A beginner’s guide to Elite Dangerous
Greetings new CMDR.
I’m assuming you’ve watched the intro videos, done the demo missions, and you know how to fly.
Don’t worry, you’re going to screw up and forget a lot of your flight training, but it will become second nature soon enough.
Unfortunately, this is a very unforgiving game where a single mistake can cost you months of progress.
So remember the golden rule: NEVER FLY WITHOUT A REBUY. If you lose your ship and you can’t afford the rebuy cost, all your progress will be lost. And you will be right back where you are now.
And where you are right now is the crappiest ship in the game. So our first task will be to get you into something better.
There’s a big-ass official manual you can read here.
But most people prefer the Exowing guide.
What you are about to read is not a manual. Just a suggested way to open up the game in a couple of days of play.
This guide is designed to get you into the game with two days of (fairly grindy) play. But once you’re there, you’ll have a few million in the bank and a few nice ships to play with.
On day 1, you’ll perform delivery missions to get yourself into a decent multi-role ship. On day 2, you’ll go on a 5k exploration mission — at least 250 jumps — for a 50m-ish payout, allowing you to purchase two or three mid-game ships.
Your day 1 goal — build a multi-role Cobra III.
The Cobra III is the best early game multi-role ship. It can be yours for just 350k credits. But once you have it, you’ll want to A rate it ($5m) — buying better modules such as A rated thrusters (to move faster) and an A rated frame shift drive (to jump further through space).
This, the Cobra III, is going to be our first goal.
Once you have a Cobra III, you can pretty much outfit it for everything — exploration, mining, bounty hunting, trading. Perfect for early-game fun.
Your Sidewinder is too small to carry cargo and too puny to put up a fight. So for the first few hours of the game, you’re going to be doing two things: delivery missions and running away.
Go to the mission board and find a delivery mission to a nearby system. Your jump range will be terrible, so pick something close.
Accept the mission and leave the dock. Travel to your destination system. Wash, rinse, repeat, until you have enough money to buy your Cobra III.
To take on longer missions, you may want to upgrade the Frame Shift Drive in your Sidewinder. But your main goal should be to get into your Cobra as fast as possible and start earning credits to upgrade your modules.
Now listen closely, because this will save your life — and your credit balance.
If you are attacked at all, you need to learn how to run away. Don’t fight. Run.
Don’t bother fighting interdictions. Just submit, drop back to normal space, then re-engage your FSD. And run away.
There are two options — low wake and high wake.
If you low wake out, you can be mass locked by a bigger ship — giving him time to blow you to pieces.
You can’t be mass locked if you high wake out of the system — but you do have to target a different system before you can engage your drive.
Even when you get better at combat, you are going to want to know how to run away when your shields are down, avoiding a costly rebuy.
Welcome to Your Cobra MkIII
It shouldn’t take long to build up the necessary credits to outfit your Cobra III. But you’ll want to upgrade it.
The base Cobra III costs $350,000. But an A rated FSD alone costs $1.6m. And if you want to fit it for combat, you’re looking at closer to $5m.
Here’s an example of a build you should aim towards:
You can trade with it and engage in some light combat. You can also practice using fixed weapons and switch to gimballed (auto-aiming) weapons to decide which you prefer. A build like this can fight back when interdicted by a hostile NPC, although it will get killed in PVP.
Of course, in the meantime you can simply buy your Cobra, fit it for trade, and keep on running away from stuff.
Hint: If you don’t plan to fight, don’t bother with weapons. They weigh you down and reduce your jump range.
With this build, you can haul 40t of cargo 16 light years at a time. And it costs under $1m.
Notice the $45,000 insurance (rebuy) cost. Fly without a rebuy and you lose your $1m ship. And you’re back in your Sidewinder again.
So don’t fly without a rebuy.
Once you grind credits for a Cobra with a 40t cargo capacity, you can be a hauler and a courier, doubling your income.
Choose a few missions (data or cargo delivery) and check out eddb.io for the most profitable cargo to haul to that location to fill any remaining space.
You could also drop the missions and just run a trading loop. The most profitable short runs can net around $3000–5000 per ton per loop, which works out at about $0.25m per hour. But since missions are more profitable until you get into a bigger trading ship, I’d suggest sticking to missions.
A fully A rated Cobra III is a great multirole ship — you can trade with it, fight off pirates and even engage in a bit of light bounty hunting (stick to low-risk res zones and nav beacons until you’re comfortable with combat — and always run away if your shields go down).
