Late last week, players of multiplayer space sim Elite Dangerous were blindsided by the sudden appearance of several alien ships. Prior to this point, the enormous galaxy had been entirely human—mining stations, outposts, captains with names like "Kate" and "Paulo" and "Michiko."
But far out in unsettled space, pilots dropped jarringly out of hyperspace lanes, their instrument panels flickered and died, and something vast passed overhead. Their ships were scanned, and the alien craft moved away as quickly as it had arrived.
Elite's galaxy, filled with hundreds of major and minor political factions, was instantly thrown into disarray. While official comments from the game's major fictional players haven't come through yet, the overall impression is that everybody, regardless of political orientation, is panicking. The Elite series has a history with aliens, you see. Previous games have featured the hyper-militaristic, super-advanced Thargoid race, who have had an extremely chequered history with the human race. Nobody has gone as far as attributing these new encounters to the Thargoids, perhaps out of denial.
Today, though, Frontier Developments, the game's designers, released the first patch since the alien encounters. While they are gleefully circumspect about last week's events—the word "alien" never appears in the 3,000 word update—some of the changes listed present disconcerting implications about what might be to come.
Five ships have had their hull strength doubled: The Hauler, the Type 6, the Keelback, the Type 7 and the Type 9 Heavy. These ships form the backbone of Elite's trading economy, carrying tons upon tons of various goods across human occupied space. They trade everything from luxury paté to medical supplies, and aren't usually so heavily armored. This sudden jump in their defense capabilities is, perhaps, a preparatory measure by Frontier. It is in their best interests, of course, to keep trading routes running in the face of danger. Wars, after all, are profitable.
Eleven attack ships have also seen major changes: Each have received between one and three additional weapons slots. This is more than a simple buff; it allows these craft to equip a whole new weapon. The Federal Gunship, a reliable combat support unit, can now equip three more of the game's largest "Size 4" weapon classes.
Viper class ships, Elite's standard dogfighting ship type, have all received an improvement to their chassis weight, allowing them substantially increased maneuverability.
While the exact nature, or intentions, of the aliens have yet to be made clear, today's patch notes make something troublingly clear. On distant stations, in lunar bases, Kate and Paulo and Michiko receive the news.
The human systems' trading craft, their dedicated fighter ships—they are being fitted for war.
Elite Dangerous 2.2.03 is live now on PC and Xbox One. You can read the full patch notes here.