I have been playing Elite Dangerous for what feels like just over a year at this point. Every night that I jump on to play, I enjoy partying up with friends who have played the game as far back as its first iteration in 1984, who have tales of first discoveries, their month-long adventures into the black, and stories from amongst the community. On March 2nd, the the year 3303 (in-game), I decided to begin my own adventure, to see Sagittarius A for myself. The centre of the Milky Way.
I have had my fill of doing transport and bounty hunt missions, trading across the Bubble, the civilised corner of space where factions fight for control, players patrol borders and cause friction at the sites of weekly Community Goal events, and have landed on more than enough rocks and planets to feel comfortable with my landing skills. We can all excuse our first horrible crash, learning the new mechanics and dealing with gravity. Yes, I crashed once, I’ve gotten over it! But now, a new challenge faces me. One that I hear many a great thing about, one I have spent weeks preparing for. The journey to the centre of our galaxy.
Spending millions of credits outfitting my Asp Explorer, I installed a A-rated Frame Shift Drive, which will give me a very decent jump range. Installing the best scanner to scan all of the systems I travel to, gives me a better chance of finding stars and planets that no other player has encountered yet. When I eventually return to the bubble and turn in my exploration data, I’ll make a few million credits, but also find my name attached to many of these discoveries, which will appear for Elite Dangerous players on fellow Xbox One, PC and PlayStation 4 platforms. I’ll be a famous explorer. Kinda!
All other aspects of my ship were D-rated, meaning they are the lightest additions, so I can then jump further distances as a time from star to star. I didn’t carry any weapons, I didn’t even bring a shield. Kinda silly in hindsight, as a few bumps can damage your hull, and there’s no way to repair them unless at a station. Stations and outposts don’t exist outside of the civilised part of space, save for Colonia, which is way too far from my current location.
So, with a jump range of 35 Light Years, I set off in my Asp Explorer from a space station called Pales Vision in the system HIP 60953, setting a coure of 1,000 Light Years towards the centre of the Milky Way. Elite only allows 1,000 Light Years of jumps at a time, before you need to plot another 1,000 LY. To put this whole adventure into perspective, our own solar system is 25,900 Light Years from the centre of the galaxy. That’s roughly 26 different plots of 1,000 Light Years. I can travel that distance with an average of 32 separate jumps. Each of these 1,000 Light Year jumps takes roughly 90 minutes, with some planetary and star scanning when I arrive in each system.
Aiming slightly upwards in the galaxy, I left Pales Vision and the bubble, with the yellow glow of the Milky Way’s centre just below me. It didn’t take too long before I started to question myself. Am I ready? Did I forget anything? I’ve never used the Auto Field Repair Units, yet here I was with two of them on board, trusting them with the well-being of my ship. I’ve been told that constant jumping throughout the galaxy will eventually takes it toll on your boat, or ship. Like a well driven car, even futuristic spaceships need maintenance every now and then.
A friend joined me in a party just after I left the bubble, and being giddy and nervous, I jokingly spoke to him in a deliberate muffle, imitating the fact that my voice communications were beginning to cut out, eventually leading to radio silence. At the time, I thought it was funny, but looking back, no seriously, looking back all the way to where I was at time when I made that joke, I didn’t comprehend just how far I’d be and still on my way to the centre. Right now, 17 days later, I’m still just two-thirds of my way to Sagittarius A. Each 1,000 LY plot feels like a drag, and I now understand why fellow Commanders feel like they never want to travel again after this slog. However, I do enjoy it, and the sights the galaxy offers you is worth it alone. Yet, it’s lonely.
You never approach another ship, another pilot, another station to rest on. You see how vast and empty the void of space is. Stars and dwarfs shining bright amongst their fellow kin. Ringed planets with their own moons, going about their own business of occupying a minuscule piece of space, like a grain of sand from afar. Easy to miss, unless you’re right in front of it, admiring it from a few megametres out.
For an Elite Dangerous player who has jumped across the emptiness of space, and then found themselves lucky enough to visit our home system, Sol, it really paints a good picture of how irrelevant we are in the galaxy. Sure, we occupy this planet and go about our daily business of working, paying bills, enjoying movies and games, and taking in all the politics that the governments throw at us. But hop into a small spacecraft and head out into the blackness of space, and you wonder why we’re not trying harder to go out and explore its vastness. Our planet is a grain of sand in comparison to what else is out there. Our solar system is a pea by that standard. The nearest star system to us, is but a walk down to your local newsagent in the morning.
Sure, space travel is a long way off and is all very sci-fi thanks to tv shows and movies, but we have to keep researching the field and making advancements. Yet as I think about it in detail late at night while jumping from system to system on another 90 minute session, I continue to scan stars and planets, discovering some for the first time in the Elite Dangerous player base, taking screenshots as of my ship next to a massive grouping of stars, and then think back to the room I’m sitting in, on this piece of land, on this tiny planet, in this corner of space.
It’s not without its dangers either, traveling amongst the stars. On one occasion, I wanted to land on a planetary body to take a picture of a nebula I recently flew through. Upon touching down on the rock, my ship Asp wasn’t positioned correctly, causing some external damage to my hull. I dropped to 98%. Nothing too worrisome, but I still had a lot of traveling left to do at the time it happened. Still, I continued on, eventually landing safely and hopped into my four wheeled rover.
Another incident saw my jumping into another system, but it wasn’t long before I felt like soiling myself, as the game’s mechanics played up, and caught me off guard. I arrived into a system that featured three stars all very close to one another. Whatever angle I seemed to approach from caused alarm, as I somehow arrived inside a star, taking damage to my on-board systems. Luckily I managed to escape, but my hull then dropped to 93% stability, and a repair job on all of my internals was required.
At this moment in time, I’m heading towards a plot point in the system of OGAIRY KC-C C13-577. Go into your galaxy map and check it out to see how far from the bubble I am. I’m hoping to reach the galaxy’s central point some time this week (before Mass Effect Andromeda arrives for me on the 23rd). However, once I get to the centre, another issue then rises. I will have to make the return journey home.
Elite Dangerous is big. Our galaxy is massive. And here I am, experiencing it from the comfort of our home, Earth.
To be continued…