Title: Elite: Dangerous
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developers: Frontier Developments
Director: David Braben
Genres: MMO, Space Sim, Space Trading and Combat, First Person Shooter, Open World
Links: Official Website, Steam, Epic Games
Elite: Dangerous is an "Open Universe" first-person space-sim and a sequel to the 1984 space-trading game entitled Elite. It is set within a 1:1 simulation of the Milky Way Galaxy (with unknown planets generated using a prediction algorithm that NASA has used.) within which you play a custom character known as a "commander", in a universe populated by other commanders (some of which are NPCs and some of which are other players.) You begin the game piloting a low-tier spaceship, and as you progress you earn credits to buy better or different ships, better parts for those ships, etc. which can enable you to take on tougher missions, if you're a mission sort of person. To earn credits, you can run cargo from one location to another (but there are pirates, both player and NPC), explore, ferry passengers, find occupied escape pods, or do missions. There are a lot of types of missions: bounty-hunting, assassinations, mining asteroids, data-retrieval (not legal), data transport, cargo, sourcing materials, and more. The base game is fairly cheap, and in the base game you can't leave the cockpit of your ship. You can still dock at space stations, do missions, etc. but these are missions in which you can't leave the ship (whereas in the Odyssey DLC there are missions that require leaving the ship and walking around.)
Where this game really shines, however, is in its latest DLC: Odyssey. This DLC lets you get out of your ship; you can land on planets and walk around, walk into docking hangars, visit a space station's concourse, hit up a bar, etc. The DLC got really bad reviews when it was released because it used to have bugs galore, but they've fixed most of them; I got it this year (a while after release) and I haven't had a single bug in my 150 hours of gameplay using this DLC. It's amazing; I love landing on planets and trying to find a good view of the sunset through the mountains. If you have good weapons and you're feeling homicidal, you could probably visit a research facility on a planet and storm in and gun down everyone there. If you get gunned down yourself, though, expect to wake up in a detention facility with your ship impounded. If you can't pay your fees, you'll need to get financing.
If you do something illegal and get away with it, you may get a bounty, but not to worry! If it's a bounty with a local faction (maybe even a one-system faction), just avoid the system and you'll be safe. That being said, if any other players feel like claiming that bounty, they can shoot you down anywhere in the galaxy and then just head to that system to nab those sweet stacks.
Factions and powerplay
There is a pretty big "bubble" of occupied space (it's miniscule in galactic terms though). Within occupied space, there are two types of factions: minor or "local" factions, and major "super-power" factions.
Minor factions are local to a star system or a few star systems, while major superpowers control a huge number of systems (each system can "ally" itself to a major faction, or be independent.) There are multiple minor factions within a system, and they are all vying for control of that system by attempting to gain political influence. You can perform missions for any one of these factions, and different missions give different amounts of influence to the faction. Additionally, you can pass up a cash/material reward or a reputation reward in order to give the faction more influence. Influence brings this faction closer to controlling the system.
The "major" factions have their own laws; for example, the Empire allows slave trading freely, but if you are in Federal space you have to do it illegally. If you gain enough reputation with these factions, you can also get access to permit-locked systems; for example, our very home system (the Sol system) requires a federally-issued permit to access. You get this permit by grinding your reputation with the faction, which can be done by completing missions for factions allied with the Federation. I've always wanted this permit, but I will likely never bother to get it because I'm not much of a mission person (I prefer exploration).
There are various NPC politicans within the major factions that have their own influence and reputation, but I believe it's all written as a sort of "storyline", or just material for them to add to the in-game Galnet News. I don't think players can force a superpower politician into power.
Reputation is gained largely through missions, although selling large amounts of cargo or exploration data also gains reputation. I have never bothered with super-power reputations, but I believe I maxed out a minor-faction reputation at some far-flung little starport by selling them 21 million credits worth of exploration data, which was all hunky-dory for me. Now I have friends in the middle of nowhere and I can deck out a new Asp Explorer if I felt like getting a new ship. I used the money to buy every single space-suit, every gun, and max out my consumables. It didn't even dent it. That being said, I come nowhere close to being as rich as some people; once you buy all the ships, money just accumulates (unless you regularly get wrecked and have to pay rebuy/repair costs). Fleet carrier owners probably need billions of credits to buy and upkeep their carriers.
