Stick and Rudder: The year that was in Elite Dangerous, from self-owns to sloppy updates to slight hope


To say that Elite: Dangerous had a rough 2022 is putting it mildly (and pretty much dismisses the nuance this retrospective hopes to provide). The launch of Odyssey last year poisoned the well of this spaceship sandbox so hard that it’s taken practically a year and a half for Frontier Developments to try and right the ship. And while that is certainly depressing on a macro level, the close of this year has yielded the faintest whiff of hope on the game’s horizon, both for myself and perceptibly the wider playerbase.

So let’s take a look back at 2022 in Elite, shall we? Because a bit of context is a very good thing indeed. This will also hopefully make refreshing people on what happened to this point easier to do for future reporting; it’s nice to have a single place to circle back to.

Before looking in to the game’s updates itself, we first have to nod to a January interim report that stated the Odyssey expansion was experiencing “an upturn in player sentiment.” This read like the company trying to assuage nervy investors after the expansion’s launch was literally called “disappointing” by FDev, without much hard data to back up what read like an emotional report rather than a factual one.

Still, updates did indeed continue, starting with January’s Update 10 all the way through to November’s Update 14. Every single patch brought with it huge lists of fixes to bugs, performance, and stability, while still also adding new things like pirate faction tweaks, fleet carrier interiors, a Protect mission type, criminal missions, shipyards for prisoners, and an explosive finale to the game’s long-running Azimuth Saga. Of course, not everything went to plan; Updates 11 and 12 were delayed a few times, as an example.

Don’t celebrate yet.

And that’s just the actual update patches applied to the game itself. Wider problems plagued E:D throughout 2022, the most impactful of which was the confirmed end of console development in March, leaving a fair chunk of its playerbase in the lurch, particularly as FDev started reconsidering, then adjusting, then detailing how console players could move to PC, ultimately ending in the transfer portal’s opening in September… followed by a closure of that portal on Update 14’s release.

That’s not the only major wound that E:D inflicted upon itself. One can’t forget additional playerbase bifurcation that FDev performed throughout 2022: First it was a split between Horizons and Odyssey players as a result of the PC game’s shift to a 4.0 code base, then there was the newly released “live” and “legacy” versions of the game that further divide players between 4.0 code and 3.8 code.

Naturally, we also have to cast a light on previous and comparatively smaller problems, like official communications that were turning off and then on again, admission that fixing a repeating tile issue was too expensive, patches that caused more problems than they fixed, and FDev CEO David Braben stepping down into a president role. The devs even had to assure players a couple of times that Odyssey wasn’t being abandoned and that there wasn’t a content drought.

I’d be remiss not to point toward some of the good things that happened over the past year in E:D, of course. Players were still showing off how pretty this game can be. Players discovered a gas giant that was thought to be lost forever. And of course, there was the build-up to Azimuth’s end as the Thargoids started making aggressive moves into occupied space that perked up my ears. Still, the bad felt like it far outweighed the good, and I personally found myself seeking other games out as a spaceship sandbox refuge.

However, this does bring us to now – to Update 14 – and what feels like a small shift to the positive in-game and out-of-game. The Thargoids are attacking, bringing with them several new wrinkles to the game and the sandbox. Invasions by the aliens feel more natural and organic, like an actual mobilizing enemy force instead of a series of semi-predictable spawn closets. Stations and planets can actually be lost to the Thargoids, whether they’re NPC-owned or player-owned now.

This, in turn, has all translated into palpable player interest. The game’s head count on Steam appears to be having an uptick, and player activity overall seems high, with new information being shared, rallying cries rising up, and players mobilizing, theorizing, and gearing up for the fight.

So naturally, FDev decided to pour cold water on the whole matter.

Earlier this month, the devs confirmed in a forum post that progress in the Thargoid War is a bit sterner than one might suppose, since not getting a location under attack to a 100% completion rate would ultimately reset all player progress with the weekly reset, even if they got to 99%. The news ended up being disheartening for many participants even has others seemed to shrug their shoulders and take it in stride. The devs further noted that adjustments are in route, so things are likely still in flux here.

Even so, the change in the air in ED has been felt on a personal level. My best friend and game mentor Britarnya has jumped in head-first, bringing my husband and me along as we all try to figure out how to fight the xeno threat while figuring out how to do our part. I’ve finally been given a reason to circle back to some needed upgrade grinds, and the intrigue and interest is at an all-time personal high.

But don’t just take it from me; take it from the impressions of the aforementioned best friend, who has been flying in E:D for a very long time now while I comparatively am still a newborn:

“I love Update 14. Even the whisperings of the update approaching made me want to jump back into Elite: Dangerous, but I was and am blown away by how much has been added and how things feel new and unpredictable again.”

That unpredictability – planned unpredictability, not things being set on fire unpredictability – is what looks to be driving people forward. There’s a pervasive sense that everyone has woken up, from the players to the developers (mostly). There’s certainly valid criticism that it should not have taken Frontier nearly all of this past year for things to get to this point, and it seems like the team just can’t help but slip on a banana peel when things are moving positively, but better late than never, right?

Perhaps I’m operating on a fool’s hope as Elite’s 2022 draws to a close. Perhaps I just really want this space sandbox and only this space sandbox. Or perhaps I’m high on my own supply as return trips to other MMOs have been successful. But there may be a reason for fans like me to think that maybe, just maybe, Elite is finally turning a corner after a rough ride through 2022.

Time, of course, will ultimately tell.

It’s a big wide universe out there, and the MMO industry is busy filling up the space between the stars – with sci-fi MMORPGs! Join the MOP team here in Stick and Rudder for intermittent voyages into all the big space-trucking, dog-fighting, star-flighting MMOs of the moment.
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