Since lockdown began earlier this year, I found myself revisiting an old game I’ve played a lot of before, Elite Dangerous. I’m not sure if it was the isolation of lockdown, but the thought of revisiting a full-scale recreation of the Milky Way galaxy with some friends was really appealing to me.
Elite Dangerous is an open-ended game which is very hands-off with the player; it’s totally up to you, the pilot, as to what you spend your time doing. You could go searching for riches in the rings of a gas giant. You could bring criminals to justice as a bounty hunter. You could seek out strange new worlds as an explorer. You can even become a space trucker and deliver goods and people around the galaxy, seeing the beautiful sights as you go.
And what a beautiful game it is. The 1:1 scale recreation of our galaxy looks absolutely stunning. Even though I’ve played hundreds of hours, I still find myself stopping to take it all in, admire the scenery and capture a few screenshots. The first time I happened across a neutron star I was blown away — almost literally, as I got a bit too close and almost got crushed in it’s gravity. The game also looks simply incredible in VR and really has to be seen to fully appreciate.
What I quite like about each of the game activities is the difference in pace and feel. This means you can pick the right activity for your mood. Maybe you’re not feeling up to hunting down space pirates? No problem, take your trusty mining ship out for a spin.
There’s something quite therapeutic and peaceful about asteroid mining in Elite. Trawling the depths of an asteroid field looking for precious materials is oddly relaxing and satisfying in equal parts. The environment is very atmospheric.
Within Elite’s virtual galaxy players can explore over 400 billion star systems, with 150,000 of them modelled on real astronomical data. The planets orbit in real time too, giving you a day/night cycle.
The way you interact with the galaxy is mostly from the confines of the pilot’s seat, but you can also take your ship down to the surface of a planet, and take a six-wheeled surface vehicle out for a spin too.
Although sadly there’s only one type of surface vehicle, there are over 38 different starships to try out, each with it’s own unique look and feel, inside and out. From the utilitarian look of the Krait MkII to the luxurious Imperial Cutter and everything in between.
Some of the ships can be outfitted for multiple roles, whereas others are more suited to a single role. Each ship handles very differently too, from nimble single-seat fighters to multi-deck leviathans. The way you outfit them affects their handling and ultimately how well they perform. Thankfully you can operate multiple and switch between them so you aren’t forced to compromise.
Every ship is customisable, from external modules like weapon hardpoints, and point defense, to things like thrusters, power plants and armour. You can engineer your modules to give them new capabilities and make each ship uniquely yours. There are even some ancient alien artifacts to recover, letting you create some hybrid human/alien technology and give your ship that extra kick.
Sure, there are some issues with the game. The economy isn’t as deep and sophisticated as EVE Online’s, and there’s quite a lot of grind involved to really make the most of some of the game systems (engineering I’m looking at you).
But once you’re out there in the black, somehow none of that seems to matter anymore.
Sometimes all you need is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.