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Elite: Dangerous Beginner’s Starting Guide & Tips

The Elite series has always been a tough one, with gameplay mechanics that mirror its cold universe of laissez-faire capitalism and police state oppression. Elite: Dangerous doesn’t make things any easier, so, ahead of the game’s Tuesday launch, here are some helpful pointers to at least get you on your way to a better ship.

These are based on the Gamma build, but should universally apply to the launch version as well.

Crash Course

Before you do anything else, tackle the basic flight tutorials. They’re certainly not perfect at explaining everything, but if you don’t know how to dock with space stations you won’t get very far in the proper game. These tutorials are also the perfect place to fiddle around with whatever control scheme you’ve opted for. The basic combat tutorial (the one set in the asteroid field) is a pretty good benchmark for the graphics settings too. If you can hold 60fps there, you should be fine everywhere else.

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You’ll also learn how to shoot toxic waste bins here, which is … useful, I guess.

Doing every single combat scenario probably isn’t necessary, but getting good enough to triumph in the Sidewinder duel will serve you pretty well.

The tutorials (at least at the time of writing) are not brilliant at explaining the intricacies of Hyperspace and Supercruise, so I’ll expand on those a bit more when we get to the trading section.

They’re also not all that great at explaining how docking landings work, so let’s cover that right now.

Landing a Big Prize

There’s no point having a cargo hold full of desirable goods if you’re just bouncing uselessly off the space port landing pad instead of smoothly docking. Don’t be this guy.

The major aspect of landing left out by the Elite: Dangerous tutorials is that you always need to be coming in facing the pad’s mini control tower. You’ll learn to spot these, but the simplest way to tell if you’re coming in “right” is if you’re looking at the arse of your ship when the game pops up the little holographic display and starts making landing beeps.

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Not exactly a textbook landing, but the central hologram showing the rear of my ship is the important part here.

If you’ve come in at the wrong angle, just yaw around for a bit (either in the air or on the pad.) There’s a bit of leeway on how straight you really need to be. You can also land with a bit of a thump (as long as you have shields) so don’t be too afraid to come down somewhat rapidly.

Lone Gunman

If you’re just starting out in Elite: Dangerous, I’d strongly consider playing in Solo mode. You can transfer your ship to the Open Play mode at any time, and Solo will give you a decent chance to get to grips with the mechanics without the possibility of being blown up by real people.

You can still get blown up by dickish AI pirates, of course, but it at least lessens the risk a little bit.

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This is the Sidewinder duel tutorial. It’s a good idea to at least have SOME combat skills.

Once you’re confident about what you’re doing, or generally don’t care as much about the increased chance of having your ship destroyed, Open Play will be waiting for you.

Cash Moves Everything Around Me

Your first and most pressing problem in Elite: Dangerous is that you only have 1,000 credits. That’s bugger all. Not even enough to buy a single unit of certain market commodities.

This is a good time to have a look at the bulletin board in the space station the game has started you off inside. These can pay pretty good money for somebody with only 1,000 credits to their name. If you’re lucky, there’ll be something like “hey, carry these 3 tonnes of cargo (which we’ll supply) to this nearby location” with a reasonable reward.

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Assuming your Sidewinder can make it there in a jump or two, this is exactly the sort of mission you want.

Before you take one of those, do make sure that the location they want you to take the goods to really is nearby. The starting Sidewinder can’t jump all that far, so you don’t want to accept a mission out of your Frame-shift Drive range. Use the galaxy map to look for the proposed location and then plot a route there. It should be clear whether it’s possible for you to reach.

If you can make it to the delivery point in a jump or three, great. Take the mission. Make some easy-ish credits.

Your other source of mission income will probably be the “hey, can you bring us X tonnes of Resource?” type. The important things to remember with these are (1) You need to know where you can buy what they need and (2) You’ll actually have to buy it, so you’d need enough credits to do so. Don’t jump on a “bring us some Silver!” mission before you have a clue where to buy some, or before you can even afford the commodity.

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The galaxy map will show you other systems within range.

A reasonable way of deducing where to buy a certain commodity is to go to the market screen, find the item in question and see if the space station lists where the resource is generally imported from. That can be a helpful pointer (though remember that systems sometimes have multiple ports in them, and not all of them may sell the resource in question.)

It’s also possible to figure out what types of resources are imported/exported based on the type of economy a particular space station is supporting, or by using the trade route tools on the galaxy map (though these don’t always seem to be 100% accurate, so I prefer the other methods.)

Avoid the illegal or combat-based missions for now, as these either require more advanced flying techniques or can get you into some pretty serious faction trouble. Or both.

