Can Elite: Dangerous Challenge EVE Online?
Queueing for Eve: Valkyrie, I happened to bump into a friend who was walking by. He asked me what my interest was in the game and besides the fact it looked awesome, I foolishly blurted out “Well, anything that improves on Eves shitty combat is definitely a good thing.” What I wasn’t prepared for was the entire queue (quite literally) turning to look at me, and if looks could kill, I’d be six feet under. You see, Eve Online is a game I wish I loved. I’ve tried at least 5 times to get into the game and each time I’ve booted it up, I’m faced with the same feelings of loving the concept and its visuals, but hating almost everything else. From the click-click-click of moving my ship, to the fact that there’s so little to do on a daily basis if you dislike mining. Worse still, even as a Pirate (which I’ve dabbled in plenty of times) the combat just feels totally at odds with the stories that are often so lavishly told. I fully appreciate that Eve Online is much more about trade, diplomacy and sabotage but underneath, I’ve never felt there’s a game there for those of us who want to jump into a souped up ship, fly through space at breakneck speeds, while blowing opposing ships to smithereens. Instead what we have is an amazing game that has many core components in place, minus the adrenaline.
This is where EVE: Valkyrie and Elite: Dangerous come in. It’s immediately apparent from having played both games that they are incredibly similar in their approach to combat. Elite: Dangerous certainly feels the steadier of the two and in some ways feels more realistic (if I can call a space game realistic) while EVE: Valkyrie has all the whizz-bang of an arcade style shooter. I have no preference of one over the other, but what appeals so much is the fact that not only is Sci-Fi very much back on the menu, but the games in development are, from a combat perspective, everything I was hoping Eve Online would be.
There are two things I had always imagined when it comes to creating a satisfying space sim and one of them is a sense of speed, the other a sense of combat satisfaction from the weapons you’re firing or the damage you’re receiving. EVE Online has never fulfilled this for me, irrespective of ship size or weapon setup, because its pace is so slow and its audio so flimsy. While EVE: Valkyrie is a standalone title, it’s a perfect example of how EVE Online could have been if CCP had pursued a more traditional take on the original Elite control method. I can only dream of Valkyrie being merged with EVE Online. Fortunately for us, there’s no need. Elite: Dangerous is going to do it instead.
Prior to Eurogamer 2014 I honestly knew very little about Elite: Dangerous. It had well and truly slipped under my radar, despite raising almost £1.6 million. Unsurprisingly, the booth at Eurogamer was jam packed with players as Frontier Developments put on an excellent display to not only show off the games visuals, but also give players the opportunity to jump on with Oculus Rift as well. It was the highlight of my weekend because it was a perfectly timed demo. It showed you the beauty of the game, the flying at its best (thanks to some excellent flight sticks) and the sheer potential of what Elite: Dangerous will be.
When I spoke to Michael Gapper, Frontier Development’s PR and communications guy, it’s not only apparent just how much passion the studio have, but the excitement surrounding its development and future potential. I suppose the feeling is, if CCP can achieve 500,000 subscribers with EVE: Online as a third-person flight simulator, that the scope to achieve something much more when a game has exceptional combat, is a very real possibility.
I’m of the opinion that the massively multiplayer sci-fi scene has seen too little competition for far too long and as a result, EVE Online has not only had free reign of the market but has also been safe in the knowledge that even if their players aren’t happy, they won’t find an alternative anywhere. With Elite: Dangerous on the horizon and already playable if you buy into the Beta, Eve Online is finally going to have some tough competition. Although there’s also Star Citizen, I think it’s best to ignore it for the time being because it’s so far away from being a realized product outside of its modular content that I don’t believe it’s competition for EVE Online or Elite: Dangerous.
So why is Elite: Dangerous so appealing? Besides the fact it fulfills my need for an adrenaline fueled space combat MMO, there’s a few videos that have caught my attention. The main one is below.
In this video the pilot in question happens to come across some contraband floating near his spacestation. If he decides to pick it up while his ship is active he'll be scanned by security and blown into orbit. While I won't spoil it, what he decides to do instead, quite simply, blew my mind. The video encapulates everything I want in a space based MMO because it offers the prospect of pilot skill not only being at the forefront of the game, but the stories you read about in EVE Online, so beautifully told, no longer have to feel so sterile. Even when pirating in EVE Online I always felt a detachment from my actions because of the viewpoint and the pace. That really isn't the case with Elite: Dangerous.
If I've any concerns about the game, it stems from the mix of single player and multiplayer parts. The single player component I can understand, but the multiplayer seems a strange mix because unlike EVE Online, it's partly instanced. Having gone for a better explanation of the system when speaking to some players, they described it as:
Yes, it's instanced, but not in the traditional way. Instances are created or joined for a "bubble", basically the real-space around you. If you drop out of supercruise into an extraction site and others are already there, so long as there are less than 32 players in the bubble (and a few other rules most likely to do with ping and a few other calculations) it'll try to stick you in that "bubble". Trying to do EVE style combat doesn't work for any game reliant on actual human inputs rather than dice-rolling (most MMO). You can't slow down the simulation of real combat and hope people won't notice.
I think that just about makes sense. Either way, if the trade off for fast paced combat and free-form flight is some instancing, even if it means that the limitation is 32 players in a single space location, that's a fair trade off. I suspect the cap will be expanded with time as Beta progresses and as Frontier Developments begin work on exiting your ship similarly to Star Citizen, the scope for role play with large amounts of players becomes even greater. I'll be diving back into Elite: Dangerous in the next week or so, so stay tuned for some diary coverage of my space adventures.