During my appointment with Frontier Developments, I had a chance to speak to Elite: Dangerous lead designer Sandro Sammarco. Although he spent 20 minutes sharing what v2.4 "The Return" will offer players, I decided to ask a few questions and ended up finding out a lot more than I anticipated.
Below are five things I learned.
1. There's a Big Book About the Thargoids
Somewhere inside Frontier Developments' office in Cambridge is a book filled with information about the Thargoid alien race. "It's about this thick", said the representative in-charge of my appointment, holding up his fingers several inches apart indicating that the book could be larger than a dictionary.
Despite this, very little is known about the Thargoids publicly. In-fact, we aren't even sure if they consider mankind hostile or friendly.
This investment in developing a backstory for the species will play an incredibly important role in v2.4, ensuring that Frontier Developments has prepared well in advance for making the final update of season two as interesting as possible.
2. Atmospheric Planets Aren't Coming Any Time Soon
Like many Elite: Dangerous players, I want to be able to land on atmospheric planets like Earth. I asked Sammarco about this, prefacing by stating that I can imagine that it'd be a huge technical challenge. He explained that it's something the team could do, but would require an incredible amount of work. As they see it, there are other things they can develop that would perhaps be much more profound to gameplay and content.
In combination with the another point I'll make below, this convinced me that it'll be a long time before atmospheric planets will be interactive. Though, Sammarco did share that the team already has "neat" ideas for how to deliver on this idea, so I have every reason to believe it'll come eventually.
3. Exploration Will Be Getting Lots of Attention
Although every Elite player has their own style of play, you could argue that exploration of the Milky Way galaxy is the greatest thing Elite: Dangerous offers. And, yes, you can spend many hours warping to stars many light years away to visit notable celestial bodies like Betelgeuse and even neutron stars, but the gameplay is simple, to a point of being boring for many players.
Frontier Developments is fully aware of this, and will be investing resources into ensuring that exploration has interesting interactions and perhaps even more compelling gameplay loops. Some of this will arrive with v2.4, including the new discoverable Thargoid locales. However, much more will be done in the more distant future.
4. Season Three Will Be Iterative
Horizons was all about building upon the foundation that Elite: Dangerous originally crafted. We received planetary landing, Holo-Me, launchable fighters, and more during the past year. Season three will very likely (it isn't 100% set in stone) instead aim to improve what the game already has. This might sound disappointing upon initial inspect, but it shouldn't be.
The example that was provided is how smuggling and black market trading in general currently functions in the game; it's simple, and to many just isn't worth doing for fun or profit. This can see dramatic improvement to become an entirely new way to play that can keep players entertained for dozens of hours.
Many other components of the game can see major overhauls, but since the team hasn't begun working on the season quite yet, it'll be a few more months before we learn more.
5. The Console Versions Will Have Parity
Starting later this month, there will be three versions of Elite: Dangerous: PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Though, they will all be developed at the same time
The plan is to release updates across all platforms at the same time, and to not leave anything out for any given device.
For PC gamers this doesn't mean much, as it's considered the "primary platform". However, PS4 gamers should be happy to know that one of the best developers in PC gaming is giving consoles its full attention.
You can read about my thoughts on v2.4 "The Return" in my E3 2017 preview.