Elite Dangerous hit the Game Preview program back in June; I'd long been waiting to get my hands on the Xbox One version of the game way back when I heard that it was finally coming to the console after reading David Braben's announcement. I've been a fan of Elite for a long time, waited 5 years for Elite: Frontier back in the day and devoured the old BBC Micro and ZX-Spectrum versions of the game.
When I got a PC, there were two games I got for it: Elite and Alone in the Dark.
So when ED landed on the GPP for Xbox One I was elated, bought it the moment that it appeared and haven't regretted a single day spent playing it since then. Frontier has done a great job in keeping what I liked about Elite, and polishing up what I didn't. They have been pretty slick in responding to the desires of the passionate community on the PC and recently there was an update to the game which fixed a few things.
This isn't a review though, since I always think it's pretty hard to review a game that's in Early Access which is really what the GPP is all about. We're paying to support the game and getting a lifetime of fixes and updates, a game's lifetime, not our own since the risk of Early Access is that the game can be terminated at any point and never released.
Rather like every jump into hyperspace in the old Elite, it was a risk I was willing to take!
So I created a commander, threw the game into Solo so I only had NPCs to worry about.
You start in a Sidewinder somewhere near the Eravate system, or at least I did - with 100,000 credits and a few weapons, needed equipment types. I was struck straight away just how pretty that Frontier has made thegame look, with gorgeous looking spaceports and space itself.
The ships are also likewise gorgeous and I wasted no time reading up how to fly the Sidewinder before I launched off into space and my career as a trader. I'd got a clear goal in mind, earn enough money to buy a Cobra Mk III, tool it up and carry on trading. I'm not so much into the idea of space piracy, because to be frank, blowing up other people's hard earned ships to get 1t of Ninja Spice Bacon (not a real commodity) seems like a really mean thing to do.
So I did some digging, found out what the best price was at Cleve Hub in Eravate, set my hyperspace coordinates and loaded up on some goods. A modest (small) ship like the Sidewinder can only carry 4t of cargo and I wasn't in a place to buy a Docking Computer yet. As an aside, the Docking Computer in the early versions on the PC was a temperamental thing and it would often smash into the station rather than let you land.
The good news is that the talented programmer behind the computer, fixed it, fixed it so well that I read good things about it, asked a few of my friends on the game on X1 already and got the answer I needed - time to hunt down a Docking Computer!
4t of cargo, open space and launching from a station brought back glorious memories of my early escapades in the original and I was eager to recapture that part of my youth - I took off from the station, having earlier played the tutorials and learning how to control the basics of the ship!
I jumped through hyperspace, arriving at the point of entry,in this case a star! Quickly taking evasive action I put the ship back on course to Cleve Hub and settled into supercruise - not really knowing what was out there, but mesmerised by the interplay of stars against the backdrop of space. The controls felt intuitive, easy to handle and more importantly - responsive. This was a good start!
It was easy to keep a track of the various systems on the ship, tapping in the right stick meant I could free look around my modest cockpit, with context sensitive screens popping into being as I looked at the right panel and the left panel - all sorts of readouts and information was at my commander's fingertips and it felt really immersive and totally in theme.
I should warn you, I wasn't really that good at travel in supercruise - so I was travelling at full whack, not yet knowing exactly how to manage my speed/distance to object efficiently.
It didn't really matter because as I got close to Cleve Hub -INTERDICTION!
I hadn't got a clue how to escape, so I did the next best thing - opened up the gun ports on my little sidewinder and let the bugger pull me out. A tense dogfight kicked off, exciting, exhilarating and brought back memories of my earlier space shooty escapades in the original - only this was far more fun and far more responsive.
The effects are great, and what's even better is that you get a tangible feeling of danger for you and the other pilot(s) involved in a furball like this. It quickly escalated too, some system patrol vessels spotted the shootout and came to investigate - I was scanned, finding no illegal cargo the law decided to help out and now it was 5 v 1.
BOOM! I got the kill shot, and a sweet bounty payout of 35,000 credits!
The rush of euphoria from that victory took me all the way to Cleve Hub and after a few missed supercruise arrivals; I finally got the hang of easing off gently. I had another challenge to master, one that I was always good at. DOCKING...
The docking system was simple, approach the station within a certain distance, request docking and then fly inside landing at the designated pad. All the icon feedback and nav assistance of the ship's HUD plays into this little mini-game of sorts and it helps you align yourself with the pad, check your height and inform you visually of how you're placed in relation to where you want to land.
Check, landing gear down!
A quick visit to station services, drop off the cargo, make a small profit and check the Bulletin Boards for missions - oh and cash in my bounty for the criminal scum's death - KA CHING!
I was pretty impressed with my first few hours with Elite Dangerous, so much so that I resolved to buy a Cobra Mk III as soon as possible, and sunk more and more hours into the game. I quickly learned the best trade route from Cleve to Ackerman Market in Eravate, buying a Docking Computer along the way and launching myself into the game fully - with trade at my fingertips.
Over the next few days my fortunes in the game improved and I was able to buy more and more expensive cargo, making more and more money. I did missions from the BB here and there to supplement my income, learnt how to flawlessly travel from one station to the next and always disengage supercruise at the right time (thanks Gary!) - I learned to avoid interdictions from pirates and submit to the ones from the law.
With the aid of the Docking Computer which was working like a charm I was able to earn a boatload of cash - enough to afford the Cobra MkIII. (Also, the Blue Danube is back and it's another reason to own a DC, just so you can listen to the classical strains of this piece as you land)
So I kept on earning until I'd got a hefty sum of money: 800,000 and then went for it.
One shiny new Cobra Mk III later and I was home, my commander was sitting in the cockpit of a ship I'd loved growing up, memories of the game flooded back and it was a moment where I felt I'd really earned the vessel I was now going to call home for the foreseeable future, until Horizons comes to X1 and I get a Mk IV that is.
I'm now amassing my money again, earning enough cash to afford the upgrades for the Cobra (they don't come cheap) and I've already boosted the power plant, weapons and a few other systems. I don't run from Interdictions most of the time, dropping out with weapons deployed and a glint in my eye - come here pirates!
Between trading and shooting things, I couldn't be happier, Elite Dangerous is in a good place and things can only get better from here on in. I can't wait to see what they do to the game as it races towards a retail release, but I'm there cash in hand waiting for the day that the expansion lands on the X1 since I'm impressed enough with the base game to give Frontier my money.
Until then, Ad Astra!
Note: As of now there's Wing support in the X1 version of the game, so it's possible to fly with friends and join Wings a lot easier than before.
A shout out right now to the awesome Les Sangster and Gary Roddie, two of the Xbox Madhouse crew who are just as big fans as I am of Elite: Dangerous -- Gary is a mine of information on the game and it's thanks to him that I can fly as well as I can now!