Elite: Dangerous Review (XONE)

Elite: Dangerous screen 1
Elite: Dangerous Screen 1. Frontier Developments

After playing hardcore space sim Elite: Dangerous for hours and hours and hours and accomplishing pretty much nothing I came to a pretty easy conclusion - Space exploration is hard, man.  It is really, really fun and satisfying, though, when everything works out.  It takes quite a while to learn how to play as you figure out the controls and teach yourself how not to blow past your destination over and over again, but once you wrap your head around it you'll never want to play anything else.

  Elite: Dangerous won't be for everyone due to a steep learning curve and lack of direction, but for those that "get it", it really is a sci-fi fan's dream come true.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Frontier Developments
  • Developer:  Frontier Developments
  • ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
  • Genre: Space Sim
  • Pros:  1:1 Milky Way to explore; nice visuals and sound; CQC mode; incredibly satisfying; play however you want
  • Cons:  Very, very steep learning curve; needs better tutorials; you better be self motivated

Xbox fans probably know Frontier Developments better for Zoo Tycoon and Kinectimals, but they can do hard sci-fi just as well as they do cute fully animals.  Elite: Dangerous is part of the long-running Elite PC game series, but it doesn't matter if you aren't familiar with it.  There isn't much of a story anyway.  All you need to know is that it is a 1:1 model of the Milky Way galaxy with 400 billion stars, and all of their associated planets etc.

that you are totally free to explore however you want.  You can't actually land on planets and explore the surface (yet, that is coming in an expansion later on) but there are space stations and orbital settlements that you can land on to refuel, re-arm, and find new missions. 

For more XONE sci-fi games check out Destiny, Lifeless Planet, The Swapper, and Strike Suit Zero

Gameplay

There are a couple of things you need to know about Elite: Dangerous first, though.  The game really doesn't give you any direction on what you should be doing or even how you're supposed to do any of it.  You just start out with a crappy short range ship with poor weapons and a handful of credits and then you're set loose upon the galaxy.  From here you have to decide what you want to do.  You could try to be a pirate and attack other ships and steal their cargo.  You could be a scavenger who picks up the pieces after battles to recover materials.  You could be a smuggler that carries illegal goods.  You could be a legit transporter that plays the markets by carrying goods from one station to the next where you get a better price for it.  You could even just be an explorer that scans stars and planets and sells the data.  Whatever you want to do is totally up to you, but you better get busy doing it because you need a better ship ASAP.

The other thing you need to know about Elite: Dangerous is that this is a realistic space sim.  There are sci-fi elements to it, of course, but even with three distinct travel speeds - normal mode for traveling around a space station, supercruise for traveling between planets in the same system, or light speed for traveling between star systems - everything takes a long, long time.

  If you were trying to supercruise from one star to another, for example, it could potentially take days, weeks, or even a year in REAL TIME to cover the distance.  This is a 1:1 model of the galaxy, after all, so even at crazy sci-fi speeds it still takes forever to actually get anywhere.  Light speed does shorten your travel time significantly - it takes a few seconds to travel between stars - but at the beginning of the game your ship has such a short range that you can't just travel anywhere in a straight line.  You instead have to hop from star system to star system refueling as you go.  Accomplishing anything in Elite: Dangerous requires hours and hours of play.

Figuring out how you actually do any of the stuff I mentioned above is the real challenge, however, as the game doesn't really tell you how to do any of it.  There are some tutorials and linked videos (that open up the internet browser on your XONE so you watch them on YouTube, handy) that teach you how to land your ship at a space station and how to use supercruise and light speed, as well as a combat tutorial, but beyond that you are pretty much left to figure it out yourself.  They don't ever actually tell you how you're supposed to complete missions or slow down your ship so you don't blow past the station you're trying to land on or how to plot a course or anything.  You just have to figure it out.  This is frustrating and I rage quit out of the game more than a few times when things didn't work how I expected them to.

The good news, however, is that it only takes a little trial and error to learn how to play since the controls actually aren't all that complicated.  Well, they are complicated, but they work well.  The whole game takes place from the cockpit of your ship.  You access all of your systems by either holding a button that brings up your navigation or sensors or whatever other system, or you can actually just look around the cockpit and the relevant system will pop up when you look at it's location.  Everything in your ship is controlled by either tapping a face button, or by holding a face button and then pressing a d-pad direction.  This allows you to raise and lower your landing gear, enter supercruise and light speed, adjust your sensor distance, bring up or put away your weapons, transfer power around the ship (like from shields to engine or weapons) and much, much more. 

When you learn how to control your ship and it's systems, and get a grasp on what you're actually doing out in the galaxy, Elite: Dangerous can be one of the most amazing games you'll ever play.  Sure, it's slow and everything takes forever and it is hard to learn, but traveling through space and taking in the visual splendor that awaits you at the end of every hyperspace jump is pretty amazing.  Some folks won't like that the game doesn't have any set goals to tell you what to do, but that wasn't a problem for me.  My objective was simply to make money to get a better ship in order to make what I was already doing more efficient and enjoyable.  That's it.  And it kept me playing for hours.  If you can't self-motivate yourself, on the other hand, then you won't like it.  If you love the idea of space travel and hard sci-fi and don't mind doing something just for the thrill of doing it or just so see what you can see, Elite: Dangerous is hard to resist.

Modes

There are a couple of modes in Elite: Dangerous.  The game is actually sort of an MMO but, because the universe is so big, odds are you won't run into any other players unless you actively travel to a busy system in search of them.  If you do want to play with other people, you can, of course, team up with your friends and other players to play co-operatively and accomplish goals as a unit, which is cool.  Or you can play totally by yourself.  Surprisingly, other players online are generally pretty friendly and not all out just to screw you over and ruin your day (probably because they appreciate how hard the game is to play anyway ...).  If you want to really, really play by yourself, there is also a true solo mode where there won't be any other human players in your galaxy at all.  The final mode is a CQC mode that is a straight up multiplayer deathmatch dogfighting mode.  If you wan to play competitive space combat multiplayer, this is the mode for you.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation in Elite: Dangerous is quite beautiful despite spending a lot of your time staring into the bleak blackness of deep space.  The neon orange and blue glow of the instruments in your cockpit look awesome and everything is easy to see and read.  And when you do come up to a star or planet or space station, they look absolutely fantastic. 

The sound is also well done.  Again, since you're traveling through deep space, it is largely very quiet and subdued with only the hum of your engine in your ears.  Entering and leaving light speed is appropriately "sci-fi".  Combat sounds great.  And the dynamic music that slowly rises as you approach a space station like you're coming home (even if it is dozens of light years from where you started) is truly wonderful.  This is real, hard sci-fi, space travel, and I wouldn't want it to sound any other way.

Bottom Line

For players of the right mindset, Elite: Dangerous has the potential to be your favorite game ever.  It is a huge and realistically designed space exploration simulation, which is what I, and lots of other folks I can only assume. have been dreaming about ever since we were kids.  Sure, it is a little slow and a little dry, but nothing beats the pure satisfaction of accomplishment you feel in this game.  It won't be for everyone, or even for most people, though, and that's fine.  Think about what you might want from games (fast paced action, strong narrative, direction on what to do), and look at what Elite: Dangerous offers (none of that, but lots of freedom), and go from there.  For those of us that dream of traveling to the stars, however, Elite: Dangerous really is a dream come true and absolutely worth a purchase.     

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.