Elite: Dangerous Review

By Marc Hollinshead,
Thirty years ago, gamers of the time were introduced to a game called Elite. This space-faring title was critically acclaimed by many of the people who played it due to its unique and challenging gameplay. A lot of time has passed since then, and the series has produced a couple of sequels in its wake. Late last year, PC gamers were able to delve back into the franchise with Elite: Dangerous Achievements. It wasn't until earlier this year that Xbox gamers were able to get their hands on the title but that was only through the Game Preview program. Recently, the game was given a full release to everyone on Xbox One and now that it is finally here to be experienced by all, is it worth the trip deeper into the Milky Way or is it too dangerous to touch?

LogoA giant galaxy awaits

Elite: Dangerous has you controlling your very own spacecraft that is able to travel across every single star system in our home galaxy over a thousand years into the future. That's right, the world of Elite gives you access to billions of individual systems that are fairly large on their own. The developers haven't held back in recreating the vast nature of space and they have done it very well. Upon opening the game's galaxy map, it is immediately obvious that you are just a minuscule dot and that humongous star you are flying by barely makes up a fraction of the bigger picture. This does mean that there will be a lot of traveling as it's not just a simple case of transporting from one space station to another. There's a lot of distance to cover, and so to get to the good stuff, you will need to put the time in.

It may sound daunting at the thought of having to travel for an insane amount of time to get anywhere, but your ship is capable of traveling at an incredibly fast speed. When locking onto a destination, it will tell you how many light years/light seconds you are from arrival as well as the actual amount of time it will take to get there at your current speed. In real time, you are potentially an entire year away from where you want to be, but with the use of the Frame-Shift Drive, your ship can go into hyperspace and cruise through space to reach your desired location much faster. The ship will then be in supercruise which is basically the standard speed for long distance travel in Elite. Despite this, you'll still be doing a lot of watching as you wait for your ship to finally get within range of a planet or starport. The game has been designed for you to look at your surroundings and it can be astounding to pass by a gas giant, or come into contact with a transporter ship carrying cargo for another system. It won't be to everyone's taste, and the slower pace of the game encourages you to explore and uncover more of the galaxy. This is a simulation through and through, so be prepared to sit and wait for a few minutes while soaring through the stars. Space is big, after all.

Elite: Dangerous ScreenshotsThis star is certainly big, but it barely scratches the surface

In the games of today, we are used to going through five minute tutorials and then being on our merry way, but that's not the case here. Space travel is a complex and intricate process, and that means that Elite's mechanics are as well. The main menu will offer a training mode for those new to the game, and it can't be stressed enough how important it is it to go there first. Jumping straight into the game without any training or grasp of the controls won't get you very far, as you will literally be placed straight into space without anything to guide you. While the training mode is helpful in understanding the basics, it doesn't explain every specific detail of Elite so it's only through playing the game that you will begin to get the hang of the controls and what you can actually do. This may be off-putting to some, and I won't deny that I could barely comprehend what was being asked of me for the first couple of hours, but the longer you play, the more you will discover and the easier it will become to control your vessel.

Once you finally get out there, you will have the option of either solo or open play. Playing solo means that you will be the only human-controlled ship in the galaxy and everything else will be NPC-controlled. Choosing to go with open play will place you into the galaxy where you will come across other people on your travels. NPC ships still roam around but you're bound to come face-to-face with a human player eventually. How you interact with them, though, is up to you. You can engage in combat if you wish, but be prepared to face the consequences if a bounty is put on your head. Solo play is the safer option if you wish to go about your business without other players potentially hassling you as the galaxy is still in the same state, so don't feel like you're missing out if you always choose this option. Other players just feel like they're there rather than acting as a unique feature of the game.

Elite: Dangerous ScreenshotsWhat do all these buttons do?

If you want to make serious progress in Elite, then you'll need to amass a hefty amount of credits, the in-game currency. You will only start out with 1,000 initially and this won't get you far. To earn more, you have a variety of options available to you. While it doesn't say it outright, Elite has three different "career" paths to choose from; combat, trading and exploring. You can dabble between the three if you like, but the true benefits of each can only be gained through commitment to a specific path.

Combat has you taking down wanted ships and handing in bounties to stations once they're defeated, or traveling to conflict zones where immense battles between lawless ships occur. Emerging victorious from these battles will give you combat bonds to turn into credits and that gives a great feeling of elation. This is the most action-packed aspect of the game and watching lasers fly through space is extremely entertaining. However it is also the most dangerous of the three options as you can easily get your own ship destroyed. A fully upgraded warship isn't cheap to replace, so you will need to watch out.

The second option is trading. If you outfit your ship with cargo bays, then you will be able to haul canisters of goods found in space across other systems to then sell at commodity markets. Mining is also a very useful way of trading goods, but it can get boring over lengthy periods of time. If you prefer something more dangerous, illegal salvage can be sold at a black market for extra money. Be aware, though, that if scanned by a government ship, you will be fined if you have any illegal cargo with you. Although trading is a safer option than combat, you may have space pirates attempting to steal your cargo by interdicting you, and this can be unbelievably frustrating if not prepared. If this occurs, your ship will need to align itself with a blue vector to win a mini-game of sorts so that you can continue on your way. If you fail, though, your ship will be pulled out of supercruise and the enemy will no doubt open fire until you are destroyed, or until you manage to escape/win the battle. Interdictions can sometimes feel unfair and when it's an enemy doing it. They become more of an inconvenience than an exciting encounter.

