Following a plethora of combat upgrades to my Cobra Mk. III, I spent several hours farming kills at the anarchic world of Riedquat, upgrading my rank and waiting for something cool to happen.
The beam lasers, of course, made the biggest difference, but they aren't a straightforward upgrade over pulse lasers. They can shred through your enemies, but they overheat so quickly that after two scratches you'll need to wait a few seconds to cool down before firing on a third. Depending on how tough the enemies, or how much you miss (it's often unintuitive to figure out exactly where you're supposed to aim, especially at a distance), they may overheat sooner - possibly not even killing one. This cooldown, I found, was an ideal time to fire missiles, which are otherwise easy to accidentally shoot down with your own laser fire.
I don't know if these lasers are more efficient than the stock pulse ones in terms of damage-heat ratio, but the extra damage is welcome. When three or four pirates are firing at you at once, it pays to thin the pack as quickly as possible.
My extra lasers made less of a difference, sadly. Rear-firing lasers are useful in theory, as you can engage targets on your tail and let your aft shield take the punishment while your fore shield recharges, but it is hard to keep them on your tailgun's line of fire unless you're going faster than them, and if you are, then the distance is increasing, you're hitting them less accurately, and the spawn timer becomes more likely to trigger reinforcements before you're done. Side-lasers seem pretty useless, as enemies rarely attacked me side-on, and besides that, if you're moving (as you should be), then an enemy approaching from the side will soon become an enemy flying behind you.
Combat at Riequat is basically unending. With skill and some luck, you might be able to fight off a wave of pirates before the next one spawns, but waiting for your shields and energy banks to completely recharge is out of the question. Either you reach the planet, or, more likely, your energy banks deplete and you die unless you warp out while you still can. It is crucial that you arrive in the system with at least half a tank of fuel, and that you plot an escape course before the shooting starts.
Bounty hunting, sadly, hadn't been nearly as lucrative as I hoped. A kill might get me around 10-15cr on average, but each missile cost 30cr, and with the cost of one or two per trip, needed to keep me alive, plus the cost of fuel, my finances were trending slightly downward. Occasionally I'd pick up some jettisoned cargo, and occasionally the "cargo" would be the ship's ejected crew, showing up on the manifest as slaves, and could only be gotten rid of by selling them in port. I choose to believe that I was really turning them over to the authorities and paid a bonus for bringing them in alive.
Eventually, I simply went back on my old trading route and quickly accumulated enough to purchase a 6,000cr military laser, which does even more damage, and overheats even faster.
After about another hour of fighting anarchists, my combat rating improving to levels like "above average" and soon after "competent," a special message popped up.
And when I docked, a secret transmission came through.
The ship had been last seen at "Reesdice," which would take several jumps to reach.
No problem. I had plenty of cash for fuel and missiles, and docking computers to automate landing after each jump. Getting there was just a matter of patience and avoiding anarchic systems. The handful of pirates fought along the way were no problem.
I arrived, and a handful of pirates attacked, but no Constrictor prototype. I docked, and got some info.
Arexe was in hyperspace range, so I warped over.
I went back to my trader ways, sniffing out an easy and moderately profitable local route, and scrounged enough for a galactic hyperdrive of my own. And let it rip.
New galaxy, same template. But the constrictor was nowhere to be seen here, and the locals hadn't a clue. Where could it be? Was I even in the right galaxy?
I wandered around a little, but not one planet in the vicinity offered anything. I turned to the Internet, where I found a video where a player went to "Orarra" in this galaxy. I have no idea how you're supposed to know to go there, but I did, and got an interesting tip.
So I flew around Orarra's high orbit, until something blipped on my radar, and I closed in.
The ensuing dogfight was long, but not challenging. The constrictor could take a lot of punishment, and thwarted my missiles with its ECM system, but I was able to spend most of the fight on its tail, keeping it on evasive maneuvers, shooting at it when I could, and occasionally having to engage my own ECM to defeat its missiles. I eventually broke through its hull. The trip back to medium orbit, which took nearly twenty minutes and brought on numerous dogfights with groups of pirates, was comparatively more difficult.
I'm satisfied to call this the end. I've more or less exhausted Elite's gameplay possibilities - you pretty much have to in order to beat this mission given that it basically requires a fully upgraded Cobra. According to Bell's own FAQ, you need to score 1,280 kills to unlock the second and final original mission, and 6,400 to attain the ultimate combat rating of Elite. I had attained Dangerous, and through some memory viewing I found that I had attained 627 myself, so I wasn't even close to either of these milestones. Spending another week farming kills in some anarchic hellscape just for the chance to fight endless thargoid marauders, let alone a month for some status line, just doesn't appeal.
GAB rating: Good
Prior to playing Elite, my only exposure to the space trading combat sim genre had been Wing Commander: Privateer, which I enjoyed quite a bit. I knew it borrowed heavily from Elite, but I had no idea just how much of it had been done already, and often just as competently, nearly ten years earlier on a system with a tenth of the power and with a fractional percentage of its program size.
The open world aspect is admittedly underutilized - the galaxy may have thousands of worlds, but there's not much distinguishing the actual experience of visiting one word from another - but Elite's solid space combat model made it fulfilling, engaging, and fun for days, and the system of open world trading and ship upgrades gave it a satisfying RPG-like power curve. As a worthy follow-up to Star Raiders, and a model for open world games for decades to come, I award it a harpoon, a place in the ivory deck, and consider it the strongest contender yet for GOTY 1984.