Commidification

If there aren’t any interesting or acceptable missions for you to pick up at your starting station, don’t panic. You’ll just have to do some low-level trading instead. This has the added bonus that it’ll get you to a new station with (potentially) new trade mission opportunities.

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This place has a shitload of Tantalum, selling for well below the galactic average.

To determine what’s selling cheap at your starting station, open up the commodities market page and look for things that are marked as having a very high supply. That means the place has loads of them, and will be flogging them off to anybody. Hopefully the station will sell something you can afford with your 100 credit starting budget.

If it doesn’t, you can try flying to another port in the same system (and again looking for a trade mission to give you a nice cash boost) or head to another system in search of opportunities.

Once you’ve found something affordable in high supply, have a look in the little resource information box in the right-hand sidebar for a list of systems that resource is exported to. Write them down if necessary, and then look at the galaxy map to see whether any are relatively close by. If you can reach the destination, then buy the goods and head off there.

Bear in mind that systems often have multiple ports (of differing economic status,) so you may have to locate the specific port the resource is exported to. You can either do this by trial and error, or attempt to deduce it by each space port’s economic level and status on the system map (an agricultural location, for example, is unlikely to require more food – but an isolated industrial refinery might.)

There’s a big helpful chart showing these sorts of general economic trade rules, here.

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Look for systems with high tech and high populations if you need ship upgrades.

If you don’t mind using a bit of a trading shortcut, online tools like this one can help you locate great trade routes near your local area. Just be aware that the data may not always be up-to-date.

Also, don’t forget that you can manually reset your save from the main options menu if necessary. Some starting positions may just be a bit crap, so if you’ve played around for a while and been unable to find any decent missions or trades, you may just want to wipe your save and be dealt a new one.

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

You’ve taken a mission, or bought some goods, or need to switch systems. Now it’s time to master travel in Elite: Dangerous.

Setting your Hyperspace target can be done in a couple of ways. You can either select the destination on the galaxy map, or pull up the left-hand side panel in your ship’s cockpit, find the navigation tab and select your preferred destination from the list.

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This is where you set specific course for destinations (if you haven’t already done so on the galaxy map.)

If your chosen destination is a couple of stars away, you’ll have to make multiple jumps. The galaxy map has a “plot route” option that will auto-enter the route for you, if desired. Be careful not to go too far afield at first, the starting Sidewinder ship doesn’t have a massive jump range or fuel tank and you don’t want to end up stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Once you’ve launched from the station and got far enough away from it (too close, and your drive will say it’s still “Mass Locked,”) activate your Frame-Shift Drive (the default key for this is J) and line up with the destination. The small target-like indicator with a hollow/filled dot on it to the left-hand side of your main radar will help you like up. The dot is your destination. Hollow dot means it’s behind you, filled dot means you’re close to being lined up.

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See that blue dot to the top-left of the central radar? That’s your guide to lining up.

Hyperspace will kick in and you’ll arrive at your selected destination. Travel between systems is done through Hyperspace, but travel within systems is referred to as Supercruise. You’ll automatically be in Supercruise when you drop out of Hyperspace.

First, navigate away from the giant star you’re inevitably about to run into. Now, use the navigation tab (left-hand cockpit panel) to select a dock, port or platform to head towards. You can also use the system map to look at the different available space stations, and find out what services they offer (shipyards, commodities market and so on.)

When your destination (let’s say Example Dock) is locked in, line up just as you did with the Hyperspace indicator and speed up. You’ll notice that it might say your destination is about 6 hours away (or much worse,) but that timer should start coming down rapidly as you speed up.

The trick to getting to a destination as quickly as possible, while not overshooting it, is to go at maximum speed until the timer is at around the 7-8 second mark. Once it is, decelerate so the speed indicator is towards the bottom of the blue-marked portion of your dashboard. The timer will start going up again. Now work the throttle to keep the time around the 7 second mark. If it dips into 4-5 seconds, you’ll probably overshoot.

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Holding at the 07-08 seconds range will get you there as fast as possible, without overshooting.

This will all make more sense once you’ve done it a couple of times. Elite: Dangerous also provides a couple of indicators over on the left hand side of your cockpit display, showing a distance and speed bar. Once you get close to a destination in Supercruise, you can use these bars to keep your speed matched with the distance.

As soon as you’re close enough and travelling at a safe speed, Elite: Dangerous will invite you to safely disengage your Frame-Shift Drive (again, should be J, but you can check in your key bindings in case you have a separate key bound for leaving Supercruise.) Do so, and you’ll appear in space near your chosen port or dock.

While cruising through an unfamiliar zone, your default discovery scanner may have identified some unknown planets or stars. These can be a nice credit bonus if you sell them to the cartographer at a space port (generally you get more money for selling the data further afield, but early on a quick injection of 500 credits or so can be very useful.)

