Several years ago, I was watching someone I followed on Twitch, who was streaming a game I hadn’t seen before. I like space, so I was sort of curious. Then there was this little sequence that anyone who has played or seen the game will know. That moment when you jump into hyperspace is just extremely cool. I was on the store page for Elite and buying it within a minute, both because I apparently have very little financial self-control and because I was immediately obsessed.
I started playing, and rapidly stopped playing, because keyboard and mouse controls were not my friend. Once I’d saved up and bought a joystick and throttle, I spent what could best be described as a lot of time in the game. Most of it very slowly and inefficiently, but I got better, and only exploded sometimes.
There were things I hoped to see in the game one day, and the developers seemed to be making slow but steady progress on the game. They seemed to care about their community. They did this because they loved it blah etc.
I found the first person I ever subscribed to on Twitch through Elite (I’m still subbed to them), through whom I found a player community I was part of for several years, several of whom I’m still friends with.
I’ve not been playing it all the time. I went most of 2020 without ever opening it. It’s not a game that holds my attention all of the time. But that doesn’t matter. I never stopped following events in the game, I didn’t stop having conversations about it in Discord servers, and so on and so on.
Then came Odyssey. It had been hinted at for ages, speculation ran rampant, and I mostly ignored the hype and waited.
Eventually, they spit it out, that we’d be able to walk, and on atmospheric planets! The natural questions were what sort of planets, what about the inside of stations, when are fleet carriers actually releasing, and can we walk inside of our ships!?!?
We got our answers, and I was happy with most of them. As a sidenote, I was sort of interested in fleet carriers, but only if I was playing regularly, so whatever at this point.
The problem was that ship interiors were not going to be available at launch.
This is an issue. There is video footage from when Elite Dangerous was pre-release, in the Kickstarter phase, where David Braben said that every ship was designed with the interior in mind, and that eventually we’d be able to walk around inside them. (Also, different SRVs for driving on surfaces, which totally happened, oh wait no.) Space Legs has been, as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, has been the single most requested addition to the game bar nothing since ever. As launch got closer, there was conspicuously little shown about ship interiors at all. Which, you know, fair. They’re showing what’s there at launch, not what might be coming later. We’ll come back to this point.
I also need to talk about VR. Now, I’ve never played in VR, but it’s always been ‘the thing’ that I wanted to get VR for. Elite was designed with VR intent from the very beginning, the game has been a poster child for VR since before it’s release six and a half years ago. People were understandably interested to know how Frontier were going to handle the FPS side of the game in VR. So again, it was a disappointment when they said that at launch, it would just be a projected 2D screen, same as non-VR players, only with less visibility of your keyboard. We’ll revisit this too.
For better or worse, I payed the big price to pre-order Odyssey and get alpha access. I don’t personally regret it, because it was good to see what was coming first-hand, and because I hopefully saved a bunch of people from spending money.
To be clear, I do like a lot of what’s there. I like the station interiors, I like the settlement gameplay. I haven’t tried the exploration stuff, that went down badly apparently, and they basically removed the gameplay from it for launch. But what I played, I liked. The taxi service left something to be desired, but I’m also not likely to be ever really using it.
What I didn’t like was the engineering. A whole new material grind, with limited capacity for those materials, and modifications to FPS gear are permanent on that equipment. The grind is nothing new, it’s the only way Frontier have kept many people playing for a long time now.
But firstly, the limits on what you could carry was a bad idea when it was introduced with the original engineering, to the point that they changed it to a max per material, but no global limit. Re-introducing a system they’ve acknowledged was broken is stupid.
Secondly, the notion of not being able to change engineering once it’s applied. Seriously? Who ever thought that would be a good idea?
I was immediately pissed off with the engineering, and completely ignored the system when I was playing the alpha. From what I’ve heard, most people are not bothering to engineer past grade 3 out of 5. Possibly because you have to balance your inventory all the time and if you make a mistake, then screw you, back to square 1. At best, it’s failing to respect the player’s time. At worst, it’s malicious game design.
