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Elite: Dangerous Fleet Carriers — The good, the not so good, and what can be improved

Elite Dangerous
Elite Dangerous (Image credit: Frontier Developments)

Elite: Dangerous is a massive game full of things to do. But developer Frontier Developments added in new aspirational content not too long ago that far outpaced the usual Anaconda, Corvette, Cutter trifecta that people often shoot for. Fleet Carriers, gargantuan ships that can act as a mobile base of operations, ushered in a new era for players.

Fleet Carriers, as the name implies, can haul your fleet, act as a mobile commodity market, ship and outfitting yard, and even black market. These are the largest ships that players can buy, since we've never been able to purchase capital ships, and they certainly deliver on their basic premises. But they're also astronomically expensive, not only to buy but also to maintain.

I've had my Fleet Carrier for some time now, and I've played around with it. I've made huge jumps, and I've parked it one system away from my favorite mining spot for now. So here are my thoughts on what it's like owning one of these giants. Spoiler: I'm not a fan.

Fleet Carriers: The good

Elite Dangerous

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I love having a mobile base of operations. Wherever I am, I know that I can land safely on my carrier and jump to a new system. As long as I have tritium, I'm good to go. After some initial exploration, I decided to park my carrier, named Code Lyoko, in a system neighboring my current favorite mining hotspot.

Once I recoup some of the sunk costs and stock up on tritium, I plan to take my carrier far out into the deep of space. I may head to Colonia, or Beagle Point, or Sag A, or wherever I want to go. Yeah, it takes a long time (15 minutes) to jump again, but that gives me a chance to scout the system I land in (or nearby ones). The opportunities that a 500ly jump range offer are practically endless as far as the Milky Way goes.

It also is awesome carrying all of my ships around. I always want to fly my engineered Imperial Eagle more, but its poor jump range has always meant that I've kept it safely stored in Sol, and I fly around the solar system when I need a speed fix. But now I can take my Python out for mining, DBX out for some exploration, and Imp Eagle for some speed runs (or canyon runs, if I find any).

Fleet Carriers: The not so good

Elite Dangerous

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Alas, that's where the fun of a Fleet carrier ends. First and foremost, the biggest problem with them is the weekly upkeep costs. It essentially requires you to play Elite: Dangerous consistently to make sure your bank account isn't drained. So that meant that I logged on once a week for an evening, mined until I was bored out of my mind, sold my goods, put money into the carrier's bank (it doesn't pull from your main account; you have to do this manually because reasons) and then logged off until the next week.

I love playing Elite: Dangerous, mind you, but there are other things I like to do, other games I like to play, and other life circumstances to take care of (not to mention, you know, my real jobs). Even if you have the 5 billion credits to buy a Fleet Carrier, and the extra hundreds of millions to "outfit" it, the weekly upkeep cost is the single reason why I'd recommend no one buy a Fleet Carrier. Seriously.

Fleet Carriers are basically flying space stations, and they're about as useful as that. They're not capital ships, despite using capital ship-grade parts like the FSD, but they have the typical station defenses in case you have pirates or trespassers. Other than that, you don't get to pilot these things. Hell, you don't even get to see the jump animations unless you're outside of the carrier itself. If you're safely docked, you stare at a wall and watch a ticker in your HUD tell you what stage of the jump you're in. It's mind-numbingly dull, and I spend most of my time in Elite: Dangerous mining.

Weekly upkeep and severe depreciation just add insult to monetary injury.

Considering how cool some ships look, especially the Core Dynamics (Federal) and Gutamaya (Imperial), I was disappointed with how much of a letdown the design is. Why not add new elements depending on what services you've purchased, assets that already exist in-game thanks to mega-ships? Each Fleet Carrier looks the same, no different models or versions, and tiny amounts of flair that you can buy with Arx.

But without a doubt, the worst part about the Fleet Carriers is the weekly rent, er, upkeep. Being forced to rely on tritium for fuel is fine, I don't have a problem with that, but the weekly upkeep means that your fancy new carrier becomes a second (or third or fourth) job — this is even with FDev cutting down the costs significantly. Yeah, they were worse in the beta.

And don't even get me started on the depreciation scale. This is Frontier insulting you for second-guessing yourself. Say you get a few weeks in, and you decide the Fleet Carrier isn't for you. Well, guess what, you'll be lucky if you get even 60% of your investment back.

