I know quite a few people who might be interested in hearing my thoughts on the Elite Dangerous Alpha version 2.0, so I figured I would put them down in a blog post.
Firstly, it isn’t Elite Dangerous – yet. It’s a combat module. This is 100% what I was expecting, and what I wanted to experience. Getting into the Alpha at this stage should help me to get used to the flight dynamics and ship systems, long before I’m putting my avatar on the line.
The software is launched by a launcher executable that at this point has a few links to places like the technical forums, alpha forums, etc. You also login there, and it would appear the launcher handles software updates.
Launching the software, you’re presented with a tidy menu. My first time running it, I went into options, set the graphics all to maximum and the controller to mouse/keyboard just to give it a quick whirl. I was only able to complete only the first two scenarios due to my inability to use the mouse controller effectively… Try again, Tim.
I plugged in my joystick and setup the basic controls, then managed to get all the way down to Predator and Prey. This scenario really kicked my ass. Much to my great pleasure, treating this like a point and shoot just wasn’t going to cut it, I was going to have to use the side boosters to avoid incoming fire, and I was going to have to learn how to manage the ships systems.
I went away, I attempted to get better aware of the controls and systems, then I recorded this video of myself playing through the scenarios:
Scenario 1: Waste Disposal (0:40 in video)
Quite typical for space games. Can you shoot the stationary object? The most difficult part of this was trying to work out whether the canister was behind an asteroid or infront of it. One of the canisters did also refuse to blow up, so I just rammed it.
Scenario 2: First Kill (3:56 in video)
So it’s time to kill something. The Solar Fluke (ship name) being the unlucky victim. It’s a bit easy to get off some early hits because he starts off yellow (unaware you are going to attack him), so you can position yourself and fire at him before he is able to turn red and try coming to get you.
Scenario 3: Sidewinder Face-Off (5:22 in video)
Crimson Triumph is the victim this time, but he’s ready for you. It was this mission that taught me slow speed might sometimes be the best way of looping to try to bring someone into view. Previously I’d found it pretty easy to stay full speed and loop around. I also really like the Pulse Laser weapon double mounted like that!
Scenario 4: Recon Wing (8:40 in video)
Rut roh. Federal forces? I have to take out the recon ships. Farrago is the name of the wing, and they light up red only after being fired upon, so it’s pretty easy to take the first ships shields down… But… He has friends.
It’s hard sometimes to know who is firing at you, or where from, then other times it’s just difficult to get the enemy in your sights. These guys were really good at evasive maneuvers, to the point that a lot of the time I was just aimlessly looping around trying to find them. Then when you do find them, they all split off in different directions, for you to find them again. It’s really rather disorienting at times, but hey, at least you get to play with some ‘small missiles’ in this one, though they pale in comparison to the burst laser… Muhahahah.
Scenario 5: Wolf Pack Tactics (15:08 in video)
I get a wing man? Cool! That’s unfortunate for the ‘Misfortune’, a pirate vessel. Once you find him in the asteroid belt, you can set about trying to blow him up! I actually rammed him pretty hard in the video, not sure if I regained control or it did it by itself, but it kept spinning until I thrusted to the side.
This mission was pretty easy, but I sacrificed my ship to kill him, the wing man really didn’t play a part. In ‘real life’ you’d probably not want to do it like I did.
Scenario 6: Predator and Prey (17:13 in video)
This mission was extremely hard until I learned better ship control. You’re supposed to hide from the Federal forces while killing ‘Bad Karma’, but I couldn’t resist using the Beam Laser, which attracts their attention. The Multi-Cannon is just so damn annoying.
Anyway, I took out the ‘Overwatch’ wing, too, but it’s nice to know that in Elite Dangerous you’ll be able to do things like hiding, because really that’s what most of us do when a fight happens. Am I right?
Scenario 7: Supply Strike (29:15 in video)
The ‘Feds’ are bringing in supplies. Why would they name their ship ‘Big Score’? Isn’t that like putting a target on your back?
Anyway, with two wingmen, this really wasn’t too hard, the wing took care of the little ships while I tried to take out the big one alone. I think in a ‘real’ situation I’d have done things differently, but I just tried to find an area there wasn’t as many guns and sit there… It didn’t really work, but I tried.
Scenario 8: Incursion (35:15 in video)
This mission I have not completed. The enemies aren’t difficult if they were the only ones, but once they knock your shields out and begin to work on your hull, you’ve effectively got a lesser buffer against the next one.
So far, I can happily blitz through some of them, but the later guys wear me down and seem way more effective at shield reduction. The video shows that pretty well. I don’t mind that I’m getting my ass kicked at all, in fact, it’s exactly what I wanted, and why I wanted the Alpha… I need to be better at this!
Scenario 9: Factions (56:00 in video)
I’m not sure if this mission is working right, but I think you’re supposed to be able to choose a side. Currently, one side or both sides just decide to beat the crap out of me. Hard to stay alive in this one, so I let the video show off some of the cool damage effects evident from my failure.
So, what have I learned? Well, it’s fun.
It’s different every time, even with the same AI. One time you might find a guy easy, then on another go you aren’t concentrating and they make you pay for it.
The different weapon choices make you do things differently (or if you refuse to, they increase the chances you’ll lose your ship hull). You can’t really go nose to nose like you could in Elite II, even with your shields up, without putting yourself at great risk. I like that.
One of the most interesting things I found out was that the Sidewinder (the ship you get to fly right now), only really likes it when you pull back on the stick… Forget tracking another ship to the side or forwards, you need to roll so that you can chase them into the top of the canopy. I assume (hope) this is just how this ship is configured, and different ships will have other traits of the same sort. That way, combat isn’t just about knowing your ship, it’s about knowing your enemies.
Graphics are solid. I especially like the lighting, which although perhaps not entirely realistic, is beautiful. It’s really nice when a ship blows up beside you or you pass by a ships engines, seeing your cockpit illuminated by those light sources.
Damage looks nice, but in the real game I don’t know whether I will ever want to see them this much… In scenarios like this it’s pretty easy to risk your ship just to get that ‘success’ message at the end, regardless of how close you came to blowing up.
The UI is decent. I don’t feel like I have used much of it. I think I only needed to adjust the power bars for the last few missions (putting power to weapons or shields, and from the engine).
I’d be quite pleased right now if combat stayed the same. As far as the experience goes, it’s very nice. But, I am sure it will get even better, and I am really looking forward to being able to do some other things. Multiplayer is actually available in this Alpha 2, but I wanted to try the offline stuff first.