by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
The Return of Elite
In the early 1980s, while Americans were playing Star Raiders, Europeans were treated with Elite. Whereas the first was merely a space combat game, the latter combined space combat with interplanetary trading, inspired perhaps partly by the 1974 classic Star Trader. But Elite did not just combine the best of these two worlds: it managed to fit the entire game system, innovative and much-copied scanner design and eight galaxies of 256 star systems each into a memory of 22kb – little more than your average e-mail.
The game was entirely different from anything on the market at the time: most publishers abhorred the idea of a game that did not have a definite goal or a scoring system. A game that let the player explore the galaxies, find their own adventures with the help of their imaginations and a few hidden quests, trade goods between planets and hunt down pirates or become one themselves was too complex an idea for them. But eventually a publisher was found who took the game seriously and the game took the hearts of gamers in a fell swoop.
Elite was followed by two popular and very different sequels – Frontier: Elite II and Frontier First Encounters – in the 1990s, but then everything fell quiet for almost two decades. Fans of the series had to look for remakes such as Oolite and, later, Pioneer, but Elite 4 was always just a rumour and a distant hope on the horizon. That is, until Frontier Developments announced a Kickstarter to develop Elite: Dangerous in November 2012 and it successfully collected the 1.25 million pounds required to finally develop the sequel.
Many aspects of how the game will work remain undecided at this point, but we aim to provide you with an overview of what to expect from Elite: Dangerous when it hits the stores.
Live the Life
Elite: Dangerous will offer the same great basic premise that made the earlier instalments in the game successful: a vast galaxy to explore and sightsee, pirates to hunt and flee from, goods to trade in and asteroids to mine. The Elite series has never been plot-driven and it has been the task of the gamers to find and do the kinds of things that they enjoy: take assignments from military forces, be a bounty hunter or a trader, or buy some passenger cabins and start transporting people from place to place, or become an assassin and attack ships carrying people with prices on their heads – or a pirate who hunts traders for their goods. Or combine any of the above options in any way you like, even changing your playing style from time to time.
A feature that has been constant throughout the series is the Elite Ranking system that let the pilots progress through ranks such as Harmless, Mostly Harmless, Poor, Average, Competent, Dangerous, Deadly and Elite. In all the previous games this ranking has been based on your kills, but it remains to be seen if there is some less violent way to gather ranks in Elite: Dangerous than going on a murderous rampage.
The only major gameplay aspect missing from Elite: Dangerous at initial launch will be planetary landings. The plan is to let player skim the upper atmospheres of planets and gas giants to scoop fuel, but landing onto the planet will only become possible with a later expansion. While disappointing to those remembering the previous titles in the series (aside from Elite), the decision was reasonable considering that the developers wish to take time to create proper, live planets, rather than the kinds of bare height maps that the previous instalments had. This will mean alien flora and fauna, skies of varying colours etc. which will naturally take a long time to develop even with procedural generation.