Elite: Dangerous Review

  • First Released Dec 16, 2014
  • PC

Mundanity is from Mars.

GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.

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
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.
111 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for yeknomdab

Whoa--the crickets are deafening. I bought E:D 2 years ago for the PS4, and only recently dove in with gusto. There have been major changes since this dusty old review. Technical wrinkles have been ironed out, design flaws have been amplified, systems and mechanics introduced/refined/tweaked/broken/tweaked again until we're left with its current state.

The largest problem is the nearly complete lack of synergy between disparate mechanics. Inherent tedium and the weird flight model remain intact. There are aliens to fight when you aren't being constantly harassed by NPC/Player pirates, ruins to explore, and "progression" is now both abstract AND an extremely repetitive grind in spite of credits being laughably easy to earn. The poor balance seems intentional, and it would be far less of an issue if it wasn't for the poorly-designed combat and arcade-style ship physics clashing with the slightly more realistic bits.

Simply put: the game is still a big convoluted mess, yet I continue to play. Maybe it's the lack of decent space sims/sim-lites available to console players, or the fact that I play to relax, and thus avoid the Open server like the plague. It teases at scratching a certain space-geek itch, so the love/hate relationship continues...

Avatar image for verysalt

More-less expected score. Based on how many articles I read and streams I have watched I would give 6.

Avatar image for bacmpt

@verysalt: Based on my 35hrs of gameplay. I would rate this 3/10: the game is a beauty but it is so boring passed the first "whoa" ... A shame I didn't check the review on steam first.

Avatar image for moc5

I like your last paragraph, Nick. Agreed on that.

Avatar image for Shadow-Phax

I heard about a new open world Elite game that is the true successor to Frontier: First Encounters and got excited. I was all set to buy it today but then I started reading about it and found out it's an "online only" game. I read how they promised to put out a offline single player mode but then decided not to. People were angry and wanted them to explain. The developer then fed them a line of BS about how online only is able to provide the content that an offline game can't. That is total BS with most of the star systems being randomly generated by the program. It worked on computers in the 90s with floppy disks but now they can't make offline content on computers with HDs. Give me a break, I won't be wasting money on this game. I've been burned by the online only thing before. They sell a lot of copy at first then people loose interest very quickly and they shut down the servers. You're left with a game you can't play and they won't release anything that will let you play offline when the game folds. The thing I like about my old games from the 80s and 90s is I can still play them to take a walk down memory lane. You can't do this with this game. I give it less than two years before the servers are gone.

Avatar image for mulder_000

@Shadow-Phax: Single player and campaigns seem to be going the way of the dodo bird more and more lately.

Avatar image for moc5

@Shadow-Phax: I knew there was a reason I only buy single player games. Thanks for your comment. I wont buy it either now.

Avatar image for AgroFrizzy

@moc5@Shadow-Phax: The servers could be gone, but it doesn't really matter to me anyways. Star Citizen will be better in just about every way (including offline single player and mod support I believe), but it'll be a bit. Until then, I'm going to be continuing to enjoy Elite Dangerous; it's extremely awesome, and I'm very optimistic for even the temporary future of it.

And hey. I could be wrong. Star Citizen could come out, and Elite Dangerous could exceed my expectations by then. The best case is that I'll be playing both of them. The worst case is that I'll be having a decent game to play until Star Citizen comes out.

Avatar image for xsonicchaos

I'm really waiting for Homeworld Remastered Collection.

Avatar image for nashathedog

@xsonicchaos: I'm glad someone mentioned that, I pre-ordered it ages ago and had forgot all about it, :)

Avatar image for grin89

anyone else remember when gamespot would give games little badges by the review that showed how good the game was? I miss those badges.

Avatar image for santinegrete

@grin89: yeah, I miss 'em too. Ark really tought the face washover of this site was good, but it's been bad lately.

Avatar image for skipper847

Now I fixed my PC its time to play this. They could have made the game just using the galaxy map and made it into a trade simulator like game.

Avatar image for suppaphly42

@jimmy_russell: its not done yet there may be a time that you change your mind well i hope anyway

Avatar image for Fragzoon

@suppaphly42@jimmy_russell: it's not done? How come the game is priced as if it is already done at the official website?

Is there anyway I can try the game to see whether I will like it or not first? No demo? Also where else can you buy it cheaper? Tried steam but it's not there

Avatar image for zk85

@Fragzoon@suppaphly42@jimmy_russell: I backed this game ages ago, they will have planetary landing and 1st person shooting added among other things.

