This is my personal review of Elite Dangerous Odyssey, and I make no apologies that it is unambiguously positive.
For me, Elite Dangerous has been revitalised and revolutionised by the addition of first-person gameplay to what was previously a vehicle-only experience, and I’ve had an absolute blast for the last few weeks since launch.
I’ve played Elite Dangerous since 2014 and have always enjoyed the austere sci-fi grittiness of its outrageously vast explorable universe, but I accept that some might find the experience somewhat remote. After all, ‘space’, as Douglas Adams accurately pointed out, ‘is big’, and viewing everything the Milky Way has to offer while eternally encased in your spaceship or amped-up moon buggy has something of a ‘goldfish bowl’ claustrophobic feel to it.
But, thanks to Odyssey, no longer.
The sheer relief and joy of being able to bounce across alien landscapes in search of weird plants and salvageable junk, or wander around isolated mining colonies and science facilities is something I continue to find quite breath-taking.
However, what really kicked my gameplay experience into a higher gear was how the pedestrian aspects of the immersive experience stitched together the previously disparate vehicular episodes. Suddenly I felt like I had a starring role in a sweeping space epic.
Let me tell you how I accidentally became a revolutionary.
A Changing Frontier
Although for the last couple of years I’d become something of a lapsed player, I’d occasionally log on to be reminded that I had moved many of my assets out to a remote, sparsely populated star system that was far from the established human ’bubble’ of civilisation. To move back would take a lot of time and in-game currency, neither of which I could justify.
This limited my gameplay options, but in theory I quite liked the idea of eking out an existence as part of a remote asteroid colony on the frontier. However, pre-Odyssey the actual gameplay experience to do so was not terribly engaging.
I suspect the location itself was just intended as a sort of waystation between The Bubble and the region that contained mysterious alien ruins and artefacts which was another few hundred light years further out.
The system, Pencil Sector EL-Y d5, was quite uncomplicated. It was a binary system with a half-a-dozen planets orbiting each star. There was a single orbital station – a wonderfully low-tech mined-out asteroid called New Growth – which was run by the Seven Stages Movement controlling faction. They apparently held all the power without real opposition, as indicated by their entirely stable and unchanging 99% system influence statistic.
There was only one other faction in the system, an unfortunately titled group called The Shunned. They were a non-entity; there was no way to really interact with them – their New Growth mission agent never had any missions and there were no other places to visit where they might engage in diplomacy. They were pretty much just targets to shoot in space among the landable but unremarkable planets.
An Experience Revolutionised
Then came Odyssey and suddenly the ‘Ellie Dee-five’ system came alive. As well as a number of tenuous atmosphere planets, twenty-five new planetary settlements were revealed, largely supporting the extraction and refinery industry, along with a few poly-tunnel agricultural settlements . All but a handful of these were governed by the controlling faction, but in the farthest reaches of the outer planets of the secondary binary star, The Shunned had established a foothold.
On visiting these new Shunned-controlled settlements, I soon discovered that interacting with their computer terminals gave access to missions exclusive to their faction. Odyssey had given character and voice to a faction that was previously a system footnote. I inwardly pledged to support The Shunned and so began to undertake missions exclusively for them.
The first few missions I chose were fairly innocuous. I avoided anything too shady, just recovering materials from crash sites and collecting consignments from other settlements. Even then it was a joy, it felt as if I was a delivery man playing a small part in a functioning community. Lovely little touches like comments from passing civilians and overzealous security personnel gave texture to the local society, bringing it to life.
My efforts were soon rewarded with a small rise in The Shunned’s influence percentage. The whole experience made it easy to imagine an underlying narrative – that The Shunned weren’t (just) an anarchic pirate gang, but perhaps more of a desperate underclass of citizens discarded by the indifferent ‘Stager’ government.
Then unexpected events occurred which further fuelled my head-canon.
The Saga of The Shunned
Suddenly, all three of The Shunned’s settlements were offline. On investigation, I saw that their faction status indicated that they were now the target of terrorist attacks. Given the duality of the political landscape, there was only one real suspect: the Seven Stages Movement. This was compounded by the fact that Stager population’s happiness despicably changed from ‘happy’ to ‘elated’ at the exact same time – all while their neighbours suffered and burned!
It was time to escalate, to stand up for the oppressed and to strike back at the brutal state. I started to take on riskier, more ethically grey missions. I avoided murder, but wasn’t averse to some theft. Unfortunately, the Stager security had no such moral boundaries and my every act against the state was met with lethal response, critical injury and incarceration.
