Frontier Developments recently confirmed the scope of the exploration changes coming to Elite: Dangerous Beyond – Chapter 4. Frontier invited me to their offices, along with 16 other community members and content creators, to see the exploration changes in action. We also got to see the rest of the content coming in Q4 of this year. While some of it is still unannounced and therefore under NDA, I’d like to take this time to share some of the details of what’s to come and some thoughts on the new features and changes.
What’s Coming in Beyond Chapter 4
So far, Frontier Developments has confirmed a revamp to their lighting model across the entire game, along with some pretty extensive changes to their existing exploration and mining systems. They also shared the upcoming “Codex” back at Frontier Expo last October. Frontier said these systems would tie quite neatly together, and improve the quality of life for players who engaged in these activities.
However, the devs have given very little information about how the changes would work up until very recently.
Upcoming Exploration Changes – The Discovery Scanner
Frontier confirmed that the exploration system was getting a complete overhaul in Q4. You can read that on their forum. This was something they hadn’t gone into too much detail about until a few weeks ago during a dev livestream on their YouTube channel. To understand the extent of these updates, we first need to cover how exactly exploration works at the moment.
Right now, players jump into a system and use their Discovery Scanner (or D-Scanner) to scan the system for stellar bodies. By default, players only see the primary star. Assuming players have an Advanced Discovery Scanner equipped, which has unlimited range, all stellar bodies in that star system will then pop-up on the system map. Players can then target each stellar body and scan them with their default ship scanner to get additional information. Players also get their name on any undiscovered bodies this way. This also nets them some credits (more if they have a detailed surface scanner equipped). And…that’s pretty much it. It’s a relaxing experience, but there’s not much to it. Many members of the Elite community find it quite boring.
The new system, however, adds more “gameplay” to the experience. Players will now use their D-Scanner to locate planets by investigating patterns and signals on a new Analysis Mode. This will involve narrowing your search down to specific areas and matching patterns to locate specific types of bodies. As you start to recognize patterns, you might decide only certain ones are worth chasing down for the planet or body on the other end.
Upcoming Exploration Changes – The Detailed Surface Scanner
Anyone who was primarily exploring in Elite: Dangerous would always have a Detailed Surface Scanner equipped. This module gives enhanced information about a body, including what materials exist, whether it’s terraformable, and other details. It also had the added side effect of providing extra credits when handing in the data at the end of your trip. However, it was mostly just point and fly in a direction, let your scan finish once you were close enough, then move on.
The new system takes the Detailed Surface Scanner and adds the ability to instead map planets. In this system, players will be able to launch probes from their DSS and map the surface. They can also use the mass and gravity of the planet to sort of slingshot probes around the opposite side, without having to fly around manually. It’s a really interesting, scientifically semi-accurate system. Players can also refill their probes through synthesis, though the recipe hasn’t been fully decided yet.
This also adds a new tag on stellar bodies called “first mapped by”. This will mean players can either get their name on an object by being the first to scan it or by being the first to map it. Or both, if you’re either determined or lucky.
Thoughts on the New Exploration Changes
As a career explorer, I was really excited to see the exploration changes. The screenshots Frontier shared on their livestream and the details they gave already sounded like the system was exactly the way it should have been from the beginning. However, we did see the system in action at the Frontier offices. After that, I was pretty sold.
The new D-Scan system is much more engaging. I initially thought it might be too complicated, especially for newer players but it seems to be fairly intuitive. Locating the patterns is a simple but fun mini-game. It’ll be interesting to see how easily players can filter out less valuable planets to avoid having to scan down everything individually, even if it’s worth very little.
The new probes are probably the most exciting part of this. There’s an element of skill in launching the probes around the planet using its mass and gravity to predict the right angle. The sound of the probes activating is also incredibly satisfying. This also was shown to tie very nicely into the new mining system. Launching probes at planetary rings reveals hot spots that might be worth investigating for mining. My only concern is whether they’ll get the balance right for how many probes are stored in the scanner, and its synthesis recipe. Frontier is still working these out.
Upcoming Mining Changes
Frontier announced a mining overhaul last year during Frontier Expo. This was another welcome change, as mining is an area of the game that the community often feels is boring or has been somewhat overlooked. A lot of players feel like it’s a punishment to have to mine in order to unlock engineers.