If you love space combat, and trading simulations this game is AMAZING... from bounty hunting to being pirate (or just merchant protecting his goods) to a merchant trading in rare and common goods or a smuggler and a slave trader escaping from the eyes of the law and making it past space station security without triggering a scan.... its really fun if you like those things and space anything in general, its boring if you dont.

playing online with friends makes it even more fun and using a flight stick like the "Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X" makes u do some really fun stuff and really feel your skill growing in flight.

(never buy a flight stick with the throttle stuck to the stick like the

Logitech Extreme 3D Pro, it will cramp ur hand like crazy cuz u will use the throttle often)

Star Citizen though is MUCH more promising, being the highest crowed funded thing (not just game) ever. But you so far can only battle against other players in a small paid demo, that game is still in the works and wont be released fully for a couple of years most likely.

Avatar image for LoneWolf21Bravo

@Fragzoon@suppaphly42@jimmy_russell: By "not done yet" he means that this game is more of a platform, kind of like ArmA3 when it first released. The planned development includes expansion packs that will let you leave your pilot seat and walk around your ship, stations, planet surfaces, board other ships with all the gameplay features that entails. Nobody will blame you if you wait to see when they actually release it. But honestly, if you buy something without even looking at gameplay videos and reviews in this day and age - it's on you really. I happen to like the Elite series, even the old buggy games from the 90s for their potential, vastness and procedural generation technology, but it's really not for everyone.

Avatar image for skipper847

@Fragzoon@suppaphly42@jimmy_russell: Welcome to 21st century gaming nothing is ever done any more.

Avatar image for Romeric87

Another immaculate review, Nick - very nice work! I'd love to try this game out but I think it would be extremely bad for my degree. Comparisons with Euro Truck Simulator only make it sound more up my street... That's something I never thought I'd say!

Avatar image for nick_capozzoli

@Romeric87: Thanks!

Avatar image for jonnyc0mbat

I absolutely adore Elite Dangerous, and this is a fair review of it.

It certainly isn't a game for everyone, and you have to be prepared to have a fair bit of patience. However, once it clicks it becomes an amazing experience.

Also to point out you don't have to take any particular route to make money. I haven't spent more than 30 minutes trading (out of 100+ hours playing since Beta), and focussed solely on combat. The recent update has really started to solidify the game into something special.

This time next year the game should really start to shine.

Avatar image for Nikore

Another great review from Nick Capozzoli. Spot on about the intriguing mix of the fantastical and the mundane. The routine tasks which make up most of the gameplay end up being key to the immersive experience, which in itself is essential to any space simulator. The combat also feels terrific, and while there is a steep learning curve to the dogfighting mechanics, it makes victory all the more satisfying. One of those rare games that is challenging to explain, difficult to recommend, yet nearly impossible to put down.

Keep up the good work, Nick. I really enjoy reading your stuff.

Avatar image for nick_capozzoli

@Nikore: Thank you so much! Glad to hear you enjoyed it : )

Avatar image for jalertone

I was Elite on the original BBC Micro version. I got bored with trading but got the biggest ship I needed. At two levels below Elite (Deadly?) I found out the algorithm only needed to keep doubling the kills to move up a level. So sat outside a Space Station, shot it, waited for police, shot them. Didn't fly anywhere, didn't trade but was Elite the next day.

Then in 90's there was a PC version with snake named ships. Boa, I think it was was, was perfect except its guns wouldn't fire (missiles worked) so bought biggest shield and energy supply etc, shot anybody passing, ran away then, pausing for dramatic effect,when they were on my tail I just hit the brakes and poof splattered spaceships.

Moral:- Improvise just like a real pilot in a real would. Think more Firefly than Star Trek.

Still if it is still trading driven then I may not get the game. Better a new ship was only available to you if you had enough kills (to show your flying skill and ability to manage the ships features) and then enough money to afford it.

For us older generation, we are not going to live long enough in the real world to spend enough time in the ED Universe flying from A to B and back to A again (find 2 planets who want each others goods).

Pity. I also would have had to buy a new desktop at £500 as my i3 laptop with HDMI couldn't apparently.

Avatar image for robotten75957

First of all there is no steep learning curve just a bunch of realy old gamers who can move a joystick around.
Secondly this game does not deserva a seven.

Avatar image for coocookachong

@robotten75957: Seems every reviewer gives 2 extra points for the incredible novelty of "space", forgetting 20 year old titles have done a better job than this fail title. 4.4/10 at best, it´s a boring grind
with no substance whatsoever

Avatar image for LoneWolf21Bravo

@coocookachong@robotten75957: User scores seem to disagree with your point of view.

