Elite: Dangerous – Engineers Beta, First Impressions

Well, participating in beta testing can always be a bit of a rocky road, and so it started with the new beta of the next update to Elite: Dangerous. The update, called Engineers, had some issues being delivered to those members of the community that should have had access to it, myself included. People reported options missing from the game’s launcher, “Play” buttons that did nothing and options appearing, only to vanish again later. Thankfully Frontier support are an amazing bunch, and these issues were resolved quite quickly: I only really mention it, as usually the problems begin after you’ve installed the game, not before!

Engineers is the largest update to the game for some time and introduces a lot of small additions as well as whole new segments of gameplay. Small things include UI new weapon types and the ability to bookmark favourite or useful systems in the galaxy map, while larger things include a whole new outfitting UI and, of course, the Engineers themselves!

The Engineers you know of and have access to are visible from the right-hand panel in your ship, and messages offering introduction will be sent your inbox:

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Each Engineer has a set of requirements that must be met before you can commission them to do work. These vary depending on the Engineer: some require donations of cash or trade goods, others that you deal extensively with the criminal underworld. Like their requirements, the modifications that Engineers can perform also vary: some can boost the capabilities of your weapons, shield or FSD while others have yet other specialised roles… Their locations are shown on the galaxy map with a new icon that highlights where their workshops are:

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After docking at an Engineer’s base, you’ll have an extra option on the station menu. Here you can commission the engineer to work for you, or complete work for them in order to get them to unlock their services.Screenshot_0081

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Once you have completed any pre-requisite tasks the Engineer demands of you, you will have access to the modifications they can make. You’ll need to bring your own materials, and sometimes the Engineer’s work will have unintended side-effects, for good and sometimes for ill… Tinker with your gear at your own risk, Commanders!

Also getting an overhaul is the mission system. Instead of a list of available missions, contacts are now listed on the left, and the missions they offer appear in the centre pane:

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The amount of missions available will change depending on your relationship with the faction offering them, along with that faction’s standing within the system. The contacts will also react differently to you depending on your Pilot’s Federation ranking and your standing with the faction as a whole. When you’re a newbie you’ll be dealing with lower level intermediaries; as your ranking increases, you’ll be dealing with higher level representatives of the faction.

Also, gone are the requirements to be a certain rank to take on a mission: all that matters now is your reputation. You can take on an Elite-rated mission if you like, but you might find yourself floating home. That said, if you manage to complete a mission higher than your rank, the rewards are much nicer! The UI for choosing your missions also helps show you the impact that completing it will have, both in terms of your reputation increase, and the influence of the sponsoring faction. There is also a handy link to any running community goals, making it easier than ever to get involved in the galaxy’s affairs.

The galaxy map now offers you the very nice functionality to bookmark useful stations and systems (third icon in on the screenshot below). You can then select these locations from a new Bookmarks option and select them as destinations or plot routes using the standard route planner:

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Getting a further overhaul is the Outfitting screen. The UI is now a lot more modular, and new options to sort available purchases are available, meaning that outfitting your ship is even easier:

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When selecting a purchase to install aboard your ship, a new summary screen will display the results of installing the module, giving you an instant appreciation of whether you’re making a good selection or not:

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To go with the new Outfitting screen, new weapons are also available, notably (and to much rejoicing!) huge beam lasers for ships with Class 4 weapon hard-points. Moar dakka is always a welcome thing, and those new beam lasers do look like they mean the most serious of business!

Before:

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After:

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Moar dakka!Screenshot_0057

Signal sources and contacts have also seen changes. Your information panel will tell you when you encounter a new signal source, as opposed to you having to keep an eye on the destination panel to see whether there’s anything to investigate. New signal sources are also making an appearance: travel near Lave and you’ll probably be subjected to some Lave Radio… When you’re contacted by an NPC about a mission you might be undertaking, instead of some text on your communication panel, you’ll get to see what the NPC looks like, in a manner similar to the new missions screen.

New crafting materials and loot sources have been introduced: you no longer have to trawl planet’s surfaces to find materials to use, they can now be obtained from resource extraction sites and mining locations, along with the more traditional metals and minerals. New trade goods have also been added to the commodity market, some may be purchasable in the right locations, others will have to be mined or crafted:

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To help manage all these new goods, the Inventory panel on the right-hand cockpit screen has also been updated to separate cargo, data, crafting and synthesis materials into their own sub-sections:

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The audio has been given a new dimension too. When you approach a star port you’ll now be contacted by the station’s orbital traffic control (OTC), given your own callsign and various instructions depending on how you’re flying. If your hardpoints are deployed, you’ll be warned about violating the no-fire zone; exceed the speed limits and you’ll be warned about dangerous flying. If there are a lot of ships in the vicinity of the station, you’ll be told about high volumes of traffic and that you should fly with care. When requesting docking clearance OTC will confirm with you whether your request is approved or not, and if so, what platform to alight on. If you have a docking computer, and use it, OTC will confirm that automatic docking is in progress… All these are nice little touches which help to add a whole new level of immersion to the game, and I love it.

So far, I’ve played Beta for a few hours. The only issue I can say I’ve experienced (other than the deployment issues I mentioned at the start of the article) is that when navigating starport menus I now have to use the mouse. I play using either an Xbox controller or an X52 Pro, depending on which of my computers I’m using. When in the main game, I navigate the menus using either one of those, and have no issues. On the beta, the game seems to track the mouse – which I don’t use – and I sometimes find that I get stuck in one area of the menu and have to use the mouse to select options or back out of screens. This is only a minor issue, but it does break my immersion in the game because I have to put one controller down and pick up another. Additionally, and I know there are ways around this, the beta install wiped my custom control settings. I’m sorry to sound like a whiney little bitch, but if other games can patch their content and preserve custom control mappings, I see no reason why Elite can’t do this either.

That said, these are my only gripes and issues so far, and they’re both minor and inconsequential: this is another fine addition to the game, and more sterling and wonderful work from Frontier.

You should be proud, Commanders: you have brought the galaxy into our homes and let us stride the stars as giants, and for this my thanks seems somehow insufficient. Awesome work.

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