Additionally, there are minor factions that are owned and controlled by players; in addition to competing with other minor factions, you have to compete against other players trying to bring influence to those factions. Usually, each of these factions are controlled by or allied to a squadron are players (semi-equivalent to to "guilds" in other MMOs, basically just a group of players allied to a group. They get an in-game "group-chat" which is a tab on the comm panel within the ship, and all the other players appear on the galactic map.) There are players that are big on "powerplay"; bringing a faction as much influence as possible. Some of these factions have gotten so big that they have their own websites, join requirements, forms you have to fill out, etcetera. Additionally, some of these factions don't require any powerplay, but simply state that you have to play the game in a certain way (perhaps it is no PVP, or not being allied to any factions, and such-and-so.) An example of this is Cannon (this is one I actually considered joining, but I've decided to hold off on allying with anyone for now.)
Buying and designing ships
You can purchase various ships in the game, and there are a lot of different ships; if I recall correctly, the number of playable ships is 38. I say playable because the super-powers have their own capital ships, and I believe a few big NPCs do. I recall there being an event recently in which Players could transport Tritium to a system in order for a special kind of massive NPC ship, which I believe is supposed to be a nomadic voyager ship for a clan of people or something. I never bothered with the event, and I regret it, because some players made hundreds of millions or even billions of credits from the event. I don't have a cargo ship, but I might have been able to get some dough.
If your ship is destroyed, you must rebuy the ship at a discounted price in order to get it back. If you go to the shipyard or the information panel within the ship, it will show you your personal rebuy cost. I believe the rebuy is 90% cheaper than getting it all new and rigging it up again. It also saves you the headache of flying from starport to starport to hunt down modules, and you get your engineered parts back! Just as a general rule of thumb, do not ever let your credit balance dip below your rebuy cost. It doesn't matter how safe you think you are. One bad pirate attack or ganker will ruin your entire day.
Each ship has base stats, but aside from that, all of your stats come from outfitting; there are dozens of various parts (some of which your ship needs to run), which you can customize with outfitting. Each shipyard has certain modules available, and very few have all of them; this is because a player can buy out the supply. When a player sells the modules, the shipyard gains the module in its supply. In addition to this, the shipyards that have all the modules usually sell them for more money. Each shipyard will sell the module for a different price than each other shipyard.
The parts will have effectiveness ratings, power draw, and mass. The better parts usually have more mass and greater power draw. In order to handle better parts, you need a better power-plant (and usually a better power distributer, though this is not as crucial.) Your ship also has a maximum mass rating, which I believe you can raise by getting a better chassis. That being said, more mass will decrease your "jump range" (the amount of light years you can jump to other systems), and your thruster effectiveness (meaning heavier ships will be slower and will be harder to turn.)
There are two variables to affect part effectiveness; class and rating. The classes go from A to G, and the ratings go from 1-7. Each class is better than the last, and each rating is how good the part is within the class; for example, I believe 7A performs nearly as well as an upper-level B, but one class might be significantly cheaper despite comparable performance.
Something that very important to know for weight management is that, despite being better than worse classes, the D class is lighter than every other class. A D-rated part is lighter than an F-rated part. When I was rigging up my Diamondback Explorer to have a higher jump range, I originally rigged it with F and G rated parts, thinking those were the lightest. Pay attention to the statistics! You might end up surprised.
Another thing to keep in mind when outfitting is shield variety. Some shields are weaker, but recharge faster. Some shields have an emphasis on protecting against kinetic damage, while others protect more against thermal. If you plan to rig a ship to be fast in order to race through canyons and between mountains, or a few feet from the ground with the ship upside-down, you will want a shield with high kinetic resistance. If you plan to be doing a lot of bounty-hunting or even join a PVP squadron, you might want a lot more thermal resistance, because hull armor is singularly oriented toward kinetic-resistance.
