N ow Playing: elite dangerous
Publisher Frontier Developments / Developer In-house / format Xbox One / release date October 2015
Earlier this year, something strange started happening in the spaceways of Elite Dangerous. Players were being pulled out of hyperspace, seemingly at random, and attacked by bizarre, semiorganic starships. These odd craft, a mysterious new addition to Frontier’s simulated galaxy, were agile, powerful and able to effortlessly destroy the ship of any pilot unlucky enough to attract their attention. And I wanted to meet them.
The problem is, there’s no surefire way to encounter these beings. Named Thargoids after a warlike insectoid race from Elite lore, but still technically unidentified, some players will never meet them at all. But there are a few ways to increase your chances of having a close encounter, discovered by the game’s dedicated community, one of which involves flying to a distant star system.
I travel to the fringes of the galaxy, to the Pleiades sector, and dock at a base in the Maia system. A colony has been established here, one of the furthest in the galaxy. And it’s probably no coincidence that alien activity around Pleiades has risen sharply since its construction. Some pilots think this is alien territory, and their sudden aggression is a reaction to us creeping into their neighbourhood, although considering the fact that they’ve never communicated with anyone and prefer to shoot first, we may never know. All we can be certain of is that they hate us.
But they aren’t invincible either. Despite their intimidating appearance, veteran players in battleships have destroyed them. Me? I’ll be happy just to see one. My tiny cargo ship wouldn’t last a second in a dogfight.
As I fly around the sector, I pick up scattered signals from what my ship’s computer describes as a ‘non-human’ source. I choose one at random and investigate, but when I drop out of supercruise I don’t find any Thargoids. I do, however, see the flaming wrecks of some Imperial ships and a green substance splattered on their hulls. Seems these guys had a close encounter of their own.
I try another signal, and find even greater devastation: the wreckage of a whole Imperial fleet. Burning fires and a peculiar green haze hanging in the air suggest the Thargoids may have ambushed them – and recently. But there are no alien wrecks, making me wonder if this was a one-sided fight. These beings mean business, and suddenly the idea of meeting one doesn’t sound terribly appealing.
But it’s too late. I investigate another handful of dead-end signal sources before finding myself face-to-face with a Thargoid ship. I feel a shiver of unease when I see the flower-shaped craft looming ahead, poking around in the wreckage of more destroyed Imperial ships. That only increases as it slowly turns to face me, lighting up and emitting a sickly green light from its, er, petals?
A spotlight shoots out of the centre of the ship. I keep my distance, but it appears to be scanning me. I’d read about the Thargoids being aggressive, but this one seems more curious than violent. It moves towards me with a ripple of energy in its wake. I hit reverse and slowly drift backwards, and the ship seems to lose interest, returning to the wrecked ships, scanning them one by one.
Then it jumps away, leaving a cloud of swirling gas and electricity behind it. Why have these beings taken such an interest in human starships? And why didn’t it attack me? Giddy with the thrill of having encountered alien life for the first time in Elite, I hunt for more nonhuman signals in the hope of getting a longer and maybe closer look at one of those eerie biomechanical ships.
“Veteran players in battleships have destroyed them. Me? I’d be happy just to see one”
About half an hour later, I get lucky. I drop out of supercruise and see another Thargoid ship in the distance, scanning wrecks. This time, I notice that the green light coming from its centre seems to be a tractor beam as well as a scanner. It yanks a cargo canister from one of the Imperial wrecks and sucks it into its hold, and a plan forms in my head. What if I gave the Thargoids a present?
I look in my hold and find a canister of domestic appliances. I’m not sure how interested the aliens are in microwaves and toasters, but it’s all I have. I drift close to the ship and eject the cargo, and I’m amazed to see the green beam shift over to it. It scans it for a few seconds, but doesn’t seem interested in what I have to offer, and returns to the derelict ships. It’s a diplomatic embarrassment.
So I decide to do what humans do best when diplomacy fails: attack. I engage my hardpoints and fire a volley of missiles at the Thargoid ship, knowing full well that I won’t survive the beating that’s to come. The alien ship swivels around rapidly to face me and glows with a fiery red light, making a menacing mechanical shrieking sound as it releases a swarm of tiny insect-like drones. The drones swirl around the ship in a perfect circle formation, then suddenly come rushing towards me. Within seconds my shields are down, exposing the hull. Then my canopy shatters, leaving me exposed to the cold vacuum of space. The drones continue to pummel my ship and my cockpit spits sparks and smoke. Then I explode in a ball of fire without so much as scratching the alien craft. Well, I don’t know what I was expecting. Even commanders with kitted-out Anaconda battleships struggle to take down a Thargoid, and I’m in a low-level industry starship with base-level arms. But meeting an alien was ultimately worth having to cough up the insurance money to get a new ship. They’re every bit as awe-inspiring and coldly terrifying as I thought they would be.
I love how Elite Dangerous developer Frontier has remained largely tight-lipped about who exactly these aliens are and what they want. It adds a layer of intrigue and mystery to the game it would otherwise lack, and makes a chance meeting with one of these creepy ships even more special. I’m sure we’ll see more Thargoids in the Milky Way in the next few months, and I’ll be staying well away.
above A tense stand-off with a Thargoid ship. But they won’t attack unless provoked, so tread carefully around them.
below Hey, that’s a planet with a heck of a lot of water!