Crime and punishment in the 34th century, it transpires, redefines the concept of ‘the long arm of the law’. When apprehended, I was immediately transported to the nearest detention centre which, unsurprisingly given the barren emptiness of the region, was almost 200 light-years away. Frustratingly, even when released, I found myself unable to return to Ellie-Deefive as my ship had been effectively impounded at the scene.
The lack of facilities in the vicinity of the Pilgrim’s Ruin prison ship meant there was no way to arrange transport of my ship and the sheer distances involved meant that the Apex Interstellar taxi service just shrugged with disinterest at my requests.
Fortunately, Elite Dangerous is a multiplayer game, and as well as broadcasting my plight to the Frontier support team, I managed to flag down a lift from the generous CMDRs Tomasson (aka Burger) and CamelNumberOne. The rescue wasn’t entirely straightforward, and the peculiarities of witchspace travel (read: network issues) meant that the first attempt using CamelNumberOne’s massive fleet carrier left me stranded at point of origin while both by rescuers reached the destination without me. Fortunately, they had a backup plan.
On my eventual return to Pencil Sector EL-Y d5, my resolve stiffened and over the following weeks, my missioning activity became bolder and more illegal. I would occasionally be apprehended and require further rescue from the state-sponsored marooning (the Frontier support team were always quick and helpful), but I became a wanted felon whose bounty grew as The Shunned’s influence did.
It quickly became clear that my actions could make a real difference in this system. After some further reading and advice from stream viewers and the Elite Dangerous Twitterati, I came to understand that if the influence gap was equalised, it would trigger a civil war and The Shunned could seize control of New Growth asteroid station. I was inspired – up the revolution, brother!
It also became apparent that more violent actions seemed to be having a greater impact on narrowing the influence gap between Seven Stages Movement and The Shunned. But those gains came at a heavy price: every action against the controlling faction eroded my current good standing with them and any illegal activities put an ever-increasing price on my head.
This trend would soon make me hunted in every corner of the system and eventually render me unwelcome at the station – the one place I could keep my selection of purpose-fitted ships. I would become trapped in a single ship for the entirety of my paramilitary operations.
After some initial experimentation (and further imprisonments) I made plans to take the plunge into morally justified criminality with a Cobra Mk.IV; it was tough, versatile, small enough to land on settlement pads, and laden with dumbfire missile launchers could clear out enemy ground forces quickly and rather spectacularly. I called it The Minotaur.
It wasn’t long before my name was appearing in the Most Wanted list in the daily bulletins as my bounty grew to tens, then hundreds of thousands of credits. I noticed at this time that I wasn’t alone on this list, which in previous months had often been empty. On the days that I checked, I found myself wondering who the others were, and what illicit activities they were getting into.
Particularly intimidating were the two top pilots, Cgore and Alex Rogan XIV, both of whom whose bounties were in the millions. It made me wary of flying in Open Play mode – the last thing I needed was to have my plans thwarted by some player-killing ubermensch pilot. Nonetheless I continued to do so, as I had been. Show no fear.
As I went about my one-man attempt to overthrow the government, ethically collapsing into bloodthirsty massacre and assassination missions, I was on the edge of my seat. Every spaceflight between mission waypoints was a tense cat-and-mouse experience, with now openly hostile system authority vessels and bounty hunters actively chasing me down. Although the Minotaur was a solid anti-personnel and ground mission ship, it didn’t stand a chance against the dedicated gunships roaming the space-lanes.
Then something amazing happened.
A CMDRGURU951 was watching my stream and saw my plight. He suggested that access to a fleet carrier would solve my problems and provide me with the means to access my other ships once again. It just so happened that one such fleet carrier that had been idling in system for a few weeks was his. He kindly invited me to make use of it, so I eagerly plotted a course for the OP New Growth from where, I learned to my surprise, he too had been working to overthrow the Seven Stages Movement.
Unfortunately, as I dropped out of supercruise and into approach range of the fleet carrier, I was set upon by some waiting Seven Stages Movement ships. They made short work of me. Fortunately, I respawned docked to Cmdr. Guru’s fleet carrier. Unfortunately, the hostile fighters had not finished with me and opened fire as my ship rested on the OP New Growth’s deck. I was protected by the megaship’s shields, but any attempt to take off would see me obliterated.
