The latest update to Elite Dangerous (3.0: Beyond Q1) has been active for a while now. One of the marquee features was another Guardian ruins mission. I have been able to complete it at the cost of considerable joy and anguish.
But first, I’ll briefly mention that I like the changes 3.0 brought to the Engineers. I have been able to max out the jump ranges for my Asp Explorer and Anaconda for a reasonable material cost. However, for me the real standout change has been with material storage. In the past, players were limited to 1000 items, now there are limits for each material type. This means that players don’t need to delete items to make room for others, which can hinder the desire to go and pick up materials. I am now actually choosing to jump into signal sources and drive around on planets to pick up materials knowing that I have room for them. It’s amazing that such a small change has improved the gameplay dynamics so much. It demonstrates that getting the basics right is so important and should not be overlooked in favour of aesthetics or monetisation opportunities.
As the second Guardians mission shows, getting the basics right is not something that Frontier Developments is good at.
In the game lore, the Guardians are a mysterious extinct ancient species. The only trace left of them are derelict obelisk networks clustered on airless worlds away from human inhabited space. The Engineer Ram Tah has a quest for intrepid CMDRs seeking to learn more about our long-gone galactic neighbours.
Recap of the First Ram Tah Guardians Mission
A mission from the Horizons expansion had players scan these obelisks while carrying a combination of artifacts in their SRV in order to unlock tidbits of information about the Guardians. The mission was badly implemented in several technical ways:
(1) Obelisks were supposed to flash with symbols indicating which artifacts needed to be carried in order to unlock so information. Instead, incoherent noise was shown, giving no indication about what artifacts were needed. The playerbase used trial and error to produce a guide about what combination was needed for each obelisk. When 3.0 was released, the symbol issue had been fixed. All of the obsessive speculation about secret messages in the obelisk patterns was all bunk, yet Frontier never had the courtesy to tell players to find a better use of their time.
(2) Players in multiplayer modes with multiple CMDRs present reported getting random bits of information. Indeed to complete the mission in its entirety required getting some pieces of information this way. Tough luck for people like me with no friends in weird timezones :'(.
(3) AMD graphics card players reported a bug where the dirt mounds were enlarged, blocking access to the obelisks.
From a design perspective, the mission is also poor. We started out knowing one ruins site which only had enough obelisks to partially complete the mission. More ruins existed, but they had to be found manually! Elite Dangerous purports to be a full-scale replica of the Milky way (with faster than light travel to allow you to go places). That means there are a lot of places to look. To complete the mission, players had to look through spreadsheets to find the sites that gave out the data they wanted. There really should be a simple in-game way to elucidate all of this information. I didn’t complete this mission in full, I only got 60/101 data items. Did Frontier learn from their mistakes with the second mission in 3.0?
Getting Started on the Second Mission
Players can dock at any station in the Meene system that isn’t Felice Dock. They don’t need to unlock Ram Tah (I haven’t), or have done the other Guardians mission. When landing, they get a mission from Ram Tah inviting them to “Decrypt the Guardian Logs”. Like the first mission, the player is to scan obelisks, this time at “Guardian Structures” which are a new installation for 3.0. There are 28 pieces of information to find, with a reward of 1 million credits per item. A 30 million credit bonus is added if you get all 28 items. Before you run off to the Guardian sites, you will need the following artifacts:
2× Ancient Orb, 1× Ancient Urn, 1× Ancient Casket, 1× Ancient Tablet, 1× Ancient Totem, 1× Ancient Relic. I would advise picking these up from the seminal ancient ruins site in the Synuefe XR-H d11-102 system, planet 1 B. Orbs can be hard to find at other sites.
1× Thargoid Sensor, 1× Thargoid Probe, 1× Thargoid Link, 1× Thargoid Cyclops Tissue, 1× Thargoid Basilisk Tissue, 1× Thargoid Medusa Tissue. Get the Sensor from an alien crash site, the Probe from a threat 2 NHSS around an ammonia world, and the Link from a Thargoid Structure.
Note that Thargoid artifacts damage your ship, so you’ll need a corrosion resistant cargo rack beforehand. How to get one? Unlock it at the tech broker. All you need to do is hand in an absurd amount of items! This is where Frontier made their first fuck-up. Neofabric insulation is only available as a mission reward, but for a while, it wasn’t given out as a mission reward! Instead players could earn limpets, scrap, or biowaste; which is like a neighbour giving you a handful of Werther’s Originals for mowing their lawn. Following a playerbase uproar, the game was fixed, and I was able to get my special cargo rack.
