Ever since I first began reading science fiction novels back when I was a kid, there has always been a special place for the genre within my being. As a whole, what is so special about science fiction is that it is both so open-ended, and can engage a people’s imaginations in unparalleled ways.
When it came to the digital realm, science fiction games have always been hard for developers to tackle. Back in 1984, 23 year old indie game developer David Braben and his fellow cohort Ian Bell took a stab at creating a space trading game called Elite, which was met with critical acclaim at that time. The two Brits followed that up with Frontier: Elite II in 1993 (which I had the pleasure of playing), and Frontier: First Encounters in 1995.
These games were so revolutionary for that time that they spawned numerous space-faring game imitators and copycats, such as Freelancer, Wing Commander: Privateer, and other games of similar ilk. Heck, even the recent flash in the pan known as No Man’s Sky owes much of its mitochondria to the now venerated Elite titles.
Well, lo-and-behold, Mr. Braben, now CEO of game developers Frontier Developments, was never actually done with his hallowed space trading and combat simulation series. Elite 4 (the original title) has actually been in the works for almost two decades. However, with the advent and growth of community funding platforms, he and his team have been able to get proper financial backing for his baby, and Elite Dangerous was born. In fact, people got behind his passion project so much that the Elite Dangerous Kickstarter campaign stands as one of the most successfully-backed campaigns of all time.
Elite Dangerous has actually been out since 2014, but by many accounts lacked a lot of content for players to immerse themselves within. I’ve personally been eyeballing the game from afar over the years, but was put off by its rather lackluster reviews. I am also keenly aware that certain types of games can be time sinks. I’ve tried MMORPGs before, and just never had the time nor inclination to invest too much into them, partially for fear of developing an unhealthy addiction to one.
I’d actually heard some recent reports about EVE Online (another game I’ve staunchly been avoiding), where people were ranting and raving about how great it used to be. Others have talked about Elite Dangerous as of late, saying that it too is a completely different game than it used to be, but for good reasons—mainly lots of developmental updates and added content. So, I decided to give Elite Dangerous a go-round, and here is my experience with the game.
One of the things that first struck me about Elite Dangerous was that it isn’t a hand-holdy game in the least. Yes, there are some pretty good tutorials on hand to play through, but for me they were pretty darn difficult to get through. Therefore, I decided to just jump right on in. There is a solo play mode (with an AI universe) and then there is the MMORPG mode, where many ships that you encounter are piloted by other real live human beings. I opted for the latter since I’ve always enjoyed the unpredictability of actual human interaction.
After a lengthy loading screen, I was unceremoniously plopped down into a beginning ship’s cockpit. From there, I pretty much figured out my ship’s flight controls through trial and error. Luckily, I had a friend who was also playing with me, and he helped me to learn how to pilot my ship. Once we found each other’s ships (the game had spawned us in the same star system), we had a blast just learning how to make warp jumps in-between galaxies, as well as fly around in what is called supercruise, which is a slower (but still FTL) mode of transport.
We both delighted at how responsive our ship’s controls were, and also how meaty and satisfying combat was, after encountering our first AI and human foes. Coming across other ships can be quite a tense spectacle, and you can even detect when others are scanning you. People (or AI) can even attempt to pull you out of FTL flight by deploying their interdiction devices. This usually happens if they believe that you might have something of value on board your ship, and want to blast it out of your cargo pods.
Starports function as the main hubs for pilots—they are places where you can not only refuel and repair your ship, but also hire additional pilots (if you have a fighter on board), peruse and take on missions, purchase new ships, and invest in new ship components and weapon’s systems. If you’ve gained enough experience and renown, you can even join a faction and perform special missions and tasks that open up to you, once you’ve been accepted into their ranks.
People tend to either passionately love Elite Dangerous, or rabidly detest it. This in mainly because for the former crowd, the game can play like an epic space opera, where the player can literally carve out their own destiny in a vast, open-ended and ever-changing universe. For the latter, it is a boring grind-fest that comes with what they consider too steep of a learning curve. Many of these less patient types were apparently expecting some sort of hyper-fast combat game where you’re constantly blasting away at anything that moves, or that there should be a bunch of goofy-looking aliens that look like something out of a Star Wars cantina scene.
While you can combat other hostile space vessels, there is so much more you can do in Elite Dangerous that it would take many hours to describe here. You can be whatever you want to be—whether that be a bounty hunter; miner; explorer; pirate, the list goes on and on. Heck, you can even be a tour guide, shuttling snobby two-legged space sloths over vast distances to various far off destinations.
Visually, Elite Dangerous is one of the best space games I’ve ever seen. The ships and orbital structures are very detailed, and the planetary bodies and moons are simply stunning to behold. For instance, at one point, I was so taken at looking at a beautiful planet that I flew my ship directly into a star and quickly melted into interstellar slag. Indeed, the game is so great looking that I’ve had to show it off to my friends while playing it on my souped-up gaming laptop.
Elite Dangerous isn’t a game for everybody. But for those more patient gamers out there who embrace challenge, and aren’t afraid of learning complex gaming mechanics, it can be an unrivaled science fiction masterpiece. I should know, as I’ve become one of them.
Elite Dangerous offers some excellent visuals that suit its science theme. However, you have to have a fast gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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