Avatar image for GarGx1

I'd say a fair review for a decent game. Hopefully David Braben and Frontier will keep updating the game and make it into everything it could be.

<< LINK REMOVED >> I like your style, engaging with the community is something an awful lot of the GS staff members could learn from.

Avatar image for nick_capozzoli

@GarGx1: << LINK REMOVED >> Thanks! Glad to hear the review was to your liking.

Avatar image for Iemander

I don't get this game, it seems to me like a poor man's X3 Reunion. With a lot less detail and a lot more randomness.

I loved Elite back when I was little but now the entire design philosphy is outdated.

Also, the fact this game can't be playen offline is just poor.

Avatar image for LoneWolf21Bravo

@Iemander: The combat in X3 sucks, man. Terran conflict had a few interesting ideas, like small carriers, but fighting in your ship was boring and frustrating. Combat in Elite is definitely more skill-based. Also, I think eventually they'll make it possible to own space stations, and there will be meaningful expansions that will let you walk around your ship, stations and land on planets, so there is really no way X3 could win. You remember what happened when they tried to diversify their gameplay in Reunion, don't you?

Avatar image for Caldrin

For me this is everything the the old elite games were and more.. its also just going ot get better.

At the moment I would say the score of 7 is a bit low..

Avatar image for robotten75957

@Caldrin: Its to high

Avatar image for nroha

One of the best games I have ever played, and with the multiplayer update coming soon it will make it even better. I have actually dropped all other games for this one. The Xbox One is just collecting dust now. Very disappointed in the lack of good titles on the newer consoles. I have been shifting almost totally back to the PC because of that.

Avatar image for Cloud_imperium

Good game and nice review. More interested in Star Citizen.

Handcrafted Worlds > Procedurally Generated Worlds

Avatar image for rogerpenna

@Cloud_imperium: Moot point because you cant handcraft a whole world or a whole galaxy. Nor a single landmass the size of a country.

The solution is to have procedural generation with handcrafted parts here and there.

That way, just like in the REAL WORLD, you won´t have wonders and amazing features EVERYWHERE and thus the discovery of interesting areas becomes even more gratifying. And it won´t be a bland world EVERYWHERE too.

Avatar image for crazboy84

@Cloud_imperium: Pretty moot point since we cant land on any worlds....

Avatar image for flexy456

I have said this a few times already, in my opinion the biggest problem ED has that it was developed with a priority on the "old Elite" as game play at the core (which they mastered beautifully, no doubt!) but with everything else "added to it", like the multi-player/social aspect of the game and everything else. All those things, especially the social aspect, communication and interaction with others, PvP etc. turned out "half a$$ed". They should have sat down in the beginning and designed the game differently, something which deserves the name "MMO" first, with solid netcode and a solid base worthy of a game in 2015, not built everything else *upon* and around a game concept which is 30 years old. In 2015 I expect a lot of games, especially from those you play online. That is communication with others, the "feel" you are in a virtual, living world with others. This feel is not there in ED. The idea of fetch from A to B and fighting against NPCs is not very appealing to me. What would be appealing would be space stations where you can mingle with others, form groups with others, explore with others, trade with others..(or if you like do all that alone).....but nothing of that is in Elite. It's a game for...I hate to say it..."anti-social" people in some way.

Avatar image for flexy456

The writer of this review summed it up saying "the little joys of solo play suffice". For me, absolutely not. I want to play in a "living" world with others where I also have the option to do everything on my own, if I wish so. (A good example would be WoW where you can well play without others). What I don't want is a fake, "dead" world with NPCs. If I would want to play a game which doesn't offer playing with others then it must be a game where the story and environment is so engrossing that the "solo" part doesn't really matter. Except that in ED, spending your time in a dead universe "solo", you don't have an engrossing story. You're just grinding and fetching in the darkness of space.

Avatar image for crazboy84

@flexy456: Thats what space is. a dark, lifeless, cold place. It wouldnt make sense if everywhere u went there was something living. If thats not for you ED is not for you. If your looking for a space game filled with stuff try x rebirth they have patched it to where its playable and actually enjoyable.

Elite: Dangerous More Info

  • First Released Dec 16, 2014
    • 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.
    Average Rating141 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Elite: Dangerous
    Developed by:
    Frontier Developments
    Published by:
    Frontier Developments, Sold Out
    VR, Simulation
    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.
    Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence