At E3 Microsoft announced the game preview program which gives you the ability to play select titles before they’re released for free for an hour and purchase at a lower price if you’re interested in them. One of the games that is currently available is Elite Dangerous which is coming over from PC.
Elite Dangerous is a space simulator adventure game in a massive, which is an understatement, open galaxy for you to explore and do missions. The preview will give you an hour of gameplay before expiring and asking you to purchase the game for $30. The game itself is locked in the free hour but it lets you get your feet wet with the tutorials on how to navigate the insanely huge map, basic combat, docking at space stations, and dogfighting. The hour I spent dogfighting in the tutorials was enough to get me hooked and more than willing to pick up the game for the reduced price. Before I get to how the game plays I’ll go over a bit of the game mechanics to give you an idea of what exactly you’ll be getting into with the full game.
Elite Dangerous has quite a steep learning curve when you first start playing the game. The tutorials teach you the basics of fighting and controlling your ship but when you start the game there are no instructions, no guidelines, no explanations on how to make money. They just give you a ship, 100,000 credits and you’re on your way.
To make money you have many different options but they all start at the bulletin boards at any space station you visit. There will be different missions available, depending on your combat, trading, or exploring levels, that you will be able to pick up for the various different minor factions in that solar system. They will range from assassination, mercenary, courier, transport, smuggling, charity, piracy, or various other basic missions. These missions will be what you will want to start out with to be able to get some credits to buy a new ship or outfit your current ship with better weapons, armor, and systems.
Personally, once I got the money to get a new ship with some decent firepower, I went for the role of being a bounty hunter since I enjoyed the space combat. I would fly to areas, mainly nav beacons where AI ships come when they jump to a new system, or resource extraction sites, which are mainly found in the rings of various planets, and would scan ships till I found someone who was wanted then take them out so I could collect their bounty at a local space station. This has proven to be quite a lucrative and entertaining way of making money. Of course you could choose to go with the explorer option and outfit a ship for long distance jumps to go to unknown systems and scan the stars/planets there to sell the data to stations. You could also get a cargo ship and fly to different stations looking at the commodity markets to buy items when the stations have a high supply and try to find stations with a high demand to sell to as your source of income.
I did mention minor factions earlier and those are important to pay attention to if you’re trying to level up with one of the three major factions. The three you can choose from are the Federation, Alliance, or the Empire. Each have their own rank structure you can progress through as your reputation with the faction increases. It increases as you do missions from the bulletin board for the minor factions in various systems. Doing missions for different minor factions can increase your reputation with the major faction they are aligned with and lower your reputation with competing factions. Eventually enemies will try to find you and attack you so you need to make sure you have some defences or strong offensive capabilities ready for them when that happens. Another way to get some brownie points with a faction is finding a conflict zone and siding with a minor faction and participating in the war by killing the opposing minor faction there.
Between the major and minor factions there are powers, more easily identified as states, where they have control over certain systems and siding with one you can aid them in expanding their controlled area by doing specific missions for that power. There is also a rank system within each power that will let you level up and gain perks specific to that power. It can be anything from extra money for bounty hunting to extra influence in controlled and exploited systems. Each power also will give you access to a special item that you can purchase once you reach a certain rank and have sided with them for 4 weeks.
Being a massive multiplayer game it will take a lot of people working together to make a difference in the expansion and control of new systems and changing the influence of minor factions in specific systems. I tried changing the influence on my own in one system but after doing a handful of missions and having zero impact on their influence I went back to bounty hunting until I have a group of people to help with doing missions to be able to change the influence as a team.
You can play with friends but it is a little bit of a hassle since the galaxy is so massive. You need to literally fly up to someone in order to invite them to your wing then you can go bounty hunting, pirating, or smuggling together. This would be a good time to talk about how huge the open world game actually is. Frontier wanted to make the game to be realistic as far as the scale of the galaxy goes. That being said there are 40 billion, yes billion, stars in the system that you can go to. You wouldn’t be able to go to all of them if you wanted to.
As far as ships that you can purchase there are currently 20 that you can choose from. You can get fighters, explorers, or cargo ships depending on what you want to do to earn some credits. Outfitting the ships is another thing that they give you no instructions on how to do. You have hardponits for weapons, either small, medium, large, or huge, depending on the ships. Ships will have a varying amount of hardpoints as well. The one I’m currently using, the vulture, has two large hardpoints. Smaller ships will have a mixture of small and medium, and if you get one of the gigantic ships, such as the anaconda, it will have 2 small, 2 medium, 3 large, and a huge hardpoint, but will also set you back almost 150 million credits.
