Elite: Dangerous' Aliens Will Be A Nightmare To Fight

Since 2015, Elite Dangerous players have felt some kind of alien presence hovering on the periphery of their space trucking adventures. Recently, things came to a head, with players making direct contact with Thargoid ships on multiple occasions. Where is this all going? I spoke with senior designer Sandy Sammarco during E3 to find out.

Image credit: Frontier.

After years of mystery-mongering, Elite's alien-centric update "The Return" is coming later this year. Sammarco described the update as "full-on human versus Thargoid action", but he added that there'll be more to it than just lasers that are green instead of red.

"Our Thargoids are utterly alien," Sammarco explained. "[Frontier CEO] David Braben is fond of saying that he doesn't want aliens who are basically people. He doesn't just want to give them weird noses and big ears."

A large part of the update — as well as updates to come — will be understanding What The Heck Is Going On. Sammarco described the Thargoids as "more than just a bogeyman", saying that they're an extension of one of Frontier's core goals: To root their fantastical universe in sound science.

"We've got a giant design bible in the office, and it describes in great detail their social structures, how they communicate, the environments they evolved in, and the technology they use," he said. Elite's years-long buildup to alien contact was part of that, he said, noting that if humans really did encounter aliens, it probably wouldn't play out like Independence Day. "It would be this back-and-forth," he said. "Maybe we'll see things and not even comprehend what they are, and certainly not what they mean."

In other words, Elite's lack of aliens thus far means they disappeared for a good reason, and now they're back for a good reason, too. They don't indiscriminately hate people. People just screwed up, and they screwed up bad. "Something has made them very angry with us," said Sammarco. Players will be able to try and learn more about the Thargoids' motivations, but it won't be easy: "Just because you don't want to shoot a Thargoid ship doesn't mean it won't want to shoot you."

Image credit: Frontier.

And even if you do want to shoot one, it might not go well for you at first. Thargoids are using technology light years ahead of humans', snatching players out of hyperspace like dim-witted flies.

Players' current weapons won't be much use, Sammarco explained. "Human technology is designed to take out humans," he said. "Thargoids are completely alien, and we're gonna find that the weapons we've got aren't great against them, and our defences aren't as strong as we'd like them to be. So clearly, there's gonna be a lot of investigation involved — maybe even an arms race."

After all the hints and escalation, Elite's aliens have a lot of expectations to live up to. Frontier is aware that this curveball could easily turn into an unsatisfying foul. Sammarco hopes to create payoff that justifies all the build-up.

"You only get to introduce an alien race once, right?" he said.


    The more I read about this game the more I want to play. But I feel like this would be a very time consuming game.

      Isnt that the aim of games though?

      One of my favourite all time games was Everquest. I was in a (US based) raiding guild, which meant committing to several hours at a time for a raid. Those raids include some of my best gaming memories, alongside other EQ moments where we merely did a corpse run into a lowbie dungeon, or just explored the game.

      End result of that game was spending 7 years playing, very little of which I regret. My main had hundreds of DAYS played, meaning thousands of hours. Well worth it to me, it gave many memories that will be with me for life.

      A good game will do that sort of time investment, and MMO's can do it better than most. Don't let the potential time investment put you off, that just means they've done something right. Look at the cost (regularly around the $40 mark on Steam), and the time you play for that. If you even just put in 20 hours, that's a pretty good return on the investment.

      If you find you put hundreds of hours into it, that return is just multiplied far beyond what you'd normally get out of most offline games. Note: most, not all. But even a good game cant match what an online experience can offer.

      A good game talks about 100 hours of play as some sort of benchmark - think Witcher 3, or BotW. A good online game is usually only starting to come together at that point.

      If what you see interests you, just consider that its $40 for a game you will be able to pop into and out of for years, knowing it should be evolving all the time, so there will always be something new.

        Can't agree more with this. It's why I love World of Warcraft and Ultima Online. I don't play them anymore. But i sunk hundred of hours/days into them. Do i regret it? Not one moment. I think back to those moments with fond memories like a long vacation I had. In many moments i would remember my friends as the toons they played rather than the physical appearances they had in real life. Some people would look with disdain upon this. But i don't care. It created deep resonating memories with me and i wouldn't give them up ever. I enjoyed myself immensely, there were hilarious moments, and sad moments, and all round moments where I could almost believe i was in the world itself. Good times.

          Yeah, its one of those things that just makes gaming so great. Back in its prime, I had two sides to EQ. Weeknights, I'd be off doing group things in our evening and night periods, and getting to see some high end content doing that.

          Which was because of the secondary side of it - the weekend raids. Which were generally our afternoons, leaving plenty of time to do night time socialising. Because of the level of raiding we were doing, the weekday group stuff was pretty high up as well, so I was in a fortunate position. Also helped I knew my class pretty well :) Sadly it turned into a grind for me that just wasn't fun any more.

          I also did WoW where it was similar, with our guild doing some pretty decent raiding (cracking into vanilla Naxx right as BC hit), and while it was far more solo friendly than EQ ever was, it still led to some pretty good memories.

          Its sad that most MMO's cant match those sort of lofty standards, but in whats such a cluttered market its understandable to go the easy route and do whats known to work.

          Elite Dangerous seems to be on the right path to matching what really was epic fun in the mid 00's.

            I think it was also mainly due to the fact that we had to use our imaginations half the time to make the scene/game we were looking at much bigger than it really is. Nowadays you can simply just rely on visuals and sound to do the immersion. Which is why we can let go much easier, where as in the past you needed something more than just sight and sound to keep you in those games. Now with the pick up and play attitude, online friendships remain merely as that, online. People come and go like water Online friendships with Guild mates were much harder to make back in those days as well and always felt a lot stronger. But then again my perception might be totally biased.

      The learning curve at the start is moderate, but there are good youtube videos to check, as well as in-game training (Seriously - Learn to Land before playing for real). Otherwise, yeah - You can drop some serious hours in to it - I'm at around 400 hours. Rookie numbers, but you can also play in short bursts - Take a 30 - 60 minute session and do a bounty hunting or mining run after finding a system to call "home" for a while

      It's not too bad. You really do need to park your ship at a station at the end of a session, but that should only take a couple of minutes

      Last edited 21/06/17 10:57 am

    I'm really excited for this. The last space sim I played was probably X-3: Beyond the Frontier. And since now I'm primarily a console gamer, space sims haven't existed on the platform in any real sense.

    But now this is coming to PS4, and it also supports the Thrustmaster 4 Hotas. So I bought one of those things (only $100.00), got this adjustable laptop table for $40.00 coming in the mail so I can use it on the couch comfortably, and I'm ready to learn Elite and learn how to use a Hotas. I know it's a steep learning curve, but it ought to be fun.

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