Elite: Dangerous is an experience. From the first login the game makes you feel like you’re actually sitting behind the cockpit of a spaceship with a thin translucent sheet between you and the vacuum. Controls blink into life, an orange hue splashing across the screen, and a voice crackles over the intercom. ‘Commander’, it calls you, before running through a few diagnostics. There’s no mouse selection in the cockpit, an inspired move which frustrates at first but after all… who would use a mouse in space craft? You have to use your joystick (or keyboard if you’re a heathen like me) to navigate the menus, while keeping your craft level and out of trouble with the other.

A floating cursor drifting across the screen would feel too much like a lackadaisical gaze or an intrusive ‘other’, pulling you out of the galactic pool and into the cold winds of reality.

Your flight controller is chatty and helpful, running you through the basic commands in a manner that is perhaps unavoidably tutorial, would be on the edge of condescending, if he wasn’t so darn pleasant. 

The UI looks chaotic at first, but everything serves a purpose

WASD that rectangular motherlover

You’ll believe you can fly

Budding star explorers can choose to play Elite as an MMO, flying alongside the newbs and the griefers, or single player. Exploration carries over (the ‘No Man’s Sky’ model of multiplayer) but there’s much less risk of an idiot killing you. If you’re one of those weirdos who has friends then you can also play in a private server, which is probably the best combination. You can switch between these as you like with the same pilot though, so don’t feel like this is a life-changing decision.

Juggling your speed and your loadout takes a bit of learning, but as progression is very much at your own pace with a variety of different difficulty missions available you don’t have to rush. Many players choose to take up a life of space trucking, putting on their favourite podcast and runnung ore between stations. Higher paying missions are locked behind reputation though, so if you do want to rake in big spacebux for these then you want to get a few done.
You don’t need to though. You CAN, but you’re also free to go mine, hunt down some ships (player or otherwise), or just explore the galaxy. The map is impossibly large – as-of 2017, players had only explored 0.003% of it. Everything will get you credits in either loot, salvage, or reports, and each levels one of several ranks.

Every station offers news, missions and different services

Do job, make friend

Missions run the normal interstellar gamut of mine X, deliver Y, go to Z, and blast A’s gonads into the neighbouring star system. Any players of Eve Online or similar will be able to jump right in. Completing these missions will give you credits, goods and reputation, often allowing you to boost one at the expense of the others. Credits are your spenderonis, goods are vendor trash or occasionally equipables, and reputation gets you in the good books of various factions who will then let you take on more rewarding – and more dangerous – missions.

The galactic map takes a bit of getting used to…

The galactic tapestry unfurls

Past the standard missions there will occasionally be wider events as part of an ongoing story. Terrorist attacks send commanders to ferry out refugees from burning stations with their soon-to-be-burning ships. After that, the community might need to gather ore to repair the broken outposts, and then an assassination at a reopening embassy might mean…  you get the picture.

Players can also encounter peculiar things in their exploration of the galaxy, from alien remnants, abandoned (and not) starships, radioactive artifacts, and theoretically much more in the over 99.997% of the universe not yet uncovered.
Cargo racks and interstellar cadillacs

Discovering these odd things and not getting trashed in the process will involve equipping scanners, lasers, cannons, cargo bays, drones, landing craft, and all manner of things – but not all at once. Your limited starting cargo space encourages you to gear up for one or two roles and see how things go. There’s a low skill ceiling for the most part, though scanning (just like in Eve) can go die a hot laser death. If you do want to swot-up then there are helpful in-game tutorials you can follow and the usual gamut of online encyclopaedias and guides.

Gear come in various grades, with ships having different slots

Lasers for fun and profit

And when the pedal hits the metal, combat is super visceral. Lasers buzz, engines roar, hulls creak as shots ping into it. Warnings flash and beep as you take damage. While this hubbub is going on you’re switching weapon loadouts, finding new targets, slowing down for optimum steering before boosting to catch up on your prey. And when the glass of your cockpit blows out… it all goes silent. Your HUD disappears from the front screen (it is, after all, projected onto the glass), and you have just 5 minutes to reach a space station for repairs. Messing-up a jump is frustrating enough when it just costs you a few minutes, but fucking up when it costs your life kicks that up a notch.

Taste the long finger of space justice

If you want something a lot less likely to lead to your flash-frozen corpse haunting space then you can always pack your asteroid pick onto the back of your space donkey and head to the gold hidin’ in them thar asteroids. This isn’t like Eve Online’s tiresome right-click and teleport the ore aboard though. Like combat, you need to take an active role in blowing off chunks of rock and gently scooping them it into your cargo bay without bouncing off the hull. You can splash-out on drones to collect for you (that will then take up cargo space the ore could have done) and even explosives to crack asteroids quicker to get to the metaphorical yet chewy caramel centre.
In space, no one can hear you ‘Ooooh!’

The game is stunning, even being as old as it is. Beyond just being overall impressive visually and audially, the attention to detail really brings the game to life. Overheating your ship will cause sparks to fly from your control panels with a pop, launching thermal dumps makes ice frost your cockpit with a hiss of escaped air and groan of shrinking metal.

In virtual reality it’s been called ‘transcendent’, and I can well believe it. Were I flush enough to buy a rig (give me money please) this is the first game I’d load up.

Explore a bold new frontier

Elite: Dangerous has become my go-to game for space exploration, a fancy that wells up in me now and then. The appeal of going where no one has gone before is a promise that many titles tease, but few deliver on. However far you travel you’ll find that someone has beaten you to it, or will shortly find you. Elite is the first (that counts, get bent NMS) where you can truly get lost in a strange new universe.

Discover new stations rarely trodden by fellow commanders

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