I’m horrible at combat in Elite Dangerous. It took me several tries to get past the bot in the combat tutorial. Not the advanced combat tutorial, mind you – the basic one. Due to my astounding level of ineptitude, I’ve outfitted my ships to be able to run from trouble, not confront it. It should come as no surprise, then, that I’ve found many activities within the game that are non-combat related, many of which can be fairly relaxing and enjoyable.
For the new player, missions may be the activity of choice. Easily accessible at any landing station, the mission board presents commanders with a wide range of possible objectives. From the simple (delivering data to a neighboring system) to the slightly more challenging (assassination missions recommended to be completed in a small group), missions can be a good way to get a feel for the basics of the Elite Dangerous gameplay while introducing them to unfamiliar undertakings. Nearly any type of ED activity is represented on the mission board and players can use them as a “testing ground” to find their preferred method of play.
Missions are also a means to increase player reputation with both minor and major factors within the game, so the rewards for completion are multi-faceted. Not only can a player earn credits and materials, but reputation increases, too!
While missions for goods deliveries do exist, players can also buy and sell goods from the commodities markets located within populated systems. Certain economies produce specific types of commodities, and economic conditions within the systems can cause buying and selling prices to fluctuate. Thus, it falls on the player to figure out where to buy low and sell high.
Adding to the challenge, some commodities are illegal in certain systems, and carrying them is a finable offense! Don’t try to sell alcohol at a prison colony or tobacco in a democracy. If authorities scan a contraband-laden ship while in you’re these locations, any profit may be lost to fines. Online databases do exist to help streamline the process of finding profitable trade routes, and they’re highly preferable to jumping from station to station trying to find the best buying/selling price of a commodity.
But maybe a player wants to make some bank by moving illegal goods. Perhaps the allure to roleplay everybody’s favorite big-screen space pirate is too strong. Elite Dangerous allows for this as well. Simply load up the ship’s cargo bays with the imports of choice and find a system where said commodity is deemed illegal. Once that system is located, the cargo can only be unloaded at a station with a black-market contact. As mentioned earlier, if the ship is scanned by the authorities while carrying illegal cargo, a fine will be issued. Luckily, piloting shenanigans do exist that reduce the risk of being scanned. I’ll leave it to you to find those for yourself!
Space stations and planetary landing facilities are full of people needing a ride somewhere or high-paying tourists wanting to see the sights of the galaxy. Mechanically similar to cargo missions, passenger missions require a ship outfitted with passenger cabins instead of cargo holds (it turns out passengers don’t appreciate traveling on luggage racks, who knew?). Passenger missions can pay well, but unlike the silent serenity of cargo, passengers sometimes make demands requiring adjustments in the middle of a mission.
Longtime players will admit there are only a few viable ways to build a ship in Elite Dangerous, depending on the intended function. But for newbies, the various modules, weapons, and engineering tweaks available offer a wide range of experimentation options. From cargo bays to plasma blasters to shield boosters to thrusters, the parts and pieces a player chooses for his/her ship build can make the difference between a leisurely day of exploring and getting cooked by a nearby star. The next level of ship outfitting is engineering. Parts and pieces can be tweaked for enhanced performance at the expense of something else. For example, a frame-shift drive can be engineered for longer-range hyperspace jumps at the expense of the integrity of the drive.
This is an activity that I’ve not personally tried yet. I’ve been told that at one-time mining was the most lucrative endeavor in Elite Dangerous. However, this has been changed so that higher-risk activities bring better rewards, which seems fair.
I have watched my son hunting for precious metals out in the planetary rings, though, and I could see it being somewhat interesting, at least for a little while before the repetitive tedium kicks in. The materials gained through mining aren’t without use, either, as they are an integral part of the engineering system within the game.
Every so often – in fact very often as of late – Frontier puts out a community goal that dovetails into the fictional galaxy storyline as it’s being told through the regular Galnet News updates. Most recently, two community goals ran simultaneously: one to deliver goods to an outpost to benefit a refugee colony, and another to protect that system from pirates.
Participation in community goals can be grindy but also rewarding. Not only does the player get to participate in the larger story Elite Dangerous is telling, but in-game rewards range from credits to special ship modules, dependent on completion of the goal. I’m a little unclear as to whether completion/non-completion of a community goal factors into the story arc (like a choose-your-own-adventure novel), but regardless, in a game that offers little in the way of direction, the inclusion of community goals gives players a larger objective to shoot for.
Exploration was a major reason I got into Elite Dangerous. The idea of heading into the dark unknown with nothing but a ship and a fuel scoop really appeals to me. As such, as soon as I could afford an exploration ship, I pointed its nose in a direction and jumped.
The fun side of exploration is seeing new and interesting systems, placing your name on unexplored planets, and the big fat paycheck received upon returning to the bubble to sell cartography data. The downside is being too far away from the populated systems to participate in missions, trading, and especially community goals. Fleet carriers aside, there is no “fast travel” in Elite. If you need to get somewhere, travel time is involved.
Background Simulation (BGS)
One of the most impressive aspects of Elite Dangerous is a system that most players have little hard knowledge of: The Background Simulation. BGS is the automatic political and economic simulation that is always running (in the “background”) of the game. It determines which factions are in power in various systems, the state of the systems (boom economy, famine, war), and can be influenced by player actions within that system.
While nobody outside of Frontier knows the exact formula for player influence, many years of trial and error have allowed groups of players to decipher some key elements. These players have been able to perform actions that help certain minor factions expand to control larger sections of the galaxy map. I would suggest that if anybody is interested in influencing the BGS, they should first find a squadron of players with experience. This is not an activity for beginners and would be tricky to pull off as a solo player.
Elite Dangerous has been accused of being a “mile wide but only an inch deep.” There may be some merit to that criticism, but it doesn’t mean players can’t enjoy all that’s offered within that mile! I’m just thankful there is fun to be had for those of us who can barely pilot our own ship.