Honestly, the price tag for a carrier is a massive barrier to entry that most players won't ever achieve. Weekly upkeep and severe depreciation just add insult to monetary injury. And then you have to deal with a terrible menu structure and system, and spend hundreds of millions to buy different services like a shipyard (and then later buy ship stock), fuel depot, commodity market, Universal Cartographics (which is 150m for some stupid reason), and so on. Of course, adding these services isn't the end — they add on to your weekly upkeep, too.

Fleet Carriers: Final thoughts

Elite Dangerous

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Fleet Carriers are, ultimately, meaningless. At this point, I don't recommend anyone buy them unless they really want to ferry other people around in some deep-space exploration. And that's fine; I would enjoy participating in that (even though I play in Solo). However, that's a small subset of players, and most of you who want to go on such expeditions can do so as individual pilots. Just be nice and donate some tritium to your helpful carrier owner.

Elite: Dangerous is an excellent game, but it has a core, fundamental problem: you, the player, don't matter. Nothing we do does anything in the scope of the game. Sure, FDev can talk about the Background Simulation all they want, but there aren't any narratives, no matter how small, that make us feel like we matter.

First improvement to Fleet Carriers? Do away with the weekly upkeep. It's not fun, it doesn't add to the immersion, and the initial price tag was more than enough to make us who could buy one feel cool. Don't sour the experience, since the tritium requirements alone are enough of a "maintenance" cost.

Second, make them mean something. Does the Federation or the Empire have an issue with these privately-owned massive ships flying in or through their territories? What if a player wanted more of a capital ship to take on Thargoids — imagine going toe-to-toe with the aliens flying your Death Star Corvette, NPC pilots in your fighters, all while your carrier inflicts insane amounts of damage.

Elite Dangerous

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Also, how has the global economy been affected by the introduction of all of these carriers? I can think of a lot of examples, like what if the Low Temperature Diamond or Void Opal markets get turned on their heads because there are players suddenly buying those goods in a system neighboring the popular mining spots instead of being hundreds of lightyears away?

I'm sure, between all of us, FDev could take some notes on the actual impact of these carriers and make the game feel more alive. It already feels lifeless most of the time anyway. These are just some things that could drastically improve the experience for players and make carriers something people actually want.

Third, give us something cool to look at as the ship jumps, not just a wall and ticker. Does this massive FSD make Witch-space look or feel any different? Tearing a hole open in space itself is cool, but I want to see it. And since we have sound in our ships, can we get some cool sound effects during the jump sequence? Maybe the massive FSD spooling up, the crackling tears in space, something.

Fourth, maybe add different levels of Fleet Carriers. For example, have some cheaper but smaller ones, or some that specialize in combat, but have the least amount of landing pads. This would give players choices in what carrier to buy to suit their own needs. The one model fits all thing doesn't work for me.

If I was rating the Fleet Carriers like a game on our scale, I'd give it a 2/5, and it's that high mostly for the art and development teams' hard work; they should be commended for the amount of effort this took, even if the menu system is screwy.

Ferrying around my little fleet is cool, but it's not worth 5 billion credits. And I sincerely doubt that's going to change any time soon.

Jordan is a long-time gamer and PC hardware enthusiast. From the mid-90s on, he has constantly tinkered with computers and played every game he could get his hands on. Coming from a varied background, he found his passion in writing about Android in 2016, which also launched his writing career not long after. Now, Jordan is an avid gamer who just loves sitting down with tea or a glass of cold water to play whatever game has his attention (or he's reviewing), and he's lucky enough to make a living out of doing so. You can find him on Twitter if you want to chat: @jccpalmer.

3 Comments
  • Oh, a mobile base of operations. Like in No Man's Sky.
  • Yeah. Yamiks, Obsidiant Ant, and DTEA pretty much said the same thing. I'll pass and stick to my Imperial Cutter.
  • I so completely agree with this article. Such a waste of credits and they are truly nothing more than a novelty for players. Oh, sure, there a couple of community-driven initiatives going on, but they are literally a solution in search of a problem. Because they made these things "user-configurable space stations"---basically, something much like a smaller Jaques Station---they're not practical outside of the gee-wiz factor. If you haven't figured out how to configure your ship for extended time in the galaxy's far reaches, a carrier isn't going to do you any good. Save yourself the credits, connect with experienced commanders and they'll gladly show you the ropes for whatever type of work you plan to do in the game.