Elite Dangerous: Odyssey Review

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey is filled with potential. While the concept of transitioning between space-flight and planetside exploration is hardly a new one within this era, Odyssey appeared poised to totally change how commanders approached Elite Dangerous. Rather than ushering in a new horizon, Elite Dangerous: Odyssey is undercooked at its best, and utterly broken at its worst. Commanders will spend the following few months wondering why Frontier pushed this expansion out of the door as quickly as they did. Odyssey barely qualifies as an Early Access title, and that’s being generous.

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey – Early Access in Every Way but Name.

If you’ve been following Elite Dangerous: Odyssey since its release a week ago you’ve likely noticed by now that it’s gone over as well as a lead Sidewinder. The development currently sits at a “Mostly Negative” ranking on Steam, thanks in large part to how roughshod the general method is. I want to say this shouldn’t come as a surprise – the Alpha test concluded two weeks prior to launch – yet nobody was expecting Odyssey to create landfall this right after.

It’s easy to write off the general vitriol and anger up to now another case of the internet to be the internet, where hyperbole is commonplace when emotions run high, however with Elite Dangerous the outrage has merit. For starters, the expansion is really a bug-ridden mess, and it tanked performance across the board. I’m not talking, “just by a little bit.” I went from a locked 144 FPS at 1080p on my MSI gaming laptop managing a RTX 3070 (130W) and i7 10750H, to barely holding 70 whilst venturing over the empty expanse. I found it a little odd that I was losing half my usual performance when in empty space, where the engine should arguably possess the easiest time running.

Despite promises that performance would remain the same, players across Reddit, Steam, and the official forums will also be reporting performance drops as significant as 50% between Horizons and Odyssey. One intrepid redditor discovered the development straight-up broke the renderer in Elite Dangerous. The game is actively rendering everything in your field-of-view, whether it is occluded or otherwise. That alone has ruined performance overall, though at least segments in space retain playable frame-rates.

The new planetside exploration fares much, much worse. Planet generation is either outright broken, or half-baked. Most planets seem like moldering potatoes: the ice planets shown off in trailers are proving impossible to find, and also the different colored atmospheres based on molecular composition seem to be a bold-faced lie. Look, I’m not expecting No Man’s Sky levels of insanity in Odyssey – it's a vastly more realistic sim after all – but even Mass Effect had more planetary variety back in 2007.

Despite the flat, samey aesthetic on nearly every world, performance plummets the moment you descend from orbit. To put it bluntly, planets in Horizons looked better, plus they didn’t crush PCs as hard as the “updated” planets in Odyssey do. Sure, we are able to step out of our SRVs and ships now to amble about and explore, but at great cost to overall performance.

The drastic reduction in performance is evident both while on-foot planetside, and inside the new spaceports commanders can visit for missions and retailers (among a couple other things). One of these simple additional features are the Frontline combat missions commanders can sign-up for within supported systems. These missions are essentially PvEvP multiplayer matches: a little army of NPCs battle over control points on a selected planet, and also you and any other interested commanders in the area can opt to help one for reds or another in the encounter for reputation and cash.

It’s a good thing these run in a rock-solid 15 frames-per-second on seemingly all PCs, cause they’d otherwise be enjoyable! Elite Dangerous: Odyssey struggles to carry 30 FPS when I’m alone in one of the cookie-cutter abandoned settlements, however these missions with their higher NPC count absolutely strangle mine yet others computers. The Frontier battles should be an enjoyable diversion – a comparatively safe method to look at your suit and weapon loadouts without the full punishment of death – but they’re utterly unplayable at this time because of Odyssey’s performance woes.

On the topic of suits and weapons, all of them feel just like half-baked as the remainder of Odyssey. You have different suits that compliment specific tasks and missions (much like ships) there are a handful of different kinetic and laser weapons up for sale. Thing is, these weapons all not just have similar designs (skins and color aside), but feel similar whenever you pull the trigger.

