I needed this score, I really did. Not because I needed to live, but because prior to accepting the job I had been eyeing up a new laser module for my Cobra class spaceship and, well, I was done window shopping; I just had to have it. You know how it is. The job in question was to deliver a quantity of ‘Battle Weapons’ to an unscrupulous militia leader type who, for whatever reason, wanted to kick off a coup or something in his home star system. To be fair I’m a little hazy on his motives, after all, I just wanted that shiny new laser module and little else beyond that mattered. I never said I wasn’t a terrible person.
Horrendously illegal in most star systems, smuggling these armaments from point A to point B proved to be quite the adventure in itself. Not only did the local authorities hound me wherever they could find me (thus adding to my slowly building reputation as a distinctly dodgy smuggler of contraband goods) but when coming out of hyperspace, I forgot to slow my craft down which resulted in my ship being superheated by the nearest sun, in turn forcing my cargo hold to eject its bootleg booty; making an enemy of both the law enforcers who were chasing me, and also my original employer in the process. It’s a remarkable and intoxicating unison of wonder and blunder that has rarely been seen on PS4 and Elite Dangerous boasts no shortage of it.
Play it your way
In truth, this is just one of countless player made narratives that Elite Dangerous encourages its intergalactic adventurers to weave across the near-infinite expanse of its cosmic canvas. With the entirety of a plausibly accurate representation of the Milky Way galaxy laid out in front of you, this latest iteration of Frontier’s classic, free-roaming space adventure channels both the spirit and premise of the over 30 year original game, bringing Elite’s spacefaring odyssey to PS4 in an eye-opening fashion that few could have ever expected.
If it isn’t clear already, Elite Dangerous lets you wander the cosmos in your spacecraft, trading with other folk, killing other folk, taking on new missions, exploring strange new worlds and generally boldly going where nobody has gone before. At this point, an obvious comparison for some folks will be Hello Games No Man’s Sky which released late last year. Certainly, though both titles share a fondness for interstellar discovery and trade, that is where the correlation between the two effectively ends. Developed by fellow British code shop Frontier Developments. Elite Dangerous on the one hand, finds itself more preoccupied with the larger galactic picture of faction warfare and multiplayer integration while the decidedly lonely, though still compelling exploration focused beats of No Man’s Sky comparatively endure on their own merits.
One key difference between the two game is in how large Elite Dangerous let’s you live. Whether you elect to be an honest-to-goodness trader of commodities, a bounty hunter or a nefarious criminal, Frontier’s game let’s you effectively drown yourself in your chosen role; the feeling of escaping the authorities after a well-timed theft of classified data being one of a veritable kaleidoscope of sensations that Elite Dangerous can offer. Relatedly, when it comes to morality in Elite Dangerous, there’s no token paragon/renegade equivalent system where the game explicitly informs you that you’ve been good or bad, instead such actions by the player carry their own consequences, and much like real life, make you answerable to your own conscience rather than an on-the-nose set of goodie/baddie metrics.
In space nobody can hold your hand
Another point of separation between the Frontier and Hello Games efforts is the difficulty curve. If No Man’s Sky is a gentle hill that builds to a plateau, then Elite Dangerous can often seem like an unyieldingly steep climb at times, as the mind-boggling ambitions of its design often leave precious little breathing space for comprehension or analysis on the part of the wild-eyed player. Of course to some folks, especially those who have wholeheartedly embraced the more organic brand of discovery that titles such as Dark Souls promote, such an atypical approach to tutoring players in regards to the myriad of systems, subsystems and nuances that add up to Elite Dangerous’ impressive sum, will likely prove welcome. For the rest though, especially those who want to be lead by the hand a little more, Elite Dangerous offers little or no quarter and this might well seem unduly frustrating as a result.
From landing on a space station, to traversing planet surfaces, working out trade routes, operating warp engines, playing factions against each other and much more besides, Elite Dangerous asks, no demands, that you become a self-made spacefaring adventurer; insisting that the only good teacher of its near abyssal depths is nobody other than yourself. Even something as seemingly minor as your ship’s systems, where you can re-route power from weapons to systems and even enable or disable modules to avoid overloading the power of your craft, has a learning curve all of its own, showcasing levels of depth that no other game on PS4 can match.
