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Elite Dangerous is now on Xbox Game Pass, learn to play without getting overwhelmed

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They should have sent a poet

PvP combat in Elite: Dangerous Frontier Developments

Elite Dangerous gets a bad rap. As with Eve Online, lots of folks like to dunk on the spacefaring simulation by saying how they love reading about it but would never spend time playing it. Yes, a game with 400 billion star systems and a player base known for pulling some next-level stunts can be intimidating. But for my money, there is no game more beautiful or low-key chill than Elite.

Following a promotion on the Epic Games Store, chances are you might be sitting on a free copy for Windows PC right now. If not, Elite Dangerous is now part of the Xbox Game Pass program. There’s never been a better time to start flying — especially with a big upgrade on the way in the form of first-person shooter mechanics and much more with Elite Dangerous: Odyssey.

Here’s how to get started in Elite Dangerous.

The new tutorials are actually good

First things first: Many moons ago, I wrote a big, long getting-started guide. Much of what I wrote in there is still useful, but the good news is that Elite now features a perfectly acceptable series of tutorials. It also starts players out in a tiny little estuary of star systems, a safe place to get your bearings that keeps high-level players from messing with you. Plus, every ship now comes standard with an autopilot system for both takeoff and landing. Everything else is gravy.

Listen, I sat my kids down in front of the PlayStation late last year and guided them both — aged 10 and 7 at the time — through the first few hours of Elite. If they can get a handle on how to fly a spaceship in the 34th century, then you can too. And if you’re worried about griefers, you can always launch into a private version of the massively multiplayer game all by yourself.

Keep the controller map handy

There have been tons of quality-of-life improvements made to the game since I wrote that guide in 2017, not least of which are the increased resolution and frame rate available on the Xbox Series X. The game looks absolutely stunning.

One of two button maps for Elite Dangerous on Xbox. Image: Frontier Developments
One of two button maps for Elite Dangerous on Xbox. Image: Frontier Developments

Unfortunately, the controller integration is still a nightmare. Keep the button mappings included in this article handy. You’ll thank me later when you’re careening into a T Tauri star and need to pop a heat sink. For PlayStation and some commonly used joysticks, check out my original guide.

Can you play the game with a joystick? Absolutely! Pedals and a throttle help as well. But thanks to the popularity of Microsoft Flight Simulator and, I’m sure, the current semiconductor shortage, finding a joystick for a reasonable price — especially for Xbox — is practically impossible.

Learn from experienced players on YouTube

Do you you learn better with a YouTube video? Frontier has its own series of tutorial videos that can get you started, but even the studio itself admits they’re a little dated. Might I recommend the Psyche Plays YouTube channel, which has a very palatable set of how-to videos? (As an aside, her in-game HUD is purple and also amazing. Here’s an easy way to change your own HUD colors if you’re on PC.)

Join a community for new players

Finally — and I really cannot stress this enough — understand that the community of other players inside Elite Dangerous is its single greatest resource.

Griefers are a vanishingly small minority of players and, with luck, you’ll never run into them in open play. Instead, you’re likely to find bumping into other players as a cause for celebration — two ships meeting in a massive game, hailing each other, and just saying hello.

There are plenty of in-game groups you could join, but know that the major point of interaction with other players will be outside the game in Discord. Maybe you’ve heard about the Fuel Rats, who bring fuel to players who get stranded in the black. You might even know about the Hull Seals, a daring group that performs even more high-risk rescues than that. But while you’re just getting started, allow me to introduce you to the New Pilots Initiative, or the NPI for short.

The mission patch for the New Pilots Initiative features an Elite chevron, plus all three major platforms where the game is played. Image: Commander Mgram

The NPI is a relatively new organization that got stood up over just the last few years. It’s a dedicated group spread across all the major platforms where Elite Dangerous is played. There is a core group of mentors and coaches who will take you under their wing as able, but the NPI Discord channel itself is a tremendous resource. Hop on in, and you’ll be able to drop into the Ask n Answer channel anytime to quickly get answers to questions as they crop up. Fleet Carriers will be of use once you decide to make a longer trip, or just want to learn about the biggest ships in the game. And the 911 SOS Help channel does exactly what it says on the tin.

Here’s hoping you have fun with Elite Dangerous. It’s one of my very favorite games to play and to cover here at Polygon. If you’re still not up for it and would rather read about this fascinating game instead, there’s a storystream I’m fond of about my 65,000-light-year trip across the Milky Way with the Distant Worlds 2 expedition.