First Impressions - Elite Dangerous Gamma

Landing ships isn't my forte - actually, I'm not very good at this game in every regard

It's not long until Elite Dangerous, the latest instalment in the legendary Elite series by David Braben will be released to the world: 16 December in fact - just in time for Christmas. However, before that occurs, lower tier Kickstarter Backers of the game (which includes myself) have finally been given a chance to experience the game in its "Gamma" state. Admittedly, this is the first time I've ever heard of a game being in a "gamma" so I'm just going to consider this as a paid open beta of sorts. After downloading the game overnight, I was ready to give the game a whirl for a few hours so I could gather my first impressions.

What I like

  • Realism: This is pretty much what it boils down to when you're deciding to get this game. If you want the most scientifically accurate space sim on the market, Elite Dangerous is it. A basic understanding of Newtonian physics is a must if you have any chance of navigating around the galaxy or succeeding in combat. Also, just like real life, there are a whole bunch of rules. You can choose to break them but you'll probably be fined, or worse, vapourised into space dust. So make sure not to loiter too long around someone else's landing pad or attempting to land without first asking permission.
  • Massive scale: Thanks to the wonders of procedural generation, the developers have managed to fit quite a few star systems into the game - 400 billion in fact all across the Milky Way. 150,000 of the star systems will be based on actual astronomical data but the rest are randomly generated.
  • Music: While I was at first sad that no music from Frontier: Elite II made it to Elite Dangerous in some shape or form (I really loved David Lowe's main theme for Frontier and the "Blue Danube" for docking sequences was perfect), Erasmus Talbot, the composer for Elite Dangerous, has done a superb job in bringing that epic space opera feel to the game.
  • Graphics: The graphics are fantastic and since everything is drawn at a 1:1 scale, you will be awestruck by the size of planets and just the beautiful vistas you'll be able to take snapshots of for the many star systems you'll visit (in fact, from what I've been reading on forums so far, this is probably one of the highlights of the game to date). There's also great attention to detail with almost everything - dogfights are especially tense since the more damage you take, the more cracks you'll see on your canopy - meaning you're that close to being ejected into the cold vacuum of space.

What I dislike

  • Buggy: Admittedly this isn't the final version of the game, but with the release date only a few weeks away, there's still some work to do. For one, the tutorial that teaches you how to travel between star systems (a pretty important lesson if you ask me) causes you to get stuck in hyperspace for eternity.
  • Steep learning curve: There is a price to be paid for making a game realistic and that means it also has a steep learning curve. Well to be honest, it doesn't need to be this way if they had better (and functioning) tutorials, but the tutorials only cover a fraction of what you need to know and if you take just a quick look at the controls screen for Elite Dangerous you'll notice there are hundreds of things you can do with your ship (at least it seems like hundreds anyway). Combat is definitely tricky in Elite Dangerous - thanks to the Newtonian physics model you actually have to make good use of retro thrusters in combat in order to stop overshooting your target or just going off on a tangent (literally).
  • Mouse and keyboard at a disadvantage: While on the topic of steep learning curve, the game is also pretty difficult to play with a keyboard and mouse, which most players won't care about (since why buy a space sim if you don't get to use a joystick right?) but it has to be mentioned for fans of games like Freelancer (which did mouse and keyboard exceptionally well). As the game is trying to be more realistic, turning on a horizontal axis is excruciatingly slow so you'll have to tail targets using the vertical axis, meaning it's more difficult to correct yourself with a mouse and keyboard as opposed to a joystick. Joysticks also have the neat feature called continuous throttle which is especially critical during combat.
  • Lonely universe: The universe is a big place so it's unlikely you'll bump into anyone most of the time (human or AI) although I've yet to come across a human player in-game yet, except for maybe that bastard that tried to interdict me last time...
  • Laggy: There does seem to be a bit of lag when entering/exiting Space Cruise and Hyperspace which I believe is server related (although I can't be certain on that point). I only mention this as well since when I first attempted to play the Gamma I had quite a bit of trouble even connecting to the server.
  • Plot: Apparently the game's plot is going to be revealed through news posts and even missions/events down the line, although I haven't experienced anything like that yet (well except for reading the news articles). Maybe it's still early days so hopefully there's a bit more of something resembling a plot, campaign or at least set of missions maybe specific to each faction.


I'm definitely content at the moment to just keep exploring the galaxy and performing trade runs/courier missions in Elite Dangerous. However there is a steep learning curve when it comes to combat that I'm not sure I'll ever overcome, not to mention it remains to be seen if there's going to be any more improvements in terms of the plot to give me something to strive for - otherwise accumulating wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth is going to get boring pretty fast.

[ LINK: Official Elite: Dangerous website ]