MMOs don't respect the player's time. That's to be expected I suppose, the idea is to get you hooked, to get you either subscribing for longer or paying for handy shortcuts with real money. But when a friend whom I often try MMOs with bought Elite: Dangerous, I had no idea just how much my time was going to be trampled all over.
Now it isn't early access like I usually look at, indeed there's a huge Galaxy out there and it's tediously to scale because it's been generated by a simulation that's been fed all the pertinent data. But as with all procedural generation, that's kind of the problem. It's enormous, and vast and almost everything is generated by an algorithm, this can make the emptiness of space feeling just that, quite empty.
There's a lot to love here, the game is pretty, it's mind boggling just how much of the real Milky Way is mapped out. It's also a very satisfying space combat game, especially against other players and I must like it because despite turning it off last night (with 95 hours played in total) I'll be turning it back on after writing this to play some more. If you've ever tried Eve Online and thought to yourself; ‘I could get into this if combat wasn't bloody boring’ then there's even more to love about Frontier's Kickstarter success story.
The game avoids much of the ridiculous density of Eve, if only because Eve is a ten year old MMO and Elite Dangerous is barely out of Beta, but it makes actually flying your ship interesting. There’s an insane wonder in thinking; ‘well, I'll just go see what that red dot that's a thousand light years away and actually being able to do it and being rewarded for your effort. It’s a truly joyful experience, and probably the closest thing to real life space exploration I'll ever see in my lifetime. And if you find exploring dull, then you can always join a factional navy and help spread the influence of your chosen patron across the galaxy by any means you prefer.
Customization-wise there are a lot of lovely ships that all feel different. However I'm a bit disappointed in what feels like a fairly linear progression, yes there are three ways to go, combat, trading, or exploration, but you'll generally find yourself going from one ship to the next in your chosen career path. Thankfully you're not locked into any path and you can get the majority of your ship's value back if you choose to sell it so you can easily switch your tricked out trade boat for a great fighter in next to no time. Each ship does have strengths and weaknesses, and maybe it's just me being an amateur - you'll really only find one choice for each type of career, and a handful of ‘jack of all trades’ type ships.
On the downside however, it's definitely can be a bit boring at times when you can often find yourself in hyperspace for a solid two minutes, just staring at your destination. This has a lot to do with what I mean about it not respecting your time, you spend so much time waiting for things to happen, or having to travel to places where things are actually happening. Jumping between star systems is a quick experience, but it requires going through what is essentially a loading screen and so it can take some time. Sadly flying to things that are very far away in your current star system is tedious to the point where I created my own of avoiding doing anything over 10,000 light seconds away because the maximum speed is 2,000 times the speed of light, and it takes an age just to accelerate to said maximum speed.
And it doesn’t stop there, this game really does not respect your time in so many other ways. Numbers like a million, or even ten million are arbitrarily small. I see people bragging about their million or two million credit per hour haul, and that would be great, if it didn't cost over hundred million credits to kit out a good ship. It seems like everything takes forever and I can't see a way to excuse that unless you really, really like space ships and have less on than Nick Clegg.
Yet the most ball blistering thing about this game, the thing that means that despite all the time I've put into it, and all the enjoyment I've gotten, is that I simply cannot recommend it yet because it still feels unfinished. What's there is very competently executed, looks great and can be tonnes of fun, but what's not there leaves me looking at the schedule of upcoming patches and sighing in dismay. My partner has been at next to me this past week while I learned the game and the list of features that are ‘not in yet, but said to be on their way’ is probably three to four times what the game currently is. I know it's a bit much to expect from a small team, indeed it's a marvel of software engineering as is, but until it's got a bit more meat about its bones, Elite Dangerous is only really suitable for the most dedicated and unencumbered of space pilots.