As someone who’s played space simulator Elite Dangerous for hundreds of hours, it’s a strange sensation seeing a blue sky in a game that is usually dominated by the inky, star-speckled blackness of space. Odyssey, a major expansion coming next year, introduces planets with thin atmospheres to the game’s colossal scale replica of the Milky Way. And better yet, you can touch down with your ship, leave the safety of your cockpit for the first time ever, and actually walk on these, and other, worlds.
This is something Elite Dangerous players have been dreaming about since the game first surfaced on Kickstarter in 2012. “Some elements of Odyssey, in terms of actually walking on planet surfaces, have probably been, at least conceptually, there since the very beginning of the game’s development,” says Piers Jackson, game director at developer Frontier. “However, as for the actual build-up to having a significant amount of developers working on it, the tail-end of 2019 is when we really started ramping it up.”
To prepare for players going walkabout on its planets, Frontier is overhauling the technology that generates them. “We’re doing some pretty significant updates to the planet technology,” says Jackson. “The planets are getting a big new refresh. With the new settlements, we’re also having to add a whole pile of new gameplay areas across the universe. Some of those will be deployed onto planets without atmospheres that players are currently able to explore, and others will appear on our new thin atmosphere planets.”
Settlements are one of the most intriguing new additions to Elite Dangerous. I’ve always loved how parts of Elite have the feel of a sci-fi Wild West, with rough, lawless systems on the fringes of the major population centres, and the ability to take on illegal jobs, Han Solo-style. Settlements are extensions of this, being remote, sparsely populated towns in the shady corners of the galaxy. Think Hadley’s Hope in Aliens, but without the aliens. For now, anyway. Who knows what the Thargoids will get up to in the future.
“So maybe you’ve taken a mission to reboot a settlement,” says Jackson, giving an example of one of how visiting one of these settlements in Odyssey might play out. “There’s something wrong with the generators and everything is powered down. It’s very eerie, none of the civilians or guards are there anymore. You turn up with an objective, or maybe just because you decided to explore there. But when you go to bring the power back online, you find the abandoned settlement has already been claimed by gangs of criminal raiders. They’re after the spoils as well, and you have to make the decision to run away, stand your ground, or sneak around in a way that they don’t spot you.”
This is where Elite’s new tactical first-person combat will come into play, which is another dramatic addition to the game. Running around shooting people might feel like a strange fit for a space sim, but Frontier is making sure the combat falls in line with the rest of the game in terms of simulation and depth. Some of the disciplines you’ve picked up in ship-to-ship combat will carry over to the new on-foot stuff.
“It is a tactical shooter that we’re working on,” says Jackson. “It’s different in feel to the ship-based combat. Ship combat can be very protracted and drawn out. But we have taken the core elements, such as the idea that the on-foot characters can have shields. And shields use up energy, so players will have to think about when to deploy them. Certain weapons, like lasers, are good against shields, while kinetic weapons are good against armour and damaging the person underneath.
“The weapon choice you make, on a base level, is very important for the tactics you take into battle. Then you’ve got factors like your range, the proximity to the target. Do you take a close-range weapon like a pistol that you can draw quickly, or do you have a more long-range approach to the problem? So the tactics are varied depending on how you want to approach each combat encounter.”
A look at Odyssey’s evocative concept art
1 SPACE BAR
It wouldn’t be a sci-fi game if it didn’t feature a futuristic bar or club. This neon-lit watering hole looks like a good place to pick up not-quite-legal missions.
This gives a good idea of the ‘Wild West in space’ feel Frontier wants its settlements to evoke. These will be dusty, rundown, and probably very dangerous.
3 SECURITY ROOM
This is a security officer in one of the galaxy’s many star ports, in a populated area of space. Compared to the settlements, law and order reign supreme here.
This is a newly introduced shuttle service that you can use to travel between starports and settlements without having to fly there in your own ship, for a fee.
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