You must also be mindful of module size; some modules require a certain size (such as a hangar for fighter vessels that other players or hired NPC shiphands can pilot, or vehicle hangars for an SRV). Cargo bays, on the other hand, can be any size, but larger sizes naturally hold more cargo. Weapon slots are called "hardpoints", and they also have sizes.
You can use these modules to orient a ship for a specific task, such as combat, cargo, exploration, passengers, etcetera. You might want to minimize your heat signature if you are a pirate so that you can silent-run into starports, or perhaps you will want to replace some weapon slots with limpets and scanners to make mining more efficient.
Modules can be taken off of ships from any shipyard, and store them at the starport. However, they will be stored exclusively at that starport. I think you can pay to have them transferred to other shipyards, but you have to wait for them to arrive.
Once you tailor a ship how you like, you can "engineer" its modules to be more oriented for specific tasks; you can increase the armor of a module at cost of mass, or build up the integrity, or perhaps make it perform better at the cost of integrity. I engineered my Frame Shift Drive halfway to hell in order to increase its jump range; I think I raised the jump range by 20 LY. I didn't quite maximally-engineer it because it was getting materially-expensive.
You can perform various actions in the game in order to gain invitations from (or, put more pragmatically, access to) different "engineers"; this can entail bringing the engineer something, or perhaps turning in enough combat bonds. These are NPC characters that have workshops. Each engineer specializes in a different kind of work; some will only work on thrusters and engines, others might focus solely on weapons. You can dock at the workshop, and the NPC will request certain materials in exchange for the upgrade. Once you maximize a certain tier of the upgrade, you will need to source a new kind or kinds of materials for the next tier of the upgrade.
If you like, you can store an engineered module and stick it on a different ship. If your ship is destroyed, you will be able to get the module back along with its engineering upon rebuy if you have enough money for the insurance rebuy. If you sell the ship to a shipyard with the engineered module equipped, however, it is gone forever. Poof. Evaporated into the cyber-aether.
Some upgrades require reputation with the engineer. You can raise this reputation by getting upgrades. As you raise your reputation, the engineer will introduce you to other engineers ("giving access" to them), effectively bypassing the other engineer's access requirements. I think I gained access to a half-dozen engineers just from upgrading my Frame Shift Drive (equivalent to the "hyperdrive" or "warp drive") so many times.
There are also "guardian upgrades": you can very rarely find ruins on far-flung planets from a long-gone interplanetary species, and if you get data and materials from those ruins, you can use them to upgrade your vessel. Why donate them to science when you can use them for your own personal gain?
Unless you spend an obscene amount of time walking around, most of your interaction with the game will be through the ship's interface. There are a variety of holographic panels within the ship's interface. There are a lot of panels; when facing straight foward, this is what you see. There is also a panel to the left and to the right. The compass allows you to see where starports, other ships, nearby objects, and nearby planets/moons are in relation to your vessel. The comms panel is how you communicate to other players, start voice chats, view contacts, and block players. You can also distribute your power to systems, engines, or weapons, change a bunch of options about your autopilot and display, turn on and off headlights, deploy and retract the cargo scoop, turn on and off night-vision, deploy weapons (called "hardpoints") change fire groups of weapons, change the power-distribution-priority of weapons/modules, view various statistics, manage your cargo, and more.
I have much of my interface stuff bound to hotkeys, which I control with voice-macro software (allowed); I can say "deploy hardpoints", or "retract cargo scoop", and it will do my bidding. I have done this so long that I have forgotten many of these hotkeys. Some are obvious though; like "L" for lights, or "F" for frame-shift-drive. Others aren't obvious, such as "end" for jettison cargo. The in-game "cockpit voice-activated system" often confirms your actions, so I can say "deploy cargo scoop" and it will say "cargo scoop deployed". It is very immersive.
Exploration, Surface-Mining, and Exobiology
Exploration is a huge part of the game, although I imagine most players don't bother with it or aren't interested in it. Essentially, the vast majority of the galaxy is uncharted, and you can chart it and sell the data. First, you scan the system, which many people call this "honking" because your ship honks when you do it. Second, you scan for planets and bodies. Third, you surface-map the planets.
