Remember Elite's CQC (close-quarters combat) Championship, its lesser loved multiplayer arena combat mode? While it's not getting the overhaul it arguably needs—nor is the now-postponed £75,000 ($100,000) CQC tournament making a comeback—Frontier is taking some of the best bits of CQC and bringing them to the wider Elite universe as part of the upcoming Elite Dangerous: Guardians 2.2 update in October.
The big news: single-seat, ship-launched fighters based on the CQC fighter designs. The idea is that players will be able to launch one of these fighters and pilot it remotely, issuing commands back to the mothership. You could tell the mothership to stay put, for instance, to keep it out of harm's way, or tell it to follow the fighter and go in all guns blazing. You can hot swap between the two ships too, opening up some particularly devious attack patterns.
There are three fighters available. The F63 Condor federal fighter and GU97 imperial fighter are identical their CQC counterparts, the former sporting the fastest acceleration in exchange for manoeuvrability and hull strength, the latter being more fragile but more manoeuvrable. More exciting is the Taipan fighter, which is new to the game. The most tank-like of the three ships, the Taipan trades speed and manoeuvrability for hull strength and shields, making it a particularly good option for heavy combat. Plus, it has a neat swing-wing design that makes it look far more intimidating than the other fighters.
In order to use fighters, larger ships have to be outfitted with a specialised hangar module. Each module can hold up to two bays, inside which you can pick a particular fighter or load out, with a variety of defensive and offensive weapons available for each fighter. What's particularly cool is that fighters are essentially disposable. If one gets destroyed in the field, the hanger bay is able to "3D print" a new one. Only when the resources required to do so are depleted do you have to head back to a trading post to restock.
Pricing for fighters is said to be similar to SRVs (Surface Recon Vehicles), meaning they'll be relatively cheap to buy as well as easy to use. That makes them a good option for ships that might not normally be kitted out for heavy combat, such as passenger ships, giving them a greater chance of survival in sketchy systems. To balance things out, Frontier says the fighters are designed like "glass cannons" meaning they're fragile, and easy to take out if targeted directly.
"If everyone goes out and fits fighters, it's not a bad thing," explained Frontier. "The fighters are very dangerous, but someone that's determined to take on the fighter rather than claim the prize on the main ship is probably going to take the fighter out. Think of them more as ammunition than ships. It's a balancing act, because if they can't take on the big ships, then why would you use them? So they have to do that."
If you don't fancy piloting the fighter yourself, or you're lacking in combat skills, there is another option. At starports across human space will be crew lounges, where you'll be able to hire up to three pilots. Only one will be on your ship at any one time, but hiring more gives you the option of bringing different pilots out for different missions. Each pilot will have an avatar and backstory, and most importantly a combat rank that goes all the way up to Elite. The higher the combat rank, the more you have to pay.
Pilots earn XP as they fly, meaning that you can in theory recruit a rookie pilot and train him or her up to Elite status, saving money on hiring a pro-pilot outright. Because pilots also fly the fighters remotely, even if the fighter is destroyed they remain intact (although, if the mothership tops it, so does your pilot, and permanently too). You can also warp with your pilot and have him or her take control of the mothership, and you can issue commands.
Welcome to Ars Airlines
You might notice another new addition at starports in the 2.2 update: passenger lounges. At long last, Elite is letting you live the dream of running an interstellar ferry service (that's everyone's dream, right?). Once you've loaded up your ship with the requisite cabin modules—ranging in quality from Ryanair-like thrift, to five star luxury—you can pick up passengers and start making some money.
There are two different types of passenger in Elite: bulk and VIP. Bulk passengers are the most straightforward, and largely just need to be ferried from A to B with the minimum of fuss. In you're in a war-torn region you might pick up a group of refugees eager to escape, or mercenaries eager to make a quick buck. Other times you might just pick up tourists looking to explore a nearby planet.
VIPs are more demanding. They may be on the receiving end of a bounty, making your ship a target if you choose to carry them. Or they may be thrill seekers eager to explore a nearby conflict zone in exchange for more cash. Notably, VIPs will require the highest quality cabins, and those can only be fitted to specific passenger ships: the Orca and the all-new Beluga luxury liner. This marks a change from most Elite ships where you can outfit them any way you like.
"We're trying an experiment with more specialisation at the ship level," said Frontier. "We're going to see how it works out. If it works well, because we're doing this via module slot changes we can apply in many different ways, we could expand it further in the future with more specialised slots for ships in other roles...It's always a balance. The more you specialise a ship, the more you're narrowing down the number of people that want to play with that ship. I think with passenger liners it's a good first step. If things don't work out we're not afraid to listen to the community and roll things back."
Keeping passengers happy is a big part of running a transport service. If they become "disgruntled" they may decide to leave at the next dock, regardless of whether that's their destination or not. Or, if they're really unhappy, they may decide to bail out of your ship during flight in an escape pod. If that happens, not only do you lose the fare, but you also have to then restock the escape pods before you're able to take more passengers.
Unfortunately, Frontier didn't explain what exactly you'd have to do to make a passenger "disgruntled," but the idea of running a transport service is hugely appealing, particularly if there's a decent amount of money to be made. If there's enough detail in the simulation, it's basically a whole other game in its own right—and given just how big Elite is already, that's impressive stuff.
In addition, there are new persistent fixed locations called tourist spots. These may be places of beauty, or they have a historical reason for being of interest. Frontier has asked the community to suggest places that they like, and create descriptions that pop up when other players visit. Hundreds have already been sent in, and those that make it into the game will feature the commander name of the person that sent it in, which is a nice touch.
And everything else
Other additions to Elite Dangerous version 2.2 include updated visuals, with some of the CQC architecture being brought over to the main game to create new structures. They're themed around certain traits of the system, so you may find civilian ones, or scientific ones, with ambient traffic floating around. Inner docks and ports have had an overhaul too, ranging from vast industrial complexes through to stark white tourists resorts with holographic lakes and vegetation. Interface screens have been more neatly laid out too.
You can now use ship transfers, so if you leave a ship in another system you no longer have to fly all the way back to get it, and instead can pay a fee based on size and distance in order to have it delivered directly to you. Plus, module storage is finally being introduced, and those too can be transferred around space. You can even do things like strip modules from a ship in bulk.
At starports is a new "shady" contact that will allow you to pay off fines and claim bounties for any jurisdiction in the game. This means you don't have to go all the way back to the system where the fine or the bounty was issued in order to settle it. Hyperspace jumps now include an indicator highlighting the security and conflict status of a system, meaning you can now avoid such areas, and hopefully avoid a few of those fines and bounties in the first place.
Other tweaks include: an improved surface map; filters for the route planner that allow you to only view stars of a certain type, or of a certain security rating; and new planet geometry generated using first principles. Plus, there are more "mysterious sites." Frontier says it's not going to detail where these sites are, but are promising that they can be found using in-game mechanics and will reveal more of the lore surrounding the game.
Frontier also dropped a teaser video, showing what looked like some alien technology buried in a pile of rock. I'm no expert on the deep lore of Elite (where's Lee when you need him?), but Frontier says that it's a "small step in a long trajectory of events that players have speculating about for a long time." The teaser video will be unveiled on Sunday, August 21, and I'll embed it here once it's live.
In the interim, I'd check out Lee's primer on the mysteries baked into Elite, which he speculates may have something do with Thargoids, an insect-like race of extraterrestrials who figure prominently in Elite lore.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK