Ground swell

Touch­ing down on air­less worlds in Elite Dan­ger­ous: Hori­zons


Pre­vi­ous up­dates have al­ready added city lights to the dark side of plan­ets and richer gas gi­ant tex­tures, but Fron­tier De­vel­op­ments is now gear­ing up to let you touch down on ex­trater­res­trial sur­faces. Elite Dan­ger­ous: Hori­zons is the name given to the sec­ond sea­son of ex­pan­sions to be wrought on this in­creas­ingly am­bi­tious space sim­u­la­tion. The first up­date will be launched as a beta at an as-yet-un­de­cided date, and al­low pilots to land on air­less worlds.

“We’re not do­ing Earth yet,” Fron­tier CEO David Braben clar­i­fies. “And some places that are air­less will also be re­stricted for rea­sons you’ll find out later. But in gen­eral you will be able to land on al­most all of them. I’ve tried to sep­a­rate it out from the start so that peo­ple know what to ex­pect and how we see ev­ery­thing. At the mo­ment, you can see all the city lights go on, you can see the habi­ta­tion, which I know is tan­ta­lis­ing, but de­liv­er­ing on that prom­ise is a big change. We’ve al­ways known that, and we will de­liver on it…”

Air­less doesn’t equate to bar­ren, how­ever. Plan­ets may play host to min­ing colonies, pi­rate com­pounds, re­search sta­tions and the planetside equiv­a­lent of star ports that you can ei­ther dock with in the usual man­ner or en­ter us­ing the new sur­face re­con ve­hi­cles (SRVs). As with ships, there will be a range of SRVs to buy, all with dif­fer­ing spe­cial­i­sa­tions and cargo bay space re­quire­ments. The first of these to be re­vealed is called the Scarab, a six-wheeled ve­hi­cle with a glass-domed cock­pit that’s able to fold down small enough to fit into even a Sidewinder’s hold (at the cost of pretty much any­thing else).

Fron­tier put a great deal of time into get­ting the feel of its ship han­dling just so, and it’s be­ing as fas­tid­i­ous with SRVs. “There are all sorts of things hap­pen­ing on re­ally low-grav­ity worlds,” Braben says. “The ve­hi­cle can feel re­ally floaty when it’s in low grav­ity, so we’ve put in thrusters. You can make it jump, you can leap chasms – it’s a skill-based thing. And they can push it down onto the ground to give you grip, like an F1 car’s wings.”

If you do come a crop­per, you’ll ap­pear back at your ship, down one SRV and with a slightly bruised ego. But Fron­tier plans to price SRVs in such a way that play­ers look at them as they might ad­vanced mu­ni­tions. A rea­son­able cost isn’t go­ing to en­tirely mit­i­gate the sting of los­ing your cus­tomised buggy, but it should help a lit­tle.

Still, putting your­self in dan­ger will be a com­mon oc­cur­rence as you take on mis­sions from set­tle­ments you en­counter, and there will be a new threat in the form of Skim­mers – re­mote­con­trolled de­fence drones. Some will be slow and eas­ier to avoid, while ot oth­ers will be quick and dif­fi­cult to tar­get. An Any of them, how­ever, can be brought do down if you lo­cate and take out the ba base sta­tion hous­ing the bots’ con­troller. “We“W want to im­prove the game­play ex ex­pe­ri­ence of how mis­sions work,” lead de de­signer San­dro Sam­marco tells us. “We want to pro­vide more op­tions, make the mis­sions more in­volv­ing, and ba­si­cally make it a richer ex­pe­ri­ence. Hope­fully, that will bleed straight back up into space game­play, so the [whole game will] ben­e­fit as well. They’ll be more than just, ‘Go here, kill this.’ The mis­sion sys­tem will con­tinue to grow.”

Hori­zons will also add new cruis­ing speeds to suit ap­proaches to plan­e­tary sur­faces, plus you can choose to land any­where you like (though some­where flat is ad­vised), us­ing a tar­get­ing map to set your ship down. Sur­faces, we’re told, will be gi­gan­tic, “Earth-sized” ar­eas.

“When you come down to cruise, you’re still go­ing re­ally, re­ally fast but you’re go­ing slower than you do in nor­mal su­per­cruise,” Sam­marco ex­plains. “So you can still cover vast dis­tances around the planet rea­son­ably quickly, but you can come down even fur­ther into what we call ‘plan­e­tary flight’, and you don’t have to have picked a spot, you can just fly. There’s a dif­fer­ent flight model that starts to kick in and if you start go­ing re­ally slow, you’re go­ing to start ex­pe­ri­enc­ing drift and pull from the grav­ity, so you’re go­ing to need to learn a new way of fly­ing. Cer­tain ships will be bet­ter at it than oth­ers.”

None of this is com­ing for free, though, and some ex­ist­ing play­ers have al­ready ex­pressed ill will over the £40 price tag of the ex­pan­sion, which also in­cludes the base game con­tent. Those fric­tions may only in­ten­sify at launch, since those mak­ing land­fall will be able to com­mu­ni­cate with pilots in or­bit, even if they haven’t bought the Hori­zons sea­son pass.

That aside, how­ever, this is just the first ex­pan­sion in a run of up­dates, and Hori­zons al­ready seems likely to change pilots’ re­la­tion­ships with so­lar sys­tems dras­ti­cally. It also looks to in­tro­duce a level of un­shielded vul­ner­a­bil­ity that should of­fer a real con­trast to the space truck­ing found in the vanilla game.

“De­liv­er­ing on that prom­ise is a big change. We’ve al­ways known that, and we will de­liver on it”

This is the cramped cock­pit mod­ule for the diminu­tive Scarab SRV

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