Big news from outer space - Frontier Developments are releasing a standalone version of Elite Dangerous's popular Close Quarters Combat (CQC) mode. Elite Dangerous Arena, a competitive dogfighting release featuring four spacecraft, four arenas and three modes in addition to custom loadouts, is out today and priced at £4.99/$7.49. It's available on Steam and via Frontier's store.
Looking for some of Elite Dangerous's contemporaries? Check out our best PC space games.
Exploring a 1:1 scale galaxy is pretty great, but it's also something of a long-form experience. So when Frontier released the Close Quarters Combat Championship mode in 2015, they gave budding pilots a meaningful and rewarding experience within the time frame of, say, an hour's competitive dogfighting.
CQC also gave serious players who'd ordinarily have a lot to lose when entering combat a safe place to let off some steam and hone their dogfighting skills. It proved popular enough to spawn a proper competitive championship - in November 2015 Frontier announced a tournament with a $100,000 prize pot divided across the game's platforms, with qualifying rounds starting in early 2016.
Elite Dangerous Arena is essentially a way to get in on that action without having to take the financial plunge of buying the base game or any of its expansions, and focus on deathmatch, team deathmatch and CTF without having to worry about the wider landscape of warring factions, mega-corporations or the vastness of your surroundings and how insignificant it all makes you feel.
The four spacecraft included are as follows: F63 Condor Federal Fighter, Imperial Fighter, Eagle and Sidewinder - as in the current CQC mode in Elite Dangerous. You can rank all the way up to Elite in the standalone Arena, customising loadouts as you level up.
The four eponymous arenas are Elevate, Cluster Compound, Asteria Point, and Ice Field. Again, these are the same areas found in CQC's prior incarnation within Elite Dangerous, so seasoned players will have a bit of an advantage as the influx of rookie pilots filters in via this standalone release. Go easy on them, you brutes.
The other notable news for current CQC players is that the mode itself will be renamed in-game to Arena, whether you're playing the full-fat, galaxy-spanning Elite Dangerous or the standalone. And just so we're clear, there's nothing in the Arena standalone release that isn't already available to Elite Dangerous owners.
We recently got the chance to speak to Frontier's CEO (cough and industry legend cough) David Braben about Arena, among other things. Is Arena intended as a gateway drug for new players who'll graduate from Arena to the full Elite Dangerous experience, we ask?
"There will be some that do that," says Braben, "but we think there are a lot of people who will just want the sit down experience playing with their friends. I think that is very rich in itself. It's not just as a gateway, there are people who want to play this as a standalone thing, as an alternative to playing an FPS or FIFA."