Elite Dangerous: Odyssey review (PC)

As we keep waiting for any signs of Star Citizen appearing on the horizon, Frontier has already taken Elite Dangerous planetside with their Odyssey expansion – adding a whole new dimension to the acclaimed open world space epic. Doing a fresh install meant a 70GB download, but was it worth it? Read on to find out.

It’s hard to imagine that the moment we spoke to David Braben about the upcoming release of Elite Dangerous was all the way back in 2014. Since them we’ve seen plenty of successful Frontier titles come up, expand and wrap up, but Elite’s still going strong, and Odyssey is perhaps the biggest game-changer for the title so far – with tons of potential to change the dynamics of the game.

The early reception for Odyssey hasn’t been favorable on Steam though, with many players pointing out technical issues with the game. In more than a few cases, the complaints are warranted, as we too ran into many of the flaws that are being brought up. We’re going to try and look through them at the framework that Frontier is creating here though, partly because we dig what Odyssey is trying to do and because Frontier have shown a track record of commitment to (the stability of) their titles in the long run, so there’s plenty of hope for improvement.

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Staying with the current issues for a moment, what was most surprising is that the performance of Odyssey is that is suffered in the “Horizons” parts in outer space as well, not just in the planetside portions of the game. On the plus side that feels like it’s a structural problem that can be addressed at the game’s core and not just related with what’s being done on the planet surface, but at the same time it feels odd that this wasn’t addressed during and after the recent alpha tests, prior to the launch.

The game’s performance struggles a bit more once you hit the planet surface, or even descend towards it, so hopefully we’ll see some serious improvements there as well. At the moment the game struggles when landing on a barren wasteland (which is most planets – Elite is grounded in a degree of realism, after all), does worse when exploring a settlement on foot and really suffers during Frontline missions, which are Odyssey’s first person shooter-type missions where you and other players battle alongside NPC for control over strategic points on a map. With so many (team-based) first person shooters out there to compare it to, Odyssey’s Frontline missions are a great idea inside a space epic like this, but they falter in the execution.

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Looking past the performance issues (which is hard right now), Odyssey introduces plenty of new content that should enrich the game in the months to come. Frontline missions are just one example, but so are the new spaceports. Cruising through space and landing at one of them before exploring them on foot is a wonderfully immersive experience, though if you’re playing in VR (for the ultimate in immersion) then the planetside stuff switches you over to a flat screen display.

Going on foot and engaging in first person shooter missions means that Odyssey also makes space suits and weapons important, and there are close to a dozen new mission types to accept and tackle. More variety is needed in the execution (in terms of weapons, map layouts and mission structure) and things get repetitive now, but the fundamentals for something epic are here.

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In terms of gameplay design, Odyssey naturally makes Elite Dangerous a more complex title to play, and that’s been reflected in a new UI that’s going to take some getting used to unless Frontier manages to streamline it in future updates. Maybe it’s just that the “old” controls were so ingrained in me, but it currently feels more convoluted than I remember it.

In its current state, Elite Dangerous: Odyssey feels more like a preview of greatness that is to come rather than the next frontier for the franchise – there are just too many stumbling blocks towards enjoying it. Frontier has already started pushing out patches and hotfixes though, so things will no doubt get smoother as the weeks and months go by. It doesn’t feel right to score Odyssey purely on its potential and Frontier’s reputation of improving their games over time, nor does it feel right to score this as a finished product when it clearly isn’t. We’ll leave the jury out on this one and will refrain from scoring it, but hope to come back to Odyssey in the near future.

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