Elite: Dangerous VR

Posted January 29, 2015 by in All

Developer: Frontier
 
Release Date: 01-12-2014
 
Game Type: Space Sim
 
Platform: PC, MAC, LINUX
 
HMD: Oculus Rift DK2
 
Control Schemes: Keyboard & Mouse, Xbox Controller, HOTAS
 
Download: Click Here
 
All Games: ,
 
 
 
 

Best Part:

Engrossing and beautiful with great DK2 integration
 

Worst Part:

Very steep learning curve.
 
Bottom Line

Judged on its VR merits, Elite Dangerous is simply fantastic, which makes it such a shame that it remains so hard to get into, and therefore so difficult to share with newcomers to VR.

Rating

Graphics
 
 
 
 
 


Sound
 
 
 
 
 


Controls
 
 
 
 
 


Gameplay
 
 
 
 
 


Comfort Level
 
 
 
 
 


Immersion
 
 
 
 
 


Total Score
 
 
 
 
 

4.5/ 5

by Edmund
Full Article

Elite: Dangerous is the fourth instalment of the Elite series of open-world space sims.

It’s a faithful and worthy successor to those games. You pilot your own space ship in a vast procedurally generated galaxy. The game gives you no real direction beyond that – leaving it to you to choose your own destiny – you can be a trader, miner, courier, pirate or bounty hunter. In reality it’s likely to be a messy mix of everything, as you do whatever it takes to get by in a hostile galaxy.

elite dangerous vr 1Elite Dangerous is, in many ways uniquely suited to the Oculus Rift. Because the game is played entirely from the pilot’s seat of your spaceship the problem of kinaesthetic dissonance is dodged entirely; Get a pair of flight sticks and you’ll frequently experience magical moments where your real body and virtual avatar feel completely at one.

The DK2 implementation is easy to get working and very well done throughout. The ability to track a target with your head makes chases less disorientating and definitely feels like it provides a meaningful gameplay benefit. The layout of UI is very well crafted for VR, as it is displayed as holograms projected within the space of your cockpit. Turning your head to access your navigation panel is immersive and somehow even cooler the more routine it becomes. It also allows for a lot of information to be accessed, without ever moving from your cockpit. Being able to lean in towards a menu or UI element to get a closer look is a clever way of mitigating the limitations of the DK2’s screen.

elite dangerous vr 6All this means that Elite Dangerous offers access to its deeper systems and gameplay loops even if you’re playing entirely in a DK2; you’ll never have switch to a monitor in order to read the small-print on a mission or navigate the Galaxy Map. Its depth and breadth of gameplay, combined with often gorgeous visuals and profound moments of presence make it all-too easy to lose hours under its spell.

Well, once you know what you’re doing of course. Elite: Dangerous is stubbornly inaccessible and punishing to the ignorant. Everything is done manually in the game. In spite of all the virtues of the UI, your first few hours will have you removing your headset to Google how to do basic tasks and optimising keybindings. Getting the keybindings right for you is essential though. In a game where crashing your ship at the wrong moment could cost you an evening’s progress, you want to make damn sure you’re not going to accidentally hit boost when you meant to deploy landing gear. I can’t imagine wanting to play this anywhere near as much without a pair of flight sticks.

elite dangerous vr 5Even once you’ve mastered the basics of flying your ship it can be a slow start. You’d be advised to not fire a shot in your first five hours, and run at the first sign of trouble. I actually sold my guns initially, to increase my jump distance.  Even trading goods profitably, though, is not intuitive and really does require some help from the internet. In fact, if you dive into almost any activity in Elite without reading a guide first you are reasonably likely to make a mistake that can wind up costing you more than you stood to gain.