Cmdr. Guru expressed astonishment at this behaviour, stating that he had a significant bounty and notoriety but had never been effectively spawn-camped by NPC ships. I took it as a badge of honour and prepared to launch anyway. I couldn’t access the fleet carrier’s shipyard services as I’d hoped, so I was stuck with the ship I was in. This was going to be my Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid against the Bolivian army moment .
Cmdr. Guru wanted to watch my escape attempt first hand so asked me to wait for him to log in. Instancing issues hampered his attempts at first, so I suggested we form a team to encourage the matchmaking server to put us in the same instance. It was then that I learned his pilot name was not a variation of his Twitch and Twitter handle as I’d expected, but he was none other than the previously-mentioned ubermensch, Commander Alex Rogan XIV, whose bounty was approaching 20 million credits (for context, at its height, mine was little more than 300,000cr). I was in the presence – and a ‘house-guest’ of – one of the most accomplished and feared pilots in the sector.
He dropped into local space in a Federation corvette, one of the most indisputably efficient engines of destruction in the game, and engaged the quartet of angry but small system authority ships, which comprised two vipers and and two eagles. I feverishly hit the launch button and scrambled away from the fleet carrier as quickly as I could.
As I jumped into the relative safety of supercruise, I watched the team status indicator with horror as Alex Rogan XIV’s now shieldless vessel’s hull withered and disappeared. He’d thrown away his impressive bounty and his very expensive ship to let me escape in my paltry Cobra Mk.IV. It was a genuinely emotional moment – I had only just learned that we were brothers-in-arms and then he sacrificed himself to the cause. Sniff.
The Accidental Warlord
It was clear that fighting for the cause of The Shunned was gaining momentum. My earlier rescuer, Cmdr Tomasson, had remained in the area and had been sending me updates on his progress in taking the fight to the Stagers.
My misgivings about other local wanted pilots had proven unfounded, Cmdr Guru/Alex Rogan had revealed that other regulars on the most wanted list, the amusingly named CMDRs Crunch Buttsteak and Pudgebrownie, were also part of his cabal of freedom fighters, Rekall Inc., whose higher purpose was no less than to seek out the mythical Raxxla.
Meanwhile, Interstellar audio jockeys Hutton Orbital Radio – who had already taken an interest in my activities (mostly out of idle amusement at the fact I kept getting imprisoned and marooned) – had started including news bulletins of my progress in their broadcasts and even interviewed me.
It is with great pride that I can confirm that on Monday, July 19th, our combined efforts finally tipped the balance of power into civil war, at which point the hitherto fluffy Hutton Orbital Radio folks bared their teeth and dispatched squadrons of trucker-pilots to join the conflict and install The Shunned as the new controlling faction.
The ground combat has been adrenaline pumping and frantic and, even though I’m not very good at it, I’ve felt invested and immersed. The gradual build-up and events documented here has given each battle experience much greater heft, making every gain much more meaningful and every loss more painful.
At time of writing, The Shunned are on the cusp of victory, having routed Seven Stages Movement forces for three consecutive days. I feel like with the help of Commanders from all corners, The Shunned have risen in vast numbers like the Fremen from the Arakis desert, and achieved far more than we could ever have hoped for. Tomorrow, I hope to livestream our victory and the seizing of New Growth asteroid base.
I salute everyone who helped to make such a great story happen and I’m grateful to everyone at Frontier who has made such a fantastic gaming and community experience possible. I understand there are kinks to iron out, but there are many reasons to be proud of this fantastic game.
Elite Dangerous Odyssey is a deep, complex and awe-inspiring science-fiction experience that offers an immersive, personal journey across a sweeping epic backdrop akin to Asimov’s Foundation or Herbert’s Dune. It is a breath-taking, obsession-triggering addition to the seminal and definitive space experience that is just beginning its odyssey.
I cannot wait to see where it takes us next.
TurAmarth · 28/08/2021 at 18:59
Matt, I have followed you for years and flown the same skies as you. I was an avid EVE player & blogger for 10 years… from Nov. 2010 until Nov. 2020, and I have played ED for nearly as long.
EVE “was” amazing, but… it did not have First Person, and neither did ED… but NO ONE really did back then.
In 2015 I “backed SC… Star Citizen. In 2020 I left EVE for SC because it has it ALL Yes it is in Alpha, yes it is still being developed… But if First Person is what blew you away in ED, man you REALLY should take a good hard look at SC.
First Person Beats No Person
Just sayin… =]