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#1 Janichsan

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Posted 24 February 2015 - 09:28 AM

While Elite: Dangerous (ED) has already been officially released on December 16, 2014, it is currently only available for Windows and hence not actually a Mac game yet. The Mac version is set to reach beta status in late March and probably will be released sometime this summer. By then, ED will have received a few major updates, that supposedly will alleviate some of the problems mentioned in the following article. In so far, the current state of the game is not necessarily representative of the game as it will be released for the Mac.

In the beginning of the movie "Star Trek: Generations", Captain Kirk has been invited to partake in the maiden voyage of the new Enterprise-B. During this trip, which was initially only intended to be a short romp, they receive a distress call of two ships caught in a space anomaly. As the Enterprise-B arrives to rescue these ships, Kirk proposes several standard systems, with which starships are normally equipped, and which could be used to solve the situation at hand. With increasing exasperation, he learns none of these systems are yet at their disposal, as they are not supposed to be installed before "next Tuesday".

Elite: Dangerous is currently a lot like the Enterprise-B. It is majestic and built on modern technology, bears a proud name with a rich tradition – and is terribly incomplete.

But let's begin at the beginning. Elite: Dangerous is the latest successor to 1984's Elite, a title that can justifiably claim to have laid the foundations to all open-world games. In ED, just like in the classic Elite, you are provided with a small ship and a small amount of money, and find yourself docked at a spacestation somewhere in a big, procedurally generated universe. What you do then is completely up to you: You could become a trader, shipping cargo from from star system to another. Or you become a smuggler, transporting contraband from the less civilized parts of the universe to systems where the citizens have a fancy for some less legal goods. You could become a bounty hunter, seeking out pirates and other criminals, and collecting the rewards on their heads. Or you could become a pirate yourself, waylaying traders to relieve them of their heavy cargo and sell it off yourself. You could also become an explorer, mapping out yet unvisited systems and discovering new resource rich planets or even inhabitable worlds in the depth of the Milky Way. Or you simply follow your whims and do a bit of everything. All the while accruing money and reputation to outfit and upgrade your ship, gain access to more lucrative missions to ultimately to reach the rank of Elite, which is reserved only for the most dedicated of space pilots.

"I Hope You Know What You Are Doing." "Yeah, Me Too."

So you hop in your ship, head out in space… and find very quickly that you do not really know how to do these things, because ED is unfortunately not very good at explaining how they work. You will have trouble to find worthwhile trades, you have no idea where to find criminals or traders to rob, even if you find them, you might not know how to engage them, and you will take on missions without having a clue on how to accomplish them.

There are tutorial videos and a couple of training missions, but these teach you only the most basic concepts, without conveying many of the more advanced ideas. With a little dedication, many things can also be figured on your own, and a lot is actually explained in the game's manual (but who reads those nowadays?). Alternatively, you can certainly find more experienced players to help you. But the game is simply making it harder than it should be. The learning curve is by far not as bad as that other space MMO, but you can still expect to find yourself to be clueless about many things first. A more beginner-friendly introduction is not coming before Tuesday, I guess…

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Behind the Stick

You won't have much trouble figuring out to fly your ship, though. The flight controls are responsive and very intuitive, and it is a pure joy just to whizz around. Apart from an unexplained (and inexplicable) ship specific speed limit, the flight model is fully Newtonian – but you will hardly notice that. By default, a computer-controlled flight assist system lets you control your ship almost like a plane, thus making it easy to quickly get a grasp on basic flight maneuvers. But with a single press of a button, you can disable this assist to channel your inner Neil Armstrong and fully control your ship's rotation and directional thrust wholly manually.

Regarding controllers, you have several options: Keyboard and mouse are viable, but I would not recommend them. Gamepads are a better alternative. It is actually possible to play the game completely just using a standard modern gamepad without having to forgo any important option. Almost everything can be done via your ship's own user interface, even if that makes a few things more cumbersome and slower. But without any question the best option is a good flightstick with throttle and rudder controls, since this will give you the highest precision. All control methods are configurable to a high degree, and with some tinkering you will be able to tweak them to your preference.

