Death in a Harsh Light

Like all modern online computer games, Elite: Dangerous undergoes upgrades to fix bugs and to offer improvements to the player community. These upgrades can be major or minor, the latter fixing small bugs. The most recent upgrade was a major one bringing a new subgame called Close Quarters Combat to the players. It’s probably an honest view when I say that I think this CQC addition was really aimed at the new XBox community and at those players who want PvP play but don’t want to risk their hard earned ships/credits by playing the wider game in the Open arena. CQC is not for me… I play in the traditional Elite style except I embrace the dangers of being killed by other players in Open rather than choosing to play Solo. For those of you who are wondering what I’m waffling on about… You can check out the Elite: Dangerous Website.

The other things that this major upgrade brought were ‘Sarah’s Minions’! Now, let me dissuade you from an image of fluffy yellow beings in dungarees. Sarah is one of the Elite: Dangerous developers and was involved in improving the NPC ships in the Elite Galaxy and in particular – giving teeth to the Pirates and other neerdowells that prey on passing ships. If you are an innocent trader or, perhaps, a smuggler… There are Pirates out there who would love your cargo! Back in January, not long after the game’s initial release, you could lighten your ship by removing the shields and other defensive bits and pieces to increase your cargo carrying capacity or your jump range, if you were going off exploring, and find that you could survive and escape any attempts at piracy by NPC’s. There weren’t anywhere near as many human players in the game then either!

From release 1.3, the NPC’s started to get teeth and it became harder to defeat them when they attacked you. Even so, if you had a well protected ship you could beat them and move on. But the ability of the NPC pirates kept improving. Now, in 1.4, they have really become opponents you need to be wary of – travelling without shields is foolhardy in the extreme! Having said that – the jury is out. On the forum we had a post complaining about the AI NPC’s being too good! – Now that’s a first 😉 Of course there were also those who said that they were still useless. I got to thinking about the discrepancy between the two views and the middle road held by some of us that the NPC’s are now offering the right mix of challenge.

In any online computer game there will always be those with different levels of ability in the different skills required by the game. I’d view myself as generally average to perhaps slightly above average in combat games – age has taken the edge off my reaction time but broadened the subtlety of my response. In a game like Elite there are lots more variables – a steep learning curve for the beginner is one. The ability to balance risk v reward. The choice of what ship to fly amongst those you can afford and then, to compound that variable – what loadout of weapons, shields and ancilliary equipment to enhance it.

Taking those variables and assuming that the game’s designers want it to be playable for everyone, the range of NPC’s has to be potentially lethal as far up the chain as possible without the absolute beginner being killed instantly all the time. I told in a post a while ago about my two bad experiences early on with very well armed NPC’s. I checked up – I’ve claimed the insurance on my ship 12 times in 10 months. Given that I fly one of the smaller, less well armed ships, that’s not bad and I know that 10 of those losses were largely down to decision making errors by me! My guess is that those who don’t find the new NPC’s a challenge are the players who maxed out on the game early and now have the most powerful ships possible – for them, there is nothing more to do than wait for even more powerful ships to become available! One of my friends in the game takes a more pragmatic approach; he buys smaller ships and goes out looking for the challenge 🙂

So – how is combat with NPC’s now? I recently flew into an anarchy system where I was set upon by a wing of three ships, 1 Eagle and 2 Sidewinders, that were all firing at me and flying in a competent manner. They are very manueovreable but they are ships that my beam lasers can normally take out individually without much difficulty. But when you have three of them simultaneously attacking you, your shields come down very quickly! They wreaked havoc on the hull – I was glad I had Military spec bulkheads and an enhancement package. I eventually killed the Eagle and after that it got easier. Both sidewinders succumbed to my beams fairly quickly and I was left with not much of a bounty to claim and the hull down to 48%. The system I was in did not have stations with repair facilities, so I jumped to an adjacent system only to be immediately interdicted by a pair of Viper’s flying as a wing. The Viper is a pure combat vessel and these guys were lethal, immediately taking down my shields again. They flew well and I could not get the one I targetted in the firing area long enough to burn through his shields. This was only going to end badly unless I took the only course left open to me… Run. The Cobra is the fastest ship out there, though the Viper comes close. Top speed is around 300m/s for my ship but with boost that increases to 430m/s. By the time I distanced myself enough to re-enter supercruise for the station the hull was down to 1%. The expletive-deleted’s only interdicted me again, didn’t they! This time I ducked off at right angles, boosting away as often as the power capacitors would allow. Somehow they never quite got the killing hit and I made it to the station for very expensive repairs! Now that was adrenalin charged fun!

Whenever I read a complaint on the forum about, griefing, ganking, or any other form of ship loss I wonder about the age of the complainant – We seem to have bred a generation of gamer’s who expect to win everytime and throw their toys out of the pram whenever they suffer a setback. Sorry guys – if winning or progressing with ease is what you expect from a game then Elite is not for you – it’s a hard life making money out in the 34th century galaxy!

I do kill NPC’s pretty regularly (Bounties have made me more money than Trading or Exploration) – here are some images of dying ships, all victims of my Cobra…

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