On May 19, 2021 Frontier Developments would release its largest expansion ever for Elite Dangerous – to startlingly “meh” reception. Rather surprising considering the wide appeal and demand for the long sought after space-legs. Let me clarify; Odyssey boasts a first-person-shooter dynamic integrated into Elite Dangerous’ already exhilarating formula. We’ve got our hands on Odyssey to see what all the fuss is about and ask, was it worth the wait?
How one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. As such, ALL forms of review are opinionated and should be taken with a grain of salt; this one included. So let’s review Elite Dangerous: Odyssey (or EDO) through the lens of more objective metrics such as; graphical fidelity, characters & story, content & length, controls & gameplay, then finally, sound design & cinematics. We reviewed EDO on a 1050Ti 4Gb, 8GB Ram, with an i5-7300HQ. For full transparency, this review was performed using a provided copy of the expansion. As a personal disclaimer, I don’t claim to be a card-carrying member of the +1000 hours club, though I’ve clocked a fair 130-150 between PlayStation and PC. But that’s neither here nor there, let’s get reviewing!
While generally there isn’t much to say with regards to visual changes in an expansion, there is a fair bit to go through with EDO. Unfortunately, most of what we’ll highlight isn’t for the better. Let’s get this out of the way, the planetary procedural generation in Odyssey is a straight downgrade from Horizons.
We’ve traded incredible landscape shots and a sense of crisp visual scale for a “walk anywhere” mush-fest of muddy textures. I’ve seen mountains that looked like stretched textures mapped over blender modelled line graphs. Taking into account how naturally the human brain picks up on patterns, players have noticed reused landmarks and locations multiple times – even on the same planet. It’s uhh, not impressive.
But, you can walk wherever you want. So that’s cool.
While on the other hand, Concourses look pretty incredible with their vibrant advertisements akin to their exterior counterparts. Character models look pretty good and facial animations don’t look horrid, it was genuinely quite visually satisfying my first few walks around these locations and there is some variety to catch your eye.
I mean, look at this
Alongside changes to gameplay visuals, Odyssey also introduces a swath of new menus and UIs… for better or for worse. Many players will be accustomed to Horizon’s lengthy text-oriented bars. Sadly, Odyssey trades them in for symbolistic icons that can initially be confusing to navigate. As such, players should beware of getting lost in menus more than the great expanse.
While an icon-based system might initially seem like a great idea (and in my opinion it is) it begins to deteriorate when you realize there is no legend and the majority of players don’t know what each symbol means. The result? Hovering your mouse over each icon to find the one you want until it’s all memorized. Hard pass.
Additionally, many UI elements have been replaced with larger tiles for ease of use. While I do find these more aesthetically attractive, they have hindered the streamlining of gameplay.
Some of these new menus are nothing short of atrocious. I won’t go into immense detail, but the new module/hardpoint system is absurd. The community has wondered if these menus were developed by someone with zero experience developing them for ease of use. That’s how deplorable the situation is. It is laughable how many steps it currently takes to unequip, then re-equip separate modules when it could be as simple as a “swap”, or “unequip all” option.
You could argue that most of these nitpicks could be chalked up to merely resisting change. And, sure. But the simplest solution would be to give players the option of new, or classic UI elements. All of that being said, however, the core in-ship gameplay loop and HUD remains the same.
Now to the damning stuff…If you didn’t think it already
As much as it pains me to say it, EDO runs like shit. Initially, I’d write that off as “My PC just drinks weaksauce”, but this is reportedly an issue with many players regardless of hardware capabilities. Therefore it could be concluded that it may just be terribly unoptimized in its current state.
Framerates are awfully inconsistent, however, there are no screen tearing or otherwise dastardly artefacts. Due to the absolute black, complete darkness that is space – light plays a massive role in extraterrestrial on-foot adventures. And when EDO gets it right it’s mighty satisfying, but when it gets it wrong it’s a somewhat frustrating convulsion of black-on-black/grey textures.
Enemies and friendlies are distinguishable through coloured blips in the HUD and flashy blue shields but it somewhat takes the fun out of manual eye-tracking target acquisition when everyone’s lit up for you. Although considering some of the combat mechanic choices, maybe there’s a reason for that.
Before we get into that though, I’ve got a bone to pick. Some controller wielding peasant hijacked the PC version of this game and slipped us a wheel menu into the on-foot HUD, gross. From an ergonomic and usability perspective it kind of sucks but oh well, it functions.
Characters & Story
Upon entering Odyssey, players are greeted with a mandatory “Suit Operative Tutorial” to help them grasp newly acquired usage of their appendage limbs. This really isn’t much that could be considered “story” but here goes; “several years ago” players complete a short mission with an accomplice Dylan Sylke – no “spoilers”. Jokes aside, it’s a tutorial and I did a small “whoop” when your homie stands up at the end. It’s kind of cool. Don’t get too excited; you’re immediately met with a menu. We’ll talk about it more in the next section. For now not much is really going on here as Elite Dangerous isn’t a character or story-oriented game.
Content & Length
After boasting Elite Dangerous‘ largest content expansion ever, it’s to no one’s surprise that there’s a nice chunk of content here. No doubt about that, however, what many (myself included) appear to have a bone to pick with isn’t so much as the quantity, but the quality of said content. I gotta be real, Elite Dangerous: Odyssey feels like it’s in early access/beta state. I wouldn’t say EDO is inherently broken or unplayable. However, certain aspects are clear downgrades/sidesteps. This is obviously content that will require reiterative patching and updates until all the kinks are worked out.
