For anticipating fans of No Man's Sky, this week has been nothing but bad news. Following controversial previews from early copies, the game has been met with disappointment by many for its visual glitches, singular gameplay, and most importantly its lack of functioning multiplayer.
It's a natural human instinct to wonder what it's like to escape the gravitational influence of Earth and venture out into space. Space is beautiful, full of wonder, and for now the only way for most people to experience it is to simulate it in a video game. Understandably, No Man's Sky has gained remarkable attention for its ambition to explore the potential that virtual galaxies offer. But it's not the only option.
In 2003 EVE Online delivered a world filled with over 5,000 stars, each with their own planets and asteroid fields. It introduced this along with a fully online sandbox multiplayer world where you could trade and battle alongside other players. It has lived a long and endeared life known for producing epic battles and dramatic stories.
But for those looking for a more traditional space sim experience, there is nothing more compelling than Frontier Development's Elite: Dangerous.
Elite: Dangerous is a space sim that does so many things right. For one, it contains more than 100 billion star systems in a world map that emulates that of our very own Milky Way galaxy. It's said that over 150,000 of these star systems are derived from real-world astronomical data, providing real context to your location. Yes, that means that at some point you can even visit the Solar System that we call home.
You can visit the far reaches of space where black holes devour mass, and highly dense neutron stars produce some of the greatest power known to man. As you move around the world the celestial bodies and matter composition around you shift in the pitch black backdrop of space. You'll see supernovae and nebulae visible in the distance, accurately rendered depending on their position in relation to yours. It's a sight to behold that encourages exploration, especially in virtual reality.
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Each of Elite: Dangerous' star systems persists within the world map, meaning that every star, planet, and moon exists at a pre-defined location. Similar to No Man's Sky, players who are first to arrive at a planet (along with meeting reasonable requirements) are able to name it. Many players spend most of their time venturing toward the galactic center of the Milky Way where the density of stars and explorer earning potential is astounding.
Within this space you have many options for how you progress. You can earn money by bounty hunting, exploring, mining, completing cargo deliveries, buying low and selling high, and more. With this money you can purchase one of 31 ships, each with their own distinct characteristics. These can be outfitted with many items, including various weaponry, shields, and equipment related to your mobility in space.
It's true that Elite: Dangerous and No Man's Sky exist in different spectrums of space sim. While Elite: Dangerous is more concerned about being scientifically accurate, No Man's Sky lets you zip around like a space-borne Ridge Racer.
But even for those who are more inclined to enjoy the arcade-style of No Man's Sky, Elite: Dangerous is an attractive option thanks to its multiplayer functionality. Although it suffers from its own set of issues, some of which similarly stem from the sheer scope of the game being far larger than its smaller-sized community can populate, you can meet up with and see other player ships.
There are also activities you can do with other players. You can group up and explore star systems before landing on planets together. Some players even head to planets to play soccer in their buggies (SRVs). You can fly to massive planets and battle against pirates together, or even turn on one another to claim cargo and sell it on the black market.
The real possibility of being able to encounter other players has been built into Elite: Dangerous since day one. As with No Man's Sky, arriving at the same destination as another player requires some travel time and thought, but at least once you get there you can see one another.
And also unlike No Man's Sky, Elite: Dangerous' base game is priced appropriately at $30. There is an expansion available, and the game receives consistent updates that introduce noteworthy features to the game.
No Man's Sky has its own selling points, but if you're like me and want to be able to meet up with friends among the stars, there is only one realistic choice. That choice is Elite: Dangerous.