actual *reality*.

Avatar image for Sparky100
Sparky100

@manglegrinder@MrEon256@walidras: You want reality?? Then stay away from video games. It's obvious ED is beyond your capacity to grasp. But then maybe you think space is as populated as the block you live on...it ain't.

Avatar image for suppaphly42
SuppaPHly42

@manglegrinder@MrEon256@walidras: allow me, there is an update in beta stage in testing right now that will allow for the buy/building of space stations, that you can own. space the limit on what you could do with that planets that the station orbits will influence what kind of station would be the best fit for it etc...

Avatar image for Sl4cka
Sl4cka

Yet again, they make a video review for a 3ds game with blocky graphics, but a text review for e:d where space is absolutely stunning. Makes sense.

Avatar image for Stebsis
Stebsis

@Sl4cka: Because graphics are always the deciding factor here... -_-

Avatar image for Sl4cka
Sl4cka

@Stebsis: When choosing whether it should be a text or a video review - yes. When choosing whether a game is any good - no.

Compared to E:D, a 3DS game looks sh1t. That is an undeniable fact. Now, that doesn't make 3DS games automatically bad, they can still have brilliant gameplay, for all I know maybe even better than E:D. But how a game plays is more of a feeling - you can't objectively portray that in a video. What you can do in a video, though, is show off graphics.

So, back to my point. Is it better to show off graphics of a game that, we already established, looks (comparatively) sh1t or a game that is a sight to behold?
Avatar image for loafofgame
loafofgame

@Sl4cka@Stebsis: Good point, but I believe the simple reason is traffic. Making a video review costs extra resources and that's only worth it if enough people are interested in a specific game. A lot of people will probably prefer video over text anyway, regardless of graphics, simply because it means they don't have to read and can also watch moving images, which is why a popular Zelda game will get a video review. But making a video review for a game only a (relative) handful of people are interested in simply isn't worth it.

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Pierce_Sparrow

I have a buddy who has been obsessed with this game, but I've yet to find a reason for it. Frankly, it just doesn't sound all that exciting, and that's coming from reading all the things my buddy has been posting about it. Like EVE, you spend an awful lot of time doing some mundane quests that take a while to complete to earn some credits. And sometimes you go and collect a bounty. I'm keeping my eye out for Star Citizen as that seems to be a game with action more in mind. But, I guess these kinds of games can't be for everybody, right?

Elite: Dangerous More Info

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  • First Released Dec 16, 2014
    released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Elite: Dangerous is a space simulation game set in an online, persistent, full-scale recreation of the Milky Way.
    7.4
    Average Rating141 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Elite: Dangerous
    Developed by:
    Frontier Developments
    Published by:
    Frontier Developments, Sold Out
    Genre(s):
    Simulation, VR
    Theme(s):
    VR
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence