The space sim genre has been on a bit of a furlough for the past decade ever since freelancer, X (series), and EVE Online. I for one am happy to see that the genre is now starting to attempt a comeback with ambitious titles like Star Citizen, No Man’s Sky, and Elite: Dangerous. Out of the three, Elite: Dangerous has been the first out of the gate and into consumers’ hands, but will ED shine as a new standard for the space sim genre, or will it be left in the cold vacuum of its’ competitors. Elite: Dangerous is at its core a space sim but it is also a MMO, Space trucking simulator, 4X adventure, flight sim, with Merchant mechanic and a dash of a social experiment. On paper ED brings out the big guns with descriptions from the official website such as: Frame Shift Drive Charging “Play your way”
- Explore: “With 400 billion star systems”
- “Deep space offers awe-inspiring sights to behold and valuable information to acquire, should you return safely to civilization.”
- “The galaxy is wider and deeper than you can even begin to imagine, and hides many secrets and mysteries, as well as awe-inspiring sights and unusual cosmic phenomena to behold.”
- “Venture out into the deep unknown far from civilization, with little more than a fuel scoop and a scanner – you may even find more than you bargained for.”
- Combat:“It is a cut-throat galaxy out there”
- “Commanders who kill another member immediately get a bounty on their head. You can claim these bounties by hunting and killing the culprits.”
- “Why buy a hold full of cargo, when you can pirate it from someone else? Why go to the bother of exploring a system to sell the data, when you can simply take it from them by force?”
- “Every time you and every other commander undertake a mission, the outcome has an impact on the galaxy as a whole for everyone, so your experience is ever-unfolding.”
- Trading: “a very useful, popular way to make money as a starship Commander.”
- “There are thousands of star systems with commodities markets”
- “Supply and demand drives prices galaxy-wide – your every trade contributes to the dynamic market activity”
- “There are narcotics and slaves too, which are illegal in different jurisdictions, so you’ll need to put your stealth skills to the fore to successfully trade in those.”
- “You can make a healthy profit as a smuggler or an honest trader. But beware the pirate looking to make their own profit – from you.”
4…3…2…1…Engage The descriptions of Elite: Dangerous are 100% true. There are other mechanics and features that aren’t mentioned such as mining, level of ship customization, and unique community created conflicts and groups (such as The Code in the Lave system).
Before blasting off to go spend all you credits on ED it should be mentioned that the awesome official descriptions of the game are true, but fail to translate the idea and experience into gameplay. Explore “400 billion star systems” grabs the attention of any sci-fi fan or gamer. Unfortunately, most of the star systems look very similar due to having a finite amount of textures it can place on a planet, sun, moon etc. It is also implied that exploring away from the populated parts of the galaxy have unknown dangers, but in reality the primary cause of death is getting a snack during a hyper jump and launching yourself into a sun. That or running out of fuel. Generally the solar systems are beautiful to look at, but don’t vary enough to really motivate me to explore out of curiosity. If Wing Commander and Starfox taught me anything, it is that shooting stuff with lasers is the best thing ever. In ED, the combat is the meat and potatoes of the game. The learning curve of combat and flight, in general, is a bit steep but not nearly as grueling as many previous space sims. This learning curve gives a great sense of achievement at even the smallest of accomplishments, and I found myself overjoyed with my first kill after several hours, deaths and attempts.
The use of a good flight stick or even an Xbox controller gives excellent responsive controls and how a ship controls as far as momentum, speed, turning radius differs considerably depending on the ship and the parts equipped. The amount of customization is good, and since parts differ in value and quality this gives motivation to obtain more money to get better parts. Unfortunately, this pursuit to get the better ship and the bigger guns ends up being the core of the game, which is fun and addictive and forces you to try mining, exploring, pirating, trading, bounty hunting in order to see what will give the profit margins. The sad part to me about the various other roles are that there is only monetary value to be gained and that there isn’t much push to complete these activities for another reason. Being a space merchant in ED is fun, and it is basic. It isn’t so complicated that you need Excel spreadsheets to make a profit (I’m looking at you EVE Online).However, it doesn’t seem as dynamic as the official descriptions imply. The market prices for commodities will fluctuate. However, since the release of ED they are pretty calm since everyone knows what items to buy where and where to sell them. This makes standard commodity prices sterile and being a merchant tends to transform into hauling known valuable cargo to a known seller that will pay a lot for it. This turns a game mechanic that is supposed to grab the entrepreneur in each of us and instead brings out the truck driver in some of us. Elite: Dangerous tries to brand itself as be anyone and do anything anywhere. While this is true in the same sense that if I gave a kid a choice of any toy in a toy box containing 100 cheap happy meal toys and a G.I. Joe. Yes, ED gives you options, but there is only one choice that many people will inevitably make, and that is to blast people with lasers.
“An MMO involving blasting people with lasers, sounds good to me,” you say? To keep up with the pattern of redundancy I say, “Yes, but not really”. Whether ED is an MMO is debatable. It has thousands and thousands of people online that you can run into, all of which have their own custom ship and motives. However, since the galaxy is a rather large place, you may fly for hours and hours and never see another real player (or NPC for that matter). When there are very populated locations, there is a limit to how many players are in one particular instance. This rules out any giant faction battles for now at least. An MMO to me is also about socializing. ED doesn’t really push this idea as much as it should. In February, they released a “wingman” update which gave players the option to form a small party, a mechanic that has become a stock feature in any multiplayer game. Quick mentions
- Great Visuals and built in 4k screen shot hotkey
- Great sounds
- Good controls
- Very immersive
- Serious and mature online community
- Doesn’t require a high end PC.
- Only cosmetic DLC can be purchased with real money
- Lack of any story
- Social aspects aren’t on par with a MMO
- Best mechanics of the game have yet to be released
- Once you are able to get the ship you want, the game feels as if it is over
- 400 billion star systems feels like a mixed arrangement of 20 star systems
Ratings: Players new to the genre: 9/10. If this is the 1st space sim for someone they will probably love the positives and not notice the negatives and will have a blast for a lot longer. Players Familiar with the genre: 7/10. It has everything that a space sim should have and then some, but it is like a really good appetizer. It would be great if there were only more of it. The final Frontier ED’s developer, Frontier has created a solid space shooter with mediocre side components. Frontier plans on releasing several updates that will hopefully bring the rest of the game to the same level that the combat is currently at. With such mechanics as planetary landings, the ability to walk around ships and space stations in the works. Elite: Dangerous has the potential to boldly go where no space sim has gone before and set a new standard for the genre. Unfortunately, at the time of writing it seems that the competition will launch light-years ahead of Elite: Dangerous. -JB