Monday, August 04, 2014

Byte: Getting started in Elite: Dangerous - an idiot's guide

So! You've just googled "an idiot's guide for Elite: Dangerous", or keywords to that effect. Maybe. I should forewarn you that I'm not usually the type of blogger who does idiot's guides ("By idiots, for idiots!"), but Elite is quite possibly a game that actually needs one, and having played every incarnation of Elite (barring the Dangerous Alpha), I think I'm in a pretty decent position to give advice. So here are a few top tips, before the diary goes on a little hiatus, due to the impending invasion by my girlfriend's parents, who are visiting from France for a week.

Tip 1) Jump into your stock Sidewinder and head over to LP 98-132, the anarchist system just past Eranin. You can do this for two possible reasons. If you want to trade up out of your Sidewinder into a ship with more cargo capacity, so that you can make the 8,500,000 or so credits it will cost to upgrade into even a reasonably kitted out Anaconda, you're going to need a quick injection of money, as trading your way out of a Sidewinder, with just 4 tonnes of cargo capacity, is going to take a long time. Once you've checked in at Freeport to set your respawn point (as you will definitely meet several untimely deaths at the beginning of the game), you want to fly around the system looking for Unidentified Signal Sources when you're cruising between the planets in frameshift drive, or supercruise mode. A lot of these will be hiding dastardly pirates searching for an easy score, but occasionally you'll get lucky and find gold canisters. Pick these up with your cargo scoop and head back to Freeport to sell them on the black market, as they'll net you around 4600 credits apiece. Find and sell half a dozen of those and you're well on the way to buying a Hauler. If, however, you don't think trading is going to be your thing, the second reason you want to get yourself over to LP 98-132 is because the Anahit Ring resource gathering site is an ideal place to cut your teeth learning how to fly your ship in combat. It is also stunningly beautiful and a great place to pick fights with Anacondas. Don't worry about crashing and burning, just keep taking the free Sidewinder (which now has two pulse lasers instead of the one it had in premium beta) and try racking up a few kills to get used to the flight model. It won't earn you any money (unless you steal cargo canisters from destroyed ships to flog on the black market at Freeport), but it will give you invaluable experience that will save you a lot of money later in ship insurance costs.

Tip 2) Remember that you can run away. This is a tactic that you will see the AI pilots use quite often, so don't forget that you can do it too. If you're hauling a cargo worth the entire sum of money you've made in the game to date and you get interdicted when you're flying something like a Hauler or Type 6 Transporter, don't hang around to see if the contact is hostile or not. Redirect all power to your engines and just run for it, maximum boost all the way. If it's a system security vessel, then you will get a message telling you to submit to inspection (not something you want to do if you're hauling something illegal!), but if you get no message at all, or a gloating cackle from a pirate, run for the hills. You can always come back for them later when you've earned enough money to get a combat-worthy ship. Running for it also is your only viable option if you accidentally assault a Federation or Security vessel at the Dahan resource gathering site, because they'll overwhelm you in seconds, even if you never meant to hit them.

Tip 3) At some point you will have to trade, which means finding a nice, safe, profitable cargo run, because bounty hunting your way up into an Anaconda will take a really, REALLY long time. Here's where the revised galaxy map comes in handy. Use the trade filters to find out what kind of commodities are being traded between systems and then do a little research to find out which ones are the most profitable. There are probably more profitable trade runs out there, but the safest two system shuttle run I've found is between I Bootis and Aulin, running fish to Aulin and then Terrain Enrichment Systems back to I Bootis. Currently (as the economy does appear to fluctuate - the price of fish has gone down in Aulin over the last week), a full load of fish from I Bootis to Aulin in a Lakon Type 6 Transporter will net you 25,400 credits profit, but the return run with Terrain Enrichment Systems is even better, at 69,800 per load of 100 tonnes. That's a lot of profit, considering you can do that whole round trip in 10-15 minutes. If you break that down, however, say five complete round trips per hour at 95,200 credits profit per run, that's still going to take seven hours for you to be able to get enough cash to upgrade into a Lakon Type 9 Heavy. So you might not want to do that all in one go. But an hour's trading will give you some serious capital to blow on a fully tooled out combat vessel, like a Viper or Cobra Mark III.

