Elite: Dangerous is a game that you can’t just jump into and start playing. You play as someone who is just making his or her mark on the universe, with the help of a small loan and a ship from a rich business man. The rest of the story is told in-game and you would honestly miss it if you didn’t pay attention to the news feeds. After about a week of playing I finally started getting a grasp on the core elements of the game. Even with a grasp on the game it doesn’t make things any easier. With all that said, the biggest problem with Elite: Dangerous is that you will be spending a lot of time waiting as you jump from star system to star system.
There are several different control options—from using a controller, to mouse and keyboard, to even more complex set-ups. Playing with a controller or mouse and keyboard can be done, but you will be very frustrated in the beginning. Elite: Dangerous really shines when you have a flight stick, and a special display setup either through a track IR (a head mounted movement tracker) or multiple screens. I went into this game expecting it to play and control like a space fighter, not a simulation (which was initially off-putting).
Before starting, I recommend that you read the manual. This way you can go into options and change the control settings to fit your play style (you will be using every button). At one time in learning the setup I actually looked online for flight sticks, because I was getting so frustrated with my current setup. I am glad I eventually just dealt with it and stuck with what I had rather than waste my money.
Once you get everything setup control-wise and actually get into a game you will need to learn the interface and how to find missions and other tasks. Once you find a mission and launch out of the space station, you will then plot a location using your jump drive. When you get into the map system you can look at trade routes for different materials. This can help you decide where to go if you have to find a certain material to buy and trade. On the surface Elite: Dangerous has a lot of options in controls and systems in game, but at the moment, there’s just nothing much to do in-game.
The best thing about this game is the graphics and sound, and man do they really shine. When you fly close to a star and look at the surface you can see the liquid swirl, and you can almost feel the heat coming off the surface. When you fly close to a planet with rings, it goes from looking like solid rings to individual rocks orbiting the planet—each one has a distinctive look. When you look around the cockpit you can see the detail put into each section, from the onscreen display, to when you change something your character will move his hand to follow your change. One of the best examples of the graphics (and for the entire atmosphere of the game) is when you jump out of hyperspace, suddenly faced with a star in front of you. You almost instantly jump back in your chair a bit, and suddenly move your ship out of the way even though it is in no real danger.
The game is not really up front about what exactly is going on in the world as far as story is concerned. The only way to start unfolding the plot is through missions and the in-game news board. While this form of storytelling is cool, you start the game with no idea as to what is going on. Even if you are just some Average Joe in this universe you would have a grasp on what is going on, even if it’s only a portion of the facts. I don’t know if, as the game is updated, they will change this and actually add an introduction scene or something, but as the game currently stands there is nothing. Some games work with no story, or a make-your-story-as-you-play plot, and that’s great, but in this situation it just doesn’t work. I wanted to know what drove my character.
As there is very little plot for this game, there isn’t much to say for a content warning. It’s a space flight simulator, so not a lot happens that I can discuss here. The T rating is for the mild violence in the game, when you are fighting space pirates. There are also some drug references in Elite: Dangerous in some of the missions you do, and items you can buy in the stores. Besides that, and the occasional ship battle, nothing is really bad in the game.
Elite: Dangerous is a game that, in its current state, is really only for people who are hardcore into space simulation games. Between the learning curve for game controls, and trying to figure out what you need to do in-game, it will not be a quick pick-up game. All that said, there are some cool moments—like flying close to a planet or star and seeing the details in them. As new updates come out and change this game, it might eventually become a game that is populated with content that makes the purchase worthwhile. After playing this game at PAX South I really wanted to like it, but there are not any moments that help break up the slow parts (sadly, most of the game). Eventually I hope that this game has enough content that I can jump in. If I want to be a fighter pilot or just a trader I can do that and enjoy the game for totally different reasons. Elite: Dangerous is a game that might one day become a great experience, but in its current version it is not. If you are looking for a good space flight simulation then pick up this game, but if you’re like me and want more of a space fighter—look elsewhere.
The Bottom Line