Elite: Dangerous – Tips for Getting Started

Elite: Dangerous is out today, and with it an enormous simulated Milky Way galaxy to explore. It’s a big, complex game that is still adding features, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jump in an have some fun now!  That said, it’s also got a steep learning curve, and the game’s universe can be intimidatingly large, so I’ve put together a number of tips and tricks I learned while playing in the Gamma pre-launch to help get you started.

General Starting Tips:

  • Do all of the tutorials before you begin normal play. The learning curve is quite steep, and the tutorials will help ease you into the game quickly. Work on mastering docking and undocking.
  • Don’t be afraid to get blown up. The death penalty isn’t a big deal until you get into much more expensive ships. You can see what your current payment is on ship destruction to get back your ship and all attached modules on your ship’s right-side-panel under your current credit balance.
  • There are three methods of travel: normal (what you do around stations, resource points, points of interest, etc), supercruise (in-system superluminal travel), and hyperdrive (between systems).
  • The size and quality of thrusters on your ship influence your maneuverability in normal space and during supercruise, as well as your top speed in normal space.
  • The size and quality of your FSD influences your jump range through changing your optimal jump mass and maximum fuel consumption per jump.
  • A good way to squeeze extra jump range is by upgrading as many of your ship’s systems as possible to grade ‘D’, which are across-the-board the lightest (in tonnage) components, with better-than-default stats by a bit, and tend to be pretty cheap. Similarly, ‘B’ class are the second best part (and great for cost effectiveness vs ‘A’) but they’re also heavier than all other part grades.
  • As of launch, there are some events starting, which you can read about in the in-game news. There are conflict zones in some of these mentioned systems with lots of available combat and even capital ships in the mix. Be careful out there!

So you’ve gotten started in the game and you’re able to fly around in your Sidewinder. Now what? Combat, Trading, and Mining tips are to follow. Exploration is also a viable play style, but less so until you can get into a Hauler or preferably an Adder and have some spending money to outfit it. If you’d like to get into exploration, I’d suggest following a trading path at first.

Combat Tips:

  • The starting ship, the Sidewinder, is a jack-of-all trades. You can do low-level combat in it and it will be ok. Probably the best way to start out and get some credits though is to run a few nearby trade missions to help you get used to take-off/landing at stations and getting used to supercruise. Trade your Sidewinder plus about 15-20k credits in for an Eagle as soon as you can if you enjoy combat.
  • The Eagle is a great combat ship. When well-equipped and well-piloted you can be quite deadly in this somewhat fragile but very agile fighter-craft.
  • Make sure you have a kill-warrant scanner equipped! This will greatly boost your bounty-hunting income. A kill warrant scanner will allow you to claim extra bounties from other jurisdictions besides the system you’re in. A KW Scanner takes 10 seconds to complete a scan and you have to keep your target in front of you, better scanners have longer scan ranges. A target that shows “CLEAN” before scanning is always illegal to attack even if they have bounties elsewhere! The exception to this is Anarchy systems, where anything goes, because there are no laws.
  • The best places to look for targets with bounties on them are at Resource Extraction Sites (RES) at planetary rings. Ice rings never have RESes. Nav beacons can be another location but pirates are fewer and the smugglers you can find there typically aren’t worth as much (but less prone to fighting back).
  • Check your targets. Just because they are wanted doesn’t always mean you should or want to shoot them. Use your ship’s “Contacts” panel in the left screen to see what the target’s bounty and faction is. The safest targets to shoot are ones belonging to the faction listed as “unfettered” (you can check faction info on your right MFD status tab, system status submenu), these guys are basically anarchist pirates and are almost always wanted. Next-safest are independent-aligned factions in the system you’re in as long as they don’t own all the stations. Be careful about shooting wanted targets that are aligned with one of the big three. Often you can get away with it (especially if the system you’re in is not owned by that faction) but if you do it too much you risk pissing off that faction.
  • Be aware that any dropped cargo you pick up (it doesn’t matter if it fell out a ship as you were shooting them or if they were mining and didn’t pick it up) will be marked as stolen and you will only be able to sell it on the Black Market. Be careful. (coming soon: system-wide salvage permits that will ensure you can still salvage things without them being marked as stolen)
  • Bounty claims are lost when your ship is destroyed. Make sure you turn in your bounty claims often!