The final option is exploration. After purchasing a discovery scanner and surface scanner, you will be able to travel from system to system, scanning the area for any potential anomalies. Whenever you reach an unexplored celestial body (asteroid belt, star, planet etc), an automatic scan will begin and data will be available for you to sell to stations under the "Universal Cartographics" tab. As with the other career paths, there's also a catch with this one. To be able to sell any data, you will need to travel at least twenty light years away from the scanned source. This means that a well-fueled ship is essential, and of course, the risk of being interdicted again. All three options have their pros and cons, but it all comes down to personal preference and how you'd like to experience the galaxy. Every station has a bulletin board with timed missions tied to each career path, each one granting credits. Elite essentially gives you no direction, so missions are great when you feel lost and without an aim.

CarouselTake the cargo and accept the risk of pirates, or leave it and miss out on well needed credits? The choice is yours

Choosing how to outfit your ship with the many different weapons, utilities and assets can be a tough decision as there isn't room for everything, so focusing on equipment for your desired career path is the way to go. Weapons, shield generators, and power distributors are key to survivability but everything else can be freely swapped around to suit your needs. What can be irritating is the fact that everything isn't available at every single station, so you may find yourself desperately searching systems until you find the surface scanner you so sorely need. Buying brand new ships is undeniably rewarding when you have the required credits for them, so it's through investing your time in Elite that you get to see everything it has to offer.

The story of a game is often the driving force of the entire title but it's not necessarily the case with Elite. In one of your ship's panels, you will find the "Galactic Powers" tab and this will take you to the Powerplay interface. Across the galaxy there are ten different powers attempting to control and expand through systems for their personal cause. Once ranked up slightly, you will be able to pledge allegiance to any one of these powers and your job will be to represent them by performing various activities for their expansion and control. The galaxy map clearly shows who is in control of a particular system, so if entering one of an opposing power and faction you need to be cautious and be prepared for any firefights that may come your way.

At the end of each weekly cycle, you will gain a credit bonus, the size of which depends on the amount of merits you have acquired with your faction as well as your personal rating with them. When it comes down to it, powerplay acts as another way to earn precious money, but you can simply just ignore this part of the game altogether. There is a news tab called Galnet that tells you of galactic traffic and events which makes the world feel more alive, but unless you really want to take the time to understand and take part in the goings on of the galactic powers, you'll likely just stick to your chosen career path instead.

Galactic PowersEven in the year 3301, politics are still complicated

When you aren't cruising through space, you'll be taking part in the other mode that's on offer in Elite, the Close-Quarters Championships, otherwise known as CQC in-game. This mode is your standard PvP multiplayer mode and gives you access to three game types: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. Unfortunately, Capture the Flag could never find any players so it is unknown how that fairs to the other game types. The PvP is nothing we haven't seen before but just in spacecrafts instead. As you rank up you are able to choose from better ships and weaponry, thus improving your odds. Maps can be enjoyable to play on when weaving through asteroids and avoiding enemy fire at the same time, but in comparison to the game's main mode, you won't be spending much time here. It's an interesting take on PvP, but it feels like a quick addition when paired up with exploring the entire galaxy.

With Elite relying heavily on online play, it's a shame that the servers experience regular issues. One evening had me being completely blocked from playing the game due to the server being down, and sometimes bulletin boards will fail to load because the server is having problems. Mining, an extremely useful way of earning money, is also severely affected due to the fact that the game kicks you out upon gaining a ton of a particular metal or mineral, which essentially hinders your game progress. It seems that the developers are attempting to fix this, though so hopefully things will be ironed out as time goes on.

Elite has one of the biggest game worlds imaginable, and so the achievement list is no small feat. To be able to get the full 1,000G here, you will need to complete a load of missions, make it to the coveted Elite Ranking in one of the career paths, play much more CQC than you probably want to and even visit the very centre of the galaxy. The list doesn't actually require a huge amount of skill, but rather it's very, very time consuming. A lot of time will need to be put aside if you want any chance of getting every achievement, so be warned.


Elite: Dangerous is a unique game. It's given us a gigantic galaxy to explore of which it is nigh-on impossible to see the full extent. It's a classic space simulator through and through, to the point in which the controls and game mechanics can be hard to grasp. This in itself isn't a bad thing, but it won't appeal to everyone. Those who enjoy this genre of games will have a blast, but others will find it hard to fully enjoy. Only with a huge time investment will players get the full experience of the title, but with that comes a greater feel of reward. The powerplay and CQC aspects can be exciting, but they can be completely ignored. The servers have caused the game to have a rocky start on the Xbox One, but the developers are thankfully listening to the community and doing their best to fix the problems. Now that Elite: Dangerous is available to all, it is a good alternative to exploring the Milky Way galaxy in all its glory instead of training in real life to become a fully fledged astronaut, but be prepared before you suit up.
7 / 10
Elite: Dangerous
  • Fantastic re-creation of Milky Way galaxy
  • Surprisingly deep mechanics that reward the player the longer they play
  • Steep learning curve may put people off
  • Server issues hinder progress
The reviewer spent twenty-three hours soaring through space, exploring new systems and meeting their demise a few too many times. A measly 10 of the game's 43 achievements were gained along the way. A download code for the game was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
Marc Hollinshead
Written by Marc Hollinshead
To summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.