Making Money

Elite is and always was a game that takes patience to play. Earning enough money to upgrade your ship will involve many hours of playing, since better equipment modules cost many thousands of credits. New vessels start at tens of thousands of credits, and can cost up to hundreds of millions of credits. Aggravating this is that the various roles you can take up are not created equally in regard of their pay-off. With the small starter ship, trading is hardly lucrative. On the other hand, with a large cargo ship like the Type 9 transporter, the Python or the Anaconda, you can make significantly more money trading than with any other method. Bounty hunting is an excellent way to accrue a considerable amount of cash in the beginning, but it pales in comparison to the later cash-out of trading. Piracy and mining are somewhere in between, but take more time to produce an equivalent amount of money. And exploration just for the money is almost not worth your time. No matter what you do, you will find that there is a lot of grinding involved. If you can get by in your chosen role with a decent small or medium sized ship like Elite's classic Cobra Mk III, you can quickly reach a sweet spot where you make enough money to cover your expenses and periodically upgrade your ship. But if you aspire to own one of the game's larger ships, like the Anaconda, you will need a lot of dedication and time.

Things to Do When You Are a Space Pilot

Other than seeking out your activities yourself, you can also choose to take on missions offered on most station's bulletin boards. There are simple cargo runs, requiring you to either ferry some tons of cargo to a distant system, or to acquire a specific commodity for the mission giver – sometimes illegally. Kill missions have you hunt down either a certain number of one type of NPCs or a special, usually very powerful and dangerous NPC. There are also missions where you have to find and salvage certain items in space, like black boxes or rebel transmission. Most of these missions then play out very similar: You jump to the specified star system, cruise around in it until you find an "unidentified signal source" and stop to check it. If your roll on the random encounter table was lucky, you find your objective or at least a hint towards it. If not, you continue your search. While this system is functional and can offer a sometimes welcome respite (and pay-out if you are short on cash), it is clearly underdeveloped and suffers from a lack of variety. According to the developers, a better mission system is planned for the future, but without any timeframe given.

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Shaping the Universe

The biggest addition to the classic Elite formula is a persistent online universe, in which all players can influence the evolution of the game's world through their actions. By shipping cargo from one station to another, they will impact the prices of these goods in the respective systems. In all systems, a number of different factions that are either affiliated to one of the three major powers (Federation, Empire and Alliance) or independent vie for power. By trading selectively with one of these factions or by doing missions for them, the players can increase their influence to the point that civil war breaks out in this system and the involved faction fight for predominance, again with help of the players. Ultimately, the regime in that system can change, which in turn can lead to a change of affiliation. Still, the effects of this change of power are rather limited. Other than a sign "Now under new management" and possibly some small changes to the list of available commodities, you will not see much difference. What's more, this background simulation does not seem to work very reliable yet: Supply and demand of commodities sometimes fluctuate erratically and then again do not change at all for days, and faction influences can on occasion adjust in nonsensical ways. Depth and some predictability in the galaxy's evolution? Sorry – Tuesday.

Another way for players to influence the game's universe is by partaking in events. These events turn up in the in-game news feed and include for instance slave rebellions in Imperial systems or Federal systems seceding over tax disputes. There is also a major story line involving a major civil war within the Empire looming in the distance: The Emperor is moribund and several aspiring successors have already made their claim for the throne. So far, however, neither events nor story line are fleshed out very well. When you choose to travel to the corresponding system, you can only influence the outcome as you would in any other faction dispute: By trading and accomplishing missions that are not too different from the regular ones. The plotline even seems to be stalled completely at the moment, since there have not been any developments for several weeks now.

The persistent universe requires a constant online connection. You can choose whether you want to play in an open mode with the possibility of meeting any of the other players, in a private group only with selected friends, or solo without any other human players. But in all cases, you always have to stay connected to the internet. This unfortunately means that even if play alone, you can – and will – encounter problems with disconnects and network lag. The good news is that these issues are far from frequent, but you should be aware that they might arise.

Space Can Be Very Lonely

Oddly enough, for a game that puts to much stress on being an multiplayer game, ED currently barely has any options that enable the players to actually play together and cooperate. The game world in split into instances that hold maximally 32 players at the same time, and the way the matchmaking works at the moment, there is a high probability that friends won't be able to meet or see each other, even if they are at the same location. There is only a very limited chat system, so that players can communicate only with difficulties. There are no co-op mission that would need or even just allow a group of players to work together to achieve a common goal. Even if you manage to get a couple of players together in the same instance and then help each other, there is no way to share the spoils of the common endeavor. Elite's developers have announced a group mechanic, which they have dubbed "Wings", for the next upcoming major patch, and that will allow players to take on missions together. But this update will only enter beta testing in early March. Most likely, it will be released on a Tuesday.

But even so, players are already making the best of the limited options they have. In the game's official forum and various other sites like Reddit, groups of players organise themselves to influence the situation in certain systems in favour of specific factions, and often enough successfully tip the balance of power into the desired direction. Or they even bend the boundaries of the game and arrange events like races or demolition derbies. On occasion, their shenanigans even make it to the in-game news feed.

