By CMDR Zelus
Last Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to play one of the latest builds of Elite: Dangerous with some of the fellows from Frontier Developments. The event was held in the St. Regis Hotel in the heart of San Francisco, and it was quite the treat.
For those not up to speed with Frontier Developments’ Elite series, Elite: Dangerous is the fourth in a line of open world space adventure games where the player can bounty hunt, trade, and explore their way to Elite status – the highest pedigree of pilots. Elite: Dangerous is the first MMO game in the series and also the first game to feature a 1:1 navigable representation of the Milky Way galaxy. The gameplay in Elite has always been from the pilot’s perspective while the piloting and combat sit closer towards the simulation side of things rather than arcade-y side.
The setups available at the event – note the NVIDIA supplied rigs with titans in them.
At the event I was presented the option to play with either an Oculus Rift, or a 4K monitor with a Saitek X52 throttle and flightstick, or a standard mouse and keyboard – Having never played an Elite game prior, I opted for full immersion with the Oculus Rift with the Saitek X52 setup. Over the course of an hour I played through all of the tutorials and got familiar with travelling around in space. In a word, it was fantastic. I’ve tried another in-development space flier with the Oculus Rift before – EVE: Valkyrie – and Elite: Dangerous is much more punishing and harder to control, but in the end more rewarding. Though the Oculus Rift DK2 has some very well known ‘screen door’ issues, you’d be hard pressed to notice it when you’re missile locked or travelling at 100 times the speed of light. The texture work, sound, and control responsiveness are impressive and suit the Oculus Rift and flightstick setup very nicely. Overall, the game runs without the slightest hick-up or graphical lag spike (given, on an NVIDIA Titan) and feels great.
At the event some story bits and details were revealed: In the year of 3300, Emperor Hengist Duval, who may be the most powerful person in the galaxy, is ill at 118 years of age. His empire, or rather, The Empire, has no direct heir and thus a power struggle has begun. By their actions, players will help steer the fate of the galaxy by doing missions, trade, assassinations, and exploration for certain individuals and sub-factions vying for the emperor’s seat. Players may also choose to support the Alliance or the Federations instead. As a result, players will influence how the story unfolds on a galactic level; regularly scheduled updates will reflect players’ influence and choices.
Doing this to a ship larger than you and in the gravity well of a planet is generally a risky strategy.
After being briefed on the story and playing for a bit I had a quick unstructured interview with the series creator, David Braben. In the interview David told me that Elite: Dangerous’ textures and models will scale for 4K, 8K, and 16K resolutions and the game itself will scale well for mid-line to high-end systems; essentially future-proofing the game (to an extent). David commented, “Who knows what will become the next ‘standard resolution?’ We’ll be ready.” I asked David about the release schedule and timing of Elite: Dangerous, mentioning that it’s sublime for the game to be released in the wake of the Interstellar film, just after the Rosetta comet landing success, and before the release of other space games like No Man’s Sky, EVE: Valkyrie, and Star Citizen. He cheerfully responded, “It’s really a coincidence – really lucky. There’s been a resurging interest in space, recently. While I was growing up we had all sorts of space-related events, and now it’s finally back! It really is a revival of the space culture.”
Since the event, I’ve logged about 15 hours of flight time in the ‘Gamma’ build of the game. In retrospect, I can say that owning a flightstick for Elite Dangerous is totally worth it for the precision and sense of authenticity. At the time of writing and to the best of my knowledge there aren’t any major future updates for those on the ‘Gamma’ channel, so those on the ‘Gamma’ channel can likely sit tight with minimal patching until the final release. For those wondering if there will be a wipe of Beta/Gamma player data, there in fact will NOT be.
This, but in your eyes.
Elite: Dangerous is scheduled to launch on the 16th of this month for $59.99, but if you buy it early then you’ll get $10 off. I’ll be writing a full review once the game launches and the new population of players really gets rolling.