Elite: Dangerous

I’m old enough to have played the original Elite when it was released. In fact, if memory serves I reached ‘Deadly’ on BBC B (disc version), ‘Dangerous’ on Atari ST and ‘Deadly’ on Archimedes.

I also played Frontier, but didn’t care for it as much. It was a great technical achievement but wasn’t a great deal of fun. The realistic time passage got in the way, and combat was just two ships chasing each other round in circles until one died of boredom.

Anyway, as I was on-call for work over Christmas I had to stay near a computer so it seemed a good excuse to give Elite: Dangerous a whirl.

Visuals

It’s the best looking Elite ever, which is unsurprising, but I do really like the visual style. One of the highlights for me was the first time I docked at a station. In Classic you just aimed at the docking rectangle and either you were taken to the station screen or smeared yourself across the exterior. In Dangerous you actually fly into the interior and land on the inside of the skin. It’s really nicely done and gives a great sense of scale and activity. There are docking videos online but I wouldn’t watch them if you’re going to buy the game, save the experience.

Gameplay

It’s basically Elite.

The physics realism is pitched between Elite (Classic) and Frontier. There’s no Frontier style time compression getting in the way. Equally, manoeuvring in combat is more responsive than Frontier, but not as ‘arcadey’ as Classic. It’s probably closest to modelling a jet aircraft.

In combat here’s a heavy benefit to position. If you get behind another ship, that isn’t manoeuvrable enough to escape, there’s a good change you can peck it to death. In one-on-one fights I was easily beating NPCs in tougher ships with “Expert” rated pilots just by shooting first from a good postiion.

I played a bit with mouse control and then bought a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro. I chose the Logitech using the exhaustive method of, “it was the only one they had in Maplins”. It seems OK, and it’s a much better experience than mouse control. Even if I don’t stick with Dangerous hopefully it will be useful for Star Citizen or No Man’s Sky.

Space is slower than you think

There are three travel states; normal, supercruise, and hyperspace. Normal is the slowest, this is the mode docking, combat, and general manoeuvring take place in. Supercruise is the mode for movement within a system. It’s effectively ‘motorway mode’, you travel at many multiples the speed of light, but have to drop to normal to do anything. Hyperspace is the inter-system jump as before.

When you drop into a new system you supercruise to the station (or other waypoint). In supercruise you slowly accelerate seemingly without limit, and at a certain distance from your destination you decelerate. This process is quite dull. There’s no autopilot, you have to manually tweak your throttle to optimise your journey time. If you’re too conservative it could take days (literally) to arrive, too aggressive and you’ll scream past your target and have to turn round and try again. So you sit there, nursing your throttle for the several minutes it takes to travel, and believe me you’ll feel those minutes.

The supercruise management process stinks of being busy-work. I found myself checking Twitter whilst in supercruise, and that’s a sign that the game isn’t really holding my attention. It’s something that could be easily fixed, just add an autopilot and make the acceleration and declaration curves much steeper.

It’s also harder than Classic to find a fight. Previously, you’d turn up a dodgy system, point into clear space and hold down the J key until some pirates interrupt you. In Dangerous, you sometimes get intercepted, but to be proactive you have to keep an eye on your nav points, wait for an “unidentified signal” entry, redirect to that, do the silly supercruise throttle dance and drop out on the target. Then it might be pirates, but could equally be some random ship just faffing around in deep space, free floating cargo, or something else.

Overall, the game just feels a little slowly paced. In Classic, bringing up “Equip Ship” in-station was an instant screen transition, whilst in Dangerous it’s a twenty second animation. A very nice twenty section animation, but I don’t need to see it every time. Likewise, in Classic the hyperspace animation was two seconds, in Dangerous it’s fifteen. I wanted the game to hurry up a bit.

Bugs

OK, so it’s paced for those with endless free time. But here’s the big problem: It’s as buggy as all heck.

Let me tell you a story. From an unidentified signal I found some canisters of rare artwork, I scooped four of them, ship maximum, and took them to the station. Bug one: I tried to sell them, on the black market, but couldn’t because of a server error affecting transactions. I tried some of the workaround suggested on forums and got rid of two units, but couldn’t get rid of the other two. Fine, I’ll just carry them around for a bit.

Later, I come across two pirates fighting a police ship. I destroy the pirates and as way of a thank you the police ship fines me almost the value of my entire ship for illegal cargo. Having decided this cargo is more trouble then it’s worth I try and eject it. Bug two: Ejecting them doesn’t work. No reason, just doesn’t.

Ignoring the cargo for a bit, I travel to a station and now nearly broke, try and take on a two cannister courier errand. Bug three: Can’t accept the mission due to a server error.

Screenshot of server error message

I quit and restart the game. That courier mission is now gone, so I travel to yet another station and find another two cannister courier mission. Bug four: I can’t accept because my cargo hold is still full of the artwork. The two I got rid of have come back. Can’t eject them, can’t sell them. My very own cargo of space albatross.

And there’s other problems too such as long delays entering/leaving supercruise whilst, I presume, waiting for the server to respond. I’ve been thrown out of the game altogether in similar situations.

Oh, there’s no sound on that linked video because that day the game decided I didn’t need sound.

Conclusion

Would I recommend it? Nope. It’s an interesting beta, but it’s not a release ready product. If it worked properly I’d be mildy positive, but it would benefit from a punchier tempo in places.