What Is – Elite: Dangerous

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It’s funny, in a way, that it’s taken me this long to write about Elite. More than a little test guide I wrote a while back to wrap my head around the idea of a guide anyway.

I was not aware of it’s existence until this iteration, but Elite has been around for a long time. It’s earliest incarnation is barely younger than me, having been released in September of 1984. It was released on quite a few different platforms and feature primarily wireframe graphics. Core gameplay was, and is, an open-world sandbox that revolved around trade.

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The newest entry fancies itself more of an MMO type of experience, complete with a cute little launcher that provides a variety of news articles about the ongoing universe, a couple of patch note links, and a banner ad on the right to hopefully convince you to buy some cosmetics. I won’t really get into that here, but it’s exclusively cosmetic/customization items in the cash shop. It’s also purchased with actual currency, none of that silly virtual currency business.

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The game itself is as much simulation as it is game. The detail that goes into the different ships, the different sounds they make, the fine details of maneuvering and landing, give it a very flight sim sort of feel. Like seriously, you need a joystick unless you’re some sort of mouse and keyboard prodigy. One with buttons, lots of them. Mine has 12 buttons, 3 axis stick, and a little hat and throttle, and that allows me to get most basic ship functions on the joystick itself.

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In reality Elite is only as multiplayer as you want it to be. I personally choose to play in Open, but honestly human pilots are pretty rare unless you’re engaging in current even content. My experience with other humans has been very mixed so far. I had a “lol noob your not worth my time” sort of experience once before and much more recently a “sorry it’s just business” sort of encounter when a player from an opposing faction dropped in on the home system and fried me with a hold full of goods. Honestly the vast majority of people don’t interact and if you’re in transit you may not be in the system long enough to notice.

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Any time I take a break from the game for a while I always make a point to engage my pre-flight checks. This simply makes sure that I have access to basic functions like throttle and landing gear and know how to access them. Once you launch you have to exit the station and request a landing pad in order to return. Failure to do so will likely result in the loss of the ship.

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I loaded in on my cargo ship and wanted to go back to the home station where my ships are stored. I figured I might as well try to land a cargo contract but the only one for my destination was a salvage operation, which is a more exploration type of activity that this ship isn’t set up for.

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Actual pre-flight checks in action

With that out of the way I went ahead and launched myself. Nobody wants to sit in station all day.

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Frame shift drive, charging.

One of the things I like about Elite is how immersive it tries to be. The ship has an audio assistant and provides feedback about several things going on. Each station has also a flight traffic controller that refers to you by a callsign when you enter range and announcing your landing pad when you request one and all that. While not exactly unique to you, your callsign is your ship manufacturer and the first three letters of your pilot name in the phonetic alphabet. For example, the Keelback that I’m flying is made my Lakon Spaceways and my pilot name is Kenidil. My callsign while using this ship is Lakon Kilo Echo November.

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3… 2… 1… Engage

Now I’m under the impression that they try to stay vaguely in the realm of reality, with regards to astronomy anyway, but reality would make travelling between different solar systems really really boring. As a result they have the “frame shift drive.” Now, I’m not a lore expert exactly, but it’s some manner of alternate dimension they enter and use the FSD itself to compress/move the space around the ship instead of moving the ship itself. I dunno, whatever, the experience is cool though.

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That bright dot in the center is the destination star. I’ve always assumed it had something to do with stars being easier to see at these distances and more mass to lock on to.

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Which naturally is why you always drop out right next to the dang thing. Don’t AFK and Drive guys, that’s how people get killed. Trying to grab a bite to eat while making a jump is a good way to end up biting it. Been there, done that, didn’t enjoy it. The t-shirt burned up in the explosion.

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I wish we could land on this type of planet so bad. Unfortunately as of yet we’ve got mostly boring dirt balls that look like the moon.

