If you’ve been following the development of Elite: Dangerous, you’re probably aware that the Beta version of the PowerPlay update has been released. It added a number of new functions and items, including several new drones, ships and a slew of new faction items. Additionally they have overhauled the mission and reward systems to make the game much less of a space truck simulator.
But the real meat of the new game model is that of the NPC factions. The theory is that in taking a page from EVE alliance conflicts, Frontier Development has added a taste of the Nullsec power struggle to E:D. While Frontier hasn’t delved into the player-based empires of Eve, players will play a key part as line members in the struggles between characters in a story delivered through the in-game news. It is too early to tell if this is working out, but it does add a much needed outlet for players to feel like they have a personal impact and stake in the universe.
HOW POWERPLAY WORKS
There are three steps that players can take to help their faction perform against their opposition, each of which relies on a different actions between systems. Non-combat faction [layers pick up tokens (preparation, expansion, and control) and move them to the system where the player wants the effects to take place. However, only 10 tokens can be purchased every 30 min and they take up cargo hold space. Players may choose to pay extra in order to bypass that limit.
Preparation is how a players make a system ready for their faction to take control of in the expansion phase. The galaxy map has a visual cue for the top ten most prepared worlds, helping players to see where their efforts will do the most good. Valuable systems are also highlighted. Once a player has high enough standing with a faction, they will get to help decide and direct efforts by voting on that top ten list for the next cycle.
Prepared systems trigger expansion at the end of every weekly cycle. They first have to break a prepared threshold value, and the faction has to have enough command capital (CC – the abstract currency representing a faction’s power) to pay the expansion value of the new system. In the expansion phase, players take expansion tokens to the systems while other factions can do opposition tasks for their faction in the system to keep rivals from spreading. If the expansion points invested in a system pass a threshold, the new faction takes control of the system.
Lastly, the faction must fortify the systems they control. While this is not a direct defense against invasion as the name implies, it does have an interesting set of effects on player space. It can trigger reduced upkeep costs for that system, giving the faction more CC to utilize elsewhere. It also acts as a counter to any attempts by rival factions to undermine control in a system. Rival players can undertake actions to disrupt the control in a system and cause the system upkeep to spike, leaving their opponents less able to expand.
FACTIONS AND ETHOS
Not only does each faction have its own back story and flavor, it also has different methods by which it performs each of those actions. Some factions use direct violence to expand and will have missions that are reflective of that as a means of building up those three levels, while other factions might courier tokens to accomplish those goals.
At present there are ten factions in the game. Two belong to the Federation, one to the Alliance, one independant, one pirate, and five represent key figures in the Empire. Frontier’s plan is for there to be as many as 20 total active factions at any one time. As an added twist, any faction that doesn’t get sufficient support after a few cycles in a row will be closed.
PowerPlay is shaping up to be a mixed bag of good and bad parts. At present, all of the factions appear largely the same. Despite different methods and strengths it still is a game of moving tokens from point A to point B for now. However, if the NPC faction systems are slowly phased out for more player-centric ones, it kind of makes sense not to dedicate too much in the way of complex story arc missions for those temporary factions. It might also explain why the faction profiles are being down played as individuals. Only a few leader portraits have been revealed by Frontier at this point, such as that of Aisling Duval, who has become a popular choice for players. She is noted for her anti-slavery stance, and for being the daughter of the “officially mad” former heir to the Empire.
Another point towards these NPC factions being a starting point and not an end is in the lopsided story focus. Fully half of the starting factions are affiliated with the Empire. This is a potential liablity as it will spread players out further than the more focused factions.
So far, none of these changes are looking like a silver bullet fix for the shallow game play options for E:D. They are a step in the right direction and this does provide a much better foundation for Elite to build on to give players a galaxy that they can truly call their own. However, it is still early days for E:D, so things could go anywhere from here. Let’s not forget that it even EVE took years before it had any real player control of systems.
The real question is does Elite: Dangerous have the staying power to survive the long wait getting there?