A call has been sent out to all commanders in the Pilot Federation for help. Apparently things have been getting a bit rowdy over in the Rakapila system, and they’re after some able pilots to come and hunt down any wanted ships in their system. The rewards are good, and with the credits you earn you’ll be able to buy some much needed upgrades for your newly acquired Cobra MK III.

You’re a few jumps into your journey to Rakapila when you enter a system that has a star that looks absolutely mesmerising. With shafts of white light projecting from cones at both poles it looks unlike anything else you’ve come across in your travels. As you move in for a better look your frame shift drive suddenly fails and unexpectedly drops you out of faster than light travel. Something is wrong. Very wrong.

If you’d paid attention in astrophysics class – or indeed even bothered to take any classes – you’d know that what you’re looking at is a white dwarf star. You’d also know that they give off an immense amount of heat – even for a star – and this is what’s currently cooking your ship with you in it. As you see the heat display for your ship's systems rapidly tick up towards 100 per cent, you panic. Plotting a course to another star system, you align your escape vector and fire up your drive for the jump to witch-space.

Unfortunately, doing this only causes the heat levels of your ship to jump even higher, and you cross your fingers and pray that you’ll jump before your ships blows up. It seems to take an eternity for the drive to charge as your ships heat levels tick past 120 per cent. You’re sure you’re going to die, but suddenly, your ships jumps, and with a sigh of relief you realise you’ve managed to survive another brush with death in Elite Dangerous.

As exhilarating as these sorts of encounters can be, it’s safe to say that for any new players coming to the PlayStation 4 version of Elite Dangerous, the first few hours can feel downright cruel at times. With no critical path to follow, and very little guidance as to what to do once dropped into the galaxy, you’ll need to be prepared for failure whether it comes as a result of getting destroyed in combat, running out of fuel, or crashing rather spectacularly while trying to dock at a space station.

Sure, there are a number of tutorials and videos to take you through various aspects of this space-sim, but these only really scratch the surface – while also ironically overloading you with information at the same time. As a result, no matter what role you decide to assume in the galaxy – whether pirate, smuggler, bounty hunter, trader, or explorer – you’ll need to be prepared to take a certain amount of ownership for learning how everything works yourself, because in many cases Elite Dangerous sure as hell isn’t going to tell you.

The steep learning curve in Elite Dangerous will be too big a hurdle for some to get over, and if the thought of spending your first few hours with the game just learning how to fly, take-off, and land sounds far too tedious then Elite will undoubtedly rub you up the wrong way. If you do manage to get past this initial challenge, you’ll start to feel much more comfortable delving deeper into this vast galactic playground. That’s not to say things get easier as you’ll be repeatedly butting heads with some frustratingly implemented systems, but there’s a satisfying sense of achievement when you do finally get your head around another vaguely explained aspect of the mechanics.

While you can play Elite Dangerous in a solo instance absent of other players, the best way to experience it is in open play. Being able to cross paths with fellow commanders provides an exciting wild card element to your travels, and coming across another human in a remote area of space – absent of any law enforcement to intervene – can be a tense situation as you try and figure out if they might try and attack you, or join you on your adventure.

The fact there’s no way to opt out of player-versus-player combat in Elite – unless you go back into a solo instance, of course – can make it a little nerve wracking at times, especially when heading to high player traffic systems. But with as much fun to be had by evading assailants as fighting them, you won’t mind paying out the insurance charge on those occasions your ship ends up orbiting a moon in pieces.

One of the hardest parts of playing Elite Dangerous is deciding just what to do with yourself. Whether you pick up the base version of the game or the Deluxe Edition that includes the Horizons expansion – that gives access to additional content like surface landings and passenger missions – you’ll find plenty to do: going for a drive in your SRV on the surface of a barren planet, exploring undiscovered star systems, trading goods, grouping up in wings with other players to kill pirates – the list is long and varied. That said, it can be easy to get in a rut and spend too much time doing one thing in particular – especially if you’re making good money doing it – and when this happens it can begin to feel a bit repetitive.

With the total absence of a specific end goal for players you’ll need to uncover those activities that’ll appeal most to you. Fortunately, the simple act of flying your ship around is perhaps the most consistently engaging aspect of Elite Dangerous. This is mainly due to a flight model that requires you to not only carefully manage your throttle, but to also look after the power distribution between the various ships systems. This ends up adding an interesting dimension to the combat as you’ll be frequently shifting your system priorities between weapons, shields, and engines, all based on the ebb and flow of an engagement.

From fighters to freighters, there’s a variety of ships to pilot, and the ability to easily change modules and configurations means you’re never locked into one role. Tweaking the setup of your ships to suit the tasks ahead can become a bit of an obsession too, and if you really want to personalise your ship further there are a number of cosmetic items such as paint jobs and body kits – available for an additional charge – that you can use to stand out from the other commanders.

Another part of Elite Dangerous that makes flying around so much fun is how great the game looks and sounds. If you’re playing on the PlayStation 4 Pro you’ll have the option to run the games visuals optimised for performance or quality, but however you play you’ll be consistently impressed. Whether it’s the sight of lasers stabbing through the blackness of space, flying into a planetary ring, or docking at a vast orbital space station, you won’t help but be drawn in by what you’re seeing.

The sound also helps elevate your immersion further through an understated soundtrack that conveys the loneliness of space well, and a suite of sound effects that really sell the stress and strain that your ship would go through travelling at faster-than-light speeds. While the lack of PlayStation VR support is certainly disappointing, and will hopefully be added at some point in the future, you’ll still find it all too easy to lose yourself in your galactic voyages.

Conclusion

With a legacy stretching way back in gaming history, the Elite series has always asked a lot of its commanders and Elite Dangerous is no different. With so many game systems packed into this gigantic space-sim, it’s unsurprising that for new players the first small step can feel more like a giant leap. Even after getting over any initial frustrations, the frequently vexing mechanics will test your patience time and time again, but despite these issues there’s a magic to Elite Dangerous that will keep you playing. Whether it’s a close encounter with a white dwarf, an intense dogfight, or just a cruise between star systems, the freedom and opportunity laid across its billions of stars means that Elite Dangerous offers spectacular space-tourism all from the comfort of your sofa.