To enjoy “Elite: Dangerous,” players really have to want to enjoy it. They need to spend the time mastering the controls, learning the procedures, learning how to fight, learning how to dock, learning where the “landing gear” button is — there’s a lot of work that goes into learning how to play it.
However, those who stick with it are in for a very relaxing, almost zen-like experience with a few exciting encounters along the way.
At the start of the game, players are given a spaceship and a multitude of things to do. They can go collect bounties, run cargo, be smugglers, ruin the lives of those trying to make an honest living in space or just explore the cosmos. There’s little in the way of storytelling; it’s more of a living world that each player gets to explore at his or her own pace.
However, there’s a massive caveat that players must beware if they want to to get into “Elite Dangerous”: the mechanics. Players should be prepared to spend the first hour or two just learning the game’s basic mechanics. While developer Frontier Developments has released several official tutorial videos on YouTube going into greater detail, the game itself doesn’t do that great of a job at explaining how the game works. Turning, rolling, managing fuel — and that’s just maneuvering the ship. An entire extra game could be made out of docking the ship and leaving the spaceport. It takes effort and attention to play “Elite: Dangerous.”
However, when all of that is said and done, the end experience is incredibly relaxing. There’s something very nice about simply throwing on an iTunes playlist and making the trip from one system to another. It’s like taking a good, long road trip. And it doesn’t hurt that there are lots of great water cooler moments along the journey. Maybe you’ll run afoul of space pirates. Maybe you’ll happen into a piece of illegal cargo floating through space on its own. It feels like anything could happen.
The game uses always-online DRM, which is an always-issue, but it allows for this universe to be populated with other players, which adds to the organic nature of the world. It makes the universe just that extra bit more interesting to explore. And players who don’t like multiplayer can always play single-player instead, which is just as satisfying.
It takes a lot of work and research to get into, but “Elite: Dangerous” is worth the effort. Players looking for a vast, open sandbox in which they can do as they please should definitely give this a look.