Sights and Sounds of the Galaxy

What Elite: Dangerous might lack in content, it certainly makes up in presentation. The game is gorgeous, and screenshots barely do it justice. Stars are giant broiling balls of plasma, spewing protuberances and flares into space. Semi-translucent ice asteroids slowly tumble along in densely packed ring systems with the host planet looming in the background. Huge spacestations spin gracefully while the star casts shadows on their vegetated habitat rings. Since the recently released version 1.1, city lights glimmer on the dark sides of colonised planets.

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And then, there are the small details: In stations, tiny trucks are flitting about on circular highways lining the inner walls of the docking bay. When vessels are maneuvering, their thrusters fire accordingly and the nozzle flaps of the main engines move. The ships' heat exhaust ports flare up in correspondence to their temperature. Visual cues inform you of your own vessel's status: When it overheats, the dashboard will start fuming, while the cockpit windows will freeze over when you manage to reduce the heat production to almost zero.

Yet, on closer inspection, you cannot help but notice that several elements are still missing. Stars always keep their completely round shape, even when they should not. Some planetary surface textures remain flat. Celestial bodies do not cast shadows, even though smaller objects like ships or stations do. Larger vessels get visibly damaged with their hulls bending and tearing, smaller ships do not. And most noticeably, the game is so far completely devoid of human life. The pilot seats in other vessels' otherwise meticulously detailed cockpits remain empty, and not a single human shape can be spotted in a station's interior. Character models? Not delivered before Tuesday.

The sound design is simply phenomenal. It is possible gain a lot of crucial information just by paying attention to the sounds. You can hear when your weapons start to overheat. You can hear how much fuel you are gathering when skimming a star's corona. The crackling noise when your canopy window starts to break is simply terrifying. The engines of every ship type and every kind of weapon has a distinct sound, and background noises like ethereal wails in the vicinity of stars or echoing announcer voices in the spacestation's interior add a tremendous amount of atmosphere. The bassy WHOOMP of a hyperspace jump will certainly leave an impression – also on your neighbours, if you turn up the volume.

It's Full of Stars…

One of Elite's main selling point is a realistic, to scale recreation of the Milky Way. Although only several thousand star systems are populated, the whole game universe comprises 400 billion systems, making it an explorer's paradise. Yes, that's "billion" with a "b". The majority of these systems are procedurally generated, based on physically plausible rules to create a galaxy as realistic as possible. Several ten thousand of stars are taken from available star catalogues, so there is a good chance of finding your favourite star in ED. In addition, the developers constantly update the galaxy to include as many known real-life exoplanets. Every star and most of the nebulae you can see while flying around is an actual location you can go to. Virtually every type of astronomical object can be found: From glaring blue-white O-type hypergiants to dim reddish carbon stars, from white dwarfs to black holes. Yet, some minor objects like dwarf planets or comets are not yet implemented. So, despite going to great lengths to create a faithful model of our galaxy, even here some pieces are still missing. (ETA: Tuesday?)

Boldly Go…

In conclusion, you might be wondering why you should bother with Elite: Dangerous. The learning curve is steep, progression can boil down to a repetitive grind, the balancing leaves a lot to be desired, crucial parts are still missing – and yet, the game draws you in. Like any good open-world game, ED gives you the freedom to do pretty much whatever you want, even if there still are quite a few limitations. In one moment, you might enjoy just being a space-trucker and do some relaxing cargo runs. In the next, you might pine for some action, so you go looking for some criminals at a system's nav beacon or even join the fracas in a war zone. And then you finish the day marveling at the spectacular sights the universe offers you. The choice is always yours. Elite's detailed and sometimes breathtaking visuals and almost immaculate sound design make it easy to immerse and lose yourself in the game.

In "Star Trek: Generations", the Enterprise-B ultimately manages to handle the crisis at hand and lives up to its name, despite its flaws. It is just the beginning of its journey, holding promise for future greatness.

This is also true for Elite: Dangerous.

"We do what we must, because we can."
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#2 nick68k

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Posted 01 March 2015 - 10:22 PM

I like your writing style. But can I assume you've had hands-on experience with the PC version? (it seems that way from the preview, but I am not certain).

Also, and on a purely mundane level, what hardware did you use, and what was the game's performance like? I'm guessing that 4-year old iMac is going to struggle.
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#3 Janichsan

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 07:05 AM

View Postnick68k, on 01 March 2015 - 10:22 PM, said:

I like your writing style. But can I assume you've had hands-on experience with the PC version? (it seems that way from the preview, but I am not certain).