So far we know that the mining tools and modules were getting a bit of an update. They also discussed “hot spots” and the ability to blow open an asteroid for big rewards.
The goal of the update to mining is to improve rewards, whilst simultaneously making mining a more engaging, if more dangerous, experience for players.
Thoughts on the Mining Changes
We got to see the mining update in action as well. The new miner’s toolkit opens up a few different ways for players to mine asteroids. It’s also tied in quite nicely with the new scanning system introduced for exploration. Players can still mine the current way, but there are additional tools that they will want to use for different purposes.
One thing we were all looking forward to was seeing an asteroid being blown open. This was something Frontier had suggested was coming before, and they showed it off in their offices during our visit. It’s a visceral experience. The asteroid shatters, exposing rewards within as debris floats off into space. The sound design team has, once again, outdone themselves. During the demonstration, I jokingly exclaimed, “Well, I’m a miner now.” I was only half joking.
The new system is a little more complicated than the existing mining experience, but it is again very intuitive. There are visual cues that lead players to make the right decisions for which tools to use and how. It definitely makes mining a lot more exciting and engaging than its current iteration.
Thoughts on Other Announced Changes
We also got to see the lighting overhaul, the Codex, and the Squadron system. While I can’t go into too much detail about how each system looks or works until Frontier has officially announced them, I can give some thoughts based on what we got exposed to. The lighting overhaul is fairly self-explanatory, so I won’t go into detail on that. However, the other two features are a bit more detailed.
The Codex was initially described as a tool for explorers to be able to track where they’ve been and what discoveries they’ve made. They also mentioned there may be other information about things that might exist out in the black. However, it appears that there’s been a lot more thought put into this. Once again Frontier has been aiming at adding a feature to unify many disparate aspects of the game. The Codex essentially provides a kind of central hub. I feel it’ll be useful to a lot of different kinds of players.
Squadrons are effectively guilds or corporations, depending on which game you’ve come from. They add a lot of much-needed social features to the game, especially with Frontier repeatedly trying to encourage players to move towards Open Play. The Squadron system brings a lot of ways for players to communicate and show allegiance within the game. There are obviously some things missing, such as the Fleet Carriers which were announced in Frontier Expo and have now been delayed. Overall, though, it looks like they’re putting a lot of thought into the system. There will be more information on these as the developer livestreams come out soon.
But What About the Unannounced Stuff?
Frontier’s Executive Producer, Adam Woods, showed us some features that have yet to be announced or detailed anywhere. While none of us can go into too much detail on these due to the NDA, it’s worth noting that more is coming. The recent 3.2 update was a bit lackluster with updates, and the community was getting a bit jaded. Frontier has definitely added a lot more changes to the way a lot of basic game features work.
It’s also worth mentioning that we didn’t see everything coming in Chapter 4. We certainly didn’t see any lore-related updates, which may or may not come with the update. It’s safe to assume there will probably be some additions to the Guardian or Thargoid storylines. However, what will come with this update remains to be seen. Frontier didn’t mention anything, and it’s quite possible this was because they like those updates to be a bit of a surprise. Of course, it may be that they don’t add any lore updates this time around. Either way, we’ll have to wait and see.
Frontier Developments has had a rocky few months with Elite: Dangerous as far as community sentiment has been concerned. Whilst the majority of players are pretty satisfied, there have definitely been some dissenting voices on the forum and various social channels. This is particularly true of recent patches and the Gnosis community event. That, plus the fact that they’ve dialed back the ice planets and fleet carriers that were due to come in Chapter 4, had some players questioning what was going on.
After what they’ve announced for Chapter 4, and what we saw during our presentation, it’s safe to say this is the biggest update of the year for Elite. In fact, there’s a lot more content coming with the update than Frontier originally announced. This is even despite them pushing back two of the bigger features. While a lot of that content is intended to tidy up existing features and link them together more intuitively, there’s a lot of new things to play with. I’ll cautiously say miners and explorers are going to be pretty happy with the changes. We may even see more players venturing into those two areas very soon.
What are you most looking forward to in Chapter 4? Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions about what I saw. I will answer what I can.Related: Article, Elite Dangerous: Beyond, Elite Dangerous: Horizons, Elite: Dangerous, Frontier Developments, Simulation, Space, Space Sim