Elite Dangerous: Tumultuous landing

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1984. The year of Van Halen’s Jump, saw the birth of Apple’s first Mac, Katy Perry, Alizée and Mark Zukerberg. And on a BBC computer, the publisher Acornsoft published Elite, a game created by David Braben and Ian Bell, that would mark his time and addict thousands of people to space exploration, symbolized by points and shapes made of wire. 30 years later, Elite is back with a major Kickstarter campaign and the promise of a unique adventure deep in the cosmos. Promise kept?

Elite: 3rd type meeting

It all starts in a hangar….

Let’s not go in four directions: Between the promise to leave and the final result, there is still a gap the size of the Grand Canyon. This is a bit of a problem with games launched with participatory financing: If the financing is validated, few productions are able to predict development times and remain faithful to their audience. ED’s direct competitor, Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen, will probably come out very late, like the Godus, Pillars of Eternity or Shroud of the Avatar.

However, while the depth of the Grand Canyon may frighten those who are afraid of heights, others will be blown away by the scenery, even if it means forgetting that they are facing the void. This is a bit like what is happening with Elite: Dangerous, which impresses with its representation of the stellar systems, which is truly magnificent. Gas giants, inhabited planets, asteroid belts or satellite moons, the immensity of the void is dotted with elements that will thrill you. It’s quite simple, you get caught sailing from station to station just to admire the space landscapes, observe the solar flares or slalom through the rocky debris.

When it comes to modelling, both ships and orbital stations are full of details, both outside and inside, including advertising panels. It will be possible in the future to walk around it, at least that’s what the developers indicated in the Q&A of the Kickstarter page. This, like the possibility of landing on the planets or visiting your ship, have not yet been included in the version 1.0 released in December and should not be released for a long time (or even never?). But in the current state, those who have a large screen and an immersive installation take a lot of attention, but only in travel mode.

Approach phase

In space, no one will hear you

No matter how many “Is there anyone there?” screaming at the moon, or trying to communicate with the NPCs that pass through the classic space corridors, the vastness of the cosmos can quickly destabilize the most agoraphobic and leave you perplexed about the dynamics of the gameplay. It takes place in several phases, even if one of the sources of pleasure of the game remains the unconditional freedom of the pilot. You will invariably have the same routine to perform in order to hope to improve your status, whether you are aiming for combative, market or exploratory domination, and finally reach the rank of Elite, the highest distinction you can obtain.

The typical sequence is as follows: Takeoff from a station, travel to a chosen destination, stop to fill a spot, then landing on another station or the same one, you are free we said). The tasks in question are limited, but not without risks: Recovery of lost containers, attacking vessels whether they are wanted or not, mining exploration or pure and simple exploration, you can at any time be “banned”, i.e. intercepted by pirates or bounty hunters, or run out of fuel by performing jumps without technical stops. Approaching too close to the stars can cause overheating, which may eventually endanger the integrity of the vessel, unless the optional heat sink is used in time or if you move away.

A Coriolis station

But these risks are very rarely fatal. Moreover, we never die in Elite: Dangerous, at worst we end up ejected into a survival capsule, returning to the last station visited. The only problem is that you find yourself naked like a worm, stripped of your ship and in debt, unless, of course, you have built up a rescue fleet.

These tasks can be performed on your own, but it is more interesting to perform them as part of the missions proposed on each station’s bulletin board. These missions vary according to the player’s obedience, the capacity of his cargo, the confidence coefficient granted by the dominant faction in the area and the resource requirements. A good way to build up a small starting capital is to recover drifting containers in the interstellar void, even if it means screening the targeted systems, which can take time. Fedex missions are often less remunerative but faster, and sometimes make it possible to achieve significant added value if they are combined with a sale of products to the market. Finally, it is possible to become a bounty hunter or assist the authorities by arresting fugitives or intercepting pirates or smugglers. Of course, it is not said that the target lets himself be done….

Change ships? Why not? Why not?

Astrophysics for Dummies

Are you a formidable space fighter? Wait until you can compete with the elite pilots who fly the universe. While human and non-human opponents are often present around the stations, fierce battles await you when you are isolated from everyone. And whether you are the agent provocateur or the target, a committed fight can quickly turn into a disaster if the ship is poorly equipped or if the manoeuvrability is not 100% controlled. It will be necessary to use simulators to get an idea of the intensity of the clashes, especially against several enemies. At the beginning of the game, it is even advisable to avoid any confrontation, or even to resell your basic lasers, barely more powerful than a Clio’s turn signals, in order to gain speed and get out of dangerous situations more quickly. On the other hand, experienced and well-equipped drivers will only make a bite out of the opponents at their level, even if it will take a little time.

The manoeuvrability of the ship is an important factor: Moreover, each of the machines has its own degree of manoeuvrability, which is related to the size of the hull and the number of modules. Between high-speed fighters and cargo ships with a capacity of several hundred tons, combat will not be considered in the same way. Moreover, merchant ships will have to avoid any conflict, unless they rely on the power of their shields and hit their targets… Weapons are divided into several categories and aiming modes: lasers and fixed or mobile guns, guided missiles… power at a cost in both credit and energy.

