Elite Dangerous

It was getting late, and I was running behind schedule trying to carry well-paying tourists back to their destination. While they partied in the back of the limo, drinking and having a great time, I was stuck in the driver’s seat trying to navigate a strange route through increasingly perilous territory. With my eyes glued to the clock and my foot on the gas, I was already doubting my latest career choice, and this was only my second trip. Fighting the growing urge to dump my passengers in the middle of nowhere and scream off into the night, I took a deep breath, and pressed the accelerator forward.

It was right about then that I dropped out of hyperdrive smack dab in the middle of the gravity well of a massive star, and immediately things went to shit. Ah, the joys of a space limo driver…

Alarms rang in my ears as the controls in my brand-new Saud-Kruger Dolphin started smoking. The ship’s computer gently alerted me to a catastrophic temperature exposure. Suddenly everything stopped, and we were drifting.

Floating in space, with my cockpit panels shorting out and my temperature gauge through the roof, I glanced over at the cabin camera to check on my passengers, convinced that they were all cooked by radiation in their plush seats.

Still partying… Thank god for a decent shield generator.

As my shiny new Dolphin (now nicknamed Space Limo of Love, FYI) was relatively and slowly pulled toward a massive purple ball of gas, fire, and death, these guys are blasting music and falling over each other playing Twister.

“Anyone know how to find the escape vector from a purple giant star?” I yell over my shoulder, knowing well that they can’t hear me. A few calculations and a frantic discussion with the ship’s computer later, and we were burning away from the ball of death at speed.

Luckily for me, These guys didn’t even notice that they’d nearly died tonight, and tipped well.

My morning was much better. Less alcohol and near-total-annihilation, more relaxing and listening to some music while dodging gankers. The Space Limo of Love is fast. I mean, real fast. I had the techs put in a new power unit and upgraded the scanner so I can handle some tougher sightseeing trips.

In the meantime I ferried a cushy trip one system away that paid out over a million credits, so yeah it was a great morning. It wasn’t until midday when I picked up a few passengers headed to a nearby system that I ran into trouble again. It started fine, until I hit the jump button too soon and overheated, knocking us out of Supercruise and into the well of another star. It seems like this might continue to be an issue, so I might have to have a new shield put on.

The Star was easy since escape vectors are an old hag now, but not until I swung the boat around and saw our destination a good 30 minutes out from the jump point… I about shit. I was cursing the “damn bay full of prisoners” up one side of the galaxy and down the other, and hoping that if I kept leaning on the stick I could somehow will the Space Limo of Love (SLoL?) to travel faster than physically possible.

So lesson learned, check the distance on the next contract to make sure I won’t be stuck humming ancient Glen Hansard tunes and reading the same diagnostic menus over and over with a ship full of prisoners.

Funny thing happened when we finally arrived, I noticed that the prisoners were actually Aid Workers I’d just delivered to a war zone.

No wonder the payout was so low! Fucking charity right?!

So far I’ve played about 20 hours of Frontier Games’ massive online game Elite Dangerous, and already I’m lost in my space-geek imagination. After five years of Eve Online and a decade or two of X3: games, Elite is exactly the next best step in space sims.

Sporting a 1:1 scale map of the Milky Way Galaxy to explore, Elite Dangerous is an ambitious project. I blew my 11 year-old son’s mind today when I showed him the game map. I zoomed all the way out to see the swirling arms of the galaxy, then slowly zoomed back in and focused on just a few of the passing dots of light. When he finally understood that every single one of those dots contained a solar system like ours with planets and moons and a sun or two, he lost it, exclaiming that there is no point to our existence before returning to Minecraft.

Unlike most conventional video games, Elite doesn’t have levels or bosses, and in that sense is a lot like Eve Online, in what amounts to a strictly player-driven experience. When the game starts you are dropped in a space station in the middle of nowhere with $1000 credits to spend, a base-model Sidewinder, and the clothes on your back. It’s up to you to make your own fun in a the biggest sandbox I’ve ever played in.

The only game that comes close in scale is No Man’s Sky, which loses some the grandeur in its procedurally-generated, cartoonish landscapes and repetitive exploration. No Man’s Sky is to GTA III like Elite Dangerous is to GTA V. It’s bigger, it’s meaner, it’s less pixelated, and it’s got long, long legs. The developers have mapped out the game for the next few years, and only just recently introduced landing on planets and driving wheeled vehicles.

While I watch Star Citizen from afar with longing eyes, Elite Dangerous is the closest thing I’ve played to a perfect sci-fi junky’s dream come true. A completely intertwined galaxy with a fluctuating economy, an ever-changing war between human factions, and a mysterious alien presence on the edge of known space. While the learning curve is a little steep, the payoffs come fast. I quickly switched up the default control scheme to allow more intuitive play and I’m beginning to see a universe of possibilities in front of me.

I’ve run deliveries of goods and data from one station to another, I’ve sought out combat rewards, and I’ve made a small fortune from ferrying people around in my Dolphin transport ship, which came decked out with a passenger cabin and a sweet Flipper-esque hull. I don’t know how often it will happen but one lady I dropped off in 15 minutes and made 1.2 million, another few sightseers paid for a mobile party bus that only required me to show them beautiful stuff out the window. As I heap more credits into my bank account, I can’t wait to score a nice warship that I can use to mop up pirates or insurgents. I hear there is a nice income to be made for mercenaries in the Milky Way.

My only complaint is really only an inherent problem in all games of this type, and that’s the lack of focus that means that there is no way to manage your game time in any way. I’ve logged on to play for an hour and ended up online for three trying to find the right job or contract, or traveling across the stars just to find that one station selling an upgrade I need. As a father of two with a full-time job and a marriage, my window for gaming is later at night 90% of the time… and spending an hour trying to adjust my controls or hopping for station to station looking for a decent payday can leave me feeling unfulfilled. However that’s not necessarily the games fault, so like I said, any sandbox type game can swallow the hours quicker than you can spare them.

That being said, I would totally spend an entire weekend playing Elite Dangerous and having a blast doing it. I love a game that inspires me to write about it, that opens my imagination and lets me have unscripted fun. I just can’t make money fast enough yet, but the journey is always more fun than the destination anyway. Just ask my drunk tourists.

Elite Dangerous is on PC, PS4 and Xbox, with Oculus Rift compatibility that puts you IN the spaceship. It contains microtransactions and will continue to have paid updates over the next decade, at least. Elite is always online, and is playable on a solo server, a public one, or you can jump into a private group as well. The other day I scored the base game for a measly $11 on the PlayStation Store, and there’s also a $30 cumulative DLC package available as it’s been out for a few years

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