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