Elite: Dangerous is the latest incarnation of the Elite series of games. It’s basically a MMO centered around the exploration of our galaxy. The player starts with the smallest available ship, 200 credits, and instructions where the exit of the space dock is.
The long term goal of the game is to reach Elite status in one or more categories. Players can gain Elite in up to four categories: Exploration, Combat, Trade, and Close Quarters Combat. Success in each category is measured by funds earned by selling exploration data to the cartographical society, trading in merchandise, cashing in bounties or combat bonds, or winning Close Quarters Combat matches, which are basically formalized PvP battles cast into the “story” of sporting events.
Elite: Dangerous is set in a quite accurate model of our own Galaxy, and in a time frame 1286 years into the future, so the year 2014 when Elite: Dangerous was released converts to the year 3300 “game time”. By now we are in the year 3305, and the known part of the galaxy reaches all the way to the far side of the milky way. The most remote star system reachable is Beagle Point. As of this writing a massive fleet exploration of more than 6500 players is on the way to beagle point, scanning as they go.
Elite: Dangerous is free to play after you purchase the game, but so far there have been two seasons of several expansions each which have to be bought separately, which is why the Seasons Pass is a good idea, but you could just as well not buy the seasons pass or the add ons, you’d still get the bug fixes of all upgrades, but you wouldn’t get the added features from the extensions.
What makes Elite: Dangerous so appealing to me as an astronomer is the fact that wherever possible the Elite: Dangerous universe is based on what we know about our milky way right now. Known stars are where they are in reality, and they have the proper sizes and spectral types. The black hole at the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*, is there in Elite: Dangerous as well (and is a famous tourist location for any seasoned space traveller who can get the means to go there). But on the other hand there are all kind of nods towards SciFi, for example a Leonard Nimoy station.
My personal playing style is deep space explorer, which to me works like this: pick a destination from APOD and go there. Right now I’m on the way from the bubble nebula to the heart nebula, after that I’ll check out IC1805 (which at least in Elite: Dangerous has a black hole at the center), then I’ll have a look at Betelgeuse and then back to the inhabited parts of our galaxy (the “bubble”), to sell all the exploration data. Might even be enough to get to Elite in exploration.
The possibly most amazing thing in Elite: Dangerous is the community that has evolved around it. The game itself features “community goals”, which are basically quests woven into a bigger storyline. For example, there could be a galnet report (galnet is the in-game ‘galactic news network’) asking for help repairing a space station somewhere, and then players carrying certain materials to that station would earn extra credit for doing so; but the most amazing event so far has been the Distant Worlds expedition of 3303 (2017 our time). It started with a simple forum post where a player asked if anyone would be interested to do something as a group… and in the end it was a fleet of a thousand ships going all the way across the galaxy. Right now the Distant Worlds 2 expedition is on the way to the far side again, exploring in greater detail.
I’m not going to go into much more detail here, other people have already done a brilliant job in writing about Elite: Dangerous. But I’m going to show you a few pictures.