You can reach this point in about 8 hours of game time. It’s not demanding: I spend at least half that time talking to friends on Messenger or Reddit.
I’ve chosen this route into the game because you’ll probably want to get into some combat as soon as possible, while saving for a dedicated combat ship.
Unlike going straight to an Eagle or Viper, a fully A-rated Cobra gives you the ability to grind for more credits while also engaging in a bit of LIGHT combat — the point where you can fight back if you get interdicted on your travels, or drop in at the Nav beacon to take down a few bounties. Low-level stuff that will teach you how to fight back.
There are better early game pure combat ships (like the Viper III) but the fact is, bounty hunting usually isn’t that profitable in terms of credits per hour in early game— mainly because your ship is too weak and you’ll make too many costly mistakes as a new player.
One very common mistake is to open fire on a ship before scanning it to check that it’s wanted within the system. Another common mistake is to accidentally tag law enforcement. Once you’re wanted that’s it, you’ll have to wake out and leave your bounty money behind. Or you’ll be killed and eat another rebuy.
Law enforcement in this game is unforgiving and most crimes are punishable by death and a rebuy screen.
Get stuck in the entrance to the dock? That’s a rebuy. Accidentally open fire in a no fire zone? Rebuy. And so on.
So instead of trying to make money out of combat in your first few hours of flying, best to just do it here and there for fun until you’re a) more comfortable with combat and b) can afford a dedicated combat ship.
A fully A-rated Vulture at $20m is the first recommended dedicated combat ship — although you can definitely have fun in something smaller like a Viper.
And of course, your multi-role A-rated Cobra is a capable ship. So if you’re tired of the grind, have a little fun before continuing. You might even want to head to an anarchy system (no laws, so you won’t get in trouble with the cops), grab yourself a FSD interdictor and try your hand at pulling ships out of supercruise then blowing them up for fun. Welcome to the dark side.
Just remember, unless you want to end up back in your Sidewinder: don’t fly without rebuy.
Day 2: Your first exploration mission
Since exploration payouts were increased in 2.3, the most profitable thing you can do early game is go exploring. The next most profitable thing you can do is passenger hauling. But to get the most profitable passenger missions, you need to a) advance your explorer rank and b) be friendly with a faction in your chosen system.
So before you start hauling passengers, I recommend you go exploring.
As soon as you can afford to, I recommend picking a point 5k away on the galaxy map and starting your first exploration trip.
Scanning all the valuable systems on your way there and back can net you a $50m profit for a 5–6 hour round trip.
With 50m, you can afford a fully A rated Vulture for combat, a dedicated exploration ship (like a fully loaded Diamondback Explorer for $10m) or a dedicated trader (A T7 for $22m — because the entry level T6 hauls just 20% more cargo than your multirole Cobra!), and an entry level passenger ship like the Dolphin ($6m).
Here’s a dedicated passenger ship (6m)
And here’s a dedicated explorer ($10m)
Note the theme for both — A rated FSDs and D rated everything else. That’s because A = best while D = lowest weight.
You don’t need a Diamondback, with its longer jump range — although it will cut an hour or two off your journey. You can go exploring in your Cobra. Just play around with your modules to minimise weight and maximise your FSD jump range.
These will set you back $2m or so, but they will more than double your profits for every scan, meaning you can make your money back by scanning just four or five terraformable worlds.
Don’t ever go exploring without them.
You’ll also need the best fuel scoop you can buy. Away from the ‘bubble’ of inhabited systems, the only place to refuel is by scooping a star.
O,B,A,F,G,K, and M stars are all scoopable. The others aren’t. You can filter for this type of star on the galaxy map. Most people remember the scoopable stars by the mnemonic KGBFOAM.
All clear? Let’s go exploring.
Pick a point that’s at least 5k away from the starter system, Eravate.
Once you’ve travelled 5k you unlock an engineer you can need to use later in the game to upgrade your ship — so you might as well get this part of the game over now and make some money too.
You’ll only be able to plot a route 1k light years at a time. To maximise profitablity, we’ll be looking for the following in every system we jump to:
1. Earth-like worlds.
2. Water worlds.
3. Terraformable high metal content worlds.
4. Ammonia worlds.
Here’s a visual guide to what you’re looking for and how much scanning things pays: https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php/339546-2-3-exploration-payouts-visual-guide
With an advanced discovery scanner and dedicated surface scanner, these finds are worth 400,000–700,000 credits each. If they haven’t been scanned by another player yet, you get a discovery bonus on top, making them even more profitable. So try to explore regions that haven’t been widely explored yet. Once you’re 1–2k away from the bubble, you can quickly find regions that are less travelled by going up or down 1k.
