Elite: Dangerous Horizons

I’m currently uninterested in any game on my hard drive, but I had a sudden flash of inspiration and re-downloaded Elite: Dangerous. I impulsively paid 20 pounds for the Horizons expansion, which sounded cheap until it turned out to be 27 dollars in real money charged to my credit card. After a somewhat lengthy downloading and installation process I was back in the game that I last played for about a month after it’s initial launch at the end of 2014.

Of course I spent the first several hours of game time in tutorials, trying to learn how to fly again with mouse and keyboard. Thankfully it came back to me quicker than I expected, and I was able to get from system to system without crashing into too many space station walls. (I left the default WASD keyboard configuration even though it feels so wrong to put my ring, middle, and index fingers on ASD.) Then I Googled how to outfit my ship (a Cobra I think?) with an atmospheric module and an SRV bay and whatnot so I could land on planets and drive around and experience “Horizons.” It was neat.

I was able to drive around on a planet’s surface to some kind of base, apparently the only one on the entire planet, where I was warned to leave or I would be fired on. So I left and drove around some more on the bumpy terrain for a while. I accidentally sent my ship away while trying to figure out how to get back on board, which was a little concerning until I learned you could call it back again. Eventually I figured out how to board my ship again. It was fun. In true E:D fashion, the SRV is overly complicated to drive and the default keys are not intuitive. But it didn’t take that long to get used to it.

I’m going to land right in that crater.

But the thing about Elite: Dangerous is … it’s not really a game. It’s more of a simulator.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really cool simulator. Flying around feels very realistic and every solar system’s sights are pretty cool. And landing on planets is very cool, and driving around in the SRV buggy is very cool.

But I don’t have any compelling reason to do any of this very cool stuff. Once I’m on a planet’s surface, I just sort of drive around and think, “This is neat. Look, a rock! I wish I had something to do. Guess I’ll leave now.”

Is it because I always choose Solo Play? I hope not. Solo Play is the best feature of this MMO and every MMO should have it. :) I’ve always been under the assumption that the only thing that other players would add to E:D is more people trying to shoot at me, or people asking me to help them shoot other people. But ship combat in E:D is not all that interesting to me, and it’s especially annoying to be attacked when you’re just trying to go from one system to another.

Oh, I also made a Holo-Me for myself, which was pretty cool. It’s a nice character creator. But again … what’s it for? I never see myself. I can’t get out of my SRV and walk around or anything. (Even if I could, what am I going to do, pick up rocks?)

Now to be fair, the game does give you some direction with Missions at every space station. Upon completing them, you get credits and reputation. But they are all basically the same: Take this cargo to another station. Find some cargo and bring it back here. Mine some stuff. Go to a system and shoot some bad guys. I haven’t yet found any missions that direct you to drive around on planets, though.

Driving in the RSV looks and feels pretty similar to flying your ship.

What the game needs is more story-based missions to motivate me to move around. For example, something like going to a planet to talk to a guy, who tells you a compelling story and gives you a map to another planet with alien ruins on it that you can go drive around sightseeing in your SRV, where you learn about a long-dead civilization, then dig up a gizmo to bring back to the original quest giver. But pirates attack and steal the gizmo, so you follow them to another system where you learn that the gizmo will power their dying civilization for ten years, so you have to decide whether to let them keep it or steal it back. That would keep my attention.

So I guess I still don’t understand where the “game” is in Elite: Dangerous. Maybe this is one of those games that you need to play with friends so that they provide the entertainment when the game doesn’t. There’s a fantastic framework here and a really interesting space flight simulator, but not much else. It still seems as empty of content as the void of space.

3 thoughts on “Elite: Dangerous Horizons”

  1. I think you already got the biggest part of the game at the start: it is an awesome spaceship-“simulator”.

    I spend a few hours there every other week, just because of the pure fun of flying the ship or also driving around on moons. While NMS might have the prettier planets, it falls miles short of flying the ship. On SC i won’t state my impression, but rather will compare it when (or if ever) it will be released. Current judgement, based on what they still call an Alpha would be no fair.

    So for the experience of flying a spaceship, ED currently in my eyes is the best you can find. On the game part: Yes, there are missions and there are also some which send you planetside. But even then, you are right that the mission system itself is bland and not very inspiring. The next big patch will bring in the system of chained missions, but while it’s nice that they’ll then finally have the technology to make chains, it didn’t feel really different to running a stack of missions in the life game.

    So up to here the game is extremely sandboxy. You have to set your own goals, then work towards them.

    The first change are community goals. Take a look at the mission board, it very often also lists one or even several of them. Some of them have little consequence, e.g. if it’s just “help reduce pirates in system XY”, you ca make good money there, but it won’t really influence the game much outside of that. Some are already a bit more relevant, e.g. when it’s a community goal around a civil war. Players then basically decide which faction will control the system in the end.

