The past twelve months appear to have been cursed so far as releasing highly-anticipated video games goes. “Cyberpunk: 2077” is obviously still the overall low point, but almost every new game to arrive on the market has come full of bugs, issues, and missing content. The list of botched launches grows longer with every passing week, and now, with extensive regret, we can add “Elite Dangerous: Odyssey” to it.
In strict terms, “Elite Dangerous: Odyssey” isn’t a new game. It’s an expansion for “Elite: Dangerous,” which launched at the end of 2014. It’s been expanded and added to several times since then, with both gameplay and graphical upgrades that have changed its look and feel dramatically in the six-and-a-half years that have passed. The most notable upgrade was “Horizons” in late 2017, which allowed players the ability to land on the planets they visited. It also introduced ground vehicles, new spaceships, new missions, and new consumables. That was followed by “Beyond” in February 2018, which brought the game alien enemies, more new ships, “mega-ships,” advanced weapons, and significant graphical improvements. “Odyssey” is the latest upgrade, going live on May 19th. It should have been the biggest upgrade yet.
The “Odyssey” expansion allows players to get out of their spaceships and walk around for the first time. It also introduces first-person shooter missions, face to face interactions with other players, and new planetary structures and bases. It’s like a whole new game within the existing game, which is presumably why Frontier has priced the expansion back as if it were a full game. Players have been asking for something like this for years and were very excited to see it happen. To say that their excitement has faded a little is an understatement. Negative reviews began appearing almost immediately, and Frontier has found itself accused of rushing out an incomplete product.
There was a sense that something was wrong even before the expansion was launched. Frontier announced that PC gamers would get the expansion months before it was ready to go live on the PlayStation and Xbox, and console gamers weren’t happy. “Elite: Dangerous” started life as a PC game, but it’s since spread across to consoles with all players across all devices sharing one game world. If you’re the first to find a planet while playing on a PlayStation, any PC player who goes on to arrive in the same star system will see your name “tagged” on that planet. The delay between the PC and console launch temporarily creates two different (but connected) universes, making console users feel like second-class citizens in the process. Players on PCs were initially happy that they were getting preferential treatment. Now they feel that they’d rather have waited until the console version was ready, as the extra few months of development might have smoothed out some of the many issues that have thus far been reported.
The most common complaint is that the frame rate drops considerably when using “Odyssey” game modes. Part of this might be down to a bandwidth issue with so many players keen to try the new expansion at once, but this ought to have been thought of during the lengthy beta and alpha phases. The second most common complaint is that the game is shallow, with only ten different mission or activity types available and hardly any distinct types of fauna in the entire universe. Throw in the fact that Frontier has experienced numerous server issues since launching “Odyssey” – server issues that even affect players who haven’t bought the expansion and are still playing “Beyond” or the original game – and it’s no wonder that the game’s creator David Braben has had to issue an apology.
Braben has promised that another hotfix will be released imminently and that all of the reported problems are being taken seriously and will be addressed. That isn’t good enough for players who’ve paid full price for the expansion. This is part of a wider issue with gaming, where it’s seen as increasingly common to charge players for a broken product with the promise that it will be fixed somewhere further down the line. Even if “Elite Dangerous: Odyssey” does fix the frame rate and stability issues it’s currently experiencing, though, there’s one thing it might never be able to fix – the game’s emptiness.
The universe of “Elite: Dangerous” is a lonely one beyond the core systems, where humans live. Head out into deep space, and you’ll find nothing and nobody other than star after star and planet after planet. The game uses real astronomical data to generate “known” stars and planets, but beyond the range of what’s visible from Earth, it uses procedural generation, crunching numbers in a manner similar to an online casino game. The enormously complex mathematics that underpins modern casino games are designed to produce random but interesting results, which is exactly what the system in “Elite: Dangerous” does. Unfortunately, there are only so many different outcomes it can provide. Once you’ve seen around ten icy planets, you’ve seen them all. If you were playing at an online casino reviewed by sistersite.co.uk, you’d at least get a jackpot payout occasionally. We guess the “Elite” equivalent of a jackpot is a neutron star or a black hole, but it doesn’t feel quite so rewarding.
Frontier claims to have plans for its flagship game that stretch far into the future, long beyond “Odyssey.” Those plans might include ways of bringing the universe to life a little more convincingly. The Thargoid aliens are fun, but the idea of them being the only aliens in the Milky Way seems a little conservative. More alien races in more places would give players something to explore for, and more variety on planetary surfaces would give them a compelling reason to land and do some driving or walking around. There was never much reason to get out of your spaceship in “Horizons” unless you were landing at a planetary base, and there still isn’t in “Odyssey.” The game expansions of the past have all been about new features. If Frontier wants to give its thousands of “Elite” players something to be cheerful