Living out in relatively rural America I have always had a view of the night sky that led me to fantasizing about what was out there amongst the stars. A small part of me is crushed at the prospect I will not be around when we as a people become the spacefaring race that our books, movies, and games all hope we become one day, though a part of me is fine with it as it can live on in my dreams as a place with a sense of wonder and amazement. When games allow you to traverse the stars, navigate through asteroid belts, dock with space stations, command fleets, trade with locals, be a pirate or protect the more civilized sectors, I am literally playing a dream, a long-time fantasy, and generally living life to the absolute fullest.
When the original Elite came out in 1984 it was like something out of this world. The idea of an open-ended game, sandbox if you will, with revolutionary 3D graphics was just unheard of at the time yet Elite thrust you in the role of a pilot with a small trading ship and said "have at it." Thirty years later Elite is back and bigger than ever. With a few massively successful crowd-funding campaigns, Elite: Dangerous is now enjoying its second wave of Beta releases and is trucking along towards an imminent release date (unlike some other massively successful space-simulators that will go unnamed ...) and I was fortunate enough to spend hours upon hours in-game. Read on for my thoughts.
This game can scale and that is amazing. The sheer flexibility of the game engine makes me wonder whether it really will be coming to consoles as the prospect has been hinted at on a number of occasions. Where Elite: Dangerous can scale to the machine and still look spectacular, Star Citizen by RSI is the prime competitor to Elite: Dangerous and has already admitted that the new generation of consoles would never be able to run Star Citizen; this infers that Star Citizen will require a hefty investment of new hardware to get the best experience. With Elite: Dangerous the experience still looks great, whether you are on aging hardware or on a new machine and it opens up the possibility of seeing Elite on home consoles.
Now that I am done gushing about how awesome the graphics are let's talk about the game itself. Holding true to its roots, Elite: Dangerous is quite a sandbox; a sandbox that spans literally light years upon light years of distance. Interstellar travel is adequately represented through the galaxy map and does take a little time and as yet there is no sort of instant fast travel so for me to go 3.6 light years it took about 90 seconds in slipstream; had I not used the drive it would take hours to go through and fly that distance (and that is only a jump to the nearest star from my current location ... there are tens of thousands of stars, or rather, will be when its released).
Travel will take some time to get used to since it is not instant the way it can be in some games and distances are far more realistic. Previously some of the 'biggest' games I had played in space were X: Rebirth and X3: Albion Prelude (the latter being amongst my favorites of all time) and I thought that they were huge; how wrong I was. Elite: Dangerous is easily the most massive game in existence (in terms of sheer size from one end of the galaxy to the other) and is only getting larger as the days go by. All of this space is like a dream come true though and to be able to actively interact with everything in the galaxy, from flying into and manually docking at a space station to mining, space piracy, or faction conflicts, is enough to send me into a bliss-induced coma. I do not know if I have ever played a title that has literally hit so true on my wants and dreams while delivering on every aspect; as I mentioned, were this a scored review it would be extremely close to being a perfect 10, something we have only seen one time here at Chalgyr's Game Room. I can only hope that Elite: Dangerous continues to grow without losing touch with reality nor without losing to the concept of biting off more than it can chew.
One thing is guaranteed in Elite: Dangerous and that is that the experience is going to be exactly what you want it to be. If you want to get into trading, you can. What's that? You want to smuggle? You can do that too. Oh, you are like me and are less interested in the trading aspects and want to be more combat oriented? That is possible too; I for one tend to be one of the "good guys" and prefer playing in a position to protect so I would flit through the galaxy and would escort vessels or swoop in to destroy bandits and pirates as they harass the weak. You may feel that it is more rewarding to play as that pirate and you can do that too, if that is your thing.
More-so than titles like Grand Theft Auto or Sleeping Dogs, Elite: Dangerous is truly a sandbox game; you can do what you want, when you want to. Even though I am more of a stereotypical "hero" in my run in Elite: Dangerous there were times where I would resort to petty piracy and an attempt to smuggle contraband so I could make a quick buck but that was only rarely as I was more often than not, involved in some of the most enjoyable, cinematic, and intense dogfights that I have ever experienced. I recall coming on a couple of pirates attacking a trade ship and I hit the afterburners as I received their distress call and I was able to surprise one of the two pirates, sending him careening into an asteroid after a few sustained bursts from my cannons. The other though was far more skilled and we began a cat-and-mouse chase through the asteroid field, weaving deftly along the surfaces of the asteroids, using the smaller ones as shields. After a tense four or five minutes, the pirate close on my tail I whipped around a large asteroid and there was the trading ship just pointed at me, like it was waiting for something. I looked behind me and just as the pirate crossed the horizon of the asteroid and came into view, the trading ship, armed with a single cannon, just opened fire.
I was stunned; I fully expected the trade ship to evacuate, not stick around and wait while I performed an intricate dance to the death with its harassers; the small bursts that the trade ship made were enough to distract the pirate enough for me to kill the engines and use maneuvering thrusters to flip the ship and track the oncoming pirate, as I was coasting backwards with engines cut and the pirate was oncoming we were in sort of a game of chicken. I remember whipping, backwards mind you, past the small trade ship and watching it fire at the oncoming pirate and as the pirate passed the trade ship my targeting reticle locked on and I opened fire. Streaking backwards I was able to lockon and destroy, with the help of the other ship, the pirate. After all was said and done, the trade ship sent a thanks and streaked off into the night, allowing me to head in my own direction.
Experiences like that are what I live for and they can be found in every corner of every star system in Elite: Dangerous and are a big part of what makes it such a special title. No two players will experience the same game; even those with similar play styles, they will experience their own game in their own way. When a title can tailor its experience to the gamer everybody wins. While Elite: Dangerous is a technical masterpiece and is one of the most amazing titles I have ever had the pleasure of playing, it can be daunting to learn, though fortunately it will play how you want it to play. If you are looking for simple control schemes, you will find them.
If you are like me and are a glutton for punishment, you will spend nearly 3 hours mapping your Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog's dozens of bindings to create the ultimate spacefaring experience (for those with the funds and the patience I strongly recommend using a HOTAS flightstick with Elite: Dangerous as it is an entirely new experience in that fashion). I cannot speak well enough of how the Elite: Dangerous beta is going and strongly urge everyone that I speak to to purchase the game, even if it is expensive at $75 for beta access, it is worth every penny. Just be sure to stay tuned to us here at Chalgyr's Game Room as we continue coverage of one of the best games out there.
Review by Robert