Elite Dangerous: Odyssey (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 27.11.2021

Review for Elite Dangerous: Odyssey on PC

From some of the earliest home PCs in gaming, to modern state-of-the-art gaming rigs, there are few series which can boast spanning such a length of decades. Elite Dangerous: Odyssey is one of them, spanning the iconic Frontier: Elite II back in the Amiga days, all the way to the modern vision of this franchise; the recently released Odyssey expansion. Most will be familiar of course with the premise of Elite: set off into the stars in search of fortune and renown. There's no path. There's no campaign. It's just the pilot and his ship, and whatever sets his soul alight or gets the juices flowing. Combat, trading, mining, or just discovering uncharted worlds and seeking interesting sights - the galaxy is up for grabs. 2014 marked the return of the series to a whole new generation. Elite Dangerous saw a reintroduction of stepping into the cockpit, but with the added spice of massively multiplayer gameplay in a persistently changing, 1:1 scale representation of the Milky Way galaxy. While garnering positive feedback and a solid player-base, the roadmap of content had one significant milestone - planetary exploration. Step forward Odyssey.

It feels like Odyssey has been in the works for such a long time (albeit nothing compared to similar space epic Star Citizen). From its announcement in June 2020, to delays over the Covid-19 pandemic, finally it's time to set that ship down on land and take one giant leap for mankind - and boy, does it make a difference in terms of fundamentally shifting perspectives on this massive galaxy. Already an overwhelming prospect, making the light-year distance trips between planets and space stations in order to role-play, now there is a whole universe of wonder to encapsulate on the surface of planets, moons, and star bases. From barren rocks floating in the vastness of the Milky Way, to planets with their own atmosphere. Taking a rover for a spin or just jumping and getting carried by the lack of gravity is something that plucks those heartstrings in terms of epic gaming moments.

…And, of course, with planetary exploration also comes planetary combat. Elite: Dangerous: Odyssey has many peaceful professions - from space courier, to galactic miner, and commodity trading. Equally, though, this is a galaxy ripe for piracy, assassination, and war. Before, that was confined to flight combat, but now this simulator has been transformed into a first-person shooter, with the ability to raid planetary facilities and have some on the ground shoot outs. An awful lot of space simulators make themselves appear to be unapproachable to the casual fan. Compared to most actually, it's surprising that in terms of the actual flight controls and navigating planets, Elite Dangerous is surprisingly easy to pick up.

Screenshot for Elite Dangerous: Odyssey on PC

Don't get any wrong ideas, the tutorials are a must, and even after dozens of hours on the clock, flying and getting used to jumping between planets is still an acquired art, but it's certainly far more user-friendly than watching a stream on YouTube makes it seem. No, flying isn't where Elite Dangerous bears its teeth in terms of difficulty. Rather, it's when diving deeper into how to actually progress in the game that things become a little more complicated. The scale of this galaxy, the distances involved, the amount of money needed to progress, and the amount of menial tasks needed to advance - it's a galactic journey that takes so much commitment and thus time. For some that might be too much time. This really is a marathon not a sprint. Don't expect to see any of the advanced ships before having put in some solid graft.

Granted, with Odyssey the nice thing is that there is a bit more variety on offer to make that grind feel like more of an adventure. Taking a step off the ship, and having to collect items from different facilities, or to pick a fight with a gang of bad people, definitely spices up the fetch quests and sense of being a space-taxi driver, but even these missions wear thin after a while, and with some ships costing in the millions of credits, and the lingering threat of death always around the corner, progress is slow and certainly not for the faint hearted. This is an MMO-based game and therefore anyone expecting a traditional campaign is going to be sorely disappointed. Elite Dangerous is truly in the sandbox form of the genre, in its most traditional sense. While those hoping for a campaign to get stuck into will be sad, it wouldn't have done this world any favours to get bogged down in a largely generic story plot.

