Elite Dangerous has one of the most impressive foundations I’ve seen in the space simulation genre. The controls are complex yet precise, the sound is phenomenal, and the graphics are riveting. Put all of this together, and you have one of the most atmospherically immersive space-sims I’ve had the pleasure to play (and I’ve played quite a few). Unfortunately, Elite Dangerous has a substantial fatal flaw: its lack of depth and content.
The premise of Elite Dangerous is simple: you play as the pilot of a spacecraft who sets out to make his or her way in a sci-fi styled universe. When playing Elite Dangerous, you will literally forget that you’re staring at a computer screen and not actually in a space ship. Elite Dangerous forgoes drama for realism, and this is one of its best features. When you accidentally crash into an asteroid, shattering your cockpit, you will see warning lights, but there will be no sound (true to the actual conditions of space). It makes the game as a whole feel more believable, and it’s easy to get drawn in as a result.
The ships, space stations, planets, and even space itself are beautifully designed, with painstaking detail. Every ship has a number of unique graphical features, even the early-game ones that you want nothing more than to sell for a better ship. For me personally, one of the highlights of buying a new ship was seeing the new cockpit. Unfortunately, as the game is right now, the cockpit and the exterior of your ship is all that you will ever see. You’re never allowed to get up and leave the ship, or even walk around it (all exploration is via your ship).
The graphical/audio effects for the different weapons are each unique and detailed. There’s a certain reserved feel to each of the weapons; they all appear quite deadly, but never over-the-top. In terms of gameplay, the weapons themselves suffer from significant balance issues. Gimbaled/auto-targeting weapons are almost always better than their fixed counterparts, and it’s typically best to go for weapons that use ammunition as opposed to energy. Elite Dangerous is, in many ways, comparable to an MMO, which are notorious for being imbalanced/buggy at launch; however, I was playing it months after it originally launched, meaning that the developers have had plenty of time to find and fix balance issues. If it’s been months since a game launched, and balance issues are still very serious, that’s typically not a good sign.
For all this depth in design/effects, Elite Dangerous is woefully short on content. Prior to release, Elite Dangerous bragged of all the different ways to make money in its universe (bounty hunting, trading, mining, piracy, exploration, salvaging, etc.). In reality, the two most efficient paths are bounty hunting and trading (bounty hunting is better for early game, trading is better for late game). These other systems all fell less lucrative and simply less fun by comparison. Also disappointing is the amount of ships in game (currently 17). Elite Dangerous is a modern game, and while the included ships are graphically stunning, this is not a reason for such a lack of content. Frankly, the game feels incomplete and overpriced for what it currently is (it’s quite a spectacle, and a fine engine, but not a complete game). It feels like the developers are rushing to make every bit of money they can off of this, and worrying about finishing their game later.
Another divisive feature of Elite Dangerous is its learning curve. This isn’t a game that you can pick up and play easily; it took me two days before I was reasonably competent with the controls. I had to play with a premium gamepad, which is pretty much essential for a good experience. Personally, I found that, while at first I hated the controls and the complexity of them, I grew to love them as my understanding increased (not all Elite Dangerous’ players feel this way).
Elite Dangerous is further imbalanced by its single-player/multi-player component. First of all, there is no offline play available (a feature which the game’s developers explicitly promised and failed to deliver on). That said, there is still a single-player mode (an online one), but, unfortunately, it makes playing multiplayer a bit of an unrewarded risk. In multiplayer, players are generally more dangerous than the computer opponents you will encounter in single player. Because of this, most people will start playing the single-player mode, maybe switching to multiplayer when they get more powerful (unless they really want that competition of dogfighting with other players, or the option to play cooperatively with friends).
In conclusion, Elite Dangerous is an interesting, well-designed game, with obvious production values. However, because of a lack of content, complexity, and imbalance, many will find it to be quite frustrating and, ultimately, dissatisfying. It seems like Elite Dangerous wants to be a persistent universe, with numerous paid DLC options. This is a great model, as the game grows with its audience, and keeps from getting old. The problem is, Elite Dangerous, as it stands now, is incomplete and not worth $60. It should have spent more time in development and released with more features, or launched at a lower price. Persistent games also require a good deal of maintenance to resolve things like bugs and balance issues, which I didn’t get a sense of in Elite Dangerous. While Elite Dangerous doesn’t have a problem with bugs, the balance issues are quite noticeable. Also worth mention is that the narrative of Elite Dangerous is rather skeletal; there’s no overarching plot/storyline, but there is a premise and evolving local conditions in each of Elite Dangerous’ many star systems.
The universe in Elite Dangerous is beautiful and massive, but truthfully that’s not much of a standout feature for a modern space-sim. As a result of all these factors, I feel like Elite Dangerous deserves a 7/10 (and I’m probably being a little generous here). I can really only recommend it to hardcore fans of the space-sim genre. For everyone else, I’d say wait a year or two, but keep an eye on this game. At the moment Elite Dangerous is a disappointment, but it could eventually turn into something good.
IMAGE TAKEN from twinfinite.net