Each body you scan gives you a different amount of credits when you turn in the data. Additionally, each type of body you surface-map also gives a different amount of credits. Water-worlds and earth-like-planets give a huge amount of money, so many people are lazy and only map those planets. This can be annoying when you encounter a system you think is unmapped, only to find those singular types of worlds mapped. This is not a common occurance outside of highly traveled routes such as the route between Saggitarius A (the black hole at the center of the solar system) and the "bubble" of populated worlds.
After "honking", you scan for planets using the Full Spectrum Scanner. Essentially, you calibrate it for certain frequencies, and then move your mouse around and try to find bodies of that frequency, which will be little glowing spots. Once you scan the object, it will tell you more information about the object, such as classification, mass, life, and geological activity. I am not sure, but I think material composition you can only get from surface-scans.
Once a planet has been full-spectrum-scanned (assuming you didn't discover it with your "honk"), you can fly to it and surface-scan the planet. This entails shooting a bunch of probes across the surface of the planet whilst in-orbit. Upon scanning and mapping worlds, you may find that some harbor life or volcanoes. Depending on what materials there are on the planet and what you need, if the atmosphere is thin enough you can land on the surface and use your SRV (vehicle) to track down signals of rocks and volcanoes, shoot them with a mining laser, and pick them up. (First, though, you should use the surface scanner to highlight where these materials are most commonly found.) I did this for a long time to get materials for engineering. Volcanoes often have a very high concentration of materials, as well as much rarer materials, but they are scary and can mess you up. I've done it a few times, but I've always been moderately careful.
These materials can also be used for in-space synthesis; I have synthesized fuel multiple times. Many are used for engineering. For some of the synthesis materials, you need a custom synthesis module to create things. I know that you can manufacture ammunition and heatsink-replacements (you launch heatsinks), as well as fuel, but I do not know what else you can make.
There are three types of life; plants, fungi, and bacteria. I have found some before, but only rarely, and it is not very common on the planet (you have to hunt for it.) The surface scanner will highlight where it is most commonly found, and where it is not. If you have the Artemis Suit, you can scan this life whilst disembarked. The Artemis suit has a genetic profiler that uses your suit's energy to run scans. You will need to collect three samples of the same species in order to do a "complete" scan and collect data, and the three samples need to be very far apart in order for "sufficient genetic diversity". I used to use my SRV to hunt for life, but I have found that it is often easier to fly very low with the ship and look using my eyes (instead of using technology). Sometimes night-vision will help highlight the plants, sometimes it will not.
You can sell exobiology data to any starport that has a "Vista Genomics" section. Usually this is near the bar and on the right-side wall facing away from the entrance, though not always.
There are ship-sized non-humanoid aliens known as "thargoids" that look like giant bio-mechanical flowers. I have never seen one, but I think you can collect exo-data from crashed thargoids. If I see one (living or dead), though, I am going to run away as quickly as I can.
Starports, planetary outposts, and fleet-carriers
There are three types of settlements; orbital starports, planetary outposts, and fleet carriers. They're moderately different, but they all have no-fire zones around them and they all require you to be within 7.5 kilometers to request docking.
There are many orbital starports. These can be massive and very-high-security, or they can be tiny and a bit sketchy. The big ones are giant polyhedrons with a little slot; you go inside and then land on a docking pad that retracts into the station once you land and puts you in a hangar. The tiny ones just have docking pads on their surface. Each starport has different services; some have all of the services, while others have only a few. I believe all of them have concourses you can visit; you disembark and get to walk around to all these little areas. In the concourse, you can look out the window and see other ships and players docking in real-time. The concourses, however, take up nine gigabytes of my VRAM (at maximum graphics).
