Dualities in Gaming
When you’ve been an avid gamer as long as I have, with a gaming history dating back to black and white Pokémon on the original Gameboy (yes, I am that old), you see a fair number of what I like to call dualities. A duality occurs when two strikingly similar games release simultaneously and compete with each other in more than one way.
Inevitably one of the games outshines the other; no matter how fierce the competition is, one eventually wins. Some classic examples include Pokémon versus Digimon, Call of Duty versus Medal of Honor, Street Fighter versus Virtua Fighter, and Hollow Knight versus Shovel Knight.
Even if you have a preference for one of these dualities, the number of active gamers and units sold clearly shows which one won and which one lost.
I don’t care how much you like Digimon and argue their latest movie makes them relevant, they’re a bug compared to Pokémon’s success. And look, I liked Medal of Honor more than Call of Duty, but the numbers clearly show which one survived the early 2000s.
These dualities can be found in most forms of entertainment, including books, movies, and television shows.
In 2023 our current state of gaming has plenty of dualities for players to explore, but two massive sci-fi spaceship action shooters that share more than a passing similarity are the most prominent duality, at least to me.
Star Citizen is Elite Dangerous, and Elite Dangerous is Star Citizen. Both games put players in the highly advanced cockpit of a deadly spaceship and pit them against invading or attacking enemies.
Both games have players undertake contracts that act as the main quest-giving feature. And both also have a first-person shooter aspect that takes players out of the cockpit and engages them in close-quarters combat.
Both are highly artistic stylized sci-fi adventures with A-list voice actors and impressive mechanics. They both have MMO capabilities, came out roughly around the same time, and allow for deep player customization.
Please allow an experienced space cowboy like myself to explain the difference between these two impressive sci-fi adventures. While playing an utterly different starship action shooter called Star Atlas, I discovered both Elite Dangerous vs Star Citizen.
To train my skills for Star Atlas, I looked into grinding a few levels in either Elite Dangerous or Star Citizen.
After some research, I discovered I was looking at two sides of the same coin, as Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen are essentially the same game with different themes tackled through various viewpoints.
Both offer players a unique gameplay experience to a degree; I mean, you are still in space, pretty much no matter what you do. But at the end of the day, I think there is a clear winner.
- Elite Dangerous is played through Steam; Star Citizen is played through its own client, the Roberts Space Industry launcher.
- Star Citizen has a marketplace in and outside of the game; Elite Dangerous’ marketplace is confined to the game.
- Star Citizen has three different game modes; Elite Dangerous has only one.
- Star Citizen has controversy surrounding its financial backing; Elite Dangerous was funded like any other game.
- Elite Dangerous has a DLC; Star Citizen doesn’t.
- Star Citizen is more popular, has more streamers, and has a more engaged community than Elite Dangerous.
- Elite Dangerous is mostly confined to a cockpit in a spaceship; Star Citizen is equal parts ship piloting and FPS exploration.
- Star Citizen has dozens of bugs and glitches that will ruin your game; Elite Dangerous is silky smooth.
- Star Citizen features alien races that are sentient, friendly, and open to trade; Elite Dangerous features aliens both frightening and aggressive.
Similar Crusts, Mantles, and Cores: Visuals
The visuals of Star Citizen always feel inspired by current technology on Earth. I like to think of Star Citizen in the same way I think of Star Trek.
Star Trek is grounded and realistic in its history and presentation of technology, mostly because they actually consult with NASA and space engineers on what could conceivably exist in 300 years if we acted upon any number of quantum mechanics theories.
The Star Trek universe, despite following stories that mostly take place in the far reaches of space, often feels inspired by what humans could do if we followed our current trajectory to its logical conclusion.
Star Citizen feels the same way. It feels grounded in the reality we all know now and never takes too many deviations from it. Even though there are quantum shields and alien technologies, how they’re used and how humanity combats with them feels quite believable.
This doesn’t feel like The visuals never look that science fiction. They’re futuristic in design, but nothing is made more sci-fi just to look more sci-fi. Star Citizen would be considered hard military sci-fi. No lightsabers or God-Emperor Worms in this universe.
