Elite Dangerous Review - Cosmological Horizons

Elite Dangerous

When I first discovered that I would have the opportunity to review Elite Dangerous on the PS4, I was both excited and terrified. Having been on the PC for some time, the game’s reputation preceded it. This is a game that offers the entirety of the Milky Way galaxy to explore. billions of star systems, seemingly infinite worlds, and countless new horizons await discovery.

It also has a learning curve that would make even the most seasoned gaming veterans tremble in fear. It’s one of the biggest and most complex games to ever hit the PS4, and it’s only growing as development continues to add and evolve the experience. The question is this: should you suit up and devote the foreseeable future to a career as the captain of a ship set to sail in the ocean of stars? Let’s find out!

A Legend and Legacy Forged in an Infinite Universe

Elite Dangerous has a setup, and it has a lot of lore behind its world, but the most important aspect of the story will be the one you create. Diving into the menus will reward you with information on the factions that control this version of the Milky Way thousands of years in the future.

For example, each station offers a link to the Galactic News Feed, otherwise known as Galnet. Here you can read news stories and updates on the state of affairs. Looking at individual system maps also offers the chance for you to read about various planets and absorb as much or as little information as you want about them, but each one is enough to fill a textbook.

Whether you play alone or in the massive online world, Elite Dangerous is a galaxy that is alive and evolving. Who you decide to align with, who you betray, and those you work for will all have benefits and consequences. If you so choose, you can align yourself with a specific faction and influence both their strategies and their success.

Players vote with their voice each week and with their actions, all of which results in ongoing changes to the balance of power. Of course, these are all pieces on the chessboard that is the universe of Elite Dangerous.

These represent the ongoing evolutions happening in the background, but the immediate gameplay is where your unique story is told.

You have complete freedom to do what you want. Will you take on missions to earn some quick credits? Or, would you rather live the solitary life of a miner, harvesting materials from asteroids and chunks of space debris to then refine and sell at high value? Perhaps, you want to play the markets and become a trader? Scratch that, maybe you’ll become a professional transporter, taking VIPs and even dangerous criminals across seemingly impossible distances and through dangerous stretches of hostile space.

Or, maybe you’ll just become a bounty hunter, tracking the scum of the universe and obliterating them so you can earn the price on their heads. There are numerous options available to you in Elite Dangerous, and all of them are viable, but they take a lot of work.

Before we dive into the gameplay and presentation, like with any review, I want to share with you all my story. While it’s impossible to “complete” Elite Dangerous, I sought to wrap my head around as many of the concepts and mechanics it had to offer, so I could truly grasp the scope and scale of the game.

So, without further adieu, here’s my Elite Dangerous story.

The Captain’s Log of Cerafith’s Call: My Elite Dangerous Story

Elite Dangerous

When I first started Elite Dangerous, I dove into the tutorials. I had heard the stories about that infamous learning curve, so I decided to hit it head on. The tutorials do a pretty good job of explaining the basics, but even those basics can be complicated.

For example, the first time I tried to learn how to enter a station and dock my ship, it took about, oh, twenty minutes? The game does approximately zero hand-holding, which is not a bad thing, but you should know that going in. Other things like combat are more straightforward, but still, offer a lot of options for how you want to approach a given situation.

With a basic knowledge of flight, mining, planetary exploration, and combat, I decided to enter the game’s world. I started out with nothing but my ship, some credits, and a pocket full of dreams. I explored the menus in the station where I was docked and then decided to set sail upon the ocean of stars.

Remembering to pull up my landing gear took a while, but I eventually realized I wasn’t hitting top speed because they were deployed. While Elite Dangerous absolutely encourages exploring, you’ll need to have a destination in mind. Simply gliding through space is nice, but the distances are to scale, so you could literally fly at a planet for hours and not reach it.

Instead, you have to engage your Frame Shift Drive and go into supercruise. This will give you a boost to your speed. Entering supercruise was fine and dandy, but my first time exiting it was pretty scary. My target was coming up fast, and I didn’t start slowing down early enough. I whacked the triangle button once and was told I was going too fast, but I could perform an emergency drop if I hit it again.

Why not? My ship came out of supercruise like a drunken matador entering a bullfight. I spun around and seriously reconsidered my life choices before the ship stabilized. That’s really what makes Elite Dangerous so interesting, though. It’s a balance of making mistakes and then learning from them.

I took on a mission at a station, only to find out that I couldn’t jump that far until I upgraded by Frame Shift Drive. I would have known that if I checked the destination on the galaxy map before accepting it.

In another example, I tried to do a mining mission, only to find out that I needed a mining laser and refinery to get the job done. Could have figured that out if I did some research, which brings me to my next point.

Elite Dangerous has a huge community and a ton of online reading material to help out beginners. There’s a wiki, a subreddit, forums, and plenty of video guides on YouTube. Where the game doesn’t offer enough to teach players, the online resources make up for it in spades.