Planetary outposts are much like starports, but not all of them allow docking access. If you tresspass in their space for too long, you get a bounty. If you want to invade, you have to park a ways off and then walk or drive there. To get in without access, you must scan the security profile of a guard (illegal, you'll be shot if you're caught), enter the settlement, and then delete the profile before you're scanned. Some outposts let you in, and others are by invitation only or only to allied vessels. I didn't realize this at first, and got shot at by a few outposts. Only once did I try to get inside one I wasn't welcome at; the guard caught me scanning him and I couldn't find my car before I was detained. The place really came down on my head; there were a bunch of guards everywhere, they were all shooting, and one even tossed a frag at me! So rude, they could have just asked me to surrender :(
Fleet carriers or FCs are very similar to starports, except they are player-owned and they can move between systems or change where they are orbiting. Carrier owners basically live and breathe in this game, because they're insanely expensive to run. The cost of upkeep can be somewhat managed by changing what services the carrier has; do you want it to have a bar, or a shop that sells suits and weapons? Do you want a shipyard? It can have all the services of a starport (including refuel and repair), or it can have none. Most have tariffs on refuel and repair.
One nice thing about fleet carriers is that they have an insanely high jump-distance; they are used by exploration parties to get to far-flung parts of the galaxy for "expeditions", which are often organized online and open to anyone. Just don't forget to hop back on the carrier when the expedition is over!
Some fleet carriers source rare items and "scalp" the hell out of them, effectively paying for the carrier and turning in a profit. One example is the one that sells meta-alloys in the Deciat system; Felicity Farseer is an engineer in that system that requires meta-alloys in order to gain access. When I did this, I actually went below my ship's rebuy cost -- a big no-no! If you do this, be sure to switch to solo-play, because there's a lot of gankers in that system that get pleasure out of blowing up people with the alloys. I did it in open-play and I was fine, but a lot of people have reported this being a huge problem. It'd sure be nice to buy and rig up an Imperial Cutter, hunt them down, and give them a piece of my mind! Leaving gankers adrift would give me immense pleasure.
Open-play, PVE, and single-player.
In open-play, you will encounter every other commander that plays in open-play. The only exception is if the system has too many people in it; at which point, the game will create multiple "instances" of the system, each populated with players. If possible, it will attempt to put your friends and squadron in the same instance.
To avoid other players in open-play, it is possible to play in "solo-play". You will not directly encounter other players. This is the same universe as open-play, however; fleet carriers will still move around, the economy will still change due to players hauling cargo, faction influence will still change due to other players, etcetera.
If you fear ganking but still wish to play with others, you can join the "PVE server", which is not truly a server, but simply a massive private group. In order to join, you simply have to go on their website, fill out a form, and wait. In essence, how it works is that everyone who fills out the form is bound by the honor system not to attack other players, even if they're of enemy factions or are pirates. I play in this group personally, and this is mainly because I am very far away from the "bubble" collecting exploration data, and if I get blown up I will lose all my data and respawn in the bubble, many hundreds or thousands of light years away, at a special facility, at which point I'd have to book a shuttle to a starport and then rebuy my ship at a shipyard. This is their website, which is where you can apply to join.
Customizing your ship, suit, and player appearance.
You can customize your experience more with microtransactions. All microtransactions in this game are strictly cosmetic! You can buy pretty drastic appearance changes to your suit, as well as tattoos and decals for your face and neck. The character themself is extremely customizable for free, but if you want facepaint or glasses beyond the base pair you have to spend money. It's pretty cheap compared to other games; a suit of armor in Elder Scrolls Online is like $20 USD, but I think most of the suits in Elite: Dangerous are like 3-5 dollars, with the most expensive being $10. I can't remember if I bought the cybernetic eyes, or if those were available for free. The tattoo theme sets were less than a buck each.
Where I spent most of my money, though, is on customization to my ship. The ships look really cool by default, but it has a stock bodypaint, and each new paint style requires credits. You can also get bobbles for your cockpit, fins and cannons for the external of your ship, new COVAS voices, (the most expensive thing by far, each being ten bucks), decals and lettering fonts, and packs of cosmetics.
I've spent I think 20 bucks on customization items, and I plan to spend another 20 (probably not more though. I just want the Jefferson COVAS voice and a specific suit style.) You can call it a waste of money if you like, but it brings me joy and I have played the game enough to justify the expense.
Cool photos and videos I took in-game
This is a Youtube video of my ship landing. Watching the thrusters activate at 00:14 is very satisfying. (Don't worry about me shooting it for fun; the shields gobbled it up and they recharge.) Quality isn't great because my recording software isn't great.
