Elite: Dangerous (Xbox One)
The digital front cover for Elite: Dangerous on Xbox One says a lot about the game Frontier Developments are touting to the console market.
The steel-edged Elite logo set against a sparse, starry background has been merged with a swooping starship, evading enemy laser beams and cutting through huge explosions. Our review copy came with guidance from Frontier to get fired into the close-quarter combat game mode before heading off into the vast galaxy to pick some more fights.
It’s sage advice as Elite: Dangerous is an intimidating experience, one that isn’t entirely mitigated by its tutorials or 72 page PDF manual. You’ll learn to dog-fight, to space-hop and to take off and land but after completing all the handholding it has to offer, you probably won’t be any wiser about what you actually have to do. With a multitude of directions to take and a load of nuances still to be discovered, taking solace in some epic space battles isn’t a bad idea.
This facet of Elite is certainly one of its strong points and one well suited to the joypad-driven console crowd. Though you lose some subtler control, the transition to joypad is certainly intuitive and welcoming. PC purists with HOTAS joysticks may roll their eyes but if you’re looking to jump into this brave new world with minimal fuss or control calibrations, then look no further. It certainly does nothing to lessen the intense aerial battles that will likely become Elite’s bread and butter on Xbox.
This competitive multiplayer element certainly has scope to become a nice respite from the larger, more oppressive game. The main mode, 4v4 tight-knit space battles, is pregnant with possibility for well organised clans. Equally though, it’s a blast for solo players and whilst ultimately limited in scope, it does offer some compelling unlocks for veterans. Our time here was beset a little by the game’s matchmaking and on two occasions our progress was wiped completely from record. However, we’ll chalk this up to early-release jitters.
Of course, if you want to enjoy the wider game, there’s a fair bit of schlepping to be done first. Your initial ship set-up and bursary are meagre to say the least, something you’ll soon learn when you come across players even a little ahead of the curve. There’s nothing else for it but to get out there and make a living. There’s no designated role to take per se, but players are free to earn an honest crust from trading and delivering goods or to seek out bounties and other nefarious rewards. Alternatively you can just be a downright dirty thieving bastard. Elite caters for all and there are pros and cons to whatever path you take.
It’s a thriving world as well, with well over half-a-million PC players already on-board, whilst Frontier are continually tweaking and adding content (the Horizons expansion is expected before Christmas and will allow you to explore planetary surfaces). Hardcore players may be putting a lot into Elite: Dangerous but Frontier are meeting them half way for sure. As such, it feels like a more vibrant world than the cold sterile environments initially suggest.
However, in a game that simulates the size of our own known universe, there’s plenty of time and space for loneliness. Much of Elite can feel like this as you bustle back and forth between identikit spaceports. How you feel about this will likely shape the game for you. In a medium where the world usually revolves around you, Elite’s existential viewpoint may be a tough sell for many. You’re certainly not destined to save the universe here - in fact, you’ll be doing pretty good just to get noticed at all.
Yet if such solemnity sounds appealing and if the cold, utilitarian beauty of those rotating, 2001-esque space stations fills you with awe then the hard work that Elite ascribes will be all that more palatable. Then again, if you do get bored at the mundanity of hyper-interstellar space travel then you can always get back to having a good old ruck with some like-minded rogues.
In aiming for a slightly different market with this Xbox port, Elite: Dangerous could have fallen foul. However, it’s testament to how strong its many different facets are that you can play the game like you’re Captain Kirk or Captain Solo and have it work either way. It’s this that ultimately makes Elite: Dangerous on Xbox a compelling case for anyone who’s ever dreamed of being a space pioneer of any creed. Go boldly, and all that.