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Ship outfitting is fairly complicated in the details but the big picture isn’t to hard to grasp. Each ship has a certain number of slots of a designated size. Within each size there are usually five grades E-A in order of cost. There are exceptions, like cargo racks, because it’s kinda hard to improve “empty space.” A is not always the best choice either. Class A parts tend to have the best “performance” but are obnoxiously expensive and typically draw a lot of power. Class B is usually a good high end choice with a nicer price, but has the highest mass. Class C is a balanced mid tier. Class D, which I use a lot, is barely better than Class E but is usually the lightest class. For something like an exploration ship where you’re trying to minimize mass to get maximum jump range class D is where it’s at.

For the record, that isn’t my Keelback in the picture above, it’s my combat outfitted Vulture. The ship you see in my as my user image with the glowy blue lines. My keelback is basically cargo racks all the way down.

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Speaking of cargo racks, I honestly make most of my money doing cargo missions mixed with the odd trading run here and there. There’s a large background simulator that has every system/station assigned an economy that controls what is produces and what it needs. Trading is a rather tight balancing act of finding a system with a massive supply selling below the galactic average and taking to somewhere where it’s in high demand and selling above the galactic average. I honestly haven’t had a ton of luck, but that’s partially because my Keelback is like a space U-haul, not really a good cargo runner but it’s better than a plain ol’ truck.

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The game does give you a rank in various types of activity that are an okay indicator of your level of experience with that activity. My combat rank was mostly harmless for quite some time. You can make good money doing any of these things, really, but it helps to pick a location and hang out there. You don’t get the good paying missions until you’ve increased your faction standing in a system by doing the little ones. I actually got my initial working cash by doing smuggling missions. Little on the high risk side especially since I didn’t know what I was doing, but I managed to get a decent ship and started branching out a little. I currently have three different ships, one for each one of those activities.

Now, all that aside, the main flaw I’d say this game has is that it’s 100% sandbox. There’s absolutely no story other than the one you make for yourself. This creates a vague unguided experience that can honestly seem rather humdrum, especially if you don’t read the news and immerse yourself in the sim itself. There are some things I would love to do but haven’t managed yet, like making the trip to Colonia. Even my exploration ship doesn’t have the kind of jump range I would need on it yet. That and playing in a group with my brother would require me to return afterwards and it’s such a long trip that it would be inconvenient.

It’s not for everyone. Even I don’t tend to play for long periods of time but in a more on again, off again way. It feels more active and engaging than, say, EVE. I’ve played EVE too, but I dislike the sort of auto-piloty nature of it. It feels too cold and distant, like a spreadsheet in space that’s been cleaned up and made prettier. So many spreadsheets….

10 thoughts on “What Is – Elite: Dangerous

  1. Just a sidenote: technically your exploration ship has enough jump range to go to Colonia. You don’t really need big jump distance to go there. Actually for longer trips, I consider the fuel scoop to be the determining factor on how fast you can travel. Only when carrying a really good scoop, differences in jump range are actually felt again.

    That being said, I understand that a trip to Colonia takes a lot of time and you can’t quickly do stuff with your brother. Though, for combat there’s a fix for that: multicrew. Help your brother go get his hands on a ship which can carry fighters.

    There’s plenty of ships which have more than one seat, but multicrew then requires the ship to have turrets. This takes away weapons from the pilot and basically feels like everybody has half a ship only. Which basically is just what you have. It’s really no fun. But when a ship carries ship launches fighters, things get different. The owner of the ship still has his ship for himself, while the other player just jumps in (from anywhere in the galaxy) and pilots the fighter.

    I do that a lot with friends. No matter what I do, I use my Krait. When a friend turns up, he can join me from anywhere, I just head to a resource extraction site or something, where we can find some trouble. It really gets us into action quickly. The Krait is also the ship I’d advise to get for that. It’s still a bit cheaper than the Python, so far cheaper than most other ships which can carry fighters, handles much better than the bigger ships and still is a capable combat ship.

    For a lower price you can also get the new Alliance Crusader. While the Krait can afford a class 6 fighter bay, the Crusader usually goes for a class 5. So it can only field one fighter, instead of the two of the Krait. But for two people, it’s perfectly fine. In terms of turning speed, the Crusader is a bit better than the Krait, though. So if credits are still short, it might be the better choice.

    Mind you, the Keelback which you have can also carry a fighter, but the ship itself is not really a combat ship. I wouldn’t go for that. Anyway, I think that multicrew could solve your “have to be here, can not travel” problem: just help your brother to have a multicrew ship and you can travel freely and join up with him whenever you like.

