A first look at Elite: Dangerous – the Combat Simulator

Elite: Dangerous launches tomorrow. So I thought “let’s download the launcher, maybe I can preload the game”. I was wrong.
But everyone who had preordered the game at any point has already access to a single player combat training, so I’ll just talk about that. It’s 30-minutes-in and should be interpreted accordingly.

Related: I still have to figure out how to get usable screenshots out of this, so no pictures today.

What is it?
Your run-off-the-mill space combat tutorial, consisting of seven missions. These seven missions follow the old and ancient traditions of space-sim combat tutorials, so you have:

  1. Target Practice
    Here are some space-trashcans, you have body mounted lasers, go.
  2. Basic Combat
    Here’s a bad guy. You still have body mounted weapons, but now they are gatling guns and your target is moving.
  3. Advanced Combat
    Have another bad guy. But this time, use a gimbal-mounted gun and a rocket launcher with guided missiles.
  4. Sidewinder Standoff
    We take the gimbal mounts away from you, but now you have a more maneuverable spacecraft. The other guy has one, too.
  5. Wolfpack Tactics
    The other guy now has a vastly superior ship, but you have friends.
  6. Supply Strike
    You and your friends against a big ship and its escorts. You now have a rocket launcher with unguided missiles.
  7. Incursion
    We will throw targets at you until one of us runs out of ships.

The tutorial doesn’t really tell you what to do. You’re told the targeting hotkey and the hotkey to deploy your hardpoints (more on this later). Especially during the Supply Strike-scenario, in which description is explicitly stated that you learn tactics against bigger ships, some prompts would have been appreciated.
But even without prompts, the first 6 missions are doable without much problems. During Incursion I got nuked out of the sky my ship shot to pieces around me by the third wave and I didn’t feel like doing it again right now.

What do we get out of this tutorial? Controls, combat and weapons.
As far as I can see, we have body- and gimbal mounted weapons. To aim with body mounted weps we have to turn our ship, while gimbal mounts provide a certain amount of off-center coverage, aiming themselves at your current target as soon as it is within the gimbal range.
We have pulse lasers, continuous lasers, slug guns and guided and unguided missiles. Lasers fire in a straight line, who would have thought of this, and insta-hit if you aim correctly. Personally, I like lasers travelling at c. They eat energy/consume heat budget.
Slug guns spew little metal part, eating through your ammunition supply. As the bullet’s travel below c, we have to aim in front of our target (or, more smart-arse-y, along the target’s movement vector projected on a plane vertical to your line of sight). Same goes for unguided missiles, which are always the best choice of weapon in space. Guided missiles take some time to lock onto the target and pursue it on their own after launch.
So, we have our basic array of weapons, and they make sense so far. No sub-c-laser weapons, no heavy technobabble… so far.
There’s also a hotkey to “deploy a heat sink”, the ingame-reaction “coolant purge initiated” implies “throw out hot coolant and refuel the system”. Which actually makes a disturbing amount of sense. I’m looking forward to see what this does gameplay-wise.

Controls… the ships are somewhat sluggish, so no pinpoint-turns. The turning speeds also seems to hinge on your forward movement, so a slower ship turns faster. Airplanes in space, but I’ve seen worse.
The keyboard layout is strange, at least for someone who spent a couple of hundred hours in the X-series. A/D is yaw, but W/S is not pitch, it’s throttle. Q/E and R/F are y- and z-axis-translation. Mouse is pitch/yaw, and there’s probably a roll-button in there. Maybe I’ll try to reconfigure the keyboard layout, but that’s usually a path leading straight into madness.
Maybe I should go for a two-joystick-setup, with translation on the left and rotation on the right.
The UI seems pretty solid so far, although I didn’t look at much of it. My biggest problem so far is the arrow on the HUD, or rather the fact that I’m still absolutely convinced that it points towards my target. It is the direction you’re turning in.

Combat is classic dogfights in space. Stay behind your enemy and shoot him down. Head-on engagement is usually a rather bad idea.

And this is today’s “I should fake productivity”-post. More informed commentary might show up tomorrow – if the game is playable on launch.

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