Elite Dangerous is not a new game; it has been around for a few years on PC and Xbox One, but the team at Frontier Developments is constantly evolving the game and their next big step is launching the title on the PlayStation 4 in line with the upcoming 2.3 update to the game. At PAX East I had a chance to chat with the development team and find out what Elite Dangerous is all about, why update 2.3 is a big deal and what to expect when the PS4 version is launched. What struck me most when chatting with the the team (both on the show floor and socially later at an event) is how passionate they are about their game and the community members that play it. They have a genuine interest in delivering a better product each and every day and work with the community to tweak, change and add features with every version they release.
For those who have not experienced Elite Dangerous it is a space adventure, trading, and combat simulation video game set in an open world 1:1 scale galaxy modeled after the Milky Way and set thousands of years in the future. You start the game with a small ship and the galaxy is yours to explore at your whim as you trade, battle, escort and try to thrive in the dynamic and complex world Frontier Developments has created. The truly interesting thing about Elite Dangerous is how you can choose your path in a truly customized way. If all you want to do is be an intergalactic trader you can do that, if you want to be a bounty hunter that is an option as well, a space courier, feel free to go that path as well. In Elite Dangerous there are so many options it can often feel overwhelming, but if you stay focused and work with the community resources a very compelling experience is at your disposal. Despite the game being quite complex the developer has expertly translated it to a console experience on the Xbox One (and soon PS4) as well as a hardcore Space Sim option with Joystick controls on the PC.
Elite Dangerous started with a deep experience when it debuted a few years ago, but it continually evolves with each Seasonal expansion. The current expansion is called Horizons and it launched with a great deal of features such as planetary landings and ground exploration but over the course of the year they also added further ship customization via discoverable engineers, looting and crafting of materials, ship launched fighters, passenger transport missions and new galaxy options such as neutron stars, capital ship dockyards and civilian installations. All of these features add to an already compelling experience, but they are not stopping there. The upcoming 2.3 patch will add multi-crew starships allowing you to share duties with other real life players. Imagine being the captain while one friend controls the guns and yet another controls the deploying ship launched fighters. The team has mentioned that they are planning huge ship designs that allow large groups to share crewing duties in a way that has never been seen before in a game. They are also adding Commander Creation options, currently you are always a generic faceless captain (with a helmet) once the new update drops you can make your avatar unique which will make multi crew sessions that much more interesting. This is not even the end of the season, there is still an unannounced 2.4 version that the team hinted would bring some amazing concepts to the game.
Elite Dangerous is a game designed to be played either Solo or with a Wing in multiplayer servers where you are impacted by other players, but regardless of your playstyle the overall Galaxy is affected by the entire community even if you prefer Solo play. There are always Galaxy wide scenarios occurring, whether it is the incredibly cool Alien encounters that are happening right now or a massive starbase being built. These events are shared across all platforms – meaning that Aliens are in the Xbox One and PC versions and if a base is being built and it needs a million units of metal to complete the disparate versions contribute towards the goals even though they don’t ever encounter each other while playing. This cloud based infrastructure concept is one that is common in the business world, but exceedingly rare in the gaming world. I was very impressed at this feature as it enables the developer to link the Galaxies together in a way that is substantial and completely in their control as Console ecosystems tend to be very controlled by Microsoft and Sony. I was also told that when the PS4 version is released it will be part of this global ecosystem and benefit from the current state of the mature game.
I spoke to Frontier Developments about the upcoming PS4 release and it is obvious they are excited to reach this new audience and continue to expand the game on that platform. They told me that right off the bat the PS4 version will have access to everything released thus far, meaning they will have the core game and the Horizons expansion materials and will benefit from the continuing work on that expansion. They also leveraged the work they put into the PS4 version and relayed it back to the Xbox One and PC versions in the form of optimizations and continued graphical tweaks. The PS4 version is going to look stunning they assured me and will be comparable to higher end configurations on the PC thanks to the power of the PS4 and in particular the Pro version of the console. Controls will match the established ones on the Xbox and the Galaxy will be as deep as can be thanks to the established history over the past few years the game has been available.
My time with Elite Dangerous at the show and in particular my chats with the developers has opened my eyes to this game, I had not jumped into it in the past, but have since started playing on PC and will explore the PS4 version once it is available. It is clear from my playtime and the sheer passion from the devs that there is something special in this game that evokes a sense of discovery and ownership of the universe that even great titles like Wing Commander and Freespace did not achieve. One of my favorite Space Sim titles was Wing Commander Privateer due to the freedom to play as you want. Elite Dangerous has tapped into that freedom but added mechanics, gameplay, scenarios and a truly organic galaxy that pulls you into the game and universe in a way I was not expecting but greatly appreciate.