Also, and on a purely mundane level, what hardware did you use, and what was the game's performance like? I'm guessing that 4-year old iMac is going to struggle.
Thanks. Yes, I played the Windows version. I wanted to avoid going into the technical detail for the preview, so I left out these parts. I play the game on a 2012 Retina MacBook Pro with a quad-core 2.6 GHz i7 and an Nvidia GT650M (1 GB VRAM). At 1440x900 and a mixture of medium and high settings, it runs really well (normally ~30–40 fps). There are a couple of situation where it might stutter a bit, but that's apparently often due to slightly lagging texture streaming and occurs even on much beefier machines than mine (there are a few threads in the official forums about that), and never happens in situations where this could be a game breaker, like in combat. The game actually seems to be quite CPU and VRAM limited: a quad-core processor and 1 GB of VRAM are given as the minimum.

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#4 nick68k

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 08:42 AM

Great, thanks for the update. Nice review.
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#5 Frigidman™

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 12:09 PM

So its starting difficulty is much like all those "X" games, where you basically can't even figure out how to speed up beyond a crawl? I wonder why they keep making space sims like that... difficult initial learning curve. Reminds me of Freelancer, where it was a pretty diverse game, but it allowed you to learn easily from the start. Only ramping up difficulty once it thought you should have learned by then. Also DarkStarOne was that way.

Comparing ED to EveOnline though is kind of not a good comparison. EVE is a screensaver point-n-click strategy sim. Not a space flight sim (where you are in direct control of your ship ala pilots seat). But as far as learning curves go, yeah... leave it up to personal research across the interwebs just to figure out how to flip down the landing gear ;-)

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#6 Janichsan

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 12:50 PM

View PostFrigidman™, on 02 March 2015 - 12:09 PM, said:

So its starting difficulty is much like all those "X" games, where you basically can't even figure out how to speed up beyond a crawl? I wonder why they keep making space sims like that... difficult initial learning curve. Reminds me of Freelancer, where it was a pretty diverse game, but it allowed you to learn easily from the start. Only ramping up difficulty once it thought you should have learned by then. Also DarkStarOne was that way.

Comparing ED to EveOnline though is kind of not a good comparison. EVE is a screensaver point-n-click strategy sim. Not a space flight sim (where you are in direct control of your ship ala pilots seat). But as far as learning curves go, yeah... leave it up to personal research across the interwebs just to figure out how to flip down the landing gear ;-)
I would say ED is a even bit easier to get a grasp on than the X games: the UI is not as convoluted and the game is not as complex. For example, you won't have to figure out how to remote control a fleet of ships or how to manage your own production facilities. But other than that, there are indeed many parallels.

You are absolutely correct that EVE plays very different. There are even far more differences than just the controls. But since both ED and EVE are space trading MMOs*, it's inevitable that the comparison comes up sooner or later.

(* Although the "massively" part in "MMO" can be probably rightfully disputed in the case of ED, due to the instancing.)

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#7 Frigidman™

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 01:33 PM

Can ED be played solo? Sans MMO*? Because it sounds pretty interesting if its like the X games, but with a better interface and none of that terrible micromanagement nonsense they crammed in which (to me) ruined a really great set of space based games.

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#8 Janichsan

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 02:15 PM

View PostFrigidman™, on 02 March 2015 - 01:33 PM, said:

Can ED be played solo? Sans MMO*? Because it sounds pretty interesting if its like the X games, but with a better interface and none of that terrible micromanagement nonsense they crammed in which (to me) ruined a really great set of space based games.
Straight from my wall of text: ;)

Quote

You can choose whether you want to play in an open mode with the possibility of meeting any of the other players, in a private group only with selected friends, or solo without any other human players. But in all cases, you always have to stay connected to the internet.

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#9 Frigidman™

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 04:04 PM

Woops. I know I missed something in there hahaha. I did read most of it, I promise ;-)

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#10 clocknova

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 11:47 AM

Constant connection required?  Count me out.  I even backed this thing on Kickstarter, but I have no desire to play it now.
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#11 Janichsan

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 03:47 PM

View PostJanichsan, on 24 February 2015 - 09:28 AM, said:

... "Wings", ... the next upcoming major patch, ... that will allow players to take on missions together. ... Most likely, it will be released on a Tuesday.
Fun fact: the patch 1.2, aka "Wings" has been released today, March 10. A Tuesday.

