Elite Dangerous is a comically giant online game, with greater than 400 billion star programs in all. It’s so huge that gamers have solely ever seen .042% of it with their very own eyes. With Elite Dangerous: Odyssey, the sport’s first paid enlargement in additional than 5 years, builders are including much more to find. The improve will permit gamers to traverse billions of worlds on foot for the primary time, leaving the consolation of the sport’s conventional automobiles behind totally. But that’s not all.
The staff at Frontier Developments can be including total new programs of gameplay. They will give attention to first-person fight, solitary exploration, and even stealth in built-up areas. Supplementing that have will likely be new social areas — tens of 1000’s of them — plus totally new settlements to find.
Polygon spoke with lead designer Gareth Hughes to study extra about Elite Dangerous: Odyssey. To hear him inform it, a sport lengthy derided as being a mile vast and an inch deep is about to get an entire lot deeper.
Here’s every thing we find out about Odyssey, and the way it will change the spacefaring sport when it releases in early 2021.
New social hubs
Since Elite launched in 2014, gamers have solely ever skilled the sport from inside a automobile. More typically than not, that’s been one of many sport’s 40-plus starships. The Horizons enlargement, launched in 2015, additionally added the Surface Recon Vehicle (SRV), which gamers can use to zip round on the floor of planets. With Odyssey, gamers will get their very own Neil Armstrong second, setting digital foot on the floor of unexplored planets the place nobody has ever gone earlier than.
For most gamers, that “one small step” will come slightly later of their in-game journey. For many, the on-foot journey will start inside one of many sport’s new social areas. That’s the place they will come along with different gamers and get missions from non-player characters (NPCs) in particular person.
Hughes tells Polygon that there will likely be three varieties of social areas: Planetports, Spaceports, and Outposts. These will likely be added to the sport at pre-existing places throughout the Milky Way, relying on the varieties of constructions already in place.
Small orbital stations — little mining outposts, maybe, or commerce depots with just some touchdown pads — will get Outpost social hubs. Meanwhile, bigger starbases — the sport’s iconic 20-sided-die-shaped Coriolis starports and large, spherical Orbis stations, every with a dozen or extra touchdown pads — will get Spaceports. Finally, giant floor installations — suppose Survey sights and Observatories, every with as a lot capability as a big starbase — will get Planetports.
Based on info offered to Polygon by the player-run Elite Dangerous Star Map (EDSM), these additions alone will add greater than 40,000 new inside areas for gamers to hang around in. But don’t anticipate them to appear and feel all that totally different from one another. While Hughes mentioned that his staff is engaged on including variation by means of issues like flags and banners, there’ll solely be the three distinctive layouts at launch.
“They’ll certainly feel different between planet Planetports, Spaceports, and Outposts,” Hughes informed Polygon. “It’s difficult for us to generate […] the vast amount of content that this could take to make them unique.”
Social hubs will primarily be constructed for effectivity, Hughes mentioned, with quest givers and distributors positioned in roughly the identical location from website to website. Players ought to anticipate extra intimate interactions, together with questlines with a number of dialogue. But the structure will look very a lot the identical from place to put.
“Time is cash in Elite,” Hughes mentioned, “so we didn’t really want people to have to find it laborious to engage with these [social hubs] when they’ve got stuff to do. So we’re trying to find that really fine balance between them feeling unique within the three kind of categories that I outlined, that they’re efficient to navigate through, and they have a real visual punch.”
Some of that visible punch will come from huge home windows. For occasion, in Spaceport social hubs, gamers will likely be handled to full, 360-degree views of the within the drum of a busy house station. When NPCs and different gamers are available to dock, these sitting contained in the social hub will be capable to watch them fly round in actual time. For a sport the place some gamers spend years on prolonged expeditions, explorers can now stay up for the potential for a heat welcome upon their return. All they should do is let their mates know they’re on the best way again, and the native cantina can simply be stuffed with well-wishers.
In addition, the NPCs inside these new social hubs in Elite will differ primarily based on what factions are in command of them. That will carry to the forefront an typically neglected a part of the sport that has been current since launch — the complicated system of political and financial conflicts that make the sport’s populated space (generally known as “the Bubble”) such an attention-grabbing place to hang around in.
Fans and builders alike name it the Background Simulation, or BGS for brief, and it’ll play a brand new and essential function in Odyssey.
Quite a bit has been written concerning the so-called Stellar Forge that was used to create Elite’s model of the Milky Way. In the previous I’ve known as it a galactic rock tumbler, which used all of the real-world scientific info that it may discover to put the celebrities and their accompanying planets into the sport world. But, working alongside the Stellar Forge was one other system that procedurally generated the in-fiction teams, alliances, and little wars that dot the Bubble.
Take, for example, my residence star system of Ross 263. There are seven totally different NPC factions current within the system proper now, together with teams such because the Ross 263 Independents, Ross 263 Transport Company, and Silver Galactic Incorporated. To date, these factions have solely ever been represented by an entry on a listing and a nonetheless picture of a random character. In Odyssey, these characters will lastly come to life.
