Released in 2014, Elite Dangerous is quite unlike any other game on the market. Ambitious in scale and wondrous in practice, its 1:1 procedurally generated rendition of the Milky Way Galaxy still blows my mind to this day. However, Elite Dangerous has always felt like it is missing something.
For all the numerous roles you can play, it was hard to ever really relate to your captain. Everything in-game was an extension of you controlling the ship, rather than having any meaningful agency with your custom character. Fortunately, Elite Dangerous: Odyssey aims to remedy that problem by introducing on-foot gameplay.
Currently in its alpha phase ahead of a May 19 release, the test allows players the opportunity to play Odyssey’s additions to Elite Dangerous. While initial test stages only allowed for limited ships and equipment, the latest test allows players to use their own ships and commanders. Progress and events in the alpha test are separate from the main game and won’t carry over once it ends, but eager captains have been eagerly diving in.
Getting out of your ship for the first time in Elite Dangerous: Odyssey is truly a spectacle. Having spent countless hours in my Cobra Mark III, the first person view from inside the cockpit really undersells the true scale of your ship and being able to see it from the outside was weirdly cathartic. Getting out and moving around your ship shows just how big they are, and in contrast, how small you truly are compared to the rest of the universe.
One of the biggest changes in Odyssey is how bases, stations and settlements work. Originally a static experience that involved sifting through menus, you can now explore stations when you arrive at them. Each location is filled with merchants and individuals offering missions. Locations are randomly generated, so once you’ve seen a few, the assets start to repeat, but this is a small price to pay in such an enormous game and the added interactivity really makes the experience feel so much more personal.
On-foot gameplay also brings with it several new mission types. You can scan and harvest flora and fauna, engage in combat and take part in search and rescue missions amongst other activities. There’s now a lot more to do within the game, and while it’s somewhat similar to what you were doing from the comfort of your ship, it still makes Elite Dangerous feel vastly different.
One of the most interesting elements are settlements. With thousands of them dotted around the Milky Way, settlements can be found on planetary surfaces and serve as hubs for several different activities. Players can engage with these however they wish. Consider yourself a bit of a wrong ’un? You can go in and murder everyone. Want to steal yourself some new tech and goods? Hack your way into the numerous guarded buildings.
I made my way down to a settlement just before writing up this preview and found myself entangled in a battle of domination. Tasked with picking a side from the start, I was able to join the fight and capture points in the skirmish. My biggest complaint is that the gunplay doesn’t feel too great. Though this is an alpha, I can’t see too much changing in the run up to release later this month. Hopefully, the general floaty feeling can be remedied with time. I also found the enemies to be a little bullet spongy. Even using a grenade launcher, it was taking me two or three shots to take someone down.
I think Elite Dangerous: Odyssey’s biggest problem – and it’s a problem I think the wider game suffers with as well – is that there just isn’t enough in-game guidance. There’s so many new systems introduced in Odyssey, but the game does almost nothing to ease you in. Considering that the ability to get out of your ship could well attract a new audience of players to Elite, I think some kind of onboarding process could make the experience much more enjoyable.
In the five or so hours I’ve spent with Elite Dangerous: Odyssey so far, I think the DLC could be something really special. However, I don’t think it’s going to hit its stride for a while yet. All of the new additions are certainly welcome, but each one needs additional balancing and improvements before I would consider any of them as exceptional additions to the Elite formula. Regardless of that, I can’t wait to get stuck in some more when Odyssey releases later this month.