A key element in Elite Dangerous, too, is in how it allows players to engage in single-player or multiplayer versions of its universe. Somewhat effortlessly, you can pop into the menus at any time and switch between playing Elite Dangerous solo, or, ‘open’, whereupon in the latter you connect to a persistently online version of the galaxy stuffed with fellow humans flying about, letting you communicate with them, help them on missions, or, even take them onto your ship as crew if you have the space to do so. The manner in which you can so easily switch between single-player and multiplayer in Elite Dangerous proves to be a boon, since by keeping this power in the hands of the player, it feels refreshing to be able to insert or remove yourself from the game’s online community as you see fit because sometimes, just sometimes, you want the whole galaxy to yourself.
For those even for whom exploring the galaxy might seem like an overly daunting prospect, Elite Dangerous boasts a ‘CQC’ mode which lets players tangle with one another in a variety of ship on ship arena combat scenarios. Sure enough, it isn’t a particularly deep distraction from the main meat of the game, but all the same it’s still nice to have a mode like this which doesn’t require the sizeable investments of time and emotion that the main game demands from the player.
Let’s talk about micro transactions and expansions
Elite Dangerous has micro-transactions, but before you start spitting fire at your poor screen, allow me to reassure you. Straight off the bat, there is nothing that you can buy in Elite Dangerous that will leapfrog you, progress-wise, over someone who hasn’t opened their wallet. Rather, the Frontier Store which accepts your hard earned real-world money can only ever sell you ship paint jobs and other such cosmetic niceties, so there’s no need to worry about real money breaking the game because that just won’t happen.
In terms of expansions, Frontier has stated their intention to roll-out annual ‘seasons’ of content beginning with the first, nicknamed ‘Horizons’. Horizons packs provide a great deal of additional stuff to do over Elite Dangerous basic (but still ginormous) offering. For a start, folks who own the Horizons pack can not only land on planets, but can also dispatch a roving buggy from their craft to explore the surface, allowing them to extract items and data from instillations while engaging in combat with turrets and other hostile vehicles which might be discovered in the process. Currently however, only planets or moons without atmospheres may be landed upon; a feature which will no doubt arrive in an update at some later juncture.
Another pair of features that Horizons boasts is the ‘Holo-Me’ suite which provides the player with an impressive amount of visual creative latitude to customise their in-game character, while the new multi-crew functionality lets up a group of players take control of a larger ship; permitting each of them to take up key positions on the craft such as gunnery, navigation and so forth. With parity assured between the PS4 and PC versions of Elite Dangerous going forward, it would appear that the Horizons season of content is just the beginning of what looks to be a game that will meaningfully evolve and change not just months, but years down the line; so expect to see a lot more content for Elite Dangerous as time marches on.
Speaking of future developments, while having new content is never a bad thing, it’s clear that Elite Dangerous remains a little technically rough around the edges. Though the game’s audiovisual credentials are indeed impressive and do a fantastic job in establishing a robust sense of place in something as incomprehensibly large as space itself, Elite Dangerous does unfortunately suffer from occasional crashes, which can prove maddening if they occur just before you’re about to hand in a mission or complete some other important aspect of the game. Given how pro-active the developer seems to be with Elite Dangerous updates however, I’d expect such niggles to be ironed out sooner rather than later; something that I would also hope applies to Elite Dangerous potential aspirations for PSVR support.
For those that possess the requisite constitution to endure its steep learning curve, Elite Dangerous invites players to paint their own emergent stories and legacy across the infinite canvas of space in a way that no other game on PS4 has managed to accomplish.
Whether you’re flying through a solar flare, carving through the ice rings of a gas giant, taking your buggy for an excursion on a rocky moon or investigating a long lost alien civilization, there is almost always some sort of experience in Elite Dangerous that proves irresistibly compelling.
Drowning in depth to the tune of thousands of hours of play, while encompassing a galaxy of possibilities to explore and enabling some of the most organic role-playing we’ve seen for a good while, Elite Dangerous represents a new frontier for PS4 that everyone should brave.