Aside from weapons you will also need to upgrade your systems like your power plant, shield generator, thrusters, armor, life support, and power generator. There are other modules depending on what you are doing to make money such as a surface scanner for exploring planets, kill warrent scanner for bounty hunting, or cargo scanners for those wanting to be pirates. All of the items come with ratings and classes which will determine how good a particular item is and how much you will pay for it. Certain ships can only have up to a specific class, 1 through 8, and then the rating E through A is how good the item in that class is. The best power plant for example would be an A8 but you wouldn’t be able to outfit a smaller ship with one of those; that is reserved for the larger ones.
Now that you kind of have an idea of what the game is all about I’ll get into how it plays on the Xbox without a keyboard. The controls are very well ported over, in my opinion, and allow for custom mapping of what you want the thumbsticks to do. You have 6 different axis controls that you can map so you have to pick 4 that you want for your primary layout, then by clicking in on the left thumbstick you can switch to the alternate thumbstick controls that you have set up. I did not like the default controls at all so I changed them to vertical thrusters for the left stick up and down, letting me raise and lower the ship when I want, yaw to left and right on the left thumbstick, allowing me to turn the ship left and right. The right thumbstick I have pitch and roll set up for up, down, left and right. For my alternate control setting, which I toggle when dogfighting, I replace the yaw on the left stick with left and right thrusters which will help me by allowing my ship to strafe around the enemies I’m fighting.
You accelerate and decelerate by using the left and right bumpers. Once you get to a certain speed it will stay there unless you decide to decelerate to slow down. Triggers are going to be how you shoot and you can map which hardpoints go to which trigger and have multiple different fire groups set up that you can switch to on the fly as well. If you want cannons mapped to left trigger and lasers to right you can do that and then switch to your secondary or third fire group to get to one of your scanners or chaff if you need to have some defensive options.
A lot of the buttons are going to be mapped to a combination of holding either A, B, X, or Y and pressing a direction on the D-pad or one of the bumpers. A is going to be targeting, just pressing A will target what you’re looking at. Holding A and hitting left will target the next available ship near you so you don’t have to be looking at them. A and right will be next hostile target. A and down will be the highest threat. A and up will allow you to cycle different subsystems on the ship you’re currently targeting to focus on shooting that. You can target their weapons, shield generator, power plant or whatever part of the ship you would like. Finally A and the bumpers will increase or decrease the range of your radar. B will let you toggle your cargo scoop, landing gear, and lights. X will let you look at different menus in your cockpit if you don’t want to use the free look and switch between different fire groups. Y will give you options for your frame shift drive, think warp speed.
The D-pad by itself will be used quite often as well as it allows you to distribute power to the 3 different subsystems of the ship. You have systems, engines, and weapons that you can choose from and a total of 6 pips that you can put where you want. Pressing down will reset everything to two, two, and two. Left, up, and right will put a point into systems, engines, or weapons respectively. This gives you extra help when in combat. Systems will help your shields recharge quicker, engines will increase your speed and let you boost more often, while weapons will help your weapons cooldown/recharge quicker. You have to learn how to balance those on the fly as you are in combat or else you will be easy picking for the enemies. I normally put two into engines and four into weapons to give myself ample boosting and enough firepower to defeat my enemies quickly because, after all, the best defense is a strong offense. I normally will put one into shields and engines when my shields start getting chipped away finally unless I have to retreat then it is two in shields and four in engines so I can boost out of harm’s way.
The game is incredibly smooth for being basically in a beta state so far but isn’t free of a few issues. If there is a lot of fighting going on there will be noticeable stuttering with the audio. Sometimes the game will randomly crash as well but seems to happen more often when around space stations right now. The rest of the mechanics work as advertised though and the game looks beautiful. Another irritant for me is that the game doesn’t play well, or at all, with the Xbox Upload features. I can record a clip or take a screenshot and view it myself but none of my friends are able to see it. It is something that Frontier knows about and is working on fixing currently.
One thing that will be lacking on the Xbox is the ability to type messages to send to other people in the game. Sure there is the on screen keyboard that you can bring up to type a message to someone but the length of time it takes to letter by letter type a message on that keyboard takes about an eternity. I never played on PC but I feel like some things will be lost on Xbox because of this mainly when it comes to being a pirate. Pirates aren’t murders and should be polite by asking their target to give them their cargo before engaging in a fight. However, the time it will take to type out such a message will probably not happen.
Overall I’m pleased with the gameplay. If you want a space combat simulator I would definitely recommend checking out the tutorials for free and seeing if it is your cup of tea or not. I feel very pleased with the reduced price of $30 for the full game and can’t wait until more people are playing it to interact with. If you check it out let us know what you think and if you have any questions about anything let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them as I’m still new to the game and trying to figure out all the specifics myself.