Back in the mid-80’s, I played the original version of Elite. To describe the game as ground-breaking is to significantly underestimate its impact.
So, when one of the authors of the 1984 version announced he was publishing a sequel for the 21st century, I jumped on board. I was one of the premium beta supporters back in 2014, paying an insane $150 US for the revamped game. And I have to say, I don’t regret it at all.
I’m not going to do a detailed review of the game. For that, I’d direct you to ArsTechnica’s writeup, or perhaps to the Zero Punctuation video. Instead, I’m going to try to explain (or justify?) why I keep playing the game.
Yahtzee describes the game as “a bit of space trucking”, and that’s pretty much right on the mark. Very much key to the game is that you are not the most important person in the galaxy. You are just a space pilot. That’s it. One of thousands. You can choose your path, you can earn your elite status, but whatever you do, you’ll just be one space pilot out of thousands. There are brief moments of excitement, but long periods of contentment. And I enjoy that. I mean, I love games like the Mass Effect series, but there’s something relaxing about being just a small cog in a big universe, just trying to make your way.
What really completes the experience is my combination of my Oculus Rift, my GTX 1080 to drive the graphics, and my Saitek X-55 HOTAS setup. With these, I feel like I’m sitting inside my cockpit, actually in outer space, actually living the life of a space pilot. It’s not even so much the 3D as the sense of presence. I can look around and see the inside of my ship. I can land on a planet and watch the sun rise. I can sit a few light seconds away from a star, collecting fuel. I can just go out exploring. Sometimes, the views take my breath away.
I’ve done hundreds of missions. I’ve helped out the Federation in their ongoing conflicts with the evil Empire. I’ve traded. I’ve fought for my life. I’ve smuggled goods. I’ve explored. The game is massively larger than it was when I started playing it, two years ago, and it’s continuing to grow. It’s not for everyone. It’s probably not for normal people. But if you want to live the life of a mostly-anonymous space pilot, it really is the best damn spaceship game I’ve ever played.