It will therefore be necessary to go through the equipment box to acquire a ship worthy of the name. For the moment, there are 15 Sidewinders, Cobra MkIII, Asp or Eagle should be joined by other types of frames, more or less adapted to the players’ professions. At the beginning of the adventure, however, it will be necessary to settle for the versatile but archaic Sidewinder, rented and without advanced equipment, but which will be sufficient to carry out the first missions.

A star is born…

Don’t expect to operate your machine like a leader from the hand on the throttle: Elite: Dangerous is very difficult to handle, especially on the keyboard/mouse. The use of a pad or quota is strongly recommended, as is the use of voice recognition to launch certain commands. The first landings will be chaotic or even disastrous, the first combat discouraging and the phases of hyperdrive and approach of the calamitous systems. But this noobesque phase lasts only a few parts, since we quickly get caught doing all this with our eyes closed, whistling or eating spaghetti bolo without filling our shirts. The learning phase also involves other parts of the game, such as trading, exploring or using the modules.

The galactic map, for example, requires us to think about it before revealing its full potential. If the first moments are devoted to the amazement of the representation of the visible cosmos, we then focus on the navigation routes and the representation of trade routes. Each faction (Empire, Alliance, Federation) influences the content of trade and authorized products, but also prices. Political systems influence the permissiveness of activity in a system, particularly on the black market. A reputation system will allow you to access certain missions and influence the life of a system, although the changes are minimal compared to the vastness of the visible universe.

Freedom at a price

Elite: Dangerous offers a unique gaming experience, which some people regret. Indeed, it is very difficult not to find the game boring or repetitive if you are not interested in missions or exploration. The addition of content, progressive, should solve these problems but it is unfortunate that the developers could not deliver a more accomplished and innovative product in time for the official release. But the most persevering people have in their hands a real marvel in terms of exploration and freedom, perseverance that will pay off with future missions, new ships, deep customization, events and planet overflights. But if it takes another year to get there, you’ll have every reason to check out Star Citizen or No Man’s Sky.

Elite’s profile: Dangerous

To get started in Elite: Dangerous…

If the handling is difficult (just the configuration of the controls takes up to an hour of fine-tuning), the player is not helped for a single second when it comes to approaching the game as a whole. While tutorial missions allow you to take control of the ship, there is no explanation of how to complete the missions, where to trade and why the discovery module is of interest to the stations. If a game manual is downloadable, it does not contain any tips to really enjoy Elite: Dangerous from the basics of navigation assimilated.

-Try different controllers. ED is a game that has been designed to be played at the Hotas, simulating the joystick and throttle of flying machines. If you don’t like buying such a device, you can always try the traditional gamepad, which works very well but requires knowing all the key combinations. At the keyboard/mouse, you will have the worst difficulties to control your ship in flight, unless you configure the sensitivity and settings with little onions but don’t get any illusions, you will not have the same dexterity as your opponents….

-Use the map of the galaxy. This map concentrates absolutely everything you need to know about the systems around which you are located, from the obedience to the import/export routes. When viewing them, don’t forget to modify the filters to see the products that are requested or shipped and thus fill your bunkers with the required cargoes. Avoid reselling at a loss and if morality is not your strong suit, note the planets that sell rare commodities such as slaves, often sold for gold and which are the subject of occasional missions.

-Learn to approach a destination. When the Frame Shift Drive is on, your flying speed is such that you fly light years in a few minutes. When setting a target, approaching an unknown source or joining a station, try to maintain a constant speed and decelerate gradually, so that the time between you and your goal remains between 5s and 11s. As soon as you enter the periphery of the target, you can stop the SDF, but if you go too fast, you will have to reverse.

-Play with physics: Use and abuse the distribution of energy in engines, systems or weapons, especially when manoeuvring. To turn around or take a sharp turn, it is in your best interest to slow down very sharply before go-around when you are in the right position. Remember that you can also disable the flight aid, which counterbalances your actions to stabilize the ship. Your top speed will be increased and you will be able to surprise your opponents more easily by passing behind them.

-Don’t waste your time with missions that don’t pay off. Forget the “bring back tea” missions and go straight to the quest to find lost containers. The departure ship does not contain enough cargo space anyway so that you can earn credits with trade only. If morality is not an obstacle, carry out missions concerning slaves, they appear regularly, even at the system stations that sell them.

-Become an auxiliary bounty hunter. When you come across law enforcement officers attacking a fugitive, help them! A few well-sent shots at the right time and you can give the final blow to their target and pocket a substantial bonus. Anyway, if you help them, they reward you in credits, it’s always a big deal!

-Resell your exploration data. Once you have landed at the spaceport, go to the universal mapping and sell your acquired data. This will bring you a few hundred credits, or even much more, as you discover new astral elements.

-Do not engage in combat until you change ships and weapons. To obtain a device that can withstand enemy attacks, it is necessary to invest in a ship, but also in equipment (engine, shield, armor…) and armament. Basic lasers are largely insufficient, unless you attack defenceless prey, but in this case you risk being atomized during a ban.

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