Trading Tips:

  • As above, the starting Sidewinder is fine while you get used to the game. As soon as you can upgrade to a Hauler though, do it. A half-upgrade-step above the Hauler is the Adder, which is all-around better than the Hauler but, like the Sidewinder, a bit of a jack-of-all-trades.
  • You’ll see several types of cargo missions available: A-to-B, Locate-and-deliver, and (for lack of a better term), Humanitarian.
  • A-to-B are the simplest, but the starting ones that you’ll have the cargo space for in a Sidewinder are pretty low-paying. Still, they are worth doing, as they’ll be paying you to go to other systems and stations, where you can look for better opportunities.
  • Locate-and-deliver pay much better. They’ll ask you to bring back X tons of some sort of cargo, but they won’t tell you where to find that cargo. They often have pretty long timers on them and they have no failure penalty (and you can abandon them at will), so it’s worth grabbing all the ones you notice if you’re going to be hanging around an area for a while. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and have no trouble locating the goods, other times it will be a lot harder.
  • Humanitarian missions don’t pay you any credits, but give you a reputation boost with the faction asking for the mission. Boosting your reputation can be useful as that faction will start to let you take on more missions and often they pay better.
  • There’s another cargo mission type that you shouldn’t tackle until you understand what you’re doing really well: illegal missions. These usually ask you to bring back some manner of stolen or illegal goods to the station. Unless you understand how to smuggle, don’t touch these. Illegal missions are clearly marked as such in the mission description.
  • Some stations have rare trade goods. These goods are noted in the system description (and there are various lists online to them such as this one on the official forums), show up in yellow text in the commodities screen, and increase in value the further away (in LY) you try to sell them. It’s been worked out that the highest reasonable profit point is around 160LY away from the source. Note that generally these goods are stocked in very low quantities and you may have to wait for the station’s stocks to refresh (once every ~10 minutes) a few times to fill your hold if you’ve got anything larger than a Sidewinder.
  • This is a huge image/table of trade goods and their general imports/exports based on station type. This is useful but again, is general, and there will be local variations everywhere.

Mining Tips:

  • Your best bets for mining are the rings around planets more so than asteroid belts. Look for metallic rings. Icy rings can’t be mined, and rocky/metal rich/etc give you mostly terrible stuff. Metallic and Metal Rich sound similar, but Metallic is by far the better mining area.
  • On the system map, select a planet with rings. Just above the detailing of the rings (many planets have multiple rings with different material makeups!) will be something about the reserves (Major reserves, depleted, etc). Pristine or Major are what you want to look for.
  • You’ll need three things for mining: mining laser(s), a refinery module, and cargo space. A high quality power distributor can be helpful for recharging your mining laser(s) fast, and a high quality power reactor can help you run cooler (mining lasers are very hot and can shut down due to overheating even if you still have energy left).
  • The ships you’ll want are pretty much the same as for trading.
  • You do not need to go to Resource Extraction Sites to do mining. If you know that a planet’s rings are in good condition, all you need to do is approach the ring in supercruise. Point yourself directly at it and as long as your speed is under 1000 km/s when you get close you’ll drop safely out of supercruise into the ring. This will offer more privacy and (possibly) safety while you mine.
  • A useful technique for mining is to target a fixed point on the asteroid and continue to track that point as you fire your mining laser(s), this way the chunks come out in a line that you can slowly follow to scoop them up. If you just fire straight ahead and done move the chunks end up in a messy lump and you’ll likely make a mess scooping them.
  • Your maneuvering thrusters are very useful for scooping. Learn to rely on them more than turning your ship once you’re close enough to the chunk.

Miscellaneous (including exploration and long-range travel):

  • The Black Market is only available on some stations (and is found in the same area where you can receive bounty vouchers or pay off your own fines or bounties).
  • Outposts (smaller space stations with external docking pads) generally have fewer/no police ships around and are easier to dock with without being scanned as well.
  • If you’re looking for good equipment look for stations that are, in general, Wealthy, Large (or larger) Population, High Tech, and/or Industrial
  • Discovery scanners can be used in Super cruise to send out a sensor “Ping” that reveals celestial objects within a certain range. These show up as unknown contacts. The scanner ranges are 500ls (basic), 1000ls (intermediate), and systemwide(?) (Advanced).
  • Fuel-scooping is a skill you need to learn for any sort of long travels—it will be the difference between a 15 jump trip taking you ~30 minutes and taking you an hour and a half (needing to dock at a station to refuel). It’ll also the only way to do long-range exploration. Bigger or higher-quality fuel scoops will scoop more fuel, saving you time.
  • It is possible to do a single-pass to fill your tanks no matter what if you balance your speed and your distance from the star correctly: find the right distance from the star that gives you as high a fuel-fill rate as possible while not raising your heat too high, throttle down to low speed, and wait for your tank to fill up. Be aware that doing this can make you vulnerable to frameshift interdiction; if you’re carrying valuable goods in a ship with lower maneuverability in a populated area you may want to do your fuel passes at higher speeds (still doable in a single pass, but requiring constant adjustments). Higher quality power reactors have better heat dissipation and can help with fuel scooping, if you’re an explorer, consider getting a good reactor even if you don’t need the power.
  • Not all stars can get fuel-scooped. Brown dwarfs, T-Tauri (very young) stars, neutron stars, black holes, etc, all cannot be fuel-scooped. Because of this, NEVER jump to an unknown system if it will consume the last of your fuel! Always plan to scoop fuel with at least 1-2 jumps left in the tank.


Hopefully these tips will help you off to a solid start in Elite: Dangerous. Special thanks to Galaga Galaxian of the SomethingAwful forums for helping me revise and expand this list.

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