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Elite Dangerous Review: Sim of All Trades, Master of None

Elite Dangerous Review - Spaceship flying though space

In this Elite Dangerous review, we cover everything from gameplay to graphics, sound and more for this epic space sim.

It’s no surprise that Elite Dangerous turned a few heads when it was first announced. Finally, after a seemingly endless drought, hopes were high that deprived space sim fans would have a reason to dust off their flight controllers and fight the good fight once more. With its greatest potential rival, No Man’s Sky, having crashed harder than a Sidewinder into a Federal Gunship, Elite Dangerous is poised to stay on top.

Elite’s return, however, is a complex and tumultuous one, filled with highs and lows that dazzle and disappoint. It literally divides gamers into those who see the game’s good side and the ones who can’t get past its flaws. But despite the shortcomings, Elite Dangerous is a work in progress that has done nothing but change for the better.

Elite Dangerous Review – The Story

Elite Dangerous Review - Star MapAlthough your first foray into the game places you in a space station buzzing with traffic, a trip out of the docking bay makes you realize just how truly alone you are. Your pilot goes from a metallic cocoon to a vast, unprecedented 1:1 recreation of the Milky Way Galaxy — over 400 billion stars that would literally take generations to fully explore.

Much to the chagrin of many a gamer, there’s no story to guide you in this massive playground. The game pretty much says “here’s your stuff, now go.” So how’d you get there? Where are you from? What’s your name? Elite doesn’t spoon feed you any of this. Just like it’s your job to make your way in the universe, it’s up to you to explain how you got there — and where you’re going. You could say that the sky’s the limit, but you left the sky behind a long time ago.

Even if your imagination doesn’t match your ambition, keep in mind that a story is always developing behind the scenes. Whether it’s delivering important data, spreading propaganda or sneaking crucial supplies for your faction, everything you do in that tiny little ship makes a big impact on the larger conflict around you.

Elite Dangerous Review – The Gameplay

Once you’ve written your condensed biography, the next hurdle is playing the game. Unfortunately, the tutorial is pretty barebones, leaving most of Elite’s steep learning curve solely in your hands — and boy is it steep. Figuring Elite Dangerous out on your own is like trying to climb a 90-degree wall covered in grease. Expect to hit landing pads, struggle to grab cargo and — most of all — die. A lot. If you’re the kind of person who frequently uses curse words, be prepared to run out of regulars and invent new ones. But once you’ve thanked your lucky stars that your ship’s insurance premiums don’t skyrocket every time you blow up, the achievement of mastering the basics is thrilling. Having an intact ship makes life so much easier when you’re trying to choose your path to greatness. Just customize the controls to fit your style and maybe have a paper copy handy for quick reference. You won’t find too many pirates willing to pause the fight while you figure out how to deploy your hardpoints.

Elite Dangerous Review - Spaceships fightingSpeaking of pirates and hardpoints, don’t expect combat to be easy. In fact, the A.I. is pretty skilled (hence the frequent dying issue), so having a better ship doesn’t guarantee survival. If you’re the kind of person who favors mining, smuggling or trading, the stakes are ten times higher. If you die, everything in your ship flies into space, potentially costing you hundreds of thousands of credits in lost inventory. This is why — regardless of your chosen path — mastering combat is something all pilots need to do.

This brings us to Newtonian physics – your ace in the hole. Early on, having your flight assist function is your best friend. It keeps you from tumbling out of control and lets you retain what little arcade style Elite: Dangerous has to offer. But if you can master the delicate balance of steadying yourself manually, it opens up a whole new world of quick maneuvers to catch your opponent off guard. Nothing’s funnier than boosting away, then flipping your ship around and firing while traveling in a backward strafe. Frankly, it’s ultimately the only real way to survive most fights.

Combat aside, there are other, less superficially exciting things to consider. If you’re not going out looking for trouble, then be prepared to experience some serious boredom. Moving from one location to the next can take anywhere from minutes to hours, depending on how many jumps it takes.

Elite Dangerous Review – The Sound and Graphics

In this lonely expanse of eerie exploration punctuated with heart-pounding combat, having a sense of immersion always helps. Elite: Dangerous nails this down perfectly. The sound is tranquil, even frightening. Listening to the calm music as you continue your travels leaves you constantly thinking “I have a bad feeling about this.” No matter how chill things seem, there’s that nagging sixth sense in the back of your mind that you’ll be interdicted by an unruly pirate who’s itching to take a crack at you and your cargo. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

Elite Dangerous Review - Spaceship taking off

The sound isn’t the only aspect that helps bring Elite: Dangerous to life. Everyone will agree that the game’s graphics can be summed up in one word: “awesome.” Indisputably, unequivocally awesome. From the shiny chrome design of your ship’s hull to the intricate shells of space stations, Elite succeeds tremendously in presenting you with the most life-like space sim experience to date. To that end, it always helps to have a computer with some serious punch to reap the full benefits of this visual masterpiece.

Elite Dangerous Review – Final Thoughts

Overall, Elite: Dangerous brings a lot to the table, but it lacks in a few ways as well. The beauty is that the variety of available play styles makes it easy to avoid or at least minimize your exposure to the game’s boring aspects and focus on what you find fun. For some, it’s a slam dunk while for others, it’s an acquired taste. Fortunately, Frontier knows Elite’s weak points and works tirelessly to address them. In short, they promised us the world but gave us the galaxy.

Featured Images: Frontier Developments

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5 Responses

  1. A good considered review. One thing you failed to mention is the community. Something that really brings Elite alive is playing with others.
    I frequently mentor new players to the game and groups like the Paladin Consortium do nothing else. If a pirate’s life is for you, the infamous Smiling Dog Crew will take you in. If you don’t relish player-v-player interaction, there’s the Mobius group – the largest single group in the game with tens of thousands of members. The Fuel rats – the fuel-toting A-team of space!
    Hearing another player say “help I’m being attacked” and rushing to their location, telling them how to stay alive until you get there, helping them dispatch their attacker; these are the unscripted moments that no other game delivers.
    I’ve player Elite: Dangerous since mid-2014 and nothing else. I’ve racked up over 2,000 hours. The closest I’ve come to that kinds of value for money is BattleField which averaged 300 hours over two years for each version.

  2. Cmdr JazHaz

    Nice review, if a bit short. One problem, do not buy this game at Amazon. Best places are Steam or better still at the Frontier Store.

  3. deMangler

    Actually it is impossible to die in this game. Ship destruction is of course possible but the player respawns complete with all money ranks and materials in a nearby space station. The only loss is a fraction of the worth of the ship as insurance is automatic.

    1. V.

      Totally untrue. If you do die, you’ll have to pay back your ship. A friend of mine has just been killed while “delivering” a tourist. He lacked 400,000 Cr. to buy his Python back: he thus had to start again from scratch, from an almost 100M ship to a Sidewinder with less than 50.000 Cr.
      So: NEVER EVER take ANY risk if you cannot pay for your ship again!
      Nice review though, I laughed a lot, love your style 😉

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