It’s no secret that Elite Dangerous is a less than perfect game. If you’re a veteran sitting fat and happy on hundreds of ships and billions of credits, it might feel like you’ve beaten the game and have nothing to do. If you’re a new player, and especially if you’re new to space sims in general, the steep learning curve, the lack of hand holding, the low paying missions all make the prospect of earning your way out of a Sidewinder and into a Python or Type 9 look almost unattainable without sacrificing hundreds of hours to the grind. But, there in the middle somewhere is where Elite’s fun lies hidden. The trick is to know all the tricks, and the only way to do that is to ask other players, search out player made guides online, or experiment with your own ideas.
“But, if you are forced outside game to look for guides and money making schemes, that’s bad game design!”
I don’t disagree with you. But, once you realize what the game is asking of you, it makes a little more sense and you can grow to appreciate it, however imperfect. Frontier's goal is to allow it's players to "pretend" they are part of an "Elite" group of independent pilots that traverse the galaxy in some of the most advanced privately owned spaceships ever made in effort to expand and grow humanity's footprint in the universe. They’ve painstaking programmed the most realistic gravity and terrain generation they can and they've built a life size (virtually) 1:1 scale model of our own real Mikyway galaxy with lore baked in ready to explore. They have asked us to discover it's secrets as if we were out discovering the real thing in a ship of own that we bought with our hard earned space credits and fine tuned to perform exactly how we want it to. How you do that is completely up to you! You don’t have to do it alone. Or at all! You could decide instead to be a mercenary, or a trader, or a pirate, or… wait… haven’t you heard all this before? ...hundreds of times?
Many space games have made the same promises, and whether or not they deliver I’ll leave up to you. As for me, I’d like to compare Elite Dangerous to another type of game you may not expect.
Gran Turismo. I’m not an avid racing game player, but I do enjoy them quite a bit from time to time. I put hundreds of hours into Gran Turismo on the PS2 and PS3. In those games you get to “pretend” that you are a famous racecar driver that races in prestige events all around the globe, in the most exotic locations, in some of the fastest, most valuable, and exoctic cars on the planet. You are given a meager amount of money to buy your first almost not crappy car, and from there it’s up to you to figure out what types of races you want to do, which other cars you want to buy, and in which ways to modify them. If you complete the certain license challenges you’ll be reward by unlocking other cars, locations, and race types. And it does this while painstakingly programming in the most realistic racing physics and recreating real world locations as close as possible.
Sounds a little familiar, right? Sure in Gran Turismo eventually you can win all the hardest races and become the champion, where as in Elite you caaaaan… what? Buy another ship? Discover another planet? That sounds boring by comparison because at this point we’re talking about apples and oranges. You can’t become champion of being a spaceship pilot [RIP CQC]. But you can learn the tricks of the trade, no matter what the trade may be. You can research, find, and hunt down mysterious Alien lifeforms. You can participate in the hostile takeover of a neighboring star system in representation of your favorite political faction. Or even play the role of AAA in space, and rescue a stranded player who ran out of fuel and only has minutes of air left! So yes, the similarities have to end somewhere. One is a racing sim and the other is a space sim after all. A space… sim. That’s where the important differences are. Not from Gran Turismo, but every other space game out there. Lets take a look at a few of the most played, more current Space Games/Sims out there today.
Where EVE Online does a fantastic job with player freedom and content to absorb, It pales in comparison in over all size and lacks a real exploration system that makes you feel like you’ve discovered something no one else has. It can be pretty unforgiving if you don’t know what you’re doing and you can lose a lot of progress waste a lot off your time just by making one small mistake. Null Sec, where all the headlines are made is a pvp no man’s land, and the game requires a subscription to access all the content in it’s entirety.
No Man’s Sky, arguably the most similar game to Elite, has a universe that is as big if not bigger than Elite’s and is pretty accessible to new or low skill level players. It’s beautifully artistic graphics and planetary generation really make Elite’s look meager at times. Discoveries of alien life? They’ve got you covered there! But of course players were notoriously let down big time at launch when they learned that many… err most of the features they thought would be there, weren’t… or were paper thin at best. Like Elite, NMS doesn’t hold your hand much either, and gives you freedom to do whatever or go where ever you want, but the problem is the game gives you no reason to do that beyond upgrading your equipment, ship, base, or just discovering the next planet. There is only the vaguest hint of some mysterious lore or story, no real economy, everything just feels sort of arbitrary and meaningless… not to mention… no multiplayer despite requiring an online connection. And no… I’m not counting...that…whatever that is they slapped in… as multiplayer.
Fractured Space is a dirty F2P MOBA and Everspace is more if a roguelike and is only on this list because, well it’s a pretty damn good game.
Star Citizen… isn’t out yet.
But Seriously, Star Citizen is promising the world (and stars) but is still in Alpha after almost eight years, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the most played space games today. It has a level of fidelity not seen anywhere else, but you can’t do all things they’ve announced just yet, and they’ve made no promises to give you an entire milkyway galaxy to discover.
So if you’re someone like me, that’s what it comes down. I love Elite because I want to travel the stars and discover the secrets our galaxy holds. I want to live another life and pretend to be a spaceship pirate, merc, or space trucker. Elite Dangerous is the only game out there that can do that for me because I can play it at my pace, as long or as little as I want. It can can consistently impress me with it’s level of realism graphically and audibly. No decision I make in the game is influenced by a predetermined path layed out for me by the game, yet everything in the game is there for a reason, waiting, asking me to discover it. It’s up to me and you to figure out what those reasons are, if we want to.