I’ve died four times in Elite: Dangerous – once in combat and thrice due to sheer incompetence and/or ignorance. Still, these disasters also create some of the game’s greatest emergent stories. Once, whilst checking up some trade route information on my phone, I accidentally flew too close to a star and before I was able to escape it’s gravitational pull, took overheating damage to the point where the glass in my cockpit blew out, giving me only 5 minutes of air to get to the nearest starport several lightyears away. I made it with 7 seconds to spare. It could so easily have been a moment of deep infuriation, particularly as it was caused in part by my having to resort to external information in the first place. But, because it was so close, and because I made it when the stakes were so high, it was ultimately one of the most memorable and thrilling experiences of my time with the game.

Once you push through its initial resistances, Elite Dangerous begins to unfurl at a pleasing pace. When you first seriously shop around for your next ship and what kind of new professions it might enable; you’ll begin to relish time browsing the web for ship reviews and load-out recommendations – as if you were buying a new car.

elite dangerous vr 4Each ship’s cockpit is laid out differently, which may be little more than aesthetic on a monitor but it becomes a factor in purchasing decisions in the VR. I really missed the view from my sidewinder cockpit when I upgraded to the Adder. On the other hand, there is something about that empty co-pilot seat in the larger ships that really captures the imagination.

All throughout the game, in spite of its hostility to newcomers, though, Elite: Dangerous provides plenty of reason to keep playing, in the DK2, at least. It is visually stunning, and routinely produces awe-inspiring views, and moments of serene meditation – interspersed with thrilling dogfights or chases.

Visually, this is more than Titan’s of Space with lasers. Little details like condensation or ice on your cockpit’s glass – or the aforementioned instance of the glass blowing out entirely, make the experience incredibly immersive. The sound design and score also contribute a great deal in this.

While Elite never stops being beautiful and captivating even its mundane moments, it does eventually, through repetition, start to feel a little lifeless out in the black. I certainly wouldn’t call the game ‘unfinished’ but it will definitely benefit from continued development. More content, even simple cosmetic things, could go a long way to making the galaxy feel a little more ‘lived in’. After 20 to 30 hours most places do start to look the same. More station and ship variety would help make different factions feel distinctive.

elite dangerous vr 2Missions play a big role in the early game, but their presentation makes them feel quite samey after a while as well. Frontier: Elite II actually had more interaction and personality than Dangerous offers in this regard. In Frontier, when checking the bulletin board you were presented with a character portrait of your prospective employer; whom you could question about the job. If it seemed like a risky mission then you’d often be able to negotiate on price and payment terms. This would inject much needed life into an otherwise cold and uncaring galaxy.
Elite: Dangerous’ online component livens things up in the docking bays, by making things a lot more chaotic but it never really feels social like a real MMO. Eventually I began to choose solo play more and more, if only to ensure better performance from my PC. Solo play does still require an online connection to play the game. I don’t find this requirement overly offensive myself, but it is a shame in a way, as an offline single player could have included difficulty modes that could perhaps smooth off some of the sharper edges of the game’s punishing nature. Reduced fines, AI hostility and penalties for dying, for example.

elite dangerous vr 1Judged on its VR merits, Elite Dangerous is simply fantastic, which makes it such a shame that it remains so hard to get into, and therefore so difficult to share with newcomers to VR. I dare not let any of my friends log into my account to have a play around and get a sense of the game lest they crash my ship in the first 30 seconds. So, it takes a lot of work to really get into, and it’s absolutely not for everyone, but if it does sound like your thing then the reward for pushing through is one of the most engrossing experiences you can have with your DK2.

You don’t need to go all out, but I would recommend a reasonably priced pair of flight sticks. When played with both a joystick and the DK2, Elite: Dangerous becomes one of the first fully realised VR experiences and deserves a lot of credit for doing so much right to enable this. I look forward to seeing the game grow and improve in the coming months, but that’s no reason not to check it out right away if you have the rig and the desire to explore the stars.

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About the Author

Edmund

Edmund Ward is a philosophy graduate who has focused on aesthetics and cultural critique in the information age. He grew up with 'the dream of the holodeck' and is prone to get very excited by new innovations in natural user-interfaces. Edmund is currently looking for volunteers to look after the glucose drip that will sustain his "fleshform" (as he insists on calling it) when he migrates permanently to VR.

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