On its website, Frontier Developments calls its current game, Elite: Dangerous, a massively multiplayer online space adventure. Put simply: Elite: Dangerous is an MMO in space.
The MMO genre comes with expectations. Typically, an MMO takes place in a persistent world, where the things you do stay there even when you stop playing. MMOs let you group up with other people to play and complete important tasks together, whether that’s through big groups, private groups, or just next to each other in the open world. MMOs are always online for a reason: to interact with other people.
Elite: Dangerous, at least in its current beta form, is barely an MMO. To be fair, it’s still in development. Its MMO features could be added and fixed before it’s finished. But there’s only 36 days left before Frontier will release the game to the public as a finished, MMO space adventure.
How multiplayer is supposed to work
Elite: Dangerous is about flying your space ship in a 1:1 recreation of the Milky Way galaxy, doing odd jobs, combat, and picking up cargo to make money.
Frontier originally promised in its 2013 Kickstarter that you would be able to do all of that with other pilots and even gather into bigger groups to take on more challenging content in raids and other co-op missions.
Because the game is so big–remember, it’s the Milky Way galaxy–Frontier has developed a fairly complex system of grouping players together. There are two ways it does this now and one way it promised several months ago that isn’t in the game yet.
1. All players group – While you’re flying through space you will randomly come upon other players. If you have people on your friends list, they will have a better chance of showing up. Or if you’re ignoring some players, they will be less likely to show up. The result is like any other MMO: you’ll see people flying by while you’re doing your own thing.
2. Private group – Say you have a few friends you’d like to exclusively play with. Private groups let you add them to a list and force the game to only ever let you run into whoever is on it. If your friend Sarah is not in your private group, she won’t show up. This basically restricts the people you will randomly run into.
3. Alliances – Alliances aren’t in the game yet, but they are said to work like private groups except there are benefits and consequences. To form an alliance, a group of players would confirm trust between each other and would be able to transfer cargo, shoot each other freely, fly together, show up in the same star systems, and would gain bounties or criminal fines as one. Think of an alliance as like a clan or a guild, where everyone is responsible for what anyone else does, but they get to work together.
How multiplayer works right now
The sad fact is that right now, it kind of doesn’t.
Frontier’s servers that are supposed to bring people together have been wonky in the beta for a while now, which means grouping up with friends is hit or miss. Some people claim it work most of the time, and others say it almost never works.
Here’s a video of two people trying to find each other. It’s not easy.
When it does, you can text or voice chat with other ships, do missions with them or fight each other, but you’re not incentivized or rewarded for doing so. There are no specific co-op missions or any raids in the beta. The most multiplayer-focused thing is the auction house where you can buy and sell items with other players.
This a problem, especially considering the game is being billed as an MMO with a little over a month before it’s publicly sold as a finished game for $60.
“Adventure is meaningless to me if there’s no one to share it with,” Reddit user Neex wrote in a popular thread of people discussing the game’s problems, primarily it’s multiplayer. “Until basic multiplayer functionality is complete, I would not consider the game finished.”