Elite: Dangerous is one of those games that splits people down the middle, and not just if you’ve got a sharpened disc and a strong throwing arm. In fact, it’s rare that people are this divided about something that isn’t political, religious, or related to whether celebrities have gotten fatter or not.
Elite: Dangerous was released in the tail-end of 2014 as an homage to the 1984 game Elite, and garnered a lot of attention as a science-fiction open world MMO with a difference. What was that difference?
Don’t worry, it’s not as tedious as it sounds. Frontier Development had put in the hours and come up with (this is not an exaggeration) a scale model of the Milky Way for players to fly in, with one hundred billion solar systems. Again, no exaggeration.
Blimey, that’s a fair amount of space. And I thought it was a long way to walk down the road to the shops. But one of the overarching criticisms I hear about Elite: Dangerous is that this universe isn’t too big, but too one-note. And yes, that’s partly true. The basic ideas to bounty hunting, piracy or trading won’t change with a million light years under your belt. The specifics will be altered, but they remain the same at the core. And suddenly, people were moaning about how there wasn’t anything to do in this game that wasn’t the same thing over and over. I don’t think that’s the case, though. I just think Elite: Dangerous has a very rare kind of set-up, one most people aren’t used to, and so assume that it’s doing something wrong.
See, there are three kinds of games, broadly speaking. There are those that will tell you what to do and how to do it. That’s Call Of Duty, right there. It’s not a bad way of operating, it’s just a particular method. But there’s also games that’ll tell you what to do, but not tell you how it should be done. Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain is a good example of that, where you’ll always have an objective, like rescue a hostage or bake a cake, but you go about it your way. Machine guns or silenced pistols? Victoria sponge or double fudge? And is there any way to combine the two choices and have even more fun?
But Elite: Dangerous is a different beast. It won’t even tell you what to do in the first place, let alone how to go about it. And honestly, I think people got freaked out about that, because suddenly the game was telling them that they were responsible for their own entertainment.
That doesn’t mean that Elite: Dangerous isn’t well-made, only that it refused to do more than give players the tools to have fun and sat back to see what they’d do with them. Maybe they’d use them to build some great monument, or maybe they’d use them to attack grannies and carve rude things into walls. It’s certainly not a game that engages in ANY form of hand-holding. Sometimes it takes it too far, like not explaining certain mechanics, but on the whole, I don’t think it’s badly made. I actually think that what it does, it does pretty well.
But I also understand there’s a lot of people who don’t want that. Fair enough, it’s a very curious way of playing, but don’t say it doesn’t work if you just don’t like it.
And for those that haven’t played it? Well, there’s certain games out there that act as a litmus test for whether the two of you can get along. Can you keep yourself entertained in Minecraft: Creative Mode? Do you enjoy the GTA Online overworld, without having to play matches to stave off boredom? Then you’ll probably get along with Elite: Dangerous, because it has some very good toys in this very big sandpit.
I played it this morning, reminding myself of why I found it so engaging. And just between breakfast and lunch, I fought pirates in an asteroid field, discovered a black hole, smuggled illegal goods into a space station, got involved in a war, found some illegal art, went faster than a thousand times the speed of light, drove buggies through a military base whilst being fired on by drones, and finally had to sit down with a cup of tea and some horrible New Age music, otherwise the sheer amount of adrenaline in my body would make it vibrate through the floor like the Flash.
Is Elite: Dangerous uncooperative? Perhaps. Does it have broad appeal? Probably not. Is it boring and badly made? Not a chance in hell. It takes a little time to get used to it, but once you know where to look, you’ll never be shy of entertainment. Don’t let something that’s thinking differently put you off, and certainly don’t be fooled into thinking it’s badly made. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if Elite: Dangerous is worth it, it certainly is to me.