Cleared for Landing

Logo_TextOnly_EliteDangerousHorizons

Preamble (Yeah, it’s one of those posts)

Horizons, the first major expansion for Elite: Dangerous, was released yesterday as my previous post mentioned. I had set up a remote connection home yesterday during the day so I could kickstart Steam into downloading the new version, but when I got home I learned that the update hand’t yet been applied to Steam. A helpful forum post let me know that I could download the front end from Frontier, and then copy the 64 bit client from my Steam install directory into the shell of a new set of folders, at least until the Steam version updated.

That’s all for the preamble.

Postamble (Really?!)

No, not really.

All The Small Things

Although the big claim to fame is the ability to land on planets, there’s a lot of other changes included in the Horizons update that should be available for those who didn’t pick up the expansion (and at the price Frontier is selling it at, I’d not be surprised if there’s quite a few).

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Navigation (left panel) with icons

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Navigation POI filters

The first quality of life improvement is that you can filter POI on the Navigation window. If you’ve ever run into a system that’s had too many asteroid fields that you weren’t interested in at the time, and just wanted to find a planet or station, you can now filter out the fluff to make the navigation window more manageable.

Market fulfillment

Market fulfillment

Cargo filters

Cargo filters

The market window now has some iconography that lets you know the relative stock levels of a commodity, so you’ll get some kind of an idea of how “full” the station is with that good. I’ve never “topped off” a station when selling goods, so I don’t know what this indicator is meant to imply. If you’re flying a large craft with hundreds of tons of cargo, you can now filter the contents of your holds if you’re looking for something in particular. This is also helpful later on with synthesis.

I’m sure there’s more that I either glossed over or just necer saw, so these are just a few things that you’ll find before you leave the station. Now, on to the planetary landings!

Some Prerequisites

You can’t just jump in the cockpit and zoom off to a planet, unless you want to crash into the surface (just kidding…you won’t be allowed to get close to the planet with the proper preparation work).

First, you’re going to need two empty internal slots. The first one you’ll need to fill is the one way at the bottom, the Planetary Approach Suite. This is the electronics package that will help you transition between super-cruise and atmospheric flight. It’s relatively inexpensive, and although it’s an I1 in the image, I’m not sure if there are improved versions and if so, what is improved by moving up the quality ladder.

This alone will allow you to hit the ground running (and by “hit” I mean “land” and by “running” I mean “not crashing”), but if you want to get outside of your ship and take a Sunday drive around some barren rock, you’ll need to sacrifice an internal slot to the Planetary Vehicle Hangar. Again, it’s not expensive, but it does take up a useful hardpoint. I had to get rid of a smaller cargo hold for this, which on my Cobra was kind of painful since I don’t have that much space as it is. Once you have the hangar, you’ll need one more item, the Vehicle Bay. This does not take up any more internal space, but is added as a child of the PVH. I like the implications of this dependency structure for possible future modules.

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Adding the planetary suite

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Adding the vehicle hangar

A Stylish CMDR About Town

Now you are ready to descend. After you pick a place to descend to, of course.

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The new system view, with planetary ID

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Planetary points of interest

System maps now include indicators around the planets you can land on, making it easy to find one that isn’t just pools of ammonia or deceptive banks of poisonous gases. Each viable planet has a blue ring around it, and the design of the ring indicates the kinds of places you’ll find there. Clicking on the planetary icon button on the details fly-out will provide you a map of the planet itself. You can rotate this and click on each of the installations that are represented on the surface. Each item indicates it’s security level with a series of “+” next to the name. The more “+”, the more “secure”, and by secure I’m assuming “dangerous”. You also get some details on the facility itself on the left side bar.

If you really want to make the trip worthwhile, you can check out the expanded bulletin board offerings. They now have a “surface missions” section which will include fetch and delivery missions as well as search and destroy missions (and possibly other types).

This Would Be Where I’d Put Screenshots Of Descent

Unfortunately, I was so preoccupied with the act of landing on the planet that I forgot to take screenshots. I’ll refer you to the official Elite: Dangerous landing instruction video for the details, which is what I watched before I even thought about hitting the dirt.

I personally landed at a landing pad at a no-plus station. Unfortunately, the process of getting to the waypoint is a lot less straightforward than it would be if you were approaching an orbital station because there’s at least three different height-distance milestones to be aware of as you descend (which are clearly marked on the HUD). I didn’t want to suddenly crash into the alien firma, so I dropped low a bit too soon and had to cover about 100 km of distance to the base at normal cruising speed. Once I was within standard range (about 7.5 km), I was able to hail the station for landing clearance. Of course, situating myself to the pad had it’s own challenges, what with one half of my flight space taken up by solid ground. But the process for landing is the same as it is for landing on a pad at a station.

