Elite Dangerous – Is It Any Good?
Elite Dangerous on Xbox One is confusing.
It’s a stressful assault on the senses; a space simulator that successfully pushed me to a new horizon of breaking points, whilst simultaneously rendering me near to tears with frustration. It’s also ridiculously awesome.
Frontier has unleashed its spectacular new game on Xbox One via the early access Game Preview programme, and it’s made me re-evaluate my love of some of the most famous pilots in popular science fiction. Sure, Halo Solo can make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, but I can almost dock a Sidewinder ship into a spinning hanger bay in just over ten minutes. Okay, on second thought, that’s not very impressive, if anything it’s embarrassing.
You know what, forget what I said before, Elite Dangerous has given me a whole new appreciation for Han Solo’s space cowboy antics.
Look, shall we cut the shit for a second? Space is scary. Not because of Reavers, Cylons, the ever looming presence of HAL, or any of that other nonsense, but because it’s harsh and unforgiving towards anybody stupid enough to strap themselves into a ship.
Should you find yourself haphazardly plotting a course to a distant solar system, well, you’ll end up burning out of hyperspace and colliding with the sun – dead. Accidentally activate your weapons systems in a neutral zone – dead. Don’t file your docking request papers properly – dead. This isn’t me sucking, necessarily, it’s just that Elite Dangerous is needlessly obtuse.
In a sense, that also adds to its mysticism.
It’s immediately awe-inspiring, a beautiful glimpse at our solar system in a way I’ve never seen before in a video game. You are quickly given the impression that space is cruel and unforgiving, and so Elite Dangerous really does give you a ship and the tools to forge your own path – there’s little to no hand holding. Then again, would you really want somebody holding you hand through the cosmos? Of course you wouldn’t, you should want to explore every space station and distant star that you possibly can before your ship runs out of fuel.
There’s an entire galaxy out there to be explored, but requesting permission to leave the Leonard Nimoy Station in sector LHS-3006 is a mission in and of itself. It’s jaw dropping to see the twinkle of a distant planet or to deftly manoeuvre through an asteroid field without a scratch, we just wish Frontier had included tutorials on flight basics.
It took a distressingly long time to figure out the controls, in fact I’m still not sure I really understand it. There’s an insane amount of nuance to piloting a ship and you’ll going to encounter a lot of trial and error. That’s fine in a game where you can easily respawn without much of a penalty, not so forgiveable in a game where you risk life and livelihood every time you pick up the controller.
This will no doubt be improved upon as the game progresses through alpha and towards final release, at least, I’d hope as much. Right now, Frontier spends most of its tutorial time on combat – useful knowledge – but if you don’t know how properly accelerate, burn fuel and reroute power between the various in-ship systems you’ll quickly find yourself drowning in stress-sweats and cursing Captain Kirk for ever making space look so freaking cool in the first place.
That said, Frontier will struggle to introduce players to Elite Dangerous in a way that isn’t overwhelming regardless of what it does. Even after learning the controls, getting my head around basic flight and completing the combat tutorials, it’s clear that there’s nothing that can truly prepare you for the sickening realisation that you’re about to encounter a legit, real life player.
The console in front of you begins to flash red as you are notified of a ship disengaging warp in your vicinity. Then there’s the whirling sirens that deafen as weapons are trained and locked onto your location. That’s followed by a blinding light as Pulse Lasers flash across your hull. In space nobody can hear you scream, but in Elite Dangerous that player might be able to hear my desperate cries for mercy before staring out at the pieces of my shattered ship being sucked into the orbit of a nearby system.
Elite Dangerous is stressful, cruel and challenging, but it’s also the space simulator I’ve always dreaming of playing. My first few hours with the game have shown it has a staggering amount of depth, not to mention potential, I can only hope Frontier continue building on this strong early showing.
Want to follow the misadventures of X-ONE Magazine’s Josh West as he attempts to navigate Elite Dangerous? Then be sure to subscribe to X-ONE’s YouTube channel to see him try (and no doubt fail) to not embarrass himself navigating space in a new Let’s Play series starting next week.