Elite Dangerous, on the other hand, looks like science fiction. Designers really leaned into the sci-fi aspect of the game. In Star Citizen, the design of your cockpit always felt more military than science fiction, inspired by actual fighter jets and aircraft cockpits.
But Elite Dangerous always has a hint of alien of sci-fi tech thrown in. Everything from your cockpit to your guns to the infrastructure of the mega-cities you visit. It feels like a toned-down Blade Runner. Neon lights and flashy metallic curves accentuate every surface in Elite Dangerous.
Now, that’s not a bad thing. Because Star Citizen is such hard military fiction, it sometimes feels a little too realistic. You know, sometimes I just want to jump into a sci-fi spaceship and blow up evil aliens with cool ray guns. There’s nothing wrong with that. And that’s what Elite Dangerous is for. It just looks like science fiction.
Aside from lore and worldbuilding, the gameplay of Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous differs the most of any criteria. Star Citizen mostly takes place within its persistent universe, the MMORPG mode, if you will.
It does have Star Marine and Arena Commander modes, an FPS and space flight simulator mode, respectively. But Star Marine and Arena Commander are mostly practice modes to help you not die so much in the persistent universe.
Gameplay inside the persistent universe revolves around establishing yourself as a prominent member of the UEE, United Empire of Earth. You undertake missions of all kinds, from criminal to bounty hunter, and attain higher and higher status.
The persistent universe will switch between FPS and space flight, and you’ll find most of the role-playing is entirely up to you.
Star Citizen’s gameplay feels less like a game and more like a simulator. The number of controls at your command and the number of settings you can adjust is intimidating. But it bills itself less as a game meant where you’re meant to unwind and relax and more like a second job.
Elite Dangerous, while also a space flight simulator at its core, feels more like a traditional game. Yes, the controls of your spaceship can be tedious at times, but they’re nowhere near as bad as Star Citizen.
It still feels like an MMORPG set in space and less like I’m taking on a second career. Dare I say Elite Dangerous is more fun? Ehh… that’s pretty subjective. If you’re more of a solo player like me, Elite Dangerous will probably be more fun for you.
The gameplay of both boils down to roughly the same thing, but Elite Dangerous’ core gameplay centers entirely around flying your ship. There are no FPS missions in Elite Dangerous unless you download the extra DLC.
Lore, Worldbuilding, & Atmosphere
Star Citizen takes the cake when it comes to its lore, worldbuilding, and atmosphere. But I would expect nothing less from the studio that raised over $500 million dollars before their game leaves alpha.
Though Star Citizen has less of a timeline than Elite Dangerous – it only takes place in the late 2900s – it feels like there’s much more to unpack.
The different governments, political affiliations, corporate allegiances, and planet cultures make for a connected universe that would put Star Wars writers to shame. Star Citizen features multiple alien races – some hostile, some not so much – and has entire epochs of history to study.
There are more than a few YouTube channels dedicated entirely to explaining the lore of Star Citizen. Star Citizen’s lore and atmosphere are about exploration in a vast universe that’s more like the Wild West than it may appear. Its impressive worldbuilding is on par with something like Warhammer: 40k.
Just kidding. Warhammer: 40K is undefeatable.
Elite Dangerous takes place in the late 3400s, long after humanity has left the Sol system for other planets. The entire lore and storytelling apparatus of Elite Dangerous circles around the conflict between humans and the Thargoids.
There are plenty of other peripheral conflicts taking place, and you’ll uncover several plots of intrigue throughout your time playing. But it all takes a backseat to everything related to the Thargoids.
Once again, leaning into the sci-fi aspect of space, Elite Dangerous pits players against the mysterious and technologically advanced Thargoids. How Star Citizen’s lore might beat Elite Dangerous’ is simply because of their presentation.
Star Citizen’s story is mostly told, and players just explore and have fun inside it. Elite Dangerous’ story has unfolded over the eight years it’s been released, and that unfolding has been slow, hampered, and sometimes deceitful.
In the early days, Elite Dangerous’ larger story was hinted at being player-driven, meaning players would have a role in determining the outcome of large, universe-wide events. However, after almost a decade of gameplay, that isn’t the case.
While certain milestones along the way – the resurgence of Thargoids after a long absence and the start of the new conflict, to name two – may go down as some of the coolest in video game history, they took eight years to unravel. Conversely, all the biggest lore events in Star Citizen have already happened.
