When I first played Elite Dangerous, I was simply in love with the game. I truly felt like an independent pilot, doing whatever I wanted in space in the far future. It reminded me a lot of Evochron Mercenary (itself probably inspired by OG elite) which I played a ton of back in the day. It really ticked off all the boxes. The game looks great with just enough sim aspects to make it engaging but not overly complicated. The space flight simulation is one of the best I've tried, and combat feels right. But the game just sort of… goes nowhere.
I mean I bought a bigger ship, then a bigger one. I tried combat, shipped cargo then started carrying passengers. But no matter what I changed, what upgrades I got, the game just never felt different than the first time I played it. I'd been doing the same thing over and over, go to a station, drop off, pick up, go somewhere else. The same loop over and over. I broke up the monotony with combat, but you need engineering and upgrades to compete with anything but the lowliest of NPCs so I was left with mining or hauling. I never tried mining, it doesn't interest me at all, so I mostly hauled. But not the fun kind of hauling like Euro Truck Sim, where the driving feels like you're at least doing something- no, you basically fly point to point and sometimes it takes longer than normal. That's it. Occasionally you get interdicted but even that barely breaks it up, since they're pretty easy to escape.
I want to love E:D, I really do, but then I found Space Engineers. Obviously the graphics, flight simulation and scale are downright primitive compared to E:D's offering, but the game feels cohesive. I can build a ship, walk around it, EVA, fly it anywhere, land on planets, engage in combat, basically anything – and all of this stuff can be happening literally at the same time. It's a lot closer to what I want in a space game even if it's not perfect, and I love it. I already have 200 hours in SE and I like it now more than ever. Eventually I plan on trying NMS because I've heard good things and it seems like that might really hit the mark. SC also looks neat but I have yet to drink that koolaid. But no matter what, I doubt I'll be going back to E:D.
Honestly, I lost interest in E:D long before Fleet Carriers came out, but they certainly didn't help. I just don't feel like the game will ever grow to be what I wanted. And I know the game is what some people want, and if you enjoy it then I think that's great. With all the Power Play stuff and factions, I think it probably has a very satisfying end game. I just won't ever reach it, and I don't even want to reach it. It's just not for me. I think when it comes down to it I want to be an astronaut, or a pilot, and not just stuck in a seat, unable to see the world in any other way. I want to walk around, feel like I'm inside a ship that's really there. I want everything to be seamless, no matter what planet or station I go to, and I want to feel like I'm there. I want NPCs with stories and questlines that don't feel like quests, or even emergent gameplay and stories with real people instead of NPCs. Basically, I think the perfect space game combines everything into a seamless experience while also giving you control over as much as possible, with all of this being presented in a living universe that's interesting.
I know that's a ridiculous thing to ask for and I doubt any game will ever reach that. But if we can imagine the perfect game, than we can at least measure existing games against that ideal. Doing this, I think SE, NMS or SC are far closer than E:D will ever be. Space legs might help, but everything in E:D feels tacked on (like SRV) and I don't think it will ever become a cohesive experience. I hope I'm wrong though.
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