The Thargoids Mean Great Things for Gameplay in Elite: Dangerous v2.4 [E3 2017 Preview]

Heading to E3 my most anticipated appointment was with Frontier Developments, the makers of Elite: Dangerous and Planet Coaster. This was the first time I’ve been able to speak to someone who has worked on the game since my addiction began over a year ago. I had a lot to ask, and only 30 minutes to learn as much as possible.

Elite: Dangerous is all about Thargoids, a mysterious alien race that many know of, but few have details about. Thargoids have existed in the lexicon for more than 30 years, dating back to 1984 where they served as an antagonistic insect race in the original Elite. Though, their presence has only recently come to existence in Elite: Dangerous, where they have slowly become a reason for incredible community engagement and speculation.

In 2.4 “The Return”, Thargoids will transition from a topic of conversation to an element of gameplay. Speaking to lead designer Sandro Sammarco, I learned that they will be the cause of a huge surge of new activities for players to engage in. Things like Thargoid-related missions, construction of new weaponry to combat them, and more are certainly not out of the equation. This was a point of emphasis during our conversation, as Sammarco and the team understand that the sandbox nature of Elite: Dangerous does lend itself to a bit of confusion and/or lack of inspired motivation, a quality that will be tackled directly by the much more focused and progression-oriented formatting of Thargoid content.

Part of what was shown was a human capitol ship seemingly exterminated by a Thargoid adversary. At initial inspection, one would be quick to assume the Thargoids are hostile, but who’s to say that it wasn’t the humans that initiated the conflict? After all, the popular encounter last year that made headlines showed that they’re not too trigger happy.

After a sequence of brief demonstrations, I was shown a video of a player approaching a planet with an exotic landmark. This landmark had tall, sharp spikes, deep ridges, and was clearly unlike anything the game currently delivers with its procedural generation. My attention was grasped. Approaching closer, the player was able to land their SRV before heading into a nearby cave. This was no ordinary cave, though. What was inside were hundreds if not thousands of egg sacs, and slimy walls that clearly were the construction of something beyond the understandings of the current universe.

At the end of the video, the player observed a large item of interest that I anticipate is likely a teleportation or communication beacon used by the Thargoids. But before I could learn more, the video cut.

The mysteriousness of this video is representative of the Thargoids and how v2.4 will slow-drip information about who and what they are. In-fact, Sammarco shared with me that the team has a large manual of sorts that details everything about them, including how they perceive mankind. Of-course, we won’t be given all this information right away, and will instead have to do it the old fashioned way: through exploration and investigation.

Ultimately, Frontier Developments has a lot planned in regards to the Thargoids and how they will play a role in the Milky Way galaxy of Elite: Dangerous, and despite being in a private conversation with me, was set on making sure that anything I learned directly about the race would require my own curiosity and observation.

Speaking of the future, Sammarco also shared that a third season of Elite: Dangerous is definitely coming. It isn’t set in stone what it’ll deliver, but it’s likely that it will be iterative rather than trying to build up the feature-set of the game like Horizons did. This means major improvements to already existing content, one example of which is how smuggling could become something far more interesting from a gameplay and progression perspective.

Lastly, I learned that Frontier Developments is striving for parity across all platforms. This includes the PS4 version that is coming June 27th. The v2.4 patch is slated for a Q3 2017 release across all these platforms.