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Elite Dangerous

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Frontier Developments
Release Date: Dec. 16, 2014

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


PC Preview - 'Elite: Dangerous'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Nov. 18, 2014 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

In Elite Dangerous is a space simulation game where you take a ship and 100 credits to make money legally or illegally - trade, bounty-hunt, pirate, assassinate your way across the galaxy.

Back in the day, spaceship games such as Wing Commander seemed to be all over the place. That particular series spawned numerous titles and spin-offs throughout the '90s, and its legacy led to games like the excellent Freespace and Freelancer games. Since then, games like the X3 series and Eve Online have captured the scale of a good spaceship simulator, but they haven't really captured the soul. Piloting a spaceship from a third-person perspective is one thing, but games had all but forgotten what it was like to put the player directly behind the stick.

Elite: Dangerous is a modern sequel to a series that began with the release of Elite back in 1984. The development team is comprised of some of the veterans from the series, and they're taking the pedigree seriously. You don't "pilot" a ship by right-clicking some menus; you are behind the stick for absolutely everything you do. A lot of thought has clearly been put into which actions you can do in the cockpit, so it feels like you're in control of a physical ship more so than simply flying a set of thrusters and guns.

The development was supported with a successful Kickstarter campaign and is being self-published by the developer, Frontier Developments. This is for the best, as I'm not sure a game such as E:D would be greenlit by a publisher in today's "sales above all" model. While the game is likely accessible for many, it's a love letter to the genre and is meant for those who want to spend some significant time learning how to operate their ship and find a their place among the game's universe. It's a deep dive into the simulation of being a spaceship pilot that few other games have approached.

E:D takes place in a massive universe, with millions of individual star systems said to be available upon release. In open play, you play alongside other players ("Commanders") and can get attacked by, work alongside with, or otherwise interact with them as you choose. The game also allows for you to play in Solo mode, which is still technically online but puts you in your own instance of the game, which can still be affected by the open-play portion. You won't have to worry about getting shot up by a Commander with a mean streak, but for the most part, I didn't have too many issues with other players acting overly harshly.

A lot has been said about the weekend's revelation that the game will no longer feature an offline single-player experience, despite it being touted as a feature on the Kickstarter campaign. While this will be worrisome to those who have unstable Internet connectivity, I can't see this as being an issue for most players. Questions of long-term support aside, the Solo play mode seems to require a near-constant Internet connection but uses very little bandwidth. While it is disheartening to see a feature suddenly cut, from my experience, anyone with a stable connection can still get the experience they want out of the game.

Players have to be OK with the idea of being dropped in a massive sandbox. In E:D, you don't start off as a hotshot fighting for a noble cause, and you're not automatically a merchant's son who's looking to make a name for himself. You start with little more than a loaner Sidewinder to your name, a universe in front of you, and the option to launch. What you choose to do in the game is shaped by your whims. Nothing is ever forced upon you or even suggested. This may be the biggest deal-breaker for people who enjoy a bit more guidance in their gaming. For others, it is likely one of the game's biggest draws.

Combat is one way to make money, and it's likely the marquee feature for most players. Combat is delightfully nuanced thanks to how your ship's power distribution affects the engines, shields and weapons. Adding to this is how you can use lateral thrusters to maneuver your ship in a way that only space combat allows. While you can choose to blow the crap out of an enemy until they're toast, you can also elect to strategically target subsystems modules, which must be done skillfully but allows you to easily hamstring an otherwise powerful enemy ship. Other elements of combat include the need to constantly adjust your throttle to close a gap or slow down to improve your turning radius. It all feels intuitive to pick up, but at the same time, it allows for a high player skill ceiling.

While other titles would likely fluff over the gameplay with things like automated docking sequences or lots of assists and tutorials, E:D does not. Learning how to fly your ship is something that you do as you go, and while there are some in-game tutorials, they only cover basic flight mechanics. You'll learn more by actually doing things such as trading, gathering exploration data, mining, and figuring out the best way to collect bounties without getting blown up. The learning process is still enjoyable. Docking with a space station remains an endearing and interesting process, even after the umpteenth time.

A lot of that enjoyment is a testament to how much you feel like you are in the pilot's chair, and a lot of that is due to how fully realized the cockpit is. Each ship has its own cockpit design, but they all share a common layout. While looking to the front and center, your perspective only lets you see the most important information, such as your fuel, navigation, radar, speed, and targets. There are a series of other displays in the cockpit, and they can be viewed by pressing a hot key or other, more immersive methods. You can enable headlook and temporarily toggle your mouse to look around the cockpit, or you can use any third-party head-tracking tool to do the same. The Oculus Rift is supported, but even with a cheap, enthusiast-built head-tracking solution, the immersion gained from looking around the cockpit is absolutely fantastic. The title feels made for head tracking, but it's still accessible for those who don't have such a setup.

Similarly, the game is best with a decent flight stick (in my case, a modest Logitech Extreme 3D), but it plays well with a standard mouse and keyboard. The level to which you can rebind controls is absolute, and you can bind most of the controls to keys or the joystick axis. Using a mix of the keyboard and joystick may be best, since the number of ship controls may outnumber your joystick's button count. Get yourself a plush leather captain's chair with a keyboard in one hand, a joystick in the other, and a head tracker on your noggin, and the result is sublime. It may be accessible with other hardware, but you're going to start looking for justifications to step things up pretty quickly, so you can have the most immersive experience possible.

There's so much that could be said about Elite: Dangerous that it could easily overflow this preview. Thisisn't a game that goes halfway with anything, and we'll take a deeper dive into the game's features in our upcoming review. With a month to go before launch, a lot of the game's systems seem well in place, and watching the progress of the beta has instilled me with confidence that the developers care about their product and the player feedback. I'm really looking forward to the launch of Elite: Dangerous, which is looking to be a solid revival of the genre.

Previewed on: Intel i5 2500k, 8gb RAM, nVidia GTX 660 Ti

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