In some ways, I’ve been playing Elite for getting on for 40 years. I played it back when the original came out on the BBC Micro, back in 1984. I loved it. Can’t honestly say I was great at it, though I think I reached a rank of Dangerous, but I loved the sheer openness of it. It didn’t tell you what to do, just gave you a world to play in, to live in. At a time when most games essentially wanted you to push the right buttons in the right order, and get your timing right, like advanced versions of Simon, it was a new experience. A game that was an experience.
Games have moved on a bit since then, obviously, and this sort of ‘sandbox’ game is nowhere near as rare as it once was, but they’re still somewhat unusual. Especially ones that take it to the extreme that Elite does, in its newest incarnation as Elite: Dangerous. You start with the vaguest of backstories (someone has paid for you to have a pilot’s licence and a small starter ship, but you’re not told who), and the vaguest of aims (do a very basic tutorial on the ship controls, now off you go), and then you’re left to your own devices. Even as a No Man’s Sky player, it’s a startling lack of hand-holding. NMS guides you somewhat for the first few hours, though without really forcing you to do things in order; Elite just tells you “Here’s your ship, now fuck off.”
So you choose your own goals, and your own ways to reach them. You’re going to want a better ship, so you’re going to want money. You can trade for it, fight for it, explore for it, it’s up to you. I traded. I got reasonably lucky early on, and went straight from the starter Sidewinder to a Cobra Mk III. I stuck with trading, and worked my way up to an Asp Explorer, but never really loved it. It was good, very practical, but didn’t really do anything much for me.
My next goal ship was pretty much a choice between the classic Python and the strange little triangle that is the Krait Mk II. The Python looked practical, but the Krait looked like a ship I could love.
I named my Krait Sabine, after Sabine Schmitz, the queen of the Nurbergring, and poured everything I could into upgrading her. She was amazing. But there’s always another goal, and it was the Anaconda.
This one took some serious work. But I got there with a lot more trading. And it was amazing, but I didn’t really love it. I named it Chonky Snek, because it’s a snek and it’s chonky. It needed upgrading, and that was expensive. So I worked at it, and upgraded it until there was nothing left to upgrade. I did some basic engineering on it. But I still didn’t love it. I went back to mainly flying Sabine.
I wanted to do a long journey, loved the idea of getting out to Colonia, and maybe then going to see Sagittarius A*. None of my ships really had a good enough jump range. The Chonky Snek could get there ok, but it’s a big ship and hard to land on planets, so I thought Sabine would be better for the job, but I decided to have a go at outfitting a Krait Phantom for exploration instead. I’d still prioritise having some fun on the journey and making things easy over pure long jump range, but the Phantom should get more range with a similar loadout. And it did. Even without going all-out on engineering and unlocking more upgrades, and with carrying two SRVs (little cars you can drive around on planets to collect resources), it got a jump range of around 45 light years, against Sabine’s 30LY range. And, somewhat to my surprise, I loved the ship. I named her Cookie. Partly because she’s very flat like a cookie, and partly after a rally driver, Louise Cook, who also goes by Cookie.
I decided to try plotting a course for a half-way point (you can’t plot a direct route that far) and just set off and do a few jumps, see how it felt. I’d turn back after maybe 20 or 50 jumps, and continue preparations, maybe get a few more upgrades unlocked. Except I didn’t turn back. I just kept jumping.
I stopped reasonably often, always ending a leg of the journey by landing on a planet to ‘sleep’. I went exploring random planets in the SRVs. It was an enjoyable trip. Didn’t see anything too amazing, but I wasn’t really searching, just travelling and seeing a few sights as I went. I did a few repairs while sitting on one planet. Nothing really needed it, but I wanted to see how the AFMU (automated field maintenance unit) worked, and make sure I could do it if I did need to.
At one point, something happened I’d seen about on Reddit – I came out of a jump straignt between two stars, immediately overheating. Fortunately, not quite close enough to either of them to pull me out of supercruise, so escape was easy, and I only had to drop one heatsink to keep things from getting too dangerous. Almost ironic, this was in the last few jumps before arriving, just 8 jumps from Colonia after around 500 jumps.
Then the journey was over. It felt quite a big deal to finally jump into the Colonia system, and dock at Jacques Station. I took lots of screenshots of the final jump and arrival at Jacques, then went inside and docked.
I sold my collected cartographic data from the trip, getting around 30 million for it. Could have been a lot more if I’d done more scanning and exploring, but the trip hadn’t been about the money.
Then didn’t really know what else to do.
Colonia had seemed distant and exciting from the Bubble. Now it just felt like a very small bubble, with nothing much new to do. I’d be jumping around a smaller selection of systems, landing at the same designs of space stations, trading the same goods, doing the same missions. So I plotted a route for Sagittarius A* and left.
I’ll probably finish the journey to get to there. But I’m not sure how much more I’ll play after that. I think it might be time to return to No Man’s Sky, in time for the next big update.