As a fan of the original Elite, first released way back in 1984, I gave in to temptation and backed Elite: Dangerous on Kickstarter. E:D is actually Elite 4 by a better name, and had long been considered vapourware. David Braben, co-author of the original, and author of the two later followups in the early 90’s had often talked about a possible new version,  taking the game back to its roots and exploiting powerful new hardware to build on the original experience. For twenty years or so  it was all just talk, until last year when the stars came into alignment, and a Kickstarter fund raising project was launched. It was an overwhelming success, and as a backer, I finally got to play the upcoming new game when the standard beta started earlier this week.

Someone just asked me, “Is it true to the original?”. Often remakes and sequels of classics lack the essence, the ‘it’, that made the original special. So far, Elite: Dangerous doesn’t just have ‘it’, it has ‘it’ in spades. E:D feels like the original in essence and that said, it’s not just the same game with fancy graphics.

Docking, very much an iconic part of the original, is very much the same – you have to align yourself with a rotating docking port, but once inside the station you have to land on the assigned pad, within a set length of time. The time limit is plenty, but new thrusters which allow you to move vertically and laterally really come in to their own as you line up over the pad – it feels like docking a space ship should feel like, if that makes sense. You can buy a docking computer, but since I haven’t yet, I can’t comment on the musical aspect 😉  [Edit: I now have tried a docking ciomputer, and the musical aspect is spot on]

The basic flight control model is also much the same in principle, and you can even use the ‘classic’ key mappings to control your ship. However, I’ve been flying using the joystick/throttle I originally got for flight sims, and it’s fantastic. As before, you have the old focus on roll and pitch, and you now have the new thrusters as well.  The latter are not super powerful, but add an extra dimension to the flight model while retaining the core feel, and are very handy for docking, as mentioned above.

The way you ‘jump’ in to the docking stations after exiting hyperspace has changed significantly. Jumping is replaced by a ‘supercruise’ capability which allows you to easily explore the system without it taking years. It’s hard to explain how it works, but it seems to make sense. Apparently this is an area of the beta that still faces significant work, so it might well change before release. Hyperspace is also pretty much the same concept – decide where you want to go, engage the engines – and there are some new subtleties involved. Range is no longer determined by fuel quantity, but by ‘engine size’, and also factors in how much cargo you are carrying. More cargo requires more energy to shift and thus reduces range.

Trade is, well, trade, it’s the same deal – buy at a low price and ship it to somewhere that needs it. The change here is again in the detail. The Galactic map helps you here by showing ‘trade routes’, but the markets are more diverse, there are more commodities, more subtle varieties of planet economy, and fewer ‘two way’ routes for grinding out trades and racking up the cash. There are also now ‘missions’ which you can opt in to – such as delivering certain cargo to a certain place by a certain time, or eliminating someone who has offended the wrong people. This builds on the style of the sequels, which had this type of system too.

Unlike the original, but like the old sequels, you can change your ship to suit your desires and dreams – in the beta we all start with a Sidewinder, and I have just traded my way up to a Cobra Mk III. There are old ships and new ships – the Cobra is much as it was, as is the Sidewinder, but the Viper looks a little different, as does the Anaconda – not all the ships are ready yet – the beta has a limited selection (ditto weapons and kit etc). Ships themselves are now more customisable with varying ‘hardpoint’ bays which can take various weapons and other systems.

Combat feels similar, but there are changes – you now have projectile weapons as an option to purchase, and different classes of each weapon to fit requirements / budgets. Shields work slightly differently and don’t recharge as quickly as you might expect. In fact, there is a new dimension to ‘ship’ management to play around with, and the approach taken seems a quite reasonable one. You don’t need to micromanage everything, and can leave sensible defaults in place, but you can shift energy from weapons to power if you need to make a break for it, or the other way round if you want to plug it out in combat. Your choice…..

Finally, the biggest change is that although you can play in solo and ‘private group’ mode, the intent is that this is an online game – you fly with other players. How much you interact with them is up to you and the developers have explicitly stated that they want to encourage co-op play rather than PvP. They are not preventing PvP, and you can shoot other players, but the game is being carefully designed to make it about more than who has the biggest meanest ship and guns. It has voice and text coms, and special facilities for groups to enable them to say, hyperspace together.

So far, I’m very impressed, it looks like it could well be the Elite I’ve been missing for 30 years…..