Disclaimer: I backed Elite on kickstarter, and have been a fan of Elite since the version my dad had on the ZX Spectrum 48K that we loaded from a cassette tape. Took something like 4 minutes to load and didn’t have a progress bar. Thankfully it loaded pretty reliably.
Things have rather moved on since those days and I can’t say it’s all been bad. Also I still consider it my day, so you won’t yet hear me say ‘Back in my day…’. As you probably know there have been 3 more entries since the original elite. Elite: Frontiers (Presumably where Frontier got it’s name after Ian Bell and David Braben went their separate ways) followed by Elite Frontiers: First Encounters (Elite 3) and of course more recently by Elite: Dangerous, named after one of the titles you get on the path to Elite, and incidentally the highest rank I achieved in any of the games as combat was never really my thing.
My thing is cruising around trying out different ships, paying for it by trading and doing missions. And for that reason Elite Frontiers: First Encounters was easily my favourite entry to the series. The graphics have absolutely not aged well at all, in fact these days by pretty much any standard they look pretty awful. But I can forgive it, it has a load of great systems I could use without having to engage in too much combat to get the credits I needed to buy pretty much whatever ship I wanted. There was an interesting story hidden in the bulletin board missions and you could own an alien ship which thanks to a glitch had infinite cargo space.
After Elite 3 was released, it seemed like that was pretty much it for Elite. Fans cried out for Elite 4 but no one seemed to be interested in funding a follow up. As we know that’s where Kickstarter came in and changed everything, history was made and eventually, so was the game.
And they tried to make an MMO. An MMO in a universe so big that unless you stick to the core systems you’re pretty much guaranteed to never meet anyone ever. An MMO where every time anyone finds a lucrative way to make money it’s deemed an exploit and patched out in case anyone else finds it and uses it. It’s now not enough to find your own fun, though that’s encouraged if only to drive the economy, you’re constantly taxed with ships that are ludicrously expensive (Some well over a hundred million credits), wear and tear being a cost and for me, the worst crime of all, making me insure my ship.
I insure my car. I do this because it is the right thing to do in case of an accident, and because the government requires it. I hate that it’s a thing I have to do as it is very expensive and I don’t have a lot of money, I’m sure many feel the same way. But I can see the reasoning behind it and the need for it. Elite: Dangerous is a video game set in a fantasy universe. Where many people go to get away from the mundanities of life. Where people go so they don’t have to worry overly much about the consequences of crashing their imaginary ship against an imaginary rock of some description. I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that people don’t want to have to also pay imaginary insurance when said imaginary ship has a tip with an imaginary space barnacle.
OK ok, I got into a bit of a rant. But you can see where I’m coming from. Moving back to the MMO theme, one thing you can’t really become, without sinking more hours in than should be necessary, is an all powerful commander, hero of an epic space opera. Because of course then everyone would have to be that, and as Dash from the incredibles famously said, if everyone is special, no one is special, and you just become another face in the sea of chosen ones.
For me, and I suspect many, turning Elite into a persistent universe MMO has taken away the heart of Elite. The ships look amazing, but you can’t really see them in action. The space stations are believably huge, but really are all exactly the same and pretty small. The stars are pretty much all the same ball of light you can’t get to close too except maybe a different colour. It’s supposedly a real, accurate universe but your top speed is capped and your yaw speed is nerfed, where you can only land on airless planetoids yet still have to ‘glide’ in, and of course, an MMO where you rarely meet other people.
When Elite: Dangerous came it out was confused and very content light and Frontier knew it. Unfortunately for me, they’ve very much pivoting into the MMO category in a way that, to me at least, doesn’t feel like Elite at all.