BEN’S ZONE: Elite Dangerous – Review

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Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness.  You can find him on the blog (most) Sundays. Enjoy!

Elite Dangerous - Review

Elite Dangerous – Review

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It’s weird when you re-encounter things from years gone by, will it be the same, will it feel the same or will it be some massive disappointment.  When I finally got to see Dinosaur Jr some years back, they blew my mind like I hoped they would, Desert Strike on my old Megadrive, not so much.  So I was not sure what to make of Elite – Dangerous went sent to review.  The Elite of my childhood was a legendary beast, wireframe 3D graphics, infinite possibilities and an immensely hard docking system.  So how does the modern successor stand up?

Pretty well actually.  The premise of Elite Dangerous seems essentially the same as it ever was.  You have a ship and you can do anything, literally anything.  You start with a very basic ship and a tiny amount of cash and, after a relatively brief training session, you’re thrust out into the galaxy to make your fortune.  How you do this is up to you.  Realistically you’re going to do it one of two ways, taking missions to ship stuff between stations or trading directly by buying stuff in one place that might sell well at your destination.  You may, for example, be on an agricultural world and buy up a load of tea which can then be shipped to a tech world that has to import all its own produce.  You can also get missions which challenge you to do much the same. 

Of course, you can also go pirate hunting or become a pirate yourself but, with a rubbish starter ship, you’re going to get killed if you hit that early on. You can also mine for stuff and even land on planets if you have the capability built into your ships.  Although you do start with a very basic ship, everything can be upgraded for a price from weapons, to livery, to the ships themselves.  The attraction and sometimes the most overwhelming feature of Elite – Dangerous is that you’re in a full representation of the milky way and that brings with it near infinite choices.

I’ve always loved space games, from the original Elite, through the X Wing series and into Wing Commander and Privateer and Elite – Dangerous is the best yet but to call it a space game alone is really doing it a disservice.  Elite – Dangerous, just like the original is a role playing game.  You start with nothing and your mission is to be a success, however you want.  As the game progresses, so does the complexity.  There are differing factions within the galaxy and doing a mission for one may upset the other and these people do not forget a sleight!  Likewise, being a pirate can end up with you being persona non-grata at stations.  So, Elite – Dangerous is less a space sim, but more a role playing game set on a space ship.

And what a setting!  The galaxy is a truly beautiful place, it’s been rendered with exquisite detail and there’s a lot of genuine fun to be had just bombing through the massive environments.  Docking at stations is given a Kubrick-esque feel as you fly in accompanied by Strauss played sotto voice in the backgrounds.  Skimming over the rings of a planet as you shoot towards a nav point is awe inspiring and, despite how many times I have seen it, the system jumping through various nebula looks perfect.

It’s not all good points though.  Elite – Dangerous does make you work quite hard to learn past the basics.  Information is provided to you in the form of a Codex that can be accessed at any time but you have to go and look for answers, they’re not given to you on a plate.  Flying the ship in combat is quite hard, especially the basic one, and to this end I’ve avoided it as much as I can.  These things aside though, there are two aspects of Elite – Dangerous that you’ll either be entranced by or you’ll hate. 

Firstly, there’s no narrative whatsoever.  You can do what you want but if you’re looking for a storyline to give you some rails to run along you will be disappointed.  This is a fundamental decision in role playing games, whether they’re truly open sandboxes or not, and Elite takes the former option, you’ll like this or you won’t, it can be overwhelming.  I did find that I got into a groove trading between three systems to build my cash reserves up. 

The second aspect is true of any role playing game.  To provide longevity to players, necessarily, the start has to be a grind.  If you get all the great ships within a week, why would you play for months?  So the early time in the game is spent shlepping between point A and point B making peanuts so you can get a bigger ship / cargo capacity to do bigger missions etc etc.  This is a facet of any large role playing game though.

There are multiplayer aspects to the game that I did not test as I do not have (or want) Xboxlive Gold.  You can experience the universe with full other player participation, they can even help you crew your ship if you get a larger ship or they can be enemies.  I chose the solo play option which means I see other plays but I cannot interact with them and vice versa.

In conclusion, Elite Dangerous is a vast and beautiful experience.  If you can get past the slightly repetitive nature of the early missions then there is a huge amount of fun to be had in what is the original and still the best space role player out there.

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