Elite Dangerous is more about conflict, war, danger, and a struggle between humans and aliens.
This category is where the two games are the most similar. You can only have so much variation when you’re a sci-fi space flight simulation game.
While the lore and atmosphere can help differentiate between the two’s universe/world/game design, at the end of the day, they’re both games where humanity has branched out into the dark grasp of space.
Star Citizen’s design remains more grounded throughout. The star maps and navigation are painfully realistic, insomuch as sci-fi can be realistic. Again, they feel heavily inspired by current military and NASA designs. Planet, levels, and everything in between are designed not to feel too alien, foreign, or sci-fi.
Once again, Elite Dangerous leans into its science fiction themes and comes off as more space opera. Well, more space opera than Star Citizen, at least. The design feels akin to Mass Effect: meant to illicit feelings of awe and wonder that we’ve come so far into the stars.
Whereas Star Citizen feels almost bored of the stars – “Yeah, there are stars. So what? I’ve been flying this same route looking at those same stars for three decades.” – Elite Dangerous’ design never loses that sense of wonder. Its design is consistently trying to make players go, “Wow.”
Following along the same lines as their lore, worldbuilding, and atmosphere, Star Citizen’s narrative is what you make of it. You won’t be dictating the outcomes of events or steering humanity in any new direction.
Star Citizen is a massive star-themed sandbox, and you’re just playing in it. There’s not much of a narrative to unfold. Unlike Elite Dangerous, which unfolded its story over time, Star Citizen unfolds more gameplay, not story.
So what narrative there was in 2017 hasn’t changed in 2023. You’re a pilot trying to become a full citizen within the UEE, making a name for yourself amongst the stars.
That said, Star Citizen is an MMORPG, and the narrative is what you make of it. If you want your faction to be known as the meanest band of pirates around, you can make it happen.
If you want to lead a group of friends to clean up the criminal underworld of specific planets and become known as a group of heroes, you can make it happen. It won’t have consequences on the larger game any more than impacting role-playing, but you can make it happen.
Where Star Citizen’s narrative is entirely up to you to create, Elite Dangerous clearly has a defined narrative that players unravel over time. Elite Dangerous isn’t a standalone game; it’s part of a series. Meaning there’s already a storyline that Elite Dangerous is following.
Elite Dangerous has a narrative, and it centers around the conflict between humans and the Thargoids, as does everything in Elite Dangerous.
When the game first dropped, it picked up after the events of the last Elite game, wherein humanity decided to commit genocide and attack the mysterious yet peaceful Thargoids. The Thargoids disappeared from the galaxy.
Fast forward a few real-world years, and players within Elite Dangerous found themselves being probed and scanned by shadowy alien ships. The ships never attacked, but they were clearly gathering information.
Players began finding mutated crystals on planets that were normally, well, normal. They discovered alien basses that had seemingly popped up overnight on some planets. It was clear the Thargoids were back, and they were making themselves at home.
When the first Thargoid attacked, it was another step in Elite Dangerous’ narrative. A step from the genocidal ending of the last game to years of human solitude to years of tense and mysterious encounters, and finally to war.
I got bored of Star Citizen pretty quickly. I’m still confused as to why. I’m guessing because the gameplay always feels so tedious and monotonous. It all feels bland. Flavorless. Unless that flavor is military gray, which I feel would be pretty damn flavorless.
That said, Star Citizen is Massive with a capital M. It’s not so much replayability as you can play it for years and never do the same things twice.
Elite Dangerous always takes the cake in this category. I’m not sure what it is, but powering up a starship and watching all the cockpit lights come on always gets me pumped to start playing. It doesn’t matter if I’ve powered up my engines two dozen times today; I’ll never get tired of seeing it happen.
And the Winner is…
This is my winner. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your winner.
At the end of the day, I will choose to play Elite Dangerous almost every time. It looks cleaner, crisper, and sleeker to me. I love its designs, from the cockpit to the missions to the level progression.
It’s hard for me to get bored playing Elite Dangerous. I can easily lose myself acting as the captain of my ship, taking out enemies and collecting resources.
Conversely, it’s less seamless in Star Citizen. It’s tedious. The gameplay isn’t fun; it feels like work.
