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Elite Dangerous Review 2020: Space, Ships & Mining exploration still thrills

Imagine the scene: you're careening through space when you notice a distress beacon. You jump out of supercruise flight to investigate, only to come face to face with a huge alien ship that locks your systems. It's impossibly big, and the more you look at it, you see that it's not being masked by space – space is being masked by it.

That's one of the more terrifying experiences out there in Elite Dangerous, Frontier's space sim that originally launched back in 2014. Since then, the game has grown larger and more popular, making its way to consoles to allow more and more Commanders to take flight.

Despite the set piece I laid out in my intro, there's very little in Elite Dangerous that happens to a player. Rather, it's a gigantic playground where you'll seek out your own fortune, mischief, and adventure. Outside of a set of tutorials, there's not a great deal of direction.

Starting off in a tiny ship in a randomly assigned spaceport, players are left to make a living any way they see fit. You're ill equipped to engage more powerful enemies (both players or AI), so you'll want to haul cargo across a realistically replicated milky way, or at least to destinations within reach.

Invest your credits in a new ship, and your choices open up. If you want to play as an outlaw, you can disrupt trade routes by committing piracy. Perhaps you fancy yourself more of an assassin, in which case you'll want to collect bounties and hunt down the worst of the worst. Or, you can keep space-trucking along, delivering cargo and playing the market for the best buying and selling prices.

All of these actions factor into the game's factions, and how you're greeted in certain star systems. Killed a high-ranking official? Their faction is unlikely to let you dock at their stations. Got a name for yourself by robbing trade ships? Expect hefty fines or even bounties on your head.

There's a wonderful sense of progression when you can take on jobs from NPCs that snubbed you when you turned up in your clapped out starting ship, and the ships themselves are impressively customisable. Whether it's a sleek new look or a complete change in parts, building out your ship to suit your playstyle is rewarding in itself.

If you're worried that it could descend into constant griefing and bumping into other players, fear not. Elite Dangerous' galaxy is large enough that you might not see another player for hours, and it's also instanced to ensure things don't get too chaotic. Luckily, it's still pretty easy to rendezvous with friends.

If you do happen to be looking for chaos, have no fear – there's an entire subsection of the game dedicated to PvP combat. This Arena is unshackled from the worry of losing your pride and joy that you've poured hours and credits into, and offers bespoke maps with plenty of opportunity for aerial acrobatics. It's unlikely to keep you coming back, but it's a fun diversion from the slower pace of the main game in any case.

The Verdict – 4/5

– Reviewed on Steam

Elite Dangerous is for a very specific type of player. If you're a fan of open-ended universes where you make your own fun, filled to the brim with nuanced customisation and a supportive community, you'll find a lot to love.

If the prospect of flying for half an hour to deposit some ore and make money to be able to do it again, or hunting similar bounties in the reaches of space sounds a little dull, your space mileage will vary.

The Good

• Play how you want

• Endless amount of customisation and progression

The Bad

• Can feel empty for some

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