Getting the tissue samples turned out to be great fun. Players had to encounter Thargoid ships which are incredibly powerful and aggressive, and use a research limpet to pinch a tissue sample from their organic ships. I used the cold running strategy by engineering my DBX to put out less heat (subsequently, I named the ship after the ELO song Latitude 88 North).
To encounter a Thargoid, I jumped in and out of an instance with the attacked megaship around Electra 6 until I had one of each sample. This strategy is not ideal as it is immersion breaking and repetitive. A deterministic way to encounter each Thargoid type would be great. The best parts were the heart-pounding moments evading an angry Thargoid ship, then cowering out of view behind the stricken megaship waiting for the limpet to collect the sample. This was great fun and kudos to the developers for getting this right.
Shopping Around for Data
With all my artifacts, I headed out for Guardian space. While Guardian structures show up on the navigation panel when you’re in-system, there’s very little in-game information to find the right systems. Fortunately, a Galnet article offers up three locations, which will give you a good chunk of the data required, but to collect the rest will involve either lots of searching, or a third-party guide. My advice: keep your sanity, follow a guide.
Once at the site, hop in the SRV and start looking for ancient obelisks. I made an embargo on spoiler videos, so it was a fresh experience for me. The sense of atmosphere was impressive. I felt like I was snooping through an alien graveyard. Out of the blue, I was attacked by a hidden autonomous Guardian sentinel. What a surprise! Some of the sites are perched on hillsides, so also have the whole mysterious Himalayan temple vibe about them. The symbols on the obelisks are easy to understand, but if you get the wrong combination of artifacts, you can try again without re-logging. Overall, these parts of the mission were very well done. The information is given as audio logs by Ram Tah, which is a nice touch.
Waiting Outside the Bank
Admittedly, it gets quite dreary travelling to sites to scan a particular obelisk while getting harried by sentinels. Once I was done, I returned to Weber Dock in Meene to hand the mission in. But nothing showed up on the mission board for me to hand in! It turns out that the station has been UA bombed. This is when Thargoid Sensors are sold at black markets and cause damage to stations that limit the services on hand. The lockdown at Weber Dock could be the result of griefing (in-game trolling), or just other commanders selling Thargoid items on the black market once they’ve handed in the Guardians mission (it’s what I would have done if I had the chance).
It reminds me of the economic crisis in Cyprus, where people were prohibited from making withdrawals from their accounts while the banks pilfered their savings. Players go and complete the mission tasks, but are blocked from collecting their mission rewards when the mission issuing station enters lockdown and the mission expires. This is a deeply unjust situation that must be rectified.
The solution to this problem could be one of many things. I don’t think UA bombing is particularly interesting, so I would like to see it removed altogether, or black markets could be removed from Meene stations. If we must have UA bombing, then we should also have the ability to divert to different unaffected stations and hand in missions there.
Since I was running out of time to submit the mission, I raised a ticket with support who kindly gave me the credits using their god-powers and let the mission expire. I think this counts as a moral victory. That I had to go to these lengths because of the negligent design of the game mechanics is outrageous.
At Frontier, Every Hour is Amateur Hour!
Another Frontier fuck-up that I have kept away from is the Guardian based items from Technology Brokers. These faced criticism on two fronts. (1) Collecting the required materials is a tiresome activity involving charging 6 pylons around a Guardian Structure while fending off annoying sentinels. This activity has to be repeated far too often to get the necessary items. (2) The FSD booster item that was added to the game was broken! The booster will be fixed and returned to players who had unlocked it, along with a refund in their materials. All very generous, but it entrenches an inequality induced by yet another Frontier fuck-up:
Redoing the pylon puzzle multiple times wasn’t the only way to get the required materials. There was a bug where the materials were given by obelisks, a much easier way to get them. I contend that many of the players who unlocked the FSD booster were beneficiaries of this bug. It’s not just enough to fix the broken modules, the path to unlocking it should be less exasperating and equal for all players.
In summary, the second Guardians mission had some great elements to it, collecting Thargoid tissues was scarily exciting and the eerie atmosphere of the Guardian structures was brilliant. However, these great elements are sullied by technical and design mishaps that added to the frustration of getting ready to do the mission, and collect the reward. Like many players, my patience with the developers is running short. I’ll be sticking to exploring and short missions until quality control is improved.