Once you’re down (and down safe, be it on a pad or somewhere terra incognito), check out your pilot’s crotch. Looking left is the Navigation panel, looking right is the Systems panel, and now looking down is where you’ll find your SRV control panel.

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Yes, you can have more than one SRV in your hold, if you have the proper hold. My Cobra can only take one, so that one is the one I took out for a spin by choosing Deploy from the menu. Note that this is the same process whether you’re parked in a base (safe) or out the world (relatively unsafe). The best bet is to park on a pad if you can because your ship will be taken care of. However, if you land out in the wilderness, you have two options: take your chances, or send your ship to orbit remotely. Leaving the ship out in the open will make it available for anyone (other CMDRs or even NPC drones) to stop by and take pot-shots at it. Sending it back to orbit is safer, and you can recall it to a nearby location using the crotch-menu (which is what I’m calling it from now on).

This Would Be Where I’d Put Screenshots of the SRV

Once again, I didn’t take screenshots of this segment of play. Considering the hype is about landing and driving around, I’ve failed as a chronicler of these exciting new features, but here’s a YouTube instructional video from Frontier on using the SRV.

There are other videos in the series that talk about using the wave scanner, and about collecting materials and working with synthesis, but I didn’t really get to try those out so I won’t waste your time speculating on them.

When you’re done driving around, you can return to the base where you left your ship and request docking permissions (if you landed on a pad), return to your ship as it sits (if in the wild), or recall your ship (if it’s in orbit). In any case, your ship is represented as an empty green box on your positional radar, so you always know where “home” is. To get scooped back into the ship, use the crotch-menu and choose “Board Ship”, and away you go.

Leaving the planet is easy: just aim at the sky and super-cruise.

Overall Thoughts

I didn’t get as much time to play with the new system as I had anticipated, because my daughter had a whole lot of homework that she needed help with. The videos helped a lot, although like any approach to a new system in Elite: Dangerous, the whole aspect of landing properly without becoming a streaking fireball was fairly daunting and I’m not sure I’m 100% kosher with the relevance of each phase. I could have descended better, getting closer to the base I had targeted than I did and avoided the long flight time once I was low to the ground (~ 3 km from the surface).

The performance was kind of spotty. Like when I end a jump to a new system, disengaging super-cruise once in the atmosphere produced a bit of a freeze. Normally I’m OK with this, but with a planet under me I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t un-freeze to find myself splattered on the terrain. Turns out I was OK. There was also a lengthy, PC-wide slowdown when I was entering the SRV for the first time. I didn’t notice the whole system had frozen until I looked over at OBS and saw that the preview window was lagging horribly. I have no idea what it did to the Twitch stream at that point. Considering this is the 64-bit client, and I have enough RAM (20GB), I wasn’t too impressed with these hiccups.

One point of annoyance: the SRV controls were pretty much unmapped. I hastily added the throttle, pitch, turn, and rotate, targeting, and boost (you can jump in the air!) to the X-52, but my setup is not yet optimal. I did just enough setup to be able to drive around and target one of the drones, but I will need to go through and make thoughtful assignments that mirror the flight controls. The good thing is that mapping one button to SRV actions doesn’t overwrite the same button for flight control, so the x-52 should be more than enough for both modes.

Since I didn’t actually get to do anything other than land, drive around, target some drones, and launch, I can’t speak to the viability of the process. I would like to try landing in the wild, and hopefully find materials or one of those salvageable wrecks or something interesting. I had ditched my discovery scanner for another cargo hold, but I’m wondering if the ability to find new planets in “Unknown” systems might prove to be a good idea going forward.

I also un-mothballed the IRTracker because I figured that being able to see around me while descending would help me not incur a massive insurance bill. The performance of the IRTracker seemed to be significantly improved, although I don’t know if that’s because of the IRTracker software or the game’s handling of that external input.

Overall, I’m in that honeymoon phase with the new features. I think about the potential things that can be done — creating fuel or ammo from materials, exploration of planetary surfaces, taking on new mission types, and mastering the art of planetary flight — but I am wary of the time when this all becomes just as old hat as the base game has become. I suspect that landing on planets is a nice “gee whiz” the first few times you do it, but after it becomes a rote process all you get are more mining nodes, some exploration, and an increase in the number of stations you can dock at.

I think it would be cool if Frontier sexed up some of the more populous planets with features that players can take advantage of, like ship or SRV race-courses, or something more than just a “moon base” in the middle of a desolate plane of silt and stone. That’s Much Later ™, of course, as there’s a lot more features coming in the next phase of Horizons.

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