Elite: Dangerous is a neat game, however right now I see it mostly as a single-player game. I play it entirely in the “Solo” mode, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything without other people around. Thus I wouldn’t consider it a contender for 2014’s MMO of the year, despite how bad the other choices were.
From what I can surmise, there are only two possible outcomes that can happen if you encounter another person: Either they can a) ignore you or b) try to shoot you down. (I suppose some weirdos might try c) start a conversation.) As far as I know, there are no group objectives to go after yet (such as world bosses), so there is nothing to “team up” with other spaceships for. So if you’re not a fan of Open World PvP I would suggest just sticking with Solo play. For me, Star Wars-style space battles aren’t what I want from a space game, so I just play Solo. (I’m not sure what I do want from a space game, but I know it’s not space battles. At least not with other people. It takes long enough to kill the AI pilots–it would probably take a good half hour to kill another person in an evenly-matched battle.)
The fact that you have to manually pilot your ship everywhere in Elite: Dangerous is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve always liked the idea of EVE but in practice I always felt like there was little or no interactivity in the gameplay–that is, you just click a couple of buttons and your ship automatically flies to a new spot. It’s neat, but during that time, you yourself just sit there staring at the screen doing nothing. That makes it very hard for me to justify paying a subscription for it.
In Elite: Dangerous, the process is entirely interactive, which makes it feel more like a game. Unfortunately, over time, the curse of it is that piloting your ship between systems gets a little old. Flying from system to system feels like “grinding”–just repeating the same actions over and over again. You start to wish for an auto-pilot so you could press a button, get up, do something else, and come back to find your ship docked at the next system. (In real life, I would think real space ships would have exactly that.) There’s an auto-docking computer you can buy which is sort of the right idea, but it doesn’t work very well (it keeps dinging my ship because it lands too hard) and it doesn’t pilot between systems. Maybe they’ll add a full auto-pilot in the future. I’d probably even pay real money for that.
Beware that it takes some time and practice to learn to fly your ship. It took me a couple of days before I could do anything but rotate around like an idiot in one place.
The default mouse-and-keyboard setup gives you your basic flight-simulator controls: Left and right to roll, up and down for pitch. You can get around like that, but to fly more efficiently (especially while docking) you’re also going to want to learn to use the up, down, left, and right thrusters, and the left and right yaw.
Expect it to take a dozen or so docking attempts before you start to get the hang of it. In those first ones, you’ll feel like a senior citizen trying to drive with macular degeneration. Do not turn off the rotational correction unless you are a serious masochist. Your ship will survive banging into walls and stuff so don’t worry too much about that.
Don’t worry if you run out of oxygen and die in deep space like I did. You’ll get a new Sidewinder ship for free. (Also, don’t forget to refuel every time you dock somewhere.)
Get to know your Frame Shift Drive (the ‘J’ key by default). It took me a while to realize this, but there are actually two different “modes” of the Frame Shift Drive. One is for flying between systems, and one is for flying within systems. If you notice that you can’t stop, it’s because your Frame Shift Drive is still on because you’re flying inside a solar system.
The basic idea with trading is to buy goods that have a High Supply and sell them to systems where they are in High Demand. The Galactic Map is not terribly helpful in giving you that information either. If you follow the trade routes on the map, you might end up getting boned. I don’t know if it’s a bug or if I’m using it wrong, but I’ve had to make lists of the items in high demand at various systems in a separate document.
The fastest way to make money by far is trading, by the way. Exploration, mining, and collecting bounties is really, really slow. It can take you hours and hours to make the same amount of money you’d get in one trip between adjacent systems. I’d really like to see those activities get improved rewards. I would do more of them but it’s just not worth it right now.
Since trading is pretty much the only effective way to “level up” in the game (ie. make more money), it gets pretty routine after a while. For that reason, my attention has drifted away from Elite: Dangerous to other things. Still, it’s a cool game, and I think I got my money’s worth. I’ll pop back in from time to time to see what they’re doing with it.