Asteroid belt around a gas giant: image 1, image 2
Sunset from orbit. Might not have been orbit, unsure if I would have slowly been pulled down if I went AFK for a few hours. If I used the autopilot computer to put me in auto-orbit I could afk forever unless someone shot me down.
I landed on the planet and took a pretty photo of a brown dwarf shining through an ammonia atmosphere.
Me next to my ship, me on top of my ship.
Life form!! Is it a cactus? Is it a plant? Who knows!
Things you should know
There is in-game news that basically shares the latest "lore". Some is strictly for lore and immersion, and some is about events happening in the galaxy that affect the player somehow (or can affect the player if they participate, such as a system needing a resource.) If you go to the panel on the right, you can have a newsreader read you the "Galnet News", and she sounds just like a real-life news reporter. You can also find the news online. They read like news articles.
D-class modules are the lightest.
If you buy the game and it gives you the option to launch the game in "Elite: Dangerous Horizons", it's the same game, same ship, same character. Horizons was a buy-separate DLC for a while that added multi-crew, fighters, and SRVs. They added it to the base-game when Odyssey was released. You can hop back and forth from Odyssey, Horizons, and the base game; you keep all your content.
Never, ever, ever, ever let your credits dip below the ship's rebuy cost, no matter how tempting or how much time it will save you.
When you start the game, hop into the settings and look at the keybinds for a minute or two. They are a huge help. I was lost trying to figure things out for the longest time.
You can turn off the soundtrack. I did.
If you can't quite wrap your head around something, Youtube it. There is a LOT on Youtube.
They are ending gaming-console support and only doing critical updates. Don't get it on console. If you do, though, you can transfer over to PC.
Elite Dangerous Hud Mod is a program that lets you change the color of your HUD to any colors you like. You can use preset themes or customize each element of the display. Otherwise, you are stuck with a hideous orange. The only reason Frontier hasn't added this to the game is probably because everyone already uses this.
Voice Attack is a program that lets you use voice commands to execute keybinds. It's legal per game terms too.
There is a website called EDDB, it has a lot of information about where to find good trade routes, the location of certain ship modules, etcetera. So many people use it that I don't really consider it "cheating", but if you prefer doing it the hard way that's fine.
You can apply for PVE here. It's regional.
My opinion on the game
Let's say that you are hypothetically bored at home, and looking for a good video game to play in your free time. You may approach me, and ask me the following question:
"What is your favorite video game?"
I think for a moment, and I respond, "either Galaga or Tetris on the NES".
You laugh. I look at you. You realize I am not joking. You respond, "okay, what is your favorite video-game for the computer?" I would respond and say that it is this game, Elite: Dangerous.
If you asked me that question in 2015, I would have said Terraria. If you asked me that question in 2020, I would have said Overwatch. I was living in the dark ages; I had yet experience the transcendant feeling of pure awe upon landing on an undiscovered planet, getting the "first footfall" text on my helmet's HUD, and taking in a truly jaw-droppingly spectacular view. I think I logged over 100 hours in this game in just a couple of weeks after I got the DLC. I plan on logging a lot more.
I have played this game for a few years, but it never felt "complete" until I bought the Odyssey DLC. It has horrible reviews due to its buggy release, but now that the bugs are fixed I truly believe that any new bad reviews are just a bunch of people bandwagoning or nitpicking. It's amazing. It's worth every penny, it would be worth double its full-price money.
Let me put it this way: I consider the Odyssey DLC to be the very best game purchase I have ever made (aside from Galaga and Tetris for my NES, of course.) That's probably why I wrote this, to be honest. It's life-changing. Once I find the perfect music playlist and start drinking again it'll be deific. I am so glad I bought this during a time period in which I'm home all day and jobless, haha.
My rating: 10/10. Could not be better. The only thing they could do to ruin it is add non-cosmetic microtransactions or a game-breaking DLC.
If you get it and would like to play with me, hit me up! I believe I am "CMDR Nicolas Stagliano" in the game.