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    1. We actually did tinker around with the Keelback fighter bay a little bit, but you’re not kidding about it not really being a combat ship.

      We kept running into issues regarding profit sharing with multicrew. The crusader does look like a sweet entry level multicrew ship though. I had the Krait on my list of ships to look into when I had more money handy. It looked like a solid ship for the price. I also tend to like the Faulcon designs better than Lakon’s space bricks, but they’re decent ships anyway.

      I’ll take a look at Colonia again. I tried to tell it to plot a route at some point and it said it couldn’t find one. To be fair, I didn’t try that hard at the time though. Just thinking about all that exploration data makes see dollar signs though. Provided I can arrive in one piece that is.

      INARA has my Diamondback running a 3D Fuel Scoop and a 5D FSD with one tick of Increased Range on it.

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      1. On profit sharing and multicrew: profit is shared at acceptable rates, as long as the ship owners combat rank is not much higher than the crew members combat rank. If the ship owner has significally higher combat rank, the payout for the crew member is reduced a lot.

        Also, currently the only multicrew activity worth it is bounty hunting in resource extraction sites. On the positive, the exploration system is getting a massive rework, supposedly before the end of this year. Exloration will become much more interactive than it is now, and the new system is said to support and reward multicrew exploration.

        On traveling to Colonia: yea, you can’t do that in one turn. As far as I remember (might have been changed), you can only plot routes up to a distance of 1000 LY. There’s some website out there, but I’d also have to look it up, which helps you plotting longer distance routes.

        It still would be nice if the in-game navigation system would also be able to do that.

        On making money on such a trip: I know there are some “scan these places for quick money” lists online. Road to riches one of them is called. But that’s not exploration in my eyes. Proper exploration takes time and thus, when looking at the time invested, is not that profitable. But it offers the unique chance to permanently have your name attached to some stars and planets.

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      2. Ah, yeah, I think my rank was above his at the time and I was still trying to do combat missions. I think we learned about RES bounties after we’d moved to a wing instead.

        I wasn’t aware of the upcoming exploration changes, I’ll have to keep an eye on that. As far as exploration data en route to Colonia, I’m not really interested in a quick scan route anyway. If I’m doing it it’ll be a slow meandering trip where I take the time to poke around and scan everything. It’ll probably take forever, but it’s more about the journey than the destination.

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      3. Combat missions are a bit of a problem still with multi crew. I mean, by now there is a way, you have to wing up, share the mission, so everybody has it. Then switch to multi crew instead, complete the mission, split up again, turn the mission in.

        It’s neither nice nor convenient and defeats the big advantage of multi crew: being able to just join from all over the world. Once you have to wing up and meet at the same place to deliver the mission, you can just as well fly it in wing and not care for multi crew at all. It also eliminates the punishment for the lower ranked pilot.

        It’s the communities paranoia talking here. Originally there was no punishment like that, but some vocal community members were all in the rage that people could use this to “unfairly” push new players. I hope that multi crew exploration, once we have it, is actually lucrative for everybody, without such nonsensical deal breakers again.

        And on slow and meandering exploration: that’s actually the way to do it. A lot of the “big and famous” places have been visited, but most people follow the same trails. Once you get off these beaten paths, you can still find places nobody has seen before.

        A few months ago I was merely 1k LY away from the bubble and still had some new first discoveries on my tab when coming home. So if you meander (at a sufficient distance to the bubble), you’re likely to end up at places no player ever visited before and will be able to put your name on some places. 🙂

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      4. Might I add, it’s been nice to have a constructive conversation with another Elite player.

        I just went and checked out the exploration update and it certainly looks nice. It means I’ll actually have to do something instead of just pointing at things and waiting.

        I’ll admit, they’re a bit slow with updates, but I usually like where they end up. This will be one of the first ones I’ll be able to experience during it’s debut.

        It even looks like it may roll through sooner rather than later: “As a result and in preparation for the Chapter Four update, after October 8 we will not be able to add faction descriptions to the game until the next update (post Chapter Four).”

