So, yes, it’s a good game. A very good game, and with potentially infinite longevity, especially if Frontier make good on their promise of FPS combat, space walks, walking and driving around in stations, in ships and on planet surfaces, as well as, eventually, EVE-like multi-player-run capital ships and NPC interactions in all manner of places. It was, in the days before launch, a strong, well-built, largely bug-free experience that is feature-complete in terms of it being totally playable immediately, and wholly enjoyable as it is. The actual launch, yesterday, went – unusually for anything based on an ‘always on’ connection – entirely un-dramatically, despite some players occasionally losing their connection. Up and running, the game looks and sounds great (engine notes are a particular treat), with highly scalable graphics settings. It’s “optimal settings” auto-detection set my machine to ‘Ultra’ – this is on a 3.10 GHz i5 4440, with 8 Gb RAM and a Geforce GTX 750 – and it runs, at all times, as smooth as silk. Yes, there is a kind of cash shop, but so far it’s only been selling a few new ships, custom paint jobs and assorted frippery like that, and to be honest I can’t really see what they could sell for real money that could give you an astronomical advantage in a fight. My only real concerns right now are with the game’s multiplayer nature, and all the rampant dickishness and e-thuggery that entails. Elite Dangerous was designed from the ground-up as a shared, online experience, with market activity and the kinds of missions available from the BBS being determined by what your fellow human players are doing around you (while it is a sandbox, there is also an overarching story that can be followed by observant readers of the in-station news feeds…). Currently, developed systems that maintain a police presence to enforce the tracking of both human and NPC bad guys is being relied upon to control griefing and excessive assholery, although I can see this leading to the less well-regulated systems becoming seething pits of lawless morons. And when a legitimate reason appears for needing to travel to such a system, well…
That brings us neatly to combat, the final piece of the puzzle. As much as I may moan about the potential for PKing, that is very much a thing that people are going to want to do, and not just human people either – the AI bads in ED are of a similarly vicious bent. It behoves everyone, from traders to miners to space bums, to understand and get good with their combat piloting and targeting skills. Your starter lasers are only worth employing against other low-level fish in silly little slap-fights over the possibility of hoovering up some mildly interesting cargo. It’s in your early combat experiences that you can gain a little insight into the massive balancing act that Frontier have pulled off. If you choose to live by the proverbial sword in ED, you face a long route from Harmless to Elite status, through an entire open-ended game’s worth of progressively better ships and guns, with which you will, literally, fight tooth and nail to make your reputation (and earn your living). Combat in ED is fast, fluid, and often frightening. If you’ve spent a good few gaming hours working out some juicy trade routes and building up your account balance, being tractored mid-system by an opportunist and put to the laser is an incredibly visceral experience. When hit, your console sparks and smokes, red lights flash, the computer moans at you about all the damage you’re taking and generally, the shit meets the fan in a really spectacular way. Fights are often intimate, personal, and prolonged, being much, much more about constant manoeuvring, opportune hits and a bit of good luck too. Every kill is an accomplishment that makes the adrenalin surge. Torpedo launchers are brilliant, and with the game’s sub-system targeting, can make or break a fight. But the torpedoes themselves are insanely expensive, so choosing when to launch your payload is also a decision fraught with tension for the harried pilot.
Ultimately, Elite Dangerous succeeds as a sequel, by being both as good as and better than its antecedents; as a sandbox space sim that manages to combine the complexity of its various clones and imitators with its own intuitive user-friendliness, and the ‘virtual life’ immersion of big guns like EVE, and also just as a good, fun game in its own right. Welcome back, Commander Jameson, it’s been a long, long time.
- Visuals – 90
- Sound – 80
- Playability – 100
Elite Dangerous is every bit as deep and flexible as the original, but now with the added bonus of looking the absolute business. It’s Skyrim, GTA V and Star Trek, all wrapped up in one immersive, supremely playable package. Buy the game, live the dream.