STAFF REVIEW of Elite Dangerous (Xbox One)

Saturday, June 18, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

Elite Dangerous Box art Since I can remember, games have tried to "one up" each other by delivering larger and larger game environments. We as gamers have stood in wonderment, and awe, over the size and scale of some of our favorite playgrounds, but nothing we've ever experienced before could prepare us for Elite Dangerous, a game from Frontier Developments. Elite Dangerous provides not only the largest gaming environment found on the Xbox platform, but also one of the most in-depth gaming experiences found on the Xbox platform as a whole. Fire up your engines and get ready to explore the Milky Way Galaxy because we are in for quite a ride.

When you start to play Elite Dangerous, you'll notice that there are other "add on" modules that you can purchase for a fraction of the cost. These additional modes unlock more ways to play, so think of these as DLC that help the evolution of the game. Another thing you will notice when you start is right at the top there's an option for training. This is where you will need to go first because the learning curve is one of the most advanced that you'll find on the Xbox platform, and could quite easily be the most advanced gameplay mechanic system you've ever played on a console.

Training is divided into two categories: Missions and Videos. Missions will take you through a training operation where the completion of the training goal will result in a pass or fail. The videos open up a Microsoft Edge browser which in-turn opens up an Elite Dangerous YouTube account where you will be able to watch corresponding videos relating to your training mission. I cannot stress enough how critically important training is. Let me explain why.

When you're playing a normal flying game there are usually about 4 axis to be concerned with, in Elite Dangerous there are 6, so your movement is far more complex than in any other flight simulation you may have experienced in the past. On top of that, the control scheme offers up what I'm calling a secondary control option. Click the LS and your entire flight mechanics of RS change; however, click RS and only your view changes from straight ahead to free view cockpit mode where you can look around at the vastness of space that surrounds you. Other buttons, such as X and B, offer up a secondary option that allows you to select various internal menus within your ship. Each of these internal menus allow for further exploration of your options and gameplay. Does it sound confusing? Well, if it does it's because it is.

When I finished my training missions and videos I ventured off into space and thought "Meh, how large can this be right?". So I held the X button down to bring up the secondary selection menu and from there I pressed left on the D-Pad opening up a control panel within my cockpit. Next I waded through the many sub menus, such as navigation and more, and selected the navigation tab and then choose a base so I could start receiving quests and earning money (a celestial empire isn't born in a day right?). I engaged my super cruise with the press of the Y button and aligned up with the base and boom I'm streaking through space towards my target. PHEW!!!! As a sidebar, when you're in super cruise you'll notice how you are unable to lower your landing gear or bring out your weaponry, and I wondered "Why"? With no friction from air in space, you're not going to risk any drag or create force powerful enough to rip anything off, but ok, I'll accept it.

You'll also notice that your flight mechanics have changed yet again into something far more simplistic, and if I'm honest, far more familiar. So here we are, still hurdling towards our destination, but now we must start making preparations for landing. So first thing we have to check is that our angle of approach and our speed, making sure we have both under control, as this will enable one's ship to shift into orbital flight mode and glide in towards your destination. If you miss, or screw up, your ship will disengage from super cruise mode early which leaves you with a tremendous amount of ground to cover (especially if you come in on the wrong side of the planet and have to orbit near the planet). If this does happen, just engage your super cruise again, but line your ship up with the escape vector and try again. When you have the base lined up you need to make sure you are approaching properly. At 7 km or less you can request to dock at the base. If you dock without requesting permission, there is a fine, that if not paid, can escalate into penalties which can include ship destruction. Just a note, DO NOT have your weapons out when approaching, otherwise you will see a plethora of artillery rise up that will blast you out of the stars.

To get permission to dock you hold the X button and move to the contacts tab. Here you will see any and all contacts around you, including the base. Press the A button on the base and a sub menu pops up with "Permission to Dock" and wait for the approval. Once this occurs you fly your ship to the assigned docking port. Sure, this sounds easy but when I took all these steps, 10 minutes later my docking permission expired, and since I couldn't quickly select the menu to request again, I got fined for loitering. Great! So on my second attempt I tried to balance out my throttle as well as my left stick flight controls. I found that it was much easier to keep my craft level, then click my LS to allow my Right Stick to shift my vessel left or right along a plane, where by then using the Right Stick to press up and down to control direct elevation to my target. I only then worried about using throttle to move forward or back along this plane and that is when the mechanics of docking finally clicked and the learning curve was overcome.

