With the announcement that Elite: Dangerous is dropping its Offline mode, many fans are understandably up in arms. While I agree entirely with Frontier Developments choice, I think the biggest issue facing Elite: Dangerous at this moment in time is its complete lack of social tools. I fully appreciate that some people don’t want the intrusion of station or region chat but I would argue that it is the one key issue that is not only holding the game back but one which will cripple its success when Elite: Dangerous launches.
For all the years that I’ve been playing massively multiplayer games I’ve never played one where something so obvious as local “chatting” is entirely missing. Making friends, chewing the fat, asking for advice or seeking players for a group is all part of the massively multiplayer infrastructure. The fact it’s missing in Elite: Dangerous leaves me scratching my head every time I log in and more often than not, entirely frustrated.
I think it’s fair to say that the in game tutorials in Elite: Dangerous are terrible and the learning curve is steep. It’s steep because of the former but also because there’s a complete inability to ask for advice or to learn directly from other players in game. Instead and if you want to know pretty much anything you’re forced to attempt to clamber your way through while playing or minimise the game and ask for advice on one of the various forums or sub-Reddits. This is not only messy but often time consuming and immersion breaking. The last thing I want to do because I’m not sure how to control the power distribution in my ship is to have to go on YouTube and search for a tutorial video.
I’ll freely admit that I’ve found Elite: Dangerous both an exciting game to play but also an incredibly daunting one. Frustratingly I’ve also spent more time reading up on the game trying to find answers for X, Y or Z than I have playing it. I wouldn’t have had to do that once if there were social systems in the game that allowed me to just talk to others who are playing. A recent scenario I encountered was finding myself in an Anarchy system. I had no idea I was in one, I had no idea what that really means (though I could guess) and I had no idea how to go about fulfilling the missions on offer. I ended up finding the answer by chatting to someone who replied to an article I wrote. If at any point during my flight I’d be able to just ask in chat as to where I was and what does it mean, I wouldn’t for a second have had to leave the game to find the answer. The fact I had to do that is ridiculous.
Elite: Dangerous’ potential is enormous and as someone who adores EVE Online but loathes its dull space flight, Elite: Dangerous fills the gap. Not only is Elite: Dangerous breathtakingly beautiful but there’s a real depth to the design decisions here. Why then have Frontier decided to provide such woeful support for something as basic chatting and worse, a complete lack of functionality for guilds. I spent many hours in EVE Online in a pirate corporation. We were well known, our name was feared and we made a fair few enemies in the process. To coordinate we’d often use text chat and voice communication in the build up to a raid or just to pass the time as we idly waited for some poor unsuspecting player to come across our paths. While pirating is certainly possible in Elite: Dangerous, there’s no social tools to support such villainy.
I want people to be able to advise in chat that there’s pirates in sector X. I want people to be able to publicly ask for a bounty on Y’s head because they just had their cargo stolen and their ship destroyed. Heck, I want people to just be able to chat about anything they wish while they’re sat in a station. Sadly, none of this is currently possible and that’s an enormous shame. While you can hail another ship and chat 1 on 1 it simply isn’t the same as being immersed in the chatter of those around you.
A large part of what makes massively multiplayer games so attractive to people and so compelling is the social interaction between you and others. Being able to login, chat to people, make new friends and share game together is something incredibly important. In all the years I’ve played this genre the social aspect of it and the camaraderie you develop with others is unrivalled. To have that missing from Elite: Dangerous not only makes its multiplayer world feel empty and largely pointless but it also makes it feel like a single player game.
Having read through many of the games forum posts as well as Reddit submissions it’s clear that the myriad of systems to bring multiplayer together are confusing and unclear. I’ve read the official description of Elite’s multiplayer many times and still don’t understand it. All I do know is that those seeking Solo and Private Groups play in the same galaxy as the full multiplayer world, with the exception that their game is influenced by others (i.e those playing Open Play).
If Frontier Developments are to gain any sort of traction with Elite: Dangerous they need to decide what exactly it is they’re offering. I currently feel like they’ve got their fingers in too many pies and it’s watering down the experience of their game. If you’re a fan of Solo Play and Private Groups I’m sure the lack of social tools makes absolutely no difference to you. Considering Solo and Private play is limited to either a small group of friends (who are likely using private VOIP) or on your lonesom, the need to publically chat or join a Corporation is irrelevant. For those of us who want the full experience (and I would happily argue all day long that Open Play offers just that) we need the ability to talk and form Corporations. I should have to jump through dozens of hoops just to find myself in the same instance as a friend.
For anyone who despises the prospect of Station or space wide chat, I’d simply ask that there’s an option to disable all incoming transmissions. That way those individuals can retain complete radio silence without having to listen to those of us who want to communicate with one another. Until such social tools are implemented, Elite: Dangerous will only ever be a fringe game for me. I already feel incredibly lonely when playing it now and worse, not having a guild or corporation to play alongside makes me feel like I’ve lost an arm.