Tip 4) Once you've scraped up enough money to put together a decent combat vessel, you only really have two options to go for until you've made the mega-bucks required for an Anaconda. Both the Viper and Cobra Mark III have two Class Four weapon hardpoints and two Class Two weapon hardpoints. Both ships also have two utility mounts, but they're not really worth bothering with so much right now - I'll explain why later. Both craft have their pros and cons. The Viper is currently the fastest ship in the game, if you get in trouble, just employ The Super Coward's Revenge and get out of there. It has the same combat power as the Cobra, but seems slightly more maneouvrable and if you find the right combination of weapons, it will tear through Sidewinders and Eagles like a bullet through tissue paper. That speed can get you into trouble, though, as I found out yesterday when I boost-crashed my Viper into the rear of an Anaconda by accident and died. Which was careless. But if you want to go pure Bounty Hunter or Assassin, then the Viper is probably the ship to have, at least until they introduce the Fer-de-lance. That will be worth looking at, as it was my favourite ship from the original game. The only downsides of the Viper are small cargo capacity (8 tonnes) and a reduced hyperspace range, compared to the Cobra. The Cobra is the more versatile ship, as it has a slightly longer hyperspace range, can outpace any ship other than a Viper and it has 36 tonnes of cargo capacity, so you can still make trading money on the side as you're stirring up trouble on bounty hunter or assassination missions. So my recommendation would be the Cobra Mark III. It's just awesome.

Tip 5) Loadout is everything: If, like me, you're not the best shot in the world, gimballed weapons are your friends. They're more expensive and slightly less powerful than their fixed counterparts, but their tracking ability is so worth it if you have trouble keeping the business end of your ship pointed at the enemy. In the Sidewinder gimballed burst lasers are the way to go, because they don't run out of ammo and you can even take a Cobra Mark III pretty easily when your piloting is up to spec. In an Eagle, you probably want a mix of gimballed multicannons and burst lasers, because once the shields on an enemy ship are down, multicannons are spectacular at dealing damage. In a Viper or a Cobra, two Class Three gimballed multicannons allied to two Class One gimballed burst lasers are an epic combination. You will never fear being interdicted ever again. I've only tried out the railguns in the single player scenarios and I'm not convinced by them yet. I may have to try them a bit more to see if they're really worth bothering with. Missiles are effective, but amazingly expensive (10,000 credits for a full reload), so you're probably better off using multicannons. Obviously, I haven't gotten to play with turrets or the plasma accelerator yet (as I've not got enough money for a Type 9 or Anaconda yet), but I will report in when I do. As for the support and utility tech, at the moment it's a mixed bag. The Kill Warrant Scanner is too slow and short-ranged to really be worth the extra mass (which reduces hyperspace range) or the money (18,000 credits!), the cargo scanner I've not played with because I'm not interesting in pirating civilian ships, the Point Defence Systems appear to be bugged (they mess up your weapon grouping) and the chaff launcher is also a bit erratic (it seems to autofire every time you deploy hardpoints and I've not found anywhere that restocks your chaff supply). The Heat Sink launcher might prove useful, if you can remember that its there in the middle of a battle, but at the moment, it's just extra mass that reduces your hyperspace range, so don't bother with it. You can change the bulkheads in your ships, too, to boost your damage resistance (again, it would be useful if the information as to how much they ablate different types of damage was specified in the game - I had to find out the info on the beta test forums), but they are expensive and add mass. I'm currently running reinforced bulkheads on my Cobra Mark III, as it seems the best balance between extra resilience and hyperspace range penalty. Finally, there's the Standard Docking Computer that can go in your Support Tech Slot. This implies that at some point there will be an Advanced Docking Computer, which you're probably better off waiting for, as the Standard model is painfully slow and is likely to be an outright liability in multiplayer, as any happy-go lucky player killers will have a ball ripping into your hull while your docking computer fiddles about trying to get perfectly lined up with the starport. It does allow you to listen to Strauss's Blue Danube as you dock (a 2001: A Space Odyssey reference, which harks back to Elite II: Frontier as well), but unless you're flying a Type 9 Heavy or an Anaconda, it's not worth it. I am also led to believe that there is a hull auto-repair system you can get for your Support Tech Slot, but I've not found anywhere that sells it yet. I'll have to look it up on the forums.

If you did come here looking for tips, I hope you found them useful, and if you came looking for pretty screenshots, I hope they were pretty enough. Here, have a look at me going nose to nose with a Viper. She didn't attack, as I didn't have any cargo onboard, so she just gave me a snarky comment, "How do you make any money?" instead. There's no pleasing some people...

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