Elite: Dangerous Blog

News and events from the Elite Dangerous galaxy

A. I. feel your pain

Elite: Dangerous shipped version 1.6 and 2.1 last night and a massive update it was.

Following the launch (and a fair bit during the BETA as well) there have been complaints about changes to the A.I.


What’s that? Well, if you are not a ED forum regular or don’t know what I mean, what we refer to as the NPCs or A.I. are the Non Player Characters in the game – the spaceships you fight that are not other players and the A.I. being the combat logic program that controls them. Much of this written by Sarah Jane Avory at Frontier, who has been christened the “Mistress of Minions” by the community. She takes great delight in the achievements of her “children”.

Now to the controversy; one camp is complaining that the A.I is now impossible to beat. That all the NPCs use all the Horizons Engineer upgrades. That the NPCs don’t follow the same rules as players, such as having infinite ammo and being immune to heat build-up.

The other camp, is saying that the NPCs were harder in the first BETA of 2.1 and have been “dumbed down” because of complaining from players who just can’t hack combat. Their argument, is that the game is called Elite: Dangerous and combat should be life and death. Not a stroll in park picking daisies. Their response has been the phrase “GIT GUD” meaning learn to fight.

There’s also the group who are in the “goldilocks zone” who think Frontier have got it just right. They are currently the majority.

Where lies the truth of the matter?

The NPC behaviour was different in the first BETA of 2.1 and it did make it harder, because the moment a ship lost its shields, the NPC would flee beyond your range and return when their shields were back up. This might have been harder, but was it better? It made combat take a LOT longer, but it wasn’t very intense as a result. So Frontier changed that and NPCs don’t flee like that now.
Do NPCs use infinite ammo? Are they cheating? I’ve seen no evidence of this.

I asked Zac at Frontier:-

Does the AI cheat?
No, the AI ships work in the same way as any other ships. Anything an AI can do a Commander can do (with exception of one small point noted below in Q3… )
Do ALL NPCs have access to Engineer Mods?
No, NPCs of a higher rank, much like Commanders of a higher rank, will have explored and done far more in our vast Galaxy than lower ranked NPCs. The higher the rank, the more likely you are to see Engineers upgrades
Do NPCs have unlimited ammo?
No. HOWEVER, they do have unlimited multi-cannon ammo. This is a deliberate decision and is designed as such because the multi-cannon fire is made to miss far more and generally to improve the combat experience.
Are NPCs immune to heat build-up?
No, in fact there have been some interesting times when NPCs have blown themselves up from heat build-up. This is a common misconception but NPCs do definitely suffer from heat.

So the claims of cheating don’t really hold up to scrutiny. What I have observed, is that NPCs are vastly different to fight, depending on their rank and the likelihood of meeting high-ranked NPCs increases with your rank.

Harmless, Mostly Harmless, Novice, Competent, Expert, Master, Dangerous, Deadly, Elite.

You now need to check what the NPCs rank is, before biting off more than you can chew. I could swat a wing of three competent Eagles, but a Deadly Dropship took all I had to stay alive.

Whatever camp you are in, the days of NPCs barrel-rolling in a stationary position while you kill them is over. The minions are fighting back!

Beta than before

The first thing I do with a new BETA of Elite, and I’m sure everyone does this, is to buy all the new ships and weapons. Then go crazy pew-pewing everything in sight. Then I go exploring a bit, then start looking at the mundane stuff.

So what is 2.1 like? Well, so much has changed it is difficult to point at one thing.


The graphics for planets, both from orbit and on the surface have been visually improved and the performance is better, giving much higher FPS on my GTX 970. Planets look so amazing from orbit, I doubt anyone could see better currently without joining NASA. Stations look a little different too; not sure if some fog has been added, but it looks better.

As you approach stations, traffic control hails you in a wide variety of voices (depending on system), with your ship designation – in my case “Core Dynamics Alpha Romeo India”. It is a small thing, but adds a huge level of immersion into the Elite universe. You feel like you’ve arrived at a space station. And if you cut throttle down and listen carefully, you can hear – very faintly – radio squelch in the background, inaudible conversations between the station and other ships.


Obviously there are the new engineer modifications (I’ll get to those) but the main change for both 1.6 and 2.1 are the addition of large multi-cannons and huge multi-cannons, beam lasers and pulse lasers. I fitted my FAS with large multi-cannons and medium pulse lasers, then took it for spin. The multi-cannon performed very well on the ship, but it didn’t feel like it was an overpowered mega-weapon, it just inflicted more damage than the smaller class version. Overall, very satisfactory. Gratifying audio too.

So following that, I switched to my Corvette and tried the huge beams, multi-cannons and pulse lasers. The beams looked damn sexy, but I found the pulse lasers have the most effective results. Mainly because of the new NPC AI.


While people on the forums were raging about the NPCs running away, I found that some had a low “cowardice” threshold while others stuck around a little longer before bugging out, but overall, they displayed human-player-like behaviour. When their shields were down, once damage was done, they would run to 6-7km distance and wait for shields to come back up before returning to the fight. If damage got really low, they’d high-wake.

How did this affect combat? Well, my Corvette in the weapon configuration I started with was useless against small ships. As soon as they took damage, they’d run and a Corvette is not a ship you can chase anyone with. The FAS was far more successful, as I could keep ships in range long enough for a clean kill. With this in mind, I changed the Corvette’s weapons for short-burst high-damage weapons and had far more success. So the dynamic is moving towards that you'd see in PvP.