So, now I'm in this base and I call up the services that are offered. Outside of refuel and repairing the vehicle I can take a look at the base's economy in terms of materials sold and needed, and check if there are any missions that I can complete that will allow me to earn money. While I'm here I decide to hold the X button down and press left again to call up the menu where I selected Galaxy Map. It took a few moments to bring up, and when it did I looked and thought "Meh, it's large but I wonder what happens when I hold down Left Trigger and zoom out"? Oh... And that's how humble pie tastes. What unfolded was a perfectly proportioned map of the Milky Way Galaxy with system after unidentified system full of planets, stars, population, and so much more. Having now picked my jaw up off the floor I selected a couple of jobs available that had me venture to nearby systems and proceed to the corresponding bases for mission completion.

I had to make sure that I completed the missions, because I did get fined for not aborting a mission and letting the gameplay time run out. So, even though you may have selected a mission and went away, the game itself is still playing, so your mission completion time continuously counts down. Not completing a mission can make you unfavorable in the eyes of the faction for that mission, which can eventually become hostile if your actions push them too far away. These are all great things I wish I knew before hand, but you have to learn somehow.

There are other things you can do in the base as well. For starters, each base offers their own mechanical upgrades to your vehicle. Everything from your weapons to your engines can be modified and upgraded, providing you have met the requirements. Most of these require you to farm for materials which you can acquire either by blasting debris out of space and collecting it with your scoop, or landing on a planet and taking your rover out for a spin to mine materials from the surface. Doing this will also increase your reputation and allow you to unlock bigger and better upgrades. You can also purchase new ships that you can add to your growing fleet, so you don't have to be stuck with your entry level ship. I even paid off my fine at the base and was now deemed safe.

This is where you start to get a feel for just how deep the water is that you've jumped into (aka - the game you are playing). With all these systems and all these planets you will need to make sure that your craft's engines are up to the task, because networking the surrounding systems into viable flight paths will take a tremendous amount of time. I'm not talking hours here, I'm talking weeks at earliest, but if I'm realistic, it's more towards several months and even years. To appreciate the solitude of space in Elite Dangerous you will be spending a tremendous amount of time travelling to other regions.

That's not to say though that voyaging to these distant planets and systems is going to be boring. Along the way you will encounter undiscovered signals to scan, asteroids to mine and you will encounter other spacecraft that will either be friendly, neutral, or adversarial. All of the Milky Way Galaxy is drawn out in absolute beauty. From the hot surface of stars and suns to the shady darkness of an orbiting moon at night, Elite Dangerous offers up truly spectacular views of celestial bodies. This is also accompanied by a tremendous soundscape of ambient sounds, minimalistic music, and a true sensory barrage of melodic pieces and warm enveloping bass lines. All of this combines to help make Elite Dangerous a game that you will actually have a very hard time putting down.

Now all this content does come with an interesting pricing schedule and content delivery. As I mentioned earlier, Elite Dangerous offers up a core game to play and enjoy; however, it offers up what I like to call "seasonal evolution". What I mean by that is that Elite Dangerous is comprised of a bulk of content. Season 1 started with 1.1 evolving the communication, which then evolved into 1.2 which allowed pilots to fly in groups of 4 to team up and evenly distribute the wealth of their accomplishments. All of this carried over to version 1.6 which marked the end of Season 1, but before it closed there were a ton of new developments that helped to fine tune Elite Dangerous to what it is today.

And what it is today is nothing short of spectacular. This is thanks to the recently released Season 2 of Elite Dangerous, called Horizons. And it's big, I mean really, really huge. From hidden Engineers that can customize your vehicle in a way that you couldn't even dream of to an evolution on the looting and crafting to seamless rover exploration from any base located on any moon or planet. Oh, but that's just what is available now. Coming up next you are going to get multi-crew support (I can already see one of my friends dropping my shields in combat, and another shutting off my engines as I'm trying to escape), the ability to launch your own fighters from your own ship (think TIE fighters from a Star Destroyer), and you'll no longer be some random person who seems to be invisible. In this upcoming Season 2 bundle you'll actually be able to create your own Commander so now you can fly to all of the bases and say that they are your favorite.

Elite Dangerous offers gamers a seemingly unlimited amount of gameplay, and this is reinforced when you settle in and see how titanic the scale and size of the game environment actually is with the amount of possibilities and opportunities that are provided. Sure, there are some issues here and there, but as of right now this game is one of the best MMO-like experiences on the Xbox One. Many games have tried to be a variant of the MMO experience, but Elite Dangerous has damn near mastered the core of what it takes to make an experience last a lifetime. With more modules already released and more on the way, I can't wait to see what Frontier Developments adds to this sensational game.

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.7 / 10
Sound: 8.2 / 10


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