Elite: Dangerous, Frontier Developments’ arcade spaceflight and galactic trucking simulator, had a promising launch in a simulated galaxy that promised players a persistent, multiplayer experience, where you could play how you want and be who you want – in space. Unfortunately, it has never quite lived up to the hype. Questionable design decisions like the use of peer-to-peer networking, the division of the game into “solo,” “private,” and “open” game modes that all influence the same background simulation, and a long history of catering to a cabal of low speed, casual gamers seeking an immersive “EuroTruck but with more wasted time and straighter shipping paths” space simulator, have all severely impacted what could have been an unchallenged king of the genre.
Nevertheless, Frontier hasn’t simply created a galaxy critics describe as “mile wide, inch deep” and left it alone. There have been attempts to build additional content and new things to do onto the truly robust framework: notably, PowerPlay and intrigue between the “galactic superpowers,” NPC lore factions, played out through community goals. Additionally, Frontier has been teasing the possibility of alien encounters at a thrilling pace usually reserved for pet rock races and mannequin challenge videos.
With the addition of PowerPlay last year, Frontier added a new option for grinders looking to fly their spaceships in mostly straight lines, and made these grinds extra-dangerous by ensuring that hostile NPCs would spawn to attack you everywhere you go, and legally, such that you would have to defend yourself from encounters that were in no way based on your experience or so on. This new game mode allows players to engage in essentially two activities on behalf of their fealty-sworn PowerPlay NPC master: either hauling macguffins to locations, or interdicting and blowing up enemy ships in certain systems. The macguffins that the NPC superpower asks you to haul of course require you to buy them, and do not pay out to you at all. This is a deliberate money-sink on the part of Frontier, which has historically struggled with the economic side of the game and continues to look for ways to make money matter after a certain point. The combat missions take a lot of time sitting in supercruise, and for not much benefit. Incremental changes in the PowerPlay experience have mostly centered around reducing the number of hostile encounters PowerPlay forced players into, as even unarmed ships engaging in actions having nothing to do with PowerPlay would automatically spawn enemy faction ships to attack them. This created a huge barrier to pledging to a PowerPlay faction.
And pledging was no small matter. To incentivize people to play the new activity, powers offer unique items only available to people pledge to that faction: after a literal one month wait, if the person has spent enough time grinding to reach Rank 5. The combination of both a participation-based check as well as a literal four-week timer before anyone can receive a reward for participating in PowerPlay (there is a cash reward, but it is less than the amount of money it costs to get it if you choose to haul macguffins), basically makes PowerPlay a nuisance that players must participate in to get access to a good, sometimes essential item. Making players wait an entire month of being pledged to a power, to prevent “window shopping” the faction rewards, is a colossally bad mechanic. And the truth is, most people play this game mode either as their primary activity, being part of the steering committees of the powers (herding cats on such as Reddit), or merely to get access to the power items. Factions with bad power items have always been the worst performers, so while there is something resembling a game here, it’s ultimately just a thin pastiche slapped over the same activities offered by the rest of the game: hauling some stuff, maybe shooting some things.
As for community goals, these are merely the same activities except with aggregate goals to be reached. They are always one of a handful of variations on the same activity, with a vague lore or plotline flavortext, seeking either to haul enough things to a place, collect enough bounties or combat bonds in a place, or occasionally, pirate enough of a thing. This last one of course never succeeds because the level of misery involved in actually doing piracy in Elite is so great even the most stalwart of EuroTruckers can’t tolerate it.
As an aside, the utter dependence on community goals as a vehicle for camouflaging grinds sends shivers down the spine when on realizes that even if Frontier ever gets around to revealing the aliens it has been teasing for years, we’re just going to end up doing CGs to fight them. “Collect combat bonds against aliens to defend a station! Haul some obscure item a long distance to a place nobody cares about to prevent it from being taken over by aliens!” Such exciting new gameplay surely justifies the months long out of game ARG that has teased it.
But now, it would appear Frontier has realized that, well, the new gameplay variations are just not that good. That’s why Frontier has introduced the Colonia Initiative, a mass migration of players from the populated bubble to Jacques Station, 22,000 lightyears away, near the galactic center! Colonia offers players the chance to fly freely away from the fear and uncertainty of the galactic powers and superfactions. In other words: you can now grind in Colonia’s whopping two stations under the banner of the player-named organizations that have staked their claim, rather than under the banner of the lore organizations. Will players be able to directly manage their organizations and directly square off against one another at Colonia? Well, no, probably not. First of all, Colonia remains a space station and a surface station, at neither of which one even has access to all of the ships and equipment Elite has to offer. Frontier has promised to expand the Colonia bubble, but only does so every few months, one month long community goal for hauling materials over 22,000 LY at a time.
Now, Frontier has made clear its plan to make 10 stations in the new Colonia bubble, naturally using a competitive hauling CG as their means. A recent GalNet news dispatch reads: “At the end of the month, the ten factions that have made the largest contribution will earn the right to settle in one of the specified systems. A new planetary outpost will be constructed in the system for the organisation’s sole use.”
Several organizations are working towards this now, and will undoubtedly earn the right to have a station in the middle of nowhere from which to do the same things. Frontier’s tendency away from any overt conflict in favor of passive CGs which sometimes pit factions against one another (such as the Dangerous Games) will ensure you can grind normally, without any fear of having to interact with other players in any way. If the last two years of Frontier’s gameplay has been exactly what you want, but with just a bit too much flavor added on top, you’ll love the new Colonia bubble, where you can get the exact same gameplay, but now with more player-generated flavor-text. We’re all so very excited.