    (Bah! My browser is making a mess with the long text i wrote… i have to cut it up, so i can post it… Sorry for making several postings here… )

  2. And then there are some even bigger ones. For example the whole Colonia settlement was built on community goals, there is a mobile megaship around thanks to a community goal, there’s a chain of small stations for repair and refuel on the way to Colonia. (The chainlinks are often several hundreds of lightyears long, but they still help. ) Older times CGs determined which kind of equipment for dealing with unknown probes got available and newer CGs were centered around research on aliens, which probably determine which kind and quality of anti-thargoid equipment will be available once the next big patch hits and Thargoids will be fully in game.

    Also, as another historical thing, basicallly when the last Emperor died, player activities decided that Arissa Lavingy-Duvall became the new Emperor. So if you keep your eyes and ears open and read the GalNet news regularily (and/or check the games forums), you might find ways to influence the games world.

    In terms of what you actually do, CGs are still within what you probably already know. Hunt criminals, find and deliver materials. As a variation, you might need to go outside of human space to collect unknown probes or collect data or materials from alien bases on some moons. But they sure feel more meaningful than random missions. (As a sidenote, CGs can also be very lucrative. )

    Next to CGs, you might also like to know about PowerPlay and Engineers. Mind you, both of those can be very grindy.

    PowerPlay feels a bit limited, but if supporting a political power, fortifying or expanding its area of influence or undermining other powers area is your thing, you might want to look into it. There’s also a few special pieces of equipment to be gotten there, but most of them are considered worthless. The drawbacks are that PP can be very repetitive and that you need to work with other players to be effective. This doesn’t mean that you have to fly with them, you can also do everything (but killing other players) in solo, but you have to have a plan, else your effort most likely is wasted.

    On Engineers, that’s a way to increase the performance of your ship a lot. They all are on planetside bases throughout the human bubble or even a bit outside of it. You most likely only have the invitation of one or two Engineers already, as they unlock when you have traveled a certain distance from your starting system (but only like 100 lightyears or something) or have cashed in a certain ammount of bounty vouchers. When you unlocked the first Engineers and get well enough reputation with them, you will get access to other Engineers, which have higher requirements, e.g. having been at least 5000 lightyears away from your starting system, bringing them material from aliens, etc.

    Combine that with having to bring them materials to upgrade your ship, and some of the materials only being available in certain activities (e.g. mining, infiltrating and hacking planetside bases, etc. ), it can feel very grindy, but it makes sure that you experience many different playstyles.

    The more interesting part about Engineers comes in when they give out tasks of their own interest. There were several special tasks in the past, the one still active (as far as i know) is from the engineer Ram Tah. You have to be in good standing with him, then he sends you out to investigate some alien bases. This contained a lot of research to complete and took a cooperation of players several days to figure everything out. Since by now guides for this are on the internet, the reward for doing the complete chain of tasks was reduced to a bit over 100 millions, which still is a lot. (Albeit, you will travel a lot, collect things, bring stuff to other places, etc… Some of the puzzles included having the right item, or the right combination of two cargo items on board of your SRV so a door at an alien base would open. )

    This is very much what you describe, but it’s the only one of these chains still active. Some others existed temporarily, but as the story progressed, they didn’t make sense any more and thus were removed again.

    So it’s again a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open, in game and probably also the forums, to catch these things. After all, while they exist, they are rare and the galaxy, or even just the space settled by humans, is huge. The chance that you stumble over anything like that by yourself is extremely low, but people like to talk, making it possible to participate in such things. :)

    That all being said, you also state that you’re in a Cobra. I guess it’s the MK III variant. (The MK IV actually is worse for almost any activity… ) For it’s price that’s an awesome ship, but it’s best aspect is its speed. So smugglers love this ship, but for a trader its cargo space is a bit on the low side, its jump range is mediocre and while its combat performance is better than of pure cargo ships, there’s also much better options available (in the same price range) for any combat oriented activity.

    So depending on what activity you’d want to participate, acquiring a somewhat more specialized ship might be a goal you could set yourself. Which again closed the circle to the game mostly being a sandbox. You have the tools (and mind you, some of them are not very elegant either, but that’s another story), but you have to set your own goals.

  3. Addendum: i just went into the game. The current community goals are both about creating equipment against the Thargoids. The one in the Maia system, which is to create defensive equipment, is outside of the human bubble. Depending on your position, it might be like 300 to 500 lightyears to travel there for you, which in a Cobra is quite a voyage.

    The other one, which is about creating anti-Thargoid weapons, is in the Eurybia system. In comparison to those guys in their 600 tons cutters a Cobra doesn’t bring in the big piles, but you can cut down on travel distances as the big ships can’t land on outposts. (Usually all big bases around a community goal are drained of materials in a matter of one or two days, then the big ships have to fly longer distances to bring materials. In contrast, smaller ships can often stick with rather nearby outposts, as they are not being drained by the big ships. )

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