Quantifying an exact “length” of Odyssey‘s content is tough, as with any simulators the experience is what you the player make of it. Want to delve into the altered new grind of Engineering? Want to aimlessly explore new lands & settlements? Loot and shoot through hairy situations? You can for as little or as long as you like.
Some quality of life changes would definitely be welcome to avoid long time-wasting slogs; such as players not being able to land their ship from orbit within 2.5km of a settlement. No SRV (rover) out or available? Better get running. Until the devs iron out the game’s bugs, expect to be met with hiccups that leave you stranded, isolated, or even dead. Or wait… maybe that’s just a feature of this brutally harsh space-simulator. Regardless, I imagine it would help keep player retention times up by frequently engaging them as opposed to the copious amounts of downtime.
Much of the new content includes explorable settlements on foot, conflict zones, random encounters/signals around planets, and concourses on stations, refineries etc. that offer a variety of services. Notice what’s missing? Ship interiors! While this may seem small, the immersion break players experience between the cockpit and being dropped outside their ship is jarring to say the least. I understand the primary function of this was to offer an opportunity for a loading, but there must have been some better implementation of this.
Controls & Gameplay
My first experience in EDO was confusion; as control schemes were reset from horizons, then proceeded by a long series of rebindings. It would certainly be preferable to have had previous settings carry over, but this is fine too. Generally speaking the FPS controls are pretty standard for a PC shooter, point and click, WASD to move Tab to sprint, and Q for the weird little wheel menu. Everything is rebindable to I wont go into details, but it all works as it should, and when frames stabilize the gunplay even feels nice.
Speaking of that, Its again all pretty standard. We all know how shooters work and there aren’t any crazy twists to the formula here. As alluded to earlier with regard to combat choices, enemies are quite the bullet sponges. Now there are specific resistances for shields vs health, plasma vs ballistic for example, but it still takes quite a lot to secure a kill. Some players may enjoy this type of high TTK (time to kill) shooter which (in my opinion) gave it a slightly Halo feel. The low-G atmospheres make for some fun shootout locales, but I’m yet to find a location with high-G encounters. I may simply be unlucky but in my experience there aren’t too many environmental differences.
That’s not to say there aren’t any, as any local environmental hazards will apply to all participants.
Speaking of, on-foot players will have a health, and power bar (explained in the tutorials), with their shields governed by their available power causing drain like other suit functions. There’s an interesting inter-connectivity to its resources that I found fun to manage while not hindering the primary shooty-bang gameplay loop in “conflict zones” found around the galaxy. Reportedly players are having issues with multiplayer on-foot instancing more so than in ED’s initial space content. I was unable to verify this outside of open play conflict zones.
This particular detail has been patched since release, however it perfectly exemplifies some of the issues with this content release. So, on launch weapons didn’t have stats. That’s right, players couldn’t tell the statistic differences between any of the weapons besides descriptions and experimentation. Now, I understand this is Frontier’s first major go at a boots-on-the-ground FPS experience, but c’mon guys – that’s pretty weak. This suggests to me that Odyssey needed a little more time in the oven to cook. If only to wring out the kinks and refine this expansion rather than add more to it. Onfoot engineering has taken a step back with regards to inventory management
Sound Design & Cinematics
During the tutorial segment with Sylke, there are some clear voice sync issues where his mouth straight up doesn’t move while he blithers away some sci-fi something or other (at times). It’s a minor nitpick, though a nitpick nonetheless. Similarly to the story and characters segment the extent of this expansions cinematic content is restricted to its tutorial so there’s really not much to talk about. It’s fine but short, you see a dude talk about some stuff. You’re essentially a passenger on a short flight, really nothing too special.
The sound design however has required a lot of work as many of the weapons are brand new and to be fair, it shows. Elite Dangerous has and continues to have excellent, best in class sound work, from engines to weapons, and systems. Odyssey is surprisingly no exception, guns sound great, your character breathes realistically within their suit, your automated voice reminding you about shields, objectives etc. sounds fantastic. It’s all quite dandy – crisp even, almost to a fault. This may be picky, but I was almost hoping to hear nulled out ballistics in zero G environments and was slightly disappointed when they weren’t. Regardless, guns, explosions, voice acting and everything in-between is superb in this regard as to be expected from Frontier.
I want, so badly, to recommend Odyssey as the messiah of Space-Sims but I can’t in good conscience considering its current state. To some, this is a letdown of Cyberpunk 2077 proportions, to others a sign that Frontier is at least trying to listen. Regardless, this is some content that’s quality needs further polish. That’s not to say the entire expansion is broken and unplayable, but buyers beware. Diehards especially (ironically).
This is an expansion that will require development work to bring up to the expected standard. While the addition of first-person elements is phenomenal, their method of implementation is questionable at times. We may be a step closer to the “perfect space-sim” that games like Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen, or even No Mans Sky aspire to be, but we’re clearly not there yet. Baby steps, I suppose. 5/10 Someday this will be brilliant, just not today. If you’re a hardcore fan, there might be as much fun as disappointment to be found here. But, I can’t genuinely say “go buy this expansion”, especially at its price-point.
What do you think of Elite Dangerous:Odyssey? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and if you enjoyed this content why not check out our Everspace 2 Early Access First Impressions.
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Underwhelming In All Honesty
- Score - 5/105/10
+ On-Foot HUD, Weapons, Structures Look Great
+ Gunplay Feels Better than Expected
– Regressed Some Planetary Visuals
– No In Ship First Person
Just a Canadian dude who’s passionate about gaming, and the industry as a whole.