There might be more gameplay in Star Citizen – I know it’s still up for debate, but it feels that way to me – and more opportunities for social interactions, but I’m not looking for a biblically accurate hard military sci-fi world to live in. I want something a little more fun, fantastical, and edgy. Something that embraces its sci-fi genre with open arms.
Elite Dangerous. Final answer.
Alternatives in Space
The Outer Wilds
The most fun you’ll have of any game I’ve mentioned so far, The Outer Wilds is made by the genetically engineered freaks over at Annapurna Interactive, so you know it’s going to leave you with feels and lasting memories.
It’s a game with more heart and character than just about all the other games combined. It’s imaginative, magical, and awe-inspiring. Instead of taking a highly technical approach to space, The Outer Wilds takes a goofy outdoorsman approach.
Play it now, thank me later.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky has one of the most ambitious concepts I’ve ever heard of in gaming. It’s structured more as a survival game, but it’s set in a universe that’s bigger than Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous combined.
An infinite procedurally generated universe for players to explore. The planets you encounter are unlike any other planet out there. The delivery has been a bit rough over the years, but where No Man’s Sky stands today is damn impressive.
Everspace 1 & 2
Everspace feels like a diamond in the rough. Not many people know about Everspace, which is a shame. The game plays smoothly, has an enormous universe for players to explore, and features plenty of kickass space battles.
It also has much better intrigue and political power dynamics going on than Star Citizen somehow. I enjoyed my time in the first Everspace, and with Everspace 2 out, I know I’d enjoy more sci-fi goodness.
Duality? What Duality?
Some of you reading this might be bashing your heads against your computer, shouting, “There are obviously more than just two spaceship sci-fi action games, Victor!”
This is true. You’ve got Star Wars: Squadrons, Star Conflict, the aforementioned Star Atlas, and plenty more.
But those three games managed to carve out a particular niche for themselves. Star Atlas is a crypto blockchain game, and while they’re heavily inspired by both Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous, they’re going a different way with their combat and social interactions. Star Wars is freaking Star Wars, and Star Conflict is almost like a Roguelite in space.
While there are plenty of sci-fi action games where you jump into a spaceship and engage in fierce battles in space, Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen are too closely aligned to be a coincidence.
While competitive with these two, the other games can find their own audiences. Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen share from the same audience pool.
Question: What’s the Cheapest Way to Get Started in Star Citizen?
Answer: The cheapest way to experience Star Citizen is by waiting for a Free Fly weekend. Every time Star Citizen releases a new patch, they offer a Free Fly weekend where anyone can jump in and see what’s new.
No need to buy a ship; you’ll start with a character and a few credits in your pocket. However, once Free Fly ends, you can’t access the game.
The second best way to experience the game without a timer is by purchasing a game package. There are currently two game packages, each offering a different starter ship and some currency, and they both sit at $45.
These packages grant access to all game modes except the single-player module. If you want to play the single-player story, you’ll need to drop an extra $45.
Question: Can I Beat Elite Dangerous?
Answer: Negative. I wasn’t joking when I said the game has 3,000 hours of gameplay. It’s enormous and, technically speaking, endless.
Question: How Long has Elite Dangerous been out?
Answer: Elite Dangerous was released on April 2, 2015. So its eighth birthday is right around the corner.
Summing it All Up
When it comes to Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous, the differences are minor. You’ll get a unique sci-fi space adventure no matter your choice. But once you get into the minor details and inner workings, you’ll notice some glaring differences.
One game focuses on being a pilot first and foremost, while the other tries to incorporate all aspects of space life. One is streamlined in a way to reduce learning curves and increase usability, the other thinks complexity equals success.
Whether you join Roberts Space Industries and explore Star Citizen or work through good old Steam and fly through Elite Dangerous, you’re bound to see wonderous stars, enchanting galaxies, and tons of cool sci-fi crap.
That’s a promise.
Here’s a few more indie games for you to check out while you’re here:
- Elite Dangerous vs Star Citizen Comparison - May 7, 2023
- Have A Nice Death Review – Avoid Burnout - April 18, 2023
- Star Citizen Valkyrie Guide: For The Serious Gamer - April 9, 2023