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Elite Dangerous’ aliens are pissed and they’re not gonna take it anymore

Things just got a lot more complicated in the Bubble

A player sweeps low over a burning planetary city port, targeting a Thargoid scout. Image: Frontier Developments
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Elite Dangerous’ next big update goes live on Tuesday, bringing war to the billions of virtual inhabitants of the Milky Way galaxy. After months of build-up, the game’s alien race will now begin an all-out assault on human occupied space. It’s up to players to choose how to engage with this new gameplay — either guns blazing, through humanitarian missions, or by helping to solve the game’s notoriously complex in-game puzzles.

The alien race known to humans as the Thargoids first made their appearance in 2017, about three years after the game originally launched. Initially, massive Thargoid ships pulled players out of hyperspace merely to inspect them, like giant dolphins toying with a swimmer. But these close encounters eventually turned hostile. Fast forward to August, and humanity’s last best hope of a super weapon failed — but not before it antagonized the Thargoids into taking drastic steps to ensure their own safety.

Now a new threat has emerged, and it seems to be directly targeting humanity. For weeks now, so-called “stargoids” have been moving at faster than light speed, with eight of them heading straight for the Bubble — the tiny sphere of populated space with Earth at its core. On Tuesday, those stargoids will finally slow down and begin their terrible work.

[Warning: What follows will spoil Elite Dangerous’ Update 14 in detail.]

Eight mysterious clouds will arrive in the Bubble starting on Tuesday, each one more than 180 km across. The clouds will each have a name and a marker visible on the tactical display. Players will be able to scan for these markers, target them, and eventually fly inside them. Once inside, they’ll be treated to some of Elite’s stunning audio, but also to particle and lighting effects unlike others that have come before.

During a press briefing shared with Polygon last week, we learned that dozens of mysterious cross-shaped entities reside inside each of these clouds. The entities are propelled by whiffs of the same green gas in which they float. It will be up to players to study their movements and learn how and why they have been sent to the bubble.

Elite: Dangerous screenshot showing an Anaconda-class starship docking inside an Orbis starport.
A player docking inside a massive Orbis starport.
Image: Frontier Developments

Once these clouds are in place, Thargoid forces will spread outward to damage and ultimately destroy human instalations. Their targets will include the largest structures in the game — like Ocellus and Orbis starports. Combat-focused players will be able to camp out at a given starbase and continuously do battle with the Thargoids outside, hopefully pushing them back. Once in-system, players will be able to return to nearby landing pads to refit, refuel, and repair their damaged ship. Meanwhile, more humanitarian-focused players will be able to make daring blockade runs with supplies, leaving with a cargo hold filled with frightened refugees. Developers expect there should be a style of gameplay that appeals to everyone.

“It looks quite combat-focused, and those are the things that generally are quite flashy as well,” said lead game designer Luke Betterton, “but [...] the gameplay that you can undertake in Elite Dangerous is still gameplay that is part of this upcoming update as well. If you’re a pure trader, or if you’re a bit more of a kind of humanitarian type, there are avenues in there for you to be able to continue that gameplay as well. You might just have a bit more of a challenge dealing with it.”

A planetary city and port facility burns after a Thargoid assault.
Surface sites will also be targeted by Thargoid battlegroups.
Image: Frontier Developments

Betterton and senior producer Samantha Marsh stressed that Update 14, as it’s called, will be accessible by the entire Elite community — not just those who purchased the recent Odyssey expansion.

“We have been incredibly focused on improving the game experience, in making sure that we were optimizing, fixing,” Marsh said, referring to the work done to shore up Odyssey’s buggy launch. “[We have also been] providing gameplay experiences that were sort of package experiences — like the the fleet carrier interiors, which we really wanted to develop and grow.

A spaceship heading toward a murky, red and gray cloud in space.
Thargoid Maelstroms, as they are called in-game, will be visible during hyperspace travel. Thargoid warships will be close by, providing opportunities for combat both inside and outside the caustic clouds.
Image: Frontier Developments

“It feels like the right time to move towards changes that are not sort of self-contained packages. We are impacting the whole galaxy now. We’re changing how the game is really existing for players. [...] We feel like it’s a really good moment to sort of really show that we’re committed to seeing where we can really push things and develop areas of the game as well.”

Players new and old will be able to follow along with the story of the Thargoid invasion of the Bubble, which will be regularly updated on the in-game news service called Galnet. Update 14 also brings a new tab on the galaxy map that will help players to track and participate in the conflict.

Once a multi-platform title with console and Mac clients, Elite Dangerous’ ongoing narrative is strictly a Windows PC experience now. Players who previously played on consoles now have the opportunity for their save file to be transferred to PC. You can read the full Update 14 patch notes on the Frontier Development website.

Update: After our story was published, developers reached out to clarify that the Thargoid Maelstroms will not migrate. Once in place, Thargoid craft will spread outward from them to damage human installations.

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