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Elite Dangerous-Good Structure for Something Bigger

I acquired a VR setup, and have been diving into games I never thought I'd ever play. One of them being Elite: Dangerous, a kickstarted game from late 2014. The game has been updated several times since release, and retains an active player base. Another big update is scheduled that will allow first person combat and exploration later this year. I acquired the game for free from Epic, and liked it enough to shell out 8 more bucks to get it on Steam.

I don't know what a newbie's experience was on release, but Elite thankfully has some tutorials to help bring you up to speed with the basics. But beyond this, there is a massive amount to still be learned by the player. The mining tutorial, for example, taught me just enough to get my feet wet. When I attempted my first several mining runs in game it was a painful experience of figuring out what wasn't in the tutorial. Elite is a game of several menus. In those menus you need to toggle a wealth of options. If you don't know to do this your mining run will be an exercise in frustration. I eventually muddled through the process and figured out how to control my little robots (called limpets) for mining, as well as how to ignore certain minerals so I didn't need to go back and forth to my refinery menu every damn time my robot brought back some minerals.

Information overload is the word I'd pick to sum up this game. If you're looking for a more arcade shooty Mcshooterson experience look elsewhere. Star Wars Squadrons will scratch that itch. Elite's selling point is the layers of depth with its activities, be it being a mailman, space trucker, bounty hunter, explorer, miner, etc. Each time you hop over to a new activity the learning curve begins anew.

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You can play with other players in the shared universe or solo, which is what I prefer. Having been on the internet more than 5 minutes I know there's people out there that delight in making others miserable. The last thing I want to deal with is a ganker that's been playing since release with his perfectly kitted out ship obliterating my transporter with a full cargo load. My consequences would be having to pay my insurance premium. From what I understand the ganker would suffer little if at all as he continues to obliterate the hard work of others.

The good is once you get everything down the game can be satisfying. It's a great VR experience, making me feel like a real space commander. There's enough depth in ship designing and engineering (essentially stat buffs from grinding) to keep someone busy a long time. The variety in activities is also nice. I bought a stick and throttle (HOTAS), which increased the immersion. Throttling up and flipping a switch to jump space feels great. It does take some time to assign all the controls, prompting me to watch a YouTube video on assigning the massive amount of commands and switches to my VKB Gladiator and Saitek X56.

What needs to improve the most are the character interactions. You get missions by going to a board with static pictures of people. You do stuff and they send you a generic scripted message upon completion. It feels completely sterile, and may have been acceptable on release, but feels clunky and outdated today. There are different factions, but beyond increasing my level to access new ships or star systems I can't seem to give a damn about them. There is no call to action. It's just taking missions to get money or resources to get better ships to take more missions. Missions are on a timer. I had a very lucrative mission I was halfway through, then had to logout because of the wife. I didn't get back to play until next day with only 2 minutes left on the clock. Mission failed and there went my big payday. I don't see the reason to have this in solo play.

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You can't walk around your ship inside or outside currently. You can't socialize in a star port, or build your own base in a far off system. Supposedly the upcoming expansion will fix this, allowing players to finally walk around, and even pick up a rifle for a ground assault. I know that hype is cheap, and will be waiting for reviews. From what I'm hearing it won't be working for VR upon release, which will be a no buy from me until that changes.

There is a system for having friends do missions with you. A friend can man a gun turret for you as you hunt pirates. I haven't been able to try this out since none of my friends play. Through use of Discord and other services large groups could organize for more involved activities, such as having some ships mine while others fend off pirates, but that isn't an option with my family taking up most of my time.

While I'm happy with my playtime Elite feels like the foundation for something that could be bigger and better. It must have been amazing in 2014, but now it seems like No Man's Sky may be a more complete experience. I may pick up No Man's Sky on sale and see how they compare. Another competitor, Star Citizen, has been in early access so long it's a running joke. Elite seems to be a game to play off and on, but it doesn't have enough meat to be an everyday game for me until it's more developed. I'm certainly happy with the price I paid, and I'd love to see the game blossom into a definitive space sim experience with more features.

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