I went on to make a few more mistakes, like almost crashing into a station because the layout was different and I didn’t realize it had exterior docks, but eventually I managed to take out a ship with a bounty on its head and collect the credits.

I also delivered some medicine successfully for a mission and made a nice chunk of change. Not enough to retire, but enough to get that mining equipment I wanted and make a name for myself.

Elite Dangerous allows you to be whatever you want, and while I wore a lot of hats in my early hours, I think I’m settling into the concept of being a wayward traveler. I’ll make money where I can, but ultimately I’m just a speck of stardust letting the winds of the galaxy carry me where they may.

So, that’s a recap of my time thus far in Elite Dangerous, but now it’s time to talk about how it feels to be a spaceship captain.

Bringing A Flight Sim to The Dualshock 4

Elite Dangerous

There are a ton of menus and functions in Elite Dangerous. You’ve got screens on your left, your right, and even below you. All of them have multiple categories and various functions. Taking into account the positively insane amount of functions available to you, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it’s too much for a controller.

Even so, the developers at Frontier have figured out a way to bring all of this to the controller in a way that feels smooth and natural. While it will take some getting used to, the layout is intuitive. The touchpad can be used to quickly turn to either of your monitors on your sides, and clicking the right stick actually lets you look around with a free camera, which is really cool. It’s too bad the game didn’t come to PlayStation VR, but the ability to freely look around adds a nice sense of place.

Holding various face buttons opens sub menus that allow you to quickly perform functions like switch weapon groups or deploy your landing gear. The throttle is mapped to the back buttons, and going into combat mode simply requires a button press.

What I also liked was the ability to divert power to your engine, your weapons, or your other systems. This is quickly done with the d-pad. Control-wise it all functions really well, and I found myself picking up the functions and button layouts faster than I thought I would.

The actual flight controls feel good, and while handling will depend on the ship, I was able to get around pretty well with the starter option. There’s a satisfying punch when you enter supercruise or exit, and the weighty feel of coming out of hyperdrive is positively excellent.

Weapons have a nice feel to them, and while docking can be hard to learn, there’s nothing quite like approaching a station, requesting permission to dock, and nestling into your assigned dock. While it can certainly be overwhelming, Elite Dangerous rewards patience and practice. While other games have tried to be the all-in-one space sim experience, few have ever succeeded like Elite Dangerous does.

If you opt for the version of the game with the Horizons season pass, you’ll also get all the major DLC up until this point, including a surprise expansion coming later this year. Among the DLC, is the ability to land on planets.

This is pretty awesome and adds another dimension to the gameplay. Planetary approach is intense, but doable, and once you land you can deploy a rover to explore. Planets are built to scale and offer all kinds of hidden mysterious, mining opportunities, and more. I would definitely recommend going all in, because the DLC makes an already deep and expansive game even more exciting.

When it comes down it, I could sit here and try to list off all the content you’re getting, from the ability to customize your captain in the HoloMe tool, to the choices of factions that you can align with and influence along with others players. It’s a positively gargantuan game and the best argument for your $60 that I’ve seen in a long time.

They’re not done yet either. New content is planned and additional DLC will happen in a future “season.” Before we part ways and assign a score, let’s talk presentation.

Breathtaking Vistas and Lots of Space in Between

Elite Dangerous

Elite Dangerous is no slouch in the visuals department. While you’ll be spending a lot of time in menus, the stellar vistas on display are nothing short of awe-inspiring. I still remember exiting supercruise within the rings of a planet that looked like a combination of Neptune and Saturn. The solid rings suddenly became space debris all around me. The field of rocks stretched far into the horizon, it was incredible to behold.

The stations also come in various shapes and sizes. All of this variety is thanks to the Stellar Forge, which is the game’s engine for procedurally generating the Milky Way. It’s so much more than your typical random generator. Things like the type of matter, the chemical composition, and even gravity are taken into account.

You can read to your heart’s content about the planets you visit, but you’ll be busy for a while. Suffice to say, there may be billions of them, but they each have their own unique characteristics and realistic features that make them look and feel different. The science is all there, and that applies to the surface exploration as well.

On PS4 Pro, you have the option of performance or graphics. The graphics setting keeps things at roughly 30 FPS and gives you detail and effects on par with the PC version. The performance setting gives you a higher and more consistent frame rate. Either setting plays fine, but I love detail so I went for graphics.

It’s a beautiful game. My only complaint is that the text was kind of small on a big TV. I felt like I needed to sit closer to read everything. It’s such a small complaint, but I would have liked a setting for larger text or the ability to zoom into menus.

This is perhaps one of the longest reviews I’ve ever written, and I still don’t feel like I’ve said enough. Elite Dangerous is not for everyone, but if you want a hardcore space sim with total freedom, there’s never been anything better than this.

Prepare for that learning curve, but other than that, the galaxy is yours to explore. It’s a new life for you, one where you can do and be who you want with no one telling you otherwise. You’ll never see it all, but what you do see will take your breath away.

Final Score: 9.0/10

A copy of Elite Dangerous was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes

Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 7/17/17

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