To maximise profitable finds, you will want to visit only F, G and K type stars. These are close in mass to our own Sun (type G).
Scan all earth likes and water worlds. And also scan high metal content worlds in the ‘goldilocks zone’ to find terraformable worlds. Ignore everything else.
Goldilocks zones (roughly):
F — 1000–2000 ls out
G — around 500 ls out
K — under 300 ls out
Not sure what you’re looking for? This will save you a whole lot of time:
Scan all earth-likes and water worlds, but only bother with the rest if they’re in the goldilocks zone. If they’re not terraformable, they’re pretty much worthless.
Some people love exploring, others find it incredibly boring. I find it relaxing — something I do for an hour or so to wind down when I get home from work, while I eat a snack and watch Netflix.
But even if you never go exploring again, you’ll need to reach 5k to unlock one of the most important engineers, and if you scan every earthlike, water world, ammonia world and terraformable you find, you should make plenty of money on your trip — more than you could make any other way at this point.
Ready for your first 5k?
This is what you’ll be doing for at least 6 hours of very repetitive gameplay:
1. Plot a 1000 year route in the map. Aim for only F, G and K type stars.
2. Jump to the next system.
2. “Honk” advanced discovery scanner
3. Open system map
4. See if there are any earthlikes or water worlds worth scanning. Also check for high metal content worlds in the goldilocks zone.
5. If there are any high value bodies of interest, get within scanning range of the body (usually about 100ls), lock on to them and wait for the scan to complete before moving on to the next system.
Make sure you have a second monitor and catch up on your favourite shows during this time. When you get back, you’ll be able to buy some pretty good ships, you’ll have improved your explorer rank substantially (and so have access to profitable passenger missions), and you’ll have had your first taste of space madness (jump, scan, repeat, jump, scan, repeat, jump, scan, repeat). But you will be richer and better equipped than most players are in their first months of the game.
Another word of warning: If you die before selling your exploration data at a system, it’s gone forever.
Remember. This game is very unforgiving.
The easiest way to end up dying is to run out of fuel. However there is an in-game group of players who will rescue you called the fuel rats who will rescue you, so you don’t have to self destruct back to base.
The next easiest ways to die are to damage your FSD (by repeatedly flying into stars) or for the game to jump you into a system too close to a star).
For that reason most explorers carry an AFMU (to repair their systems) and a heat sink (so they can fly out of a dangerous situation without overheating).
But generally exploration is low risk and profitable, although it can be very repetitive.
Welcome back: Now do what you want.
OK, so assuming you scanned every earthlike, waterworld and terraformable on your trip, you should be back and able to sell your data for $40m-$60m.
The game is now fully open.
You can do pretty much anything. But here’s a few suggestions:
1. Make money doing ‘sightseeing tours’ that pay $2 — $9m per hour. Simply kit out a Dolphin for running passenger missions (why? because the Dolphin has reserved slots for luxury cabins, meaning you can take on the most profitable passengers) and look for sightseeing tours. All you have to do is jump to 2–3 systems within the bubble, navigate to the tourist beacon, scan them and return your passengers safely. Easy, quick, low-risk money. A great way to top up your credits while you eat rebuys learning how to dogfight.
2. A-rate a Vulture for about $20m and get into combat. At this point you should consult a dedicated combat guide.
3. Start unlocking engineers (Elite Dangerous: Horizons required). Engineers are able to upgrade your modules — for example giving you a longer jump range (perfect for exploring or trading) or upgrading your weapons and thrusters (for combat).
The engineers will require you to complete tasks before making themselves available. For example, Professor Palin, who can double the boost speed of your thrusters with a good Grade 5 roll, requires you to travel at least 5k from your starter system. Which is why that exploration trip you just took killed two birds with one stone. To upgrade your systems, you will have to harvest materials. There are dedicated guides for most materials. And so the grind goes on.
Ships you will want to save up for:
The Vulture is a fun combat ship but the FDL is Elite’s apex predator. This is the PVP ship of choice — a Vulture will get destroyed against most PVP opponents, so you’ll need an FDL to compete. Expect to pay at least $200m to properly outfit it. And don’t get into PVP with ‘dangerous’ ‘deadly’ or ‘elite’ players unless you’ve G5 upgraded your weapons, thrusters and shields.