Visiting the huge Doi City starbase right this moment, I can take missions from all of those minor factions. And, similar to different complicated massively multiplayer video games, I’ll earn money in addition to faction credit score relying on who I work with. Faction credit score is already a serious gameplay part in Elite, which gamers use to unlock permits that permit them to go to high-security star programs in addition to high tier starships. But, what many gamers in Elite don’t notice is that taking up missions truly adjustments the destiny of those minor factions throughout the Background Simulation.
As gamers tackle missions for a faction, they will truly improve that faction’s management over a given star system. This in flip permits these factions to take management of the built-up areas inside it. Factions can go to warfare in opposition to one another, driving out opponents from neighboring star programs or indulging in internecine battles in opposition to their closest neighbors. Systems can increase, elevating the rewards for any participant taking missions in that space. They can even bust, leading to missions targeted on ferrying meals and shelter to the system’s impoverished residents and refugees.
“It’s not just that the Background Sim changes the game for everybody,” Hughes mentioned. “It’s that everybody can change the Background Sim.”
Hughes informed Polygon that the BGS and the factions that maneuver inside it can play an enormous function within the tone and timbre of the gameplay choices accessible in a given star system. In truth, teams of gamers can actively push the BGS a method or one other by means of concerted effort, creating the sorts of on-foot, first-person missions that they like to expertise.
That player-directed affect will play out most clearly in Odyssey’s latest, largest, and most dynamic new planetary places. They’re known as Settlements, and Hughes says they are going to present totally new methods to expertise the sport.
When Odyssey launches in early 2021, “thousands” of recent Settlements will likely be added to the sport. They will present up on the floor of current planets, but in addition on newly accessible planets with skinny atmospheres. And every of them could have a number of factions vying for management.
Settlements will likely be bigger than social hubs, Hughes mentioned. Each one will comprise a number of buildings, with every themed to match the character of the Settlement itself.
“We have production buildings,” Hughes mentioned, “which is the place they’ll be processing ore in an extraction settlement, or coping with the agricultural output of an agricultural settlement, or coping with the economic output of an industrial course of. So they’re virtually like factories, proper, however themed factories for that settlement sort.
“We have power buildings, which is kind of like a reactor, which is the source of power for the entire entire settlement,” he continued. “We have other buildings, which are habitat buildings, which is where the guys in the settlement actually stay and live — although we don’t always have habitats, because sometimes we like to infer that the workers are kind of flying in and then fly back out.”
Once gamers arrive at a Settlement, they are going to be capable to transition easily between exterior areas — the dusty surfaces of distant planets — and these themed inside areas by means of airlocks. Once inside, they’ll be capable to breathe with out the assistance of their spacesuits. Missions may require them to go to a given location, to retrieve a particular merchandise, or to kill a sure NPC.
Alternately, gamers can simply roll in on a Settlement uninvited and do no matter they need. Options embrace looting the place stealthily, or killing each NPC they will discover and making off with every thing that’s not nailed down. If there’s fight, Hughes additionally mentioned it may be of the mixed arms selection. That means gamers on foot will be supported by different gamers inside wheeled SRVs and even starships, all working towards the identical objective.
Whatever gamers do inside these Settlements, after all, could have a direct consequence on the factions that management it, and the BGS that dictates who’s in command of which elements of a star system.
“The BGS can also start to infer difficulty of settlement, through which faction’s controlling it,” Hughes mentioned, “including what the quality of their combat guys are. So, again, it’s an indirect way of allowing players to increase their power in the game and still have challenges, because what we didn’t want to find is that you go to a settlement and it feels exactly the same as every other settlement — especially if combat kicks off.”
A rising tide
Of course, Elite Dangerous isn’t the one spacefaring sport out within the wild proper now. Eve Online has been working its complicated financial and political programs for the higher a part of 15 years. Meanwhile, No Man’s Sky has captured the eye of gamers all over the world with its personal model of galaxy-spanning procedural technology and esoteric world constructing. But the Odyssey replace, on the floor at the very least, seems to carry Elite ever nearer to its foremost competitor — the lavish, sprawling, multi-genre video games within the Star Citizen universe.
We requested Hughes how he has been impressed by the opposite, massively well-liked video games within the spacefaring style.
“I’m really pleased that there’s other competitive games in the space,” he mentioned. “I believe it possibly simply builds curiosity for all of us. If our participant base is different video games and being excited by them, after which with Odyssey, if we sort of begin to come into their on-foot house as nicely, I believe it’s simply good for everyone.”
“I believe Elite’s at all times been pretty distinctive in its execution,” he continued. “It’s discovered its personal sort of identification. […] I believe if we glance too arduous at what others are doing, then actually, we’re simply beginning to create a facsimile. And I’m not notably considering that. I prefer to be impressed by different folks. That’s so far as it goes for me, I believe. I like the truth that Elite has a novel identification, and I’m probably not that considering shifting it nearer to different video games.”
We’ll study extra within the months main as much as the launch of Elite Dangerous: Odyssey in early 2021, which is predicted to reach concurrently for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.