Elite Dangerous

First off, this post is about a game, presently in beta. I know all about software testing and feature completeness, a work in progress, I get it. It's not done, it's potentially buggy, etc.

Elite Dangerous is the ambitious new sandbox-style space sim from Frontier Developments, the guys who made what lots of folks consider to be the "Grand Daddy" of all space sims, Elite. That particular title is older than me, and I never had the opportunity to play it, but it's highly regarded as the precursor to a number of modern space combat & trade sims (ala EVE or X-series).

ED was a Kickstarter project, and I bought in really early because I've been a fan of space combat games since I was a kid, and there have been very few captivating games of that type in the last 10 years or so. When Premium Beta opened up, I installed it and was excited to experience what Frontier's team had built so far and was likewise excited to have the opportunity to be able to provide feedback to the team.

Unfortunately, rubberbanding and other issues made Premium Beta completely unplayable for me. The game would randomly crash while loading, wiping my save in the process. AI would drift all over, and randomly collide with player ships, destroying them instantly. I was pretty disappointed. I could see the potential there, and just ended up waiting til the more open "Beta" phase, where there'd be more new features and improvements, but also more new players.

The beta hasn't been much better of an experience for me.

The core of the game is awesome, and the scale the game will have (including 400 billion systems) is incredible and easily rivals what's going on with Star Citizen (another space title I backed early on). Unfortunately, Frontier elected to go the route of P2P network connectivity, which means you're at the mercy of other players' connections and PCs to sync up your game session.

I regularly wait between 45-90 seconds to go into or come out of Supercruise (a common thing when travelling between planets or conflict areas within a single system) which means I frequently spend more time waiting for stuff to load than actually doing anything.

Because grinding AI kills is extremely time consuming and the bounty system for AI is still a WIP (fly into area, select faction, fight ships opposite to your selection), it means you often get snubbed by AI taking your kills, AI colliding with and destroying your ship or other players waiting til you get a ship near death to swoop in and kill your target. Since you only get money if you land the killing blow, this means you spend a ton of time shooting at stuff and making almost nothing from it. The latency between your machine and the other players' PCs comes into play here as well, as you'll regularly see people pausing in space, then covering huge distances, or the AI will stutter and freeze because of what I'd guess are timing issues between your local client and remote clients (to be fair, this can happen in any multiplayer game).

With trading, you're at the mercy of load times between travel points. If you're grabbing a bunch of an item at a system, and you have to make two lightspeed jumps to get to your destination, you're going to end up with a few irritating, immersion-breaking problems:

  1. Jumping into lightspeed is a neat process with great sound cues, but you're going to potentially have to wait 30+ seconds from the end of the sound cues + shaking of your screen til you actually /load/ into lightspeed.

  2. When you exit lightspeed into supercruise, you have to wait 30-90 seconds for it to load and start allowing you to control your ship in supercruise.

  3. While in supercruise, you have a high (almost guaranteed) likelihood of an interdiction, which drops you out of supercruise (30 seconds+) and you can fight (risking getting rammed or killed by the AI and losing your cargo), drop your cargo or just run. Regardless of whether you fight and live, drop your cargo and live or run and live, you have to go back into supercruise again (another 30+ second load time). With the latest betas, I've had as many as FOUR interdictions between destinations fewer than 300 light seconds away. It's absurd and frustrating.

  4. Docking with a mixture of AI and player-controlled ships is a mess. I've lost easily twice as much money as I've made due to hull losses caused by players griefing and ramming me while docking, or AI being braindead and ramming me while docking.

That latter point is what's really making me rethink playing ED until Frontier addresses some of this stuff. It's fun to fly around, I really like how the game looks and how it feels and the sound and everything else, but the asset loading delays, shaky camera frozen screens, brain dead AI and grief-happy players sucks the fun right out of it for me. Having to restart at zero over and over and over is frustrating and completely un-fun. Grinding kills over laggy P2P networks isn't fun. Getting rammed by players while docking in a "safe area" isn't fun.

I really look forward to what Frontier does with ED. I'm reasonably confident they'll figure out a way to address this stuff, as it's extremely frustrating and they're no doubt aware of that.