The Anaconda is the first big end game ship. You can build a dedicated lightweight exploration build for under $250m. But to properly A rate it and turn it into a multirole or combat ship, expect to pay at least $600m.
The Asp Explorer is a great exploration ship for under $20m and can easily give you a jump range of 40 light years with a G5 engineered FSD.
These are even bigger than the Anaconda but require either Federal or Imperial rank to unlock. These are the biggest, most powerful ships in the game but can be hard for even experienced pilots to fly. The grind to unlock these ships is brutal. As in, this will take several days of your life running the same mission over and over again, until your mind is so soft you could spread it on toast. This grind breaks people. It burns them out. Don’t do it unless you’re truly dedicated having the best ship in the game, because you’ll just burn out and quit playing. Elite is a grindy game, but you don’t have to grind. An Anaconda is 90% as good and an FDL is more fun in PVP.
You will want these ‘end game’ ships, but getting them will break you. Apart from the rank required, fully kitting them out will cost close to $1bn. So be wary of fighting players in these ships. They will have many, many, many more in game hours than you. And the grind will have sent them quite, quite mad.
If at first you don’t succeed, cheat!
There have always been get rich quick schemes, usually relying on bugs and exploits in the game to make many credits per hour.
I’m an in-game billionaire because I spent a day farming skimmer missions at 200m credits per hour until it was patched. Like pretty much every other player in the game who was around when that exploit was found.
At last count, the most popular exploit, in Quince, was worth $40m credits per hour before it was patched. But it’s supposedly over now. Someone will find another exploit soon but beware — some of the more egregious exploits have led to punishments and rollbacks by the game’s developers. As a general rule, glitches that allow you to make more money tend to go unpunished, but cheats that give you an unfair advantage over other players (e.g. better RNG rolls with engineers) can result in punishment.
If you can’t cheat…
What do you do if there aren’t any exploits?
Short hop passenger sightseeing tours and long distance exploration passenger missions (with detours to scan every valuable planet you find) are the most profitable in terms of credits per hour.
You can also earn credits by participating in the week’s community goal, this is usually transporting cargo to a specific station or bounty hunting in that system. Get into the top 50% of CMDRs for each mission for a 10m+ payout (at the end of the week).
The best thing about the community goal is that if you play in open (or a non PVP group game like Mobius) you’ll always meet other players. Elite is a huge game — an entire galaxy in fact, so it can feel empty most of the time. But there’s always traffic at the community goal — so it’s a good place to meet (and fight) other people.
CMDR Rinzler has a great YouTube channel for combat. His ‘git gud’ guide to playing in open also shows you how to run away and avoid combat.
Some golden rules / general tips:
1. Never fly without a rebuy. Seriously. You lose everything and end up back in a Sidewinder, erasing months of play.
2. If you play in open, get out of the starter systems. They’re full of griefers.
3. If you don’t want a fight, avoid players in FDLs, Anacondas, Corvettes, Cutters. These are the popular combat ships. If you don’t have an engineered combat ship yourself, you will be outgunned — and lose.
4. You can save 10% on outfitting / ship purchase costs by buying in any system controlled by Li-Yong Rui. Most people go to Diaguandri, because it’s a high tech system where most ships and modules are for sale.
5. Don’t burn yourself out on the grind. The game can get very repetitive, it’s best to have a ‘fun’ ship to hand so you can hunt a few bounties.
6. Get a HOTAS. Play with a mouse and keyboard and you feel like you’re still at the office. Grab a cheap Thrustmaster X for $40 (and download JoystickCurves to calibrate it) and suddenly you’re a 31st century pilot travelling through outer-fucking-space. If you’e got money, the T16000M and Warthog sticks are also recommended.
This thread of tips is very good:
As you can see, Elite is an enormous game that takes many hours of play to master.
The guide I’ve written is one of the most consistent and easy (as of 2.3) ways to get to grips with the game in a day or two and work your way up to the better dedicated role ships and have a decent rebuy supply to learn combat fast.
But play the game your way. Elite isn’t all about the grind: you have a whole galaxy to explore. It’s about stopping off wherever the mood takes you and doing whatever you feel like.
It’s not an open world game — it’s open universe.
Just don’t fly without a fucking rebuy.