Firing a kinetic rifle doesn’t feel very different than setting up some heat having a laser SMG since the recoil and impact isn’t everything different between weapons. There’s some variance, such as fire-rate, but the overall gunplay and “feel” can be best described as serviceable. Thankfully, which means Frontier can certainly improve their gunplay and ground combat, but we’d still something more exciting related to those better guns.

I can’t say the same for that on-foot exploration and missions. Arguably the important thing new feature introduced in Elite Dangerous: Odyssey, the ground-based additions to the sport are so underwhelming that I can’t help but wonder why Odyssey launched as early as it did. There's a total of 10 mission variants, and the outposts and settlements you trip to complete options are all pretty damn identical. Oh, and that does range from the spaceports now you can walk around, populated by what could be best referred to as blinking mannequins that sometimes spend missions.

The precise layouts aren't always the same, but you’ll quickly grow tired of visiting the same habitats, looting the same rooms, and interacting with the same NPCs (different names be damned) over and over again. You have to those spaceports I mentioned: Elite Dangerous is an inherently repetitive game, however the repetition that plagues the ground-based aspects put in Odyssey borders on self-parody.

That’s Elite Dangerous: Odyssey the bottom line is: promising ideas that have yet to congeal right into a confident, cohesive whole. The entire expansion feels undercooked, like the “updated” UI that culled necessary information and added multiple clicks and interactions to achieve previously easily accessible menus. Wish to swap out modules out of your storage? That’ll take you roughly six clicks per slot, with a UI element to deal with at each stage. Even though you ignored the marque additional features in Elite Dangerous: Odyssey, you can’t avoid the half-assed new UI.

Then there are the bugs. So. Many. Bugs. The servers are continually crashing, ejecting commanders violently out of their sessions. Many get home from the kick to find all their missions gone, items looted on-foot lost towards the void, and often utterly stuck when they were using the new Apex travel service during the crash. The sunlight contrast is beyond broken: planets often rival stars now in brightness, but the darker facets of the image are damn near impossible to see even at max brightness. As said before, the updated planet generation is either bugged or broken.

These are only a few of the many issues Elite Dangerous: Odyssey is struggling with. The lack of team missions and mission sharing, missions glitching out and sending commanders over the galaxy for little incentive, and other problems all come together to create one of the most frustrating expansion launches I’ve ever played, and stars know I’ve been through quite a few expansion launches.

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey suffering from such ills is all the more infuriating since you don’t have to squint difficult to begin to see the incredible potential. On-foot exploration and combat have the right foundations being more meaningful and engaging. The updated UI has got the spirit, but it’s very confused. The Apex travel services are actually a wonderful method of getting around and finish missions when you either don’t wish to risk your ship or fly the route yourself. You will find glimpses of greatness in Odyssey, but they’re overshadowed by it’s various faults and failings.

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey is perfect for all intents and purposes an earlier Access product: no-one can rationally reason that it’s an entire product which was ready to go out of the door. From the uniform degradation of performance, the clearly work-in-progress UI, half-baked new systems, and general insufficient depth within the new on-foot missions, Odyssey is definitely an expansion that needed far more time in the oven. I don’t know why Frontier pushed it out as rapidly as they did, however they could have saved themselves lots of grief had they either been upfront with how unfinished Odyssey was and sold it as an Early Access title, or delayed it until the end of the year.

The Verdict

Frontier have been actively issuing hotfixes for the expansion since launch, yet that doesn’t excuse the roughshod state Odyssey released in. It’s labeled a full release and is requesting commanders’ hard-earned money, however, so it receives a full review: don’t play Elite Dangerous: Odyssey if you don't don’t mind paying to be a beta tester. It might be playable in the traditional sense, but there’s little reason to drop cash for that upgrade at this time, especially when its biggest additions barely work.

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey is an unfinished expansion with some cool ideas in need of a lot of additional iteration and work. Because it currently stands the Elite Dangerous PC community is beta testing Odyssey for that inevitable console launch, despite the expansion being advertised as a finished product. Unless they don’t mind paying to experience inside a glorified beta, commanders should stick with Horizons before the dust settles.

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