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#12 clocknova

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 04:31 PM

Is there any reason why, other than DRM, that the game requires a constant connection when played in solo mode?
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#13 Frigidman™

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 05:30 PM

maybe they were lazy and only implemented a cloud saved game situation, no local storage? Either way, its pretty stupid to make a SOLO game require ONLINE always. Didnt they learn from Ubisoft's mistakes?

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#14 MichalM.Mac

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 05:34 PM

Any CMDRs looking for friends? :-)
CMDR DotMac here.

#15 Janichsan

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 04:14 AM

View Postclocknova, on 10 March 2015 - 04:31 PM, said:

Is there any reason why, other than DRM, that the game requires a constant connection when played in solo mode?

That's why:

Quote

The biggest addition to the classic Elite formula is a persistent online universe, in which all players can influence the evolution of the game's world through their actions. By shipping cargo from one station to another, they will impact the prices of these goods in the respective systems. In all systems, a number of different factions that are either affiliated to one of the three major powers (Federation, Empire and Alliance) or independent vie for power. By trading selectively with one of these factions or by doing missions for them, the players can increase their influence to the point that civil war breaks out in this system and the involved faction fight for predominance, again with help of the players. Ultimately, the regime in that system can change, which in turn can lead to a change of affiliation. …

Another way for players to influence the game's universe is by partaking in events. These events turn up in the in-game news feed and include for instance slave rebellions in Imperial systems or Federal systems seceding over tax disputes. …
No matter what mode you play – open, private group or solo –, your actions influence the game's world. Every trade you make, every bounty you hunt, every mission you take changes the influence of the factions.

View PostFrigidman™, on 10 March 2015 - 05:30 PM, said:

maybe they were lazy and only implemented a cloud saved game situation, no local storage?
Your character is in fact only stored in the cloud, but since you can switch any time between the modes (open, private group and solo) with the same character, I'd think cheat prevention was a bigger influence on that decision than laziness.

Quote

Either way, its pretty stupid to make a SOLO game require ONLINE always. Didnt they learn from Ubisoft's mistakes?
Unlike Ubisoft's games, ED has been developed first and foremost as a multiplayer online game, that you can optionally play solo.

View PostMichalM.Mac, on 10 March 2015 - 05:34 PM, said:

Any CMDRs looking for friends? :-)
CMDR DotMac here.
I don't know if we would meet very often, since I usually play between 8 and 11 pm CET (3 and 6 pm EST), but I will add you.

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#16 clocknova

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 06:59 AM

That doesn't make sense to me.  If I'm playing solo, I don't WANT other people influencing my universe, nor do I want to influence theirs.  The whole point of solo gaming is that the player is the center of the universe, and doesn't have to share it with other gamers.  What they're describing in that passage is a MMO, not a single-player game.  If I'm playing it solo, how the heck am I going to be influencing anyone?  I'm confused.
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#17 Janichsan

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 07:37 AM

View Postclocknova, on 11 March 2015 - 06:59 AM, said:

  What they're describing in that passage is a MMO, not a single-player game.  
Because that's what it basically is: an MMO, not a single player game.

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#18 clocknova

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 07:39 AM

Then what is the point of solo mode?  How is that not single-player?
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#19 Frigidman™

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 08:29 AM

Heh, so instead of a game where they just 'throw on a multiplayer' as an afterthought just to give longevity to a game or cater to the MP-only crowd, these guys are doing the opposite, where they are just throwing on a solo option as an afterthought.

Where, its basically still all MMO, but, you just dont actually run into any 'real' person while you play. For some that may be plenty to enjoy the game, as most times I have to end up muting all of general chat, and PMs from non-friends anyways in mmos ;)

Either way, the game looks pretty incredible, and since I already always am online with my PC while gaming... its not going to be a negative to me (not like I can take my desktop game rig on a plane and need to be offline).

I'm so dying for a space flight sim game thats not either A) overblown turn-based strategy nonsense bullpopsnizzle, nor B) top down looking at tiny things that fly themselves, nor C) you have to manage and micromanage an entire fleet of ships and stations and kissing freedom and freelancing good bye ;)

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#20 Janichsan

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 10:40 AM

View Postclocknova, on 11 March 2015 - 07:39 AM, said:

Then what is the point of solo mode?
They simply know their target audience: not few fans of the classic Elite are antisocial spiteful loners that fear nothing more than meeting another player in their game. ;) So they wanted to give them a safe mode where they can avoid unwanted human contact. In addition, the solo mode in connection with the ability to switch anytime between modes is explicitly meant as option to avoid griefers.

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Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Elite: Dangerous, Elite, Preview