During the alpha, there were, as you would expect, numerous issues that were reported. A number got fixed, but the rest we were promised would be fixed by launch.
As a quick aside here, we were also told that for several reasons, people playing in the Odyssey version of the game would be completely unable to instance with people in the Horizons/base version of the game, even if in locations containing no Odyssey content. The two would also not be merged until the console release, expected at least 6 months later.
Then the Odyssey launch happened. Which brought with it the normal and expected server crash from everyone trying to get in. It also crashed the more or less completely separate servers that the base game was on, and still contained most of the bugs that we were told would be fixed, plus a nice new set of issues.
A lot of content creators were complaining about this, loudly. One of the biggest and the nicest was basically calling out the company. Frontier said they hadn’t predicted this. Which was kinda interesting, because the entire community had. Loudly.
Eventually, Frontier started pushing out patches, and started actually having conversation with the community. At the time of writing, there have been, I believe, 4 patches, with a 5th on the way. They’ve said, however, that after patch 5, they don’t intend to push out any more updates until the console release at some point in the indefinitely delayable future. How re-assuring.
We do, however, have those two things I said we’d come back to later. Ship interiors and VR. You’ll recall that for both of these, we were told that they wouldn’t be in the game at launch. There’s a certain implication here that Frontier would be getting to them as soon as practical. Once the community had finally shamed Frontier enough that they actually started talking, the truth came out.
There were no intentions to continue any level of development of VR for the game beyond the more or less nothing they had done to make a minimum viable product for release. I should point out that you can’t even buy Odyssey on the Oculus store, because it’s not actually a VR game. Half-Life Alyx & Beat Saber will just have to carry the torch, because Frontier have thrown theirs into the sea. Aside from anything else, I’m no longer interested in buying VR. So I guess I should thank Frontier for saving me a bunch of money?
They also confirmed that there are no plans to add ship interiors at the moment, it doesn’t exist on their roadmap. I’m not sure at what point they removed it from the roadmap, given it was there before the game, but if they had everything they had right now plus ship interiors, I think people would be fine with it. Because they can walk around the inside of the ship they’ve been living in for literally years.
At this point, I think it’s very important that I make a few bits clear here.
I don’t hold the developers responsible for this, and I don’t hold the community team responsible for this. I’m quite sure that they want the game to be the best it can possibly be. I also think that studio management want it to be the best it can. Unfortunately, I think that what management want more is to meet investor demands and timetables, and nobody missed the fact that the end of Frontier’s financial year was a month after Odyssey released. Incidentally, their share price dropped quite a bit at the release.
Frontier management released as live a game that at best should still be in beta. Full release should have been delayed by a minimum of half a year, until they could release properly to all platforms at once, in their living, shared galaxy. They completely ignored the VR players, and have massively failed to respect the time of their players. At best they misled, at worse outright lied, about what was going to be in the expansion on release, and pandered to shareholders instead of completing their work to the high quality they are capable of.
Despite the development time on Odyssey being about as much as the original game got before launch, they couldn’t even give us one new ship. I realise that Odyssey was about the on-foot stuff, but anyone who has played the game for any length of time knows that the ships are the heart. To not get even a single new ship in the update is just disappointing, but I’d have accepted it for ship interiors. The number of people who wanted to be able to walk around in their ship merited the time and effort to put gameplay into that, especially with how long they had to work on the update.
Odyssey had a great deal of potential, even if some things would have come after release. It still has a great deal of potential, but Frontier effectively deceived the playerbase as to what the release would contain, put up a colossal wall of silence both before and after the release, and released a broken game.
They’re working on this. Literally while I was typing the last paragraph, they released a developer update for what they’re working on. They at least seem to be trying. Unfortunately, their trying comes after months and months of growing apathy, followed by a major breach of consumer trust, at least from my personal perspective.
I will probably download and play Elite again at some point, I still love the game. But not right now, at least not until they put the galaxy back together so I can play with my friends. In the meantime, I have no patience or respect left for Frontier.