Elite Dangerous: Arena

Come one, come all. Welcome to the grand closure of a game mode I’d completely forgotten about.

I very much enjoyed Elite Dangerous, up until the time I didn’t. That wonderful apathetic feeling snuck up on me slowly like a cheeky, possibly green Thargoid* in an oversized stetson hat. I must confess, I didn’t visit Elite Dangerous: Arena, the all-action dogfighting spin-off. By all-action I mean, classic continually-turning spaceships attempting to get behind one another, in a glorious loop of attrition.

* A Thargoid isn’t a hemorrhoid cream, but the name of the aliens in the Elite universe.

Anyway, you can no longer buy Arena as a cheap standalone extra anymore. No players, playing, you see. As this modes redundancy arrives as we ask the more important question.

Why didn’t I love Elite Dangerous?

I didn’t invest half as much time in Elite Dangerous as I had with similar games, nor did I purchase any of the expansion packs. In fact, I hadn’t even thought of Elite Dangerous since those first heady months of ownership, despite a wonderful feel to the game. Just thinking about it inspires me to dock a spaceship and twiddle the power settings once again.

Then I remembered why I’d previously disregarded such exciting thoughts… I’m now rubbish at the game and would have to go through an adjustment period of remembering things. Things I can’t afford to screw up, as the cost of ship insurance was pretty extreme. Yes, I did upgrade to a bloody expensive ship with cup-holders an’ everything. Damn my convoluted fancy fight-stick setup! I’m pretty sure I was a couple of deaths away from losing it all, as I’d already had my fair share of miserable set-backs. Insurance in a space-fantasy computer game? Why must it be so cruel? Next these space bastards will be phoning me up about S-PPI. Now, that’s not the main reason for staying away and I don’t inherently hate the concept of grind. Nor palpable risk and rewards; not when the rules have been clearly set.

My problem with the Elite Dangerous is its insane insistence that the world must always be connected, and must always be online.

elite dangerous

Lovingly stolen from Frontier’s website. Not dusting off the ol’ flight stick today.

How does this really impact me? After all, I could choose not to engage the online community and enjoy the perks of having an online universe all to myself. Although, those perks are hard to find. The truth revealed itself to me after I had picked up Evochron Mercenary, a space game created by a single bloke. As you can probably guess, this is a plucky little game that attempts everything Elite does, just without the polish. Missing the wonderful flight mechanics you could argue that this is a poor-mans Elite Dangerous, but you’ll be missing the point. Evochron Mercenary does something important that Elite doesn’t…

Everything’s been designed for you and you alone.

This is your world, your universe, your plaything. The game isn’t designed to eliminate unfair competition with other players. Well, fuck other players. Make it unfair. Make it for me. Sure, some people desire serious grind, the inability to teleport to home base, the crushing reality. Give them an optional online hardcore mode, I’m not against that. Don’t let me lose a ship to connection issues, or to experience a perpetual warp as my internet connection silently weeps; or to even encounter the dreaded pernickety mission bugs, that a reload can’t fix, because you can’t feckin’ save. Go here they said, do this thing they said, fucked it is… And similar issues persist to this day.

The joy of being able to pause for a well deserved space-piss, whenever I felt like, is sheer bliss.

Evochron Mercenary feels fair and proper with wonderful payoffs. I don’t recall a time were that game encouraged me to meet Mr Injustice, who swiftly kicked me in the nuts. You can build space stations, and land on planets without paying for the privilege. Grind and perseverance should never be the focus of a game and it should never feel withholding or unfair. Designing everything from a perspective of a shared homogeneous experience cripples the individuals entertainment, especially if it’s not your bag, baby.

elite dangerous

Some swanky passenger ship, yeah.

You don’t need an online dynamic galaxy economy with its own newspaper when it’s just you. Thinking about it, I had more fun finding my own financial exploits in previous Elites, then ever caring about the machinations of any powerplay faction. It’s not like anythings fantastically dynamic anyway. I’ve noticed nothing of any real importance, nothing similar games can’t do just as well, offline. Chucking in a few scripted alien moments doesn’t invigorate the excitement glands, as I can only imagine violence will be the only outcome. I hope I’m wrong as I wouldn’t mind an alien dance, dance mini-game.

Sadly Elite Dangerous is so close to being the game I want. The groundwork’s solid, it just needs tweaking with the correct focus. All the pieces are in place to create the great dynamic illusion, missions could bleed into one another. You pick up a passenger that offers you the chance to deliver a “package”, that you could sneakily open. You open the box to find a fantastic payday opportunity, which you take by force. The shady faction you ripped off, tracks you down and you’re forced to do a runner. You can’t return to that system for a while… Or you could simply deliver the package in the first place. Ok, that’s all a bit fanciful, but you get the idea. These missions, reputations and factions all exist in game right now. If I had to choose between landing on planets, or multicrew ships, I’d take the more difficult task of emergent storytelling and a more unpredictable solar system. Humans have a tremendous capacity to fill in the gaps. I guess it’s far easier to generate a barren planet to splat into… Fair enough. We’ve descended into fantasy, which is what I crave from my spaceship computer games.

elite dangerous

80% more action, via static pic with sexy angle!

“Any offline experience would be fundamentally empty. We could write a separate mission system to allow a limited series of fixed missions, but that would still not be a compelling game, and is only the first step in the mountain of work required.” – David Braben in 2014

Translates to – Make your own fun you plebs, and to the communities credit. They did. 

Games… We’ve all got our own odd perspectives, ‘ey. Stupid perspectives. All I wanted was the choice between ironman-mode or not. Right, that’s enough of that, I need a piss.


Upgraded Article – I’ve not been able to rid Elite Dangerous from my mind and have even revisited the game, complete with learning period and purchase of a cheap-ass ship to crash. Please enjoy the further conclusions.

The game wasn’t designed for me, Mr Analogue Man, waving his fist at the happy people. Elite Dangerous does its job clearly and it’s very good at it. I can see the direction the design team are pushing it in, and it makes sense for them. The game was made for the modern bastards merging together on reddit to solve issues with their hive-brain. I’m going to wave my fist now. You could use this article to plot the decline of the previous relevant gamer, as he stumbles around the internet with white stick and werther’s originals. Looking forward to Squadron 42, as I’m sure that’s the game I really want to play. Blimey, I hope it doesn’t have micro-transactions.