The Milky Way is a bloody big place - small in comparison to some other galaxies, but from our limited perspective it might as well be infinite. In gaming nowhere is this more apparent than in Elite Dangerous. I've spent a few hundred hours cruising from star system to star system and I can safely say that I have seen a fraction of one percent of the simulation of our own galaxy as presented by Frontier.
The result of a wildly successful crowd-funding endeavour, Elite Dangerous
has finally arrived for the masses to explore, trade and fight in. So far these are the three pillars that gameplay is built upon and they are all approached through some rock-solid flight controls.
Well, rock-solid once you mess around with the key bindings a bit. I've played with mouse and keyboard due to my flight stick being a broken, antiquated lump of plastic. I was prepared to struggle without a flight stick, but I was pleasantly surprised by how intuitive and flexible the settings were. My advice is to do the training/ tutorials that are available to fine-tune your personal set-up before jumping into the live galaxy.
Visually the game is beautiful, without being overly flashy. Planets are varied in type, texture and size. Stars still cause my heart to skip when coming out of a jump to find one directly before me and having to pull up sharply to avoid being vaporised. Ship models are lovingly crafted and detailed and for the most part look like functioning piece of machinery. There is a pleasing industrial elegance that harkens back to the simple silhouettes of the original Elite
Sound design has some stand-out effects such as the slow cracking of a cockpit's glass moments before it is destroyed, leaving you with precious little oxygen to make it back to a station for repair. There is also the ticking noise of heat expansion in metal as you use an afterburning to chase down a ship trying to evade your attention. And then there are the eerie celestial whisperings as you pass through hyperspace. The weapon sounds are more than serviceable - projectile weapons cause a staccato clatter as shells impact an enemy's hull and lasers produce the kind of whine usually associated with a dentist drill as it bores through enamel.
As I said before, gameplay can be broken down in to three main pillars.
Combat comes in three flavours. The first is fighting low-ranked pirates. These are common encounters and generally only last a few minutes as you whittle away at their basic defences, usually scoring you a small prize in bounties to claim.
Next there are Assassination missions. These are against single targets who are much better armed and will absolutely wreck you if you let them get in to a position behind you or with a direct line of sight on your cockpit. Much tougher, but they also award larger prizes.
Finally there are encounters with real people - other players determined to kill other players. They are unpredictable. Some may not possess your own level of skill in the pilot's seat, whilst others may be hardened combat vets. The only way to know for sure is to get in to a position where you can lock on and scan them, which gives you a name, their combat ranking and whether or not they are wanted. The reward here is either surviving or defeating the encounter itself.
Exploration is both daunting and highly relaxing. On one hand you go out and scan stars and planets. Hunting down the unexplored stars can be difficult because they are not automatically highlighted in your HUD and so you find yourself looking for a star that looks brighter or moves against a backdrop of hundreds of other stars.
On the other hand if you are exploring space along the spiral arms things can become a little 'samey'. But, there are wonders out there to discover and things gets increasingly interesting as you get towards the galactic core.