        I’m not taking that to mean that it drops next week, but if they’re preparing for it then it’s a good sign.

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      5. On the big update to come: yes, we “normal” players only have limited information about it, just like about the upcoming upgrade of mining. A small selection of players (e.g. some well known youtubers, game representatives, etc. ) recently were invited to Frontiers office and had some live demonstration of the things to come. While they’re still under NDA, their reaction to what is to come was very positive.

        I personally say, things look good based on what we know up to now, but a lot depends on details and finetuning. If the new exploration mechanic is too easy and/or very simple to learn, it’ll soon be seen as just additional tedium. If it’s too hard, people will give up on it and call for a nerf. But if they manage to hit the thin line between those options, it can become the best addition to the game since a long time.

        And on being slow on the updates: it’s actually what the community asked for. In spring/summer 2017 the community kept stating that the last additions lacked quality and wanted things improved. Frontier responded with a player vote. The options were to keep the release schedule, or to slow down new content in favour of fixing issues and improving existing mechanics. The results were strongly in favour of fixes and improvements.

        I personally am content there. After the voting, i knew that we shouldn’t expect massive new content in 2018. They over the run of the year delivered several patches which eliminated or reduced a number of problems the game. The prime example is engineering. It still might not be “great”, but it’s now useable for the normal player. Formerly you gathered the material (and you had to gather very specifically), then go to the engineer and roll for the upgrade. It was a gamble, you might’ve gotten something great, or something which was even inferior to the non-engineered module. In the new implementation, gathering materials still is a chore. But now missions also give materials and you can use material traders to fill some gaps. And when you engineer an item, each time you spend materials, you get a guaranteed upgrade, till you reach the maximum specs for the item you are upgrading.

        Those players who spend unlimited time and did hundreds of rolls of course miss the old system. It allowed them to have equipment above and beyond what most other players owned. But for everybody else, the new system is much better.

        Anyway, time will tell how the next big update really turns out. By all we know, it’s very much what the community asked for last year: upgrading existing game mechanics, which don’t feel good enough. I think the game will be much better for it. 🙂

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      6. I… think I remember the voting thing? I don’t think I participated though. I generally don’t feel that I play enough for my opinion to affect people who do.

        I tend to move around from game to game and while I follow them fairly closely while I’m actually playing them, I tend to miss a lot when I’m not. I appreciate you catching me up some though.

        I do feel that this is a good direction for the game overall. Of course, I’m easy to please. I’m fairly happy with how it’s continued to receive updates regularly since I bought it three years ago. I’m really impressed with the fact that they only asked for additional money for an update once. They could easily have charged for season and plenty of people would have paid for it, but they didn’t.

        I’m still awful at combat though. Something in the maneuvering I just can’t quite get a handle on. And that’s PvE, my experience with PvP is if I can’t evade it then I’m dead.

        Such is life though, we can’t all be good at it.

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      7. I’m also not into PvP any more. The high efford of engineering drove me out of it and I now just don’t feel any incentive to return to it. That’s also why I fly not in open, but got me access to Mobius. That’s a big private group with regulated PvP. Anybody can apply and is accepted, but violate the PvP limitations and you’re out for good.

        And on being a good pilot: a lot is just a matter of practice. A well set up ship helps, but I personally feel that people who started out with less sophisticated setups on the average tend to become the better pilots. Also, I think many people underestimate their ability. (The advanced combat tutorial of the game doesn’t help there. It’s -much- harder than most combat in the game. So people who just did that tutorial often think that they are incapable of ship combat, while actually doing quite fine. )

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      8. Mobius looks like a good idea, I’ll talk it over with my brother and see if he’s interested in checking it out. Honestly my interaction with players has been really limited unless I’m at a powerplay hq or engineer system.

        I don’t remember if I did the advanced combat tutorial, to be honest. Most of it is just an acknowledged difference between my skill level and the AI. I’ve slowly built an idea of what I can and can’t take. I’m sure my ship is part of it too.

        Anything about krait sized or larger I don’t touch unless System Authority engages first. I’ve tried several times and I just can’t take those hits and I can’t seem to not get hit.

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