Okay, so Elite Dangerous: Odyssey hasn’t had the smoothest rollout. Its first week was so plagued with issues, that Sir David Braben himself released an apology about the state of the game. But somehow, I missed all that. I have no doubts that reported disconnections were true, and I saw YouTube videos about the broken shaders, and the infinite blackness in some locations where reflection and light should be. But when I finally got around to playing Elite Dangerous: Odyssey, I had a smooth time. Not a perfect one, but definitely not the experience that others were having during the first week of it release.
First off, it should probably be said that I have a love/hate relationship with Elite Dangerous. It’s probably the one space sim I’ve played the most, but at the same time, it’s been a hard game to get my friends into. Even my brother, who went all in with a HOTAS setup, called it quits after a few dozen hours. Lack of interesting gameplay is an oft-cited issue. It takes to long to start anywhere. It takes too long to travel anywhere. All of these statements are true, especially in a simulation of our galaxy represented in a 1:1 scale. It’s mind bogglingly large, but also devoid of meaningful activities—at least, as the repeated criticism of Elite Dangerous goes. Over the years, developer Frontier has added to its game, with some features ending up more engaging and successful than others—for instance, I never once engaged in Powerplay activities, but the incentive to work with Engineers to tweak out my ships was too high to ignore. Despite any criticisms, I couldn’t stay away for too long, and always came back to try out each major patch, sometimes playing for a few weeks before moving on again. Odyssey not only adds a slew of activities, but it also lets you experience some of the old Elite Dangerous from a whole new perspective.
So Odyssey gave me space legs, but is it fun? I think it is, but the same type of repetitive fun found in the rest of Elite Dangerous. Odyssey opens up a whole new world of activities that I can fly my ship to and participate in. Also, while I can’t walk around the interiors of my ships (which bums me out) I can walk around them on the landing pad or on a planet and finally see the ridiculous scale of some of these vehicles. It’s really too bad I can’t do the same on my Fleet Carrier, however. But Odyssey doesn’t just afford you the ability to walk around for the first time in Elite Dangerous, it also comes with a whole bunch of new activities, gear, and a few new services.
Odyssey adds a fair amount of fun new ground-based activities to participate in. I was able to dip into almost all of the new mission types, and the new Frontline Solutions combat zone while trying out every piece of gear I could get my hands on. Ground combat is fun. On low gravity planets, mixed with your suit’s booster, it feels like a game with high amounts of FPS freedom. The shooting feels good, and most of the weapons are satisfying to use. The time to kill is a little high, but that’s mostly because most people you encounter will have their own energy shields. But energy weapons can take down shields fast, while kinetic weapons kill unshielded targets quickly. I prefer to use the rocket launcher—two hits do it for most targets.
There’s more than just combat in Odyssey, however. Some support missions have you restoring power to facilities, and putting out fires. Others have you infiltrating stations, and stealing items—or even recovering data from crashed ships. And while all of these activities are fun the first or second time around, just like the rest of Elite Dangerous, it starts to feel same-y after a while. There is no persistence, either. I’ve turned the power on at the same facility multiple times, because once you leave an area it resets to its previous state. But that’s just how things work in Elite Dangerous, though that’s not exactly fair to say because it has so many moving parts.
Elite Dangerous is an amazing achievement when talking about the scale alone—but it also has to be fun and engaging to be a good game, rather than just an impressive achievement. And while I enjoy Elite Dangerous’ style of grind and repetitive gameplay, unless it immediately pulls you in, it might not be the game for you. I was hoping Odyssey would bridge the gap between those who would rather engage in on-foot activities and their friends who like the spaceships. But Odyssey fitting into this 1:1 world means travel times that can be confusing and baffling to new players, and it also means an on-foot experience that doesn’t really integrate into the shipboard experience–they run parallel to each other.
While Odyssey adds a bunch of new activities, they aren’t really activities that interface with the game’s previous activities. When you’re on foot in stations, you’re not actually in a station you can explore fully, but in a small little pilot’s lounge with a view to the station’s mail slot—where all of the ships come in. It’s an illusion, and while it’s one I appreciate and can enjoy while willfully ignoring the truth, it’s disappointing that a game that touts a 1:1 galaxy can’t give a similar experience outside of the macro level. If Odyssey featured on-foot gameplay that allowed you to explore the insides of your ships, or even interact outside of segmented, layered interactions, it would have been sublime. For instance, it’s a bummer I can’t rain hell from my ship onto pedestrians below. Cannon shots that should liquefy a person barely seems to damage them. I don’t know if this is a bug, or a feature. I guess it’s good that you can’t mercilessly be gunned down by a spaceship while on foot—but that’s part of the danger of leaving your armored air pod, now isn’t it?
My first steps in Odyssey were during its Alpha phase, and I didn’t try out my space legs until nearly a week after Odyssey was released. By the time I got to it, it was smooth flying. My beefy gaming computer did run into some frame issues on planet surfaces, but that’s with everything cranked to max. I realize I might be the exception, especially since Elite Dangerous felt more optimized during Horizons than it does now—but it seems as though Frontier is committed to tightening up the release of Odyssey, and supposed the last patch has already introduced a bit of performance improvements for some. One of the bigger issues is the lack of VR support for on-foot gameplay, but this isn’t a deal breaker for me. I know that a lot of virtual reality enthusiasts swear by Elite Dangerous as being one of the premier experiences, so it’s definitely a loss. Hopefully Frontier adds VR support for on-foot sections.
I’ve only spent a dozen hours or so in Odyssey, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen. I haven’t had a chance to play on-foot with friends yet, but I can’t wait to get some first footfall credit on some distant worlds. This buggy, awkward start could very well be the first steps in an amazing new journey in Elite Dangerous. While it isn’t perfect yet, and I’d prefer some deeper integration between on-foot and in-flight, I’m excited for the change of perspective.
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