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.
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.
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.
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