Elite Dangerous Update 14 has arrived, and it marks a new phase of the ongoing war with the alien Thargoids. In the months following the space game‘s detonation of the Proteus Wave weapon, Thargoid activity has increased – but now, with Aftermath: War, they’re on the attack, and humanity will now have to fight to defend what they’ve built across the galaxy, or risk losing it.
Since their arrival in Elite Dangerous years ago, the Thargoids have mostly limited their action to reconnaissance and probing. The eight Thargoid anomalies that have been heading toward Earth and settled areas of space are real menaces that threaten any major starports or other structures in their path. In Aftermath, players will find themselves in battles with Thargoid forces around major space stations, and these battles will have real stakes: losing them will mean the destruction or abandonment of those stations and potentially loss of control of the planet or system they’re in.
Where the Thargoids are most active, you’ll encounter some sights that are completely new to Elite: stations on fire, or worse, consumed in a massive gas cloud called a maelstrom. Lead game designer Luke Betterton says it’s difficult to convey quite how large these are in the game.
“The whole drop-out [of supercruise] experience and seeing this thing just appear out of the distance, that still hits me really, really hard every time I do it,” he told PCGamesN.
Frontier Developments says maelstroms can be around 180 kilometres across, and they’re made up of caustic gas that can damage ship components and hulls. However, players will want to explore them – despite the danger, there are discoveries to be made within.
While Frontier didn’t want to spoil any of those ahead of the launch, the developers have revealed that there’s a new class of Thargoid. Dubbed ‘Orthrus,’ these Thargoids are different from the various interceptor classes players have become accustomed to since their introduction to the game years ago. Orthrus Thargoids are meant more for recon and logistics roles, and can call for backup when threatened.
“We’ve really dug into making the familiar unfamiliar, so when you’re seeing the [abandoned] ports, there’s this tangible difference, a tangible change,” says senior producer Samantha Marsh. “And I think the maelstrom takes that to the extreme. This is something we’ve never seen before, something that we cannot possibly expect to just see and know what it is. It’s supposed to feel alien – and I think that experience is something that is really fun to be able to play with in Elite.”
In Update 14, the Thargoid threat ramps up considerably, and you’ll be able to see devastation in orbital facilities and on planetside ports they’ve attacked. However, if you’re more into the ‘space trucking’ side of Elite: Dangerous, there’s plenty of galaxy left to play in – the Aftermath action is something you can dip into and out of depending on your preference.
“Keep an eye on the galaxy map,” Betterton advises. “It’s got a lot of pointers on how to operate and how to engage with stuff, and how – crucially – to stop it progressing too far for you to be able to fight back against it.”
Marsh agrees, and says players should engage with Aftermath on their own terms. “If you feel like you need to get out of it and recuperate for a bit, do something else and come back later, that’s completely up to you,” she says. “I think we’ve made sure that you’re not forced to engage if you don’t want to. Engage on your own terms, and ultimately enjoy being a part of it.”
Aftermath is available for all players using the 4.0 code base, so you won’t need to own the Odyssey expansion to take part in the war. Frontier says this is just the beginning, too.
“Update 14 is a development, it’s the war, but we’re not just dropping and running,” Marsh says. “There’s lots of different ways that we know we want to take this journey. This might go different directions depending on the narrative, the Thargoids, how players interact with this [update]. It’s not just a finite box of things.”
If all of this sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to check out our Elite Dangerous guide to help you get started.