Interdiction. Emphasis on Dic.

Even in solo play, people are going to try to kill you. If you’re unlucky, some AI pirate jerkwad will attempt an Interdiction while you’re Supercruising to your destination. You can attempt to fight if you fancy your chances, but early on in the game it’s usually best to just avoid them where possible.

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Sometimes you get attacked by Sidewinders with no shields. In which case you can just laugh and blow them up.

When the Interdiction is attempted, you have the chance to escape by keeping your ship lined up with the “Escape Velocity” area and filling up a blue bar. The easiest way to escape is to successfully attempt this.

If you don’t manage it and are still caught, all is not necessarily lost. Either whack all power into your Engines (if you think you can out-run the pursuer) or Systems (if he’s as fast as you, and you need shield power.) You’ll have to survive long enough for your Frame-Shift Drive to cool down, and then charge up again. Hold out long enough, and you’ll be able to flee.

If you are destroyed at this early point, it may not be all that bad. Elite: Dangerous will give you a new Sidewinder free of charge, so all you’ll have lost is any cargo you were carrying. Of course, in the very early game this can screw you over, and may force you to restart.

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SO LONELY

Later, being destroyed will cost you the cargo and an insurance cost for your ship (very roughly speaking around 5% of its total value, including modules.) So when you own your first paid-for ship make sure you always have some credits on hand to cover unforeseen loss of cargo or death. You can get a loan at the time of death if you’re short, but who wants to owe that kind of money?

Hitting the Dock of the Bay

Assuming you avoided any Interdiction and made it to your destination, it’s now time to land at the port. In Elite: Dangerous (in-keeping with the series’ tradition of difficult docking procedures) this can bring its own problems.

Before anything else, you need to request docking permission from the station. Forget to do this, and the ultra-militant cop-ships will be delighted to blow you up for unauthorised docking. They’ll also enjoy attacking you if you’re carrying any illegal cargo or have a terrible criminal record. If none of those things apply to you (and they shouldn’t, this early in the game,) you have nothing to fear from their scans.

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The letterbox slot on this type of station is pretty easy to find.

Once docking has been granted and you’ve been given a pad number to land on, you need to either figure out where the entrance to the station is, or (if it’s a smaller platform with external pads,) just find the right landing area. They light up orange with fairly large numbers on, so the external pads shouldn’t be too hard to find. It may take a little bit of searching the outside of the platform.

The larger stations, particularly the geometrically shaped ‘Coriolis’ ones, can be trickier. You’re looking for a blue hued letter-boxed shaped entrance to fly into. The stations with a sort of rotating wheel are easier than the geometric shape ones; you can find their entrances at the end with the wheel on it.

For the geometric stations, you can use the following method which I take absolutely no credit for. Look at the way the station is rotating, curl your fingers in the same way indicated by this graphic, and your thumb should be pointing out of where the docking entrance is. Magic.

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Remember the thumb rule and you’ll be fine.

If you have the station targeted, the letterbox entrance will also show up on the little hologram display on your cockpit screen – but only in relation to your own position in space. The thumb rule is really the best way to figure it out.

Once inside, find your designated landing pad, avoid loitering at others (or you’ll get a warning, and then get shot at) and land using the additional tips I gave further up. Then pull up the station services, turn in your mission (if you have one) at the Bulletin Board or sell your commodities. Hopefully, if you’ve done everything right, for a small profit.

Becoming a Space Millionaire

I … can’t actually tell you how to do that, but congratulations! You’ve now learned pretty much all the basic principles of trading. Buy low, travel to a new location, sell high. Repeat until you can afford a better ship.

Your first goal (especially if you like trading,) should be to amass around 50-60k credits so you can afford a Hauler. This will take a while, but if you keep an eye out for high-paying missions (10-20k reward for supplying some relatively basic goods) and work the trade routes where even your 4 tonne Sidewinder cargo hold is bringing in a tidy profit on each run, you’ll get there.

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The finest space-van credits can buy.

The Hauler (above) has double the cargo space and can be outfitted with even more if you switch out, say, the discovery scanner for more cargo holds – or find a station selling class 3 cargo upgrades. Once you have a hearty cargo hold and a bit of capital to fill it up, the credits start rolling in.

Beyond the Hauler, you can progress to an Adder (about 40k if you part-exchange the Hauler) as a good all-rounder ship, or something like a Viper (probably in the 110k region part-exchange) if you fancy a bounty hunting and combat career.

The next all-rounder after that point is probably the Cobra, in the 350k range. Beyond that … who knows? Mining, deep space exploration and hunting down criminals are all possible options. Or simply carry on trading. Once you know the basics, Elite: Dangerous is your sandbox.

Good luck, Commander.