Screenshot for Elite Dangerous: Odyssey on PC

Equally, those hoping to run their own space empire like in the X series, with capital ships and their own fleets, will also be disappointed. This puts its flag firmly in the exploration side of the genre, with the main character having this vast open space to enjoy and explore. Flying one ship, and having a grand adventure is the order of the day here, and in that sense, few titles can match it for the sheer spectacle of the experience. Being the first to set foot on a distant planet or meeting some of the game's array of factions and cultures is the kind of immersive wonder few others can match. Therefore, from a conceptual point of view, this delivers wonder in spades - but now it is time to dive into gameplay and mechanics: and this is where things hit a bit of space turbulence.

Firstly, the game is a graphical beast in terms of the scale of things, lighting and all the effects and physics taking place. Flying past a star as the heat ripples from its surface or landing on a planet that seems to go on as far as the eye can see is an incredibly rich visual experience. This comes at a cost, however. While this had years to iron out its kinks and optimisation quirks, it's sad to say it has launched to a whole raft of new ones. From crashing, visual hitches, extraordinary low lighting (seriously, it might be space, but is it really that dark?), and a general lack of optimisation on even the beefiest rigs, it's clear there is a lot of work to do here.

It has to be said, the Steam reviews have people up in arms about the performance. It actually isn't as bad as the impression from online - however it's still not great. Landing on planets and the planetary bases is particularly ropey, and Frontier boss David Braben has actually come out and apologised for the technical issues besetting the game's launch - from crashing, server outages and bugs. Hotfixes have come and gone, but any fans of the series will know this is going to be a long and ongoing roadmap of fixes and tweaks.

Screenshot for Elite Dangerous: Odyssey on PC

Away from the graphics, it has to be said, while planetary exploration is amazing, there is far too many reused types of bases. Granted, no one expects a bespoke designed base for every planetary body and mining facility in the galaxy. However, a lot more variety would stop every landing feeling like it just has the same selection of completely generic NPCs walking around doing absolutely nothing. This is kind of an issue with Elite Dangerous more generally. Unlike X, with every system and ship interconnected into the economy, Elite sadly pursues a much less organic interconnectedness in the economy and wider world. NPCs give missions, trade happens, battles occur, as well and even wider conflicts players can participate in - but it never feels like it has a particularly tangible impact on the overall world. It would be really great if this changes in the future, as this is an ongoing and developing title. In that same fashion, FPS combat feels like it suffers from a team's early attempts at tackling the genre. From a limited selection of weapons to use, to a really dodgy AI, what could have been something epic in terms of having ground fights ends up feeling like a middle of the road first-person shooter by a B-team of developers. There needs to be a lot more work on this aspect.

Space stations are now open for some exploration, but again they all have largely the same layouts. Wouldn't it be great for example to be able to be able to fight onboard capital ships? Hopefully this is the kind of thing that is added in over the next few years of development. If there's one thing that has to be praised though, it's the sound design. From the hum of the ships, the crackle of the hyperspace jump kicking into life, or the beautiful Easter Egg with Strauss playing as the ship docks in auto-dock (a brilliant homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey) - Frontier have really nailed the audio - and this isn't just a side issue. Some of the travelling in Elite Dangerous involves extended periods in hyperspace between planets. There are very few more relaxing experiences than being consumed by beautiful music while jumping the stars, especially if you take it in VR.

Screenshot for Elite Dangerous: Odyssey on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey is a fundamental shift in how this operates - literally. From space to the ground. Taking those first steps on a planet's surface after having landed there is simply awesome, and is decades in the making for fans of the Frontier franchise. The unfortunate reality however is that the performance is currently letting it down. Serious optimisation work is a necessity to iron out a multitude of issues - albeit it's probably not as bad as some are portraying in the immediate aftermath of release. While the new gameplay mechanics come with some variety for those bored of simple space combat, the shooting on the ground also needs a good deal of attention, with AI, and the general standard of combat, alongside the amount of different locations generated on planets, all in need of work. The thing is, this is a journey; a road map, and this is just the first staging post. Hopefully there's a lot more to come down the line.

Developer

Frontier Developments

Publisher

Frontier Developments

Genre

Simulation

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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