You’re not alone

You can play Elite: Dangerous by yourself, only encountering A.I. commanders, but it comes alive when you head into the multiplayer open play.

You’ll find that some systems are packed with other human players — particularly those within easy reach of the starting system — while other, more distant parts of space are relatively uninhabited. Wherever you end up, though, the reality of sharing space is pretty darn cool. You can use text chat with any players within range and open voice comms, too — with an in-built voice filter giving a great sci-fi movie feel to your chat.

Teaming up with one of my gaming buddies was a real blast as we jumped across stars to meet, then went on a bounty-collecting campaign in a relatively lawless system. Several hours later — with contrasting levels of success — we headed off to refuel, repair, and collect our hard-earned bounties (and for one of us, to pay our fines).

I haven’t teamed up with a larger group yet, but watching a video of a six-player attack on the system authorities in the Ho Hsi system, the possibilities for engaging group play are obvious.

Unfortunately, right now the co-op structure in Elite: Dangerous is kind of loose, with no capability to share mission goals or bounties. Frontier Developments is putting together a free multiplayer Wings update, though, which promises to allow players to form structured groups and work toward common goals.

Complete immersion

I’ve already described how I lost my head in Elite: Dangerous over the past week or so, and it’s really a testament to the immersive nature of the game.

My longest single play session was just over six hours, and even then I had to drag myself away. Whether you’re hunting for pirates, plotting a potentially lucrative trade route, or carrying out a mission bringing much-needed resources to a struggling spaceport, it’s so easy to get sucked into the beautifully realized game world and make “just one more” trip.

Entering hyperspace.

Above: Entering hyperspace.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Even the smallest moments in Elite: Dangerous can be incredible, and when the game really hots up, it’s almost incomparable. At the tail end of one long bounty-hunting session, I spotted laser fire in the distance and flew over to investigate. Suddenly, I found myself pulled into a battle between two friendly NPC ships and a single, heavily armed Anaconda — the largest ship that players can fly thus far — with a large bounty on its head.

The ensuing fight had me breathless as the three of us played a cat-and-mouse game with the larger ship, swooping in to bring down its shields and deal some damage before heading to a safe distance to recharge our own defences. Fifteen minutes of frantic fighting later, with one NPC ship lost in the heat of battle, we finally took down the Anaconda, and I found myself 80,000 credits to the good — enough money to buy and upgrade a Hauler trading vessel.

It looks incredible

I’m not running the most high-spec gaming PC, but even on my limited rig on the default high settings (not ultra), Elite: Dangerous looks stunning.

Flying over blazing suns and watching the comet trails left by fellow pilots really doesn’t get old, and Elite: Dangerous is full of sights that’ll make you simply stop and stare.

You can take a look at some of these gallery shots to see for yourself.

What you won’t like

Space travel is boring

Space is big. Really big. Elite: Dangerous does a great job of reminding you of that at times, and it’s not always welcome.

The biggest culprit is the Alpha Centauri system, neighbor to Earth’s own Sol. Taking on what looked like a straightforward mission to ship 5 tons of tea, I did a hyperspace jump to Alpha Centauri and locked on to the Hutton Terminal, boosting my supercruise — the fastest way to travel within a star system — to max.

Chatting with a fellow trader on a long trip.

Above: Chatting with a fellow trader on a long trip.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Even flying at around 1,800 times the speed of light, the journey took me 1 hour, 15 minutes to complete. After 10 minutes not getting close, I’d stopped and checked my systems — everything was functioning normally. Then I’d searched the Elite: Dangerous forums and found a 53-page thread warning commanders against the journey.

“Take a packed lunch and a flask of tea if you desperately need to be there,” said one poster, so I did just that. I made a cup of tea (two, actually), stuck on some tunes, and watched the day’s soccer highlights on my laptop while I completed the epic, but largely featureless, journey. The only pleasant surprise when I finally arrived was the chance to buy some Alpha Centauri Gin, which I believe fetches a decent price in certain parts of the galaxy. I just hope nobody steals it before I get the chance to cash in.

While Alpha Centauri is something of an anomaly — I haven’t yet encountered another star system with such a huge distance between destinations — it has other times when you’ll feel the emptiness and vastness of space. And it’s both overwhelming and a little dull.