So with my plans for relocation to the "back of beyond" in rural Thailand taking something of a backward step [and despite a pretty dire experience of being an initial Kickstarter for Elite : Dangerous] I eventually lost the will to resist and bought myself a copy during the Steam Sale late last year. As part of that I purchased the Horizons Seasons Pass and also got myself a Saitek X52 Pro joystick set [not including the pedals] given that most ED players reckoned this was the best rig for the game...

The question, then, was: is this truly both Elite and Dangerous, or is this "Mediocre and Slightly Unsafe"?

Initial impressions were encouraging. I had attempted to play the beta program using my tried and trusty Logitech Wingman joystick, only to give up in disgust at the intransigence of the game engine. Switching to the Saitek made all the difference and actually makes the game playable. Peversely, that's a point against Frontier, however, for failing to test their game with a decent representation of gaming peripherals... I had also [and self-indulgently] upgraded my gaming PC, replacing an 18-month-old nVidia 980GTX with a 1080GTX, and a pair of Dell 24" 1920x1200 monitors with a triple set of Dell 24" 1920x1200 "2415" models. [These are ultra-narrow-bezel screens, and it made sense to get a matching set]. 1400 later... [GPU+Monitors...]

Dangerous plays effortlessly smoothly [the rest of my rig includes a 6-core Extreme Edition Core i7, overclocked from 3.6 to 4.3GHz and 32Gb of 2400MHz quad-channel RAM, Logitech Surround Speakers and a Creative X-Fi Titanium sound card] across all three screens [I use the nVidia "single desktop" utility to give me a single virtual monitor of 5760x1200 pixels. I can't tell you what frame rates I'm getting from Elite, but from "Rise of the Tomb Raider" with all graphics settings set to "Max" I get an average frame rate of 59fps. The 1080GTX rocks]. I find the physics and "dimensions" of the Elite Universe to be mostly realistic, with the exception of launching from planetary surfaces. With that last activity, the rate of change of altitude bears no relation to the indicated velocity [and it should]. Apart from that nit-pick, the engine is exceptional. Controls are OK but not great in most respects - although I find the sheer number of controls and the mapping of them to the many buttons of the Saitek to be fiddly. I recently purchased an ECM upgrade to counter missile attacks, but can't find which button to press to activate it! Game tells me that it's mapped...

The graphics detail is polarising - in the space stations and with the ships it is exceptional, but with the planetary surfaces it is pretty dire - especially compared with, say, "No Man's Sky". I am also finding the excessive use of orange in all the HUD materials to be annoying... It doesn't address night-vision requirements and frankly I find it a bit tacky. But that's a trivial issue with something that is otherwise well thought-out.

Combat is thoughtful and effective. I love the way that ships overheat in battle and can draw in scavengers and police alike. I love most of the sound effects in the game. Exceptions are some of the weapon fire sounds and some excessive sampling of propeller-driven aircraft to generate the audio of some of the ships [my Asp Explorer sounds like a piston-engined Brittan-Norman "Islander"]...

Gaps and Issues
Well, there are a few...

First and foremost, the game is sheer grind. The lack of diversity in activities [for example, the Egosoft X Games gave us the ability to intersperse fighting with empire-building through owning space stations] can make progress very tedious. Once over the initial hump and owning say a Cobra Mk III or similar craft [up from the Sidewinder you start in] there is nothing but a tediously long grind in search of better reputation and ranks until you can afford, in succession, better ships such as the Python, Clipper, Cutter and Corvette. And in most cases that will be a long, long grind... Not sure whether I will make reasonable progress or give up - that race is neck-and-neck at the moment...

it is also an incredibly shallow game. It comprises basically of 3, maybe 4 things:

1. Trade goods on buy/sell trips
2. Execute missions - station to station hops to ferry people, data and cargo
3. Be a bounty hunter
4. Be a pirate

In reality, the diversity just isn't there. The "X" games are leagues ahead of Elite Dangerous, and games like Skyrim or Fallout are so far ahead as to be over the horizon and out of sight. That in no way makes Elite Dangerous *bad*, but it is important to understand what you are getting in to when you start. At least with Terran Conflict I could build myself a strategy, then develop stations to help me meet that goal. With Elite, there is none of that finess [yet].

Tips and/or Tricks
On the other hand... Something I've discovered and am using to my advantage [and this isn't a bug] is a design feature of the solo-player game. When the game AI sends you adversaries [typically pirates after your cargo] then the ability of these AI ships is basically 1 or 2 levels above your own combat rank. So: my combat rank remains at the lowest possible level [Harmless] because I realised that if I run away [in Elite parlance, avoid Interdiction] then my combat rank does not increase, and the ships sent after me stay low-powered and avoidable. Through this [admittedly uninspiring tactic] I have managed to acquire 2 ships [Cobra Mk III and Asp Explorer - both fully kitted out], I have reached the ranks of Knight [70%] and Midshipman [65%] in the Empire and Federation, respectively. I am a "Dealer, 50%" in Trade Ranks and a Pathfinder 37% in Explorer ranks - all whilst still being "Harmless, 87%" in combat rankings.

This has allowed me to accrue 55,000,000 credits, en route to my goal of buying a Python and equipping it for bounty-hunting, at which point I will address the deficiency in my Combat rank.

it's a bit of a "cowardly" approach - repeatedly running from attackers - but it is the single most effective route I've found to stepping up through the ranks as quickly as possible. The Asp Explorer, in the configuration I'm using, allows me 72 units of cargo space, which, just performing missions provided by Stations, earns me 2,000,000-3,000,000 per hour. I rarely have to take a mission paying less then Cr 250,000 and executing 8 an hour is not hard...

Will I resist the monotony and go back to Terran Conflict? I am "on the fence" on that one. TC runs perfectly across my triple-screen setup, even though the outer screens get a slghtly distorted look. I can see myself going back to Terran Conflict for a new campaign before much longer.

Oh - and if anyone has any tips about using a Saitek X52 with X3:TC, I'd love to hear from you!