I have only tried one mission and due to time constraints, I failed it (had to log off and sleep). Yeah, I’m rubbish, I know. The missions are defined far better than ever before, with a detailed overview and list of required equipment. The mission giver was rather obsequious towards me (an Elite pilot) basically being a kiss arse. All this makes the mission feel more tangible.

The job was to kill 7 smugglers, some not-so-wanted mission targets amassed a bounty on my head in Nuenets. So yesterday, I logged on for a bit of bounty hunting in a RES site on the new ice ring RES at Fong Wang and I was interdicted by a bounty hunter NPC – an Elite Anaconda – so I let him shoot first, making HIM wanted and began to fire back. The NPC flew the HELL out of that ship, using shield cells, chaff, missiles, flight assist off. My Corvette had the advantage in both weapon and manoeuvrability, but it was still a battle royale; this guy was my match.
Then security turned up and it was over for him. By then he was on 10% hull anyway and the Viper that showed up distracted the Anaconda enough for me to make the kill.

So if you do something illegal, expect trouble to follow you.


Now when a ship is destroyed, it isn't just cargo and scrap left floating, but also components which can be traded with Engineers for upgrades. Basically, every enemy is now a Pinata. This means most people are going to want a collector limpet controller on combat ships and the cargo rack for limpets.

Good or bad?

I'd say this is good. With ship AI changes, my game had to adapt. I'd pick an NPC and do enough to make him flee. Then I'd hit another, the finish off NPC 1 while NPC 2 licked his wounds. Overall my kill rate didn't suffer any. While the Corvette lost some of it's effectiveness on small ships, with the right load-out I was okay. Big ships however, took more effort - especially if they had high rank. But that, in my opinion, is how it should be.

In my next post, I'll talk about enhanced thrusters, meeting Engineers and what to do with the loot.

All the dirt on 1.6

Releases and platforms

  • Horizons will be released as a BETA on the PC week ending May 8th (so any time that week).
  • The full update for both the core game and Horizons will ship in June.
  • Horizons will be released for the first time on XBOX One in June with or shortly after the PC release.

For details of the Horizons content click here

Elite: Dangerous 1.6

Galaxy map

  • Named bookmarks. Select a system and pick a name.
  • Filter for political states of systems. War, Boom, Bust etc.

Visual changes

  • Visual effects for weapons fire now scale with the class of weapon. Bigger gun = bigger flash.
  • Improved graphical fidelity of asteroids in rocky and icy rings.

More weapons in larger classes

  • Large multi-cannon (Class 3).
  • Huge multi-cannon (Class 4).
  • Huge beam laser (Class 4), which fires four beams in rapid cycle.
  • Huge pulse-laser (Class 4).


  • Missiles are getting a small increase in shield damage and splash damage (which damages modules and hard-points).
  • Missiles do not penetrate hull, so unless you target Power Generator, they will disable a ship rather than destroy it.
  • Missile guidance has been improved.

NPC changes

  • Improvements to skill level.
  • Security ramming fixed.
  • "Roll of death" fixed.
  • Higher security systems now have stronger security response.
  • NPCs can use Engineers modified weapons.
  • NPCs will no longer keep approaching you about a mission.


  • Missions are now affected by a system’s political state. i.e. war would generate weapons smuggling and assassination missions.
  • Completing missions will build reputation with minor factions and will introduce you to higher people with that faction.
  • Minor factions will now be represented by individuals with avatars.
  • Pilot federation rank will determine who you deal with in a faction and how they behave towards you. Your reputation also influences who you deal with.
  • Navy missions for Federation and Empire are being overhauled.
  • Your reputation with a faction will be visible on the mission board.
  • Criminal factions will offer more illegal missions than other factions, but all factions will offer some illegal missions.
  • Difficulty and rewards for missions are affected by the CMDR’s rank. New players won’t be asked to assassinate an Elite Anaconda.
  • Mission rewards won’t just be credits. In Horizons, you may receive materials needed for Engineer modifications. Other rewards are not yet revealed.
  • Missions follow a new set of templates for 1.6/2.1 with branching and multi-part missions. This affects Naval Ascension missions as well.
  • Mission branches will affect rewards. Mission timers may change on different mission branches and time may affect reward.
  • A new rank of "cordial" has been added between Neutral and Friendly for factions.
  • Missions may be given out in space by a faction representative.
  • Mission brief will list any equipment required, such as interdictor or scanner.


  • Ships can now scan Nav beacons to get system map without a discovery scanner.
  • Exploration data obtained in this way from Nav beacons cannot be sold.
  • Unidentified Signal Sources are being changed.
  • Nav beacons contact information on locations of salvage and other signal sources to assist missions.
  • There is a new approach mechanic for Points of Interest.

Station outfitting

  • A more graphical tiered interface.
  • Statistics on each module.


  • Stations now have a traffic controller who hails incoming ships.
  • Each commander is addressed uniquely by the ship manufacturer and first three letters of their CMDR name. e.g. "Lakon Alpha Romeo India you have permission to dock"
  • Hostile commanders will be warned that they will be fired upon.
  • The voices used by stations vary around the galaxy.
  • The communications inbox is used more. Mission related messages will appear in your inbox in super-cruise as well as normal space.
  • New commanders will be given a welcome mission in their inbox. This is optional.

Small ships

  • Thruster upgrades for Class 2 and 3 thrusters.
  • This makes smaller ships faster.
  • These will cost "in the low millions".


  • Ice rings can now be mined.
  • There will be ice mining missions.
  • Ice rings contain new materials – some of which will be needed for Engineers