Steam informed me recently that a game on my wish list was on sale. I don’t add items to that list often, but there are a few I forget are there. I checked it out and found that it was Elite: Dangerous.
I didn’t know much about it off the top of my head, but investigating the store page reminded me of the appeal. Open world. Milky Way galaxy recreation. Massive scale. MMO. Flight simulator.
So I bought it…
But first, let’s start in the mid-90s. For the record I was unaware until recently that Elite: Dangerous had previous installments during this time period. Had I known this the story would be different.
Anyway, I happened to pick up Lucasarts’ space combat simulator X-Wing when I was a kid. The box art and screenshots entranced me. I too would get to experience the ultimate freedom of space travel and get to blast Tie fighters into sparking fragments along the way.
After several disks worth of installation (this was the original DOS version), I was ready to play and within minutes I was in the cockpit of the X-Wing, adjusting shield levels, engine speeds, and aiming at various vessels. This was what I was waiting for. True freedom.
This sense was quickly dashed, if only momentarily, when I noticed that those stars and galaxies and planets far off in the background were merely that, background. There would be no interstellar travel for me. Just intense space combat, and the promise of thrills like the films.
This series was quite popular as it turns out, spanning into the next decade with its sequel Tie Fighter offering the best experience in my opinion.
Still, there was that desire to fly among the stars that gnawed at me.
Let’s flashforward several years to the late 2000s. This is when I first tried EVE Online. This, I thought, was it. This was what I had always wanted. An entire galaxy to explore replete with space stations and starships, enemies and allies, and everything in between. Yes, it truly offers all these things.
Here I had my chance to be a renowned star fighter, but I could also be a pilot, a space miner (and perhaps have a daughter who would wrote a song about such things), an industrialist, or even a scheming CEO of a corporation filled with other real people to manipulate and command.
The options were endless, but so was the path to progress it seemed. Now don’t get me wrong, EVE Online is great at what it offers, but it’s also demanding. And slow. And cutthroat. Eventually everything becomes a point and click affair, even space travel, which is more about navigating menus rather than space itself.
It’s not hard to admit that I enjoyed the game, generally but it is hard to admit that perhaps it’s a little more daunting than I would like for something that I want to truly enjoy.
At the end of the day, EVE Online offered quite a bit, more than I imagined in fact, but it still missed that certain something.
There were other games that came close, like Star Trek Online, with its arcade-ish space combat and the ability to lead away teams on planets. If you’ve wanted to be a Starfleet captain, or even a Romulan or Klingon, this is your chance. It’s a lighter version of EVE Online, to be sure, but its content is still entertaining and the fantastic setting is a bonus.
After years of playing games, it’s safe to say that some of my earliest wishes have been buried under layers of reality and disappointment, but fortunately they have also been augmented by gaming experiences that have truly been enjoyable in unexpected ways.
So there I was the other day, loading up Elite: Dangerous. I tried the training missions, thinking that this really is a very similar game to EVE. Except that I was sitting in a cockpit. And that I could fly to any available star. And fight. And dock with space stations.
Then it hit me.
No, not that asteroid I collided with because I was still calibrating my controls.
No, it was something else: the realization that this is the game I had been wanting to play for almost twenty years!
Even better is the fact that Elite: Dangerous’ developers have already declared (not speculated as in the case of EVE) the kind of content they will roll out, like planetary landings and such. This is more than thrilling, and I feel like I’ve finally come full circle with those expectations born from the back of the X-Wing box all those years ago.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prep my ship for travel to see either the Sol system in way I’ve never been able to or what lies beyond the other side of the galaxy’s core.