A career! Everybody has one. Mine is looking at a keyboard until I black out and coming back to consciousness with 4000 words on my screen about how to get started in Elite: Dangerous [official site]. This guide will give you some pointers about the main careers you can undertake in the game, from vigilante to explorer, from trader to (ugh) miner. We’re basically an interstellar jobcentre. One thing: you’re probably going to want some cash saved for these callings, as outfitting each ship is going to cost a pretty penny, and some of those pennies will be prettier than others. Okay then, let’s get on with it.
Contents (click to skip ahead):
Recommended music: Smokey and the Bandit soundtrack
Trading is by far the most lucrative of jobs. If you want to make the big bucks, this is where you go. Unfortunately, it also requires a heavy investment both in money and time. AND it can get pretty monotonous blooping from one system to another and back again, or going round the galaxy in big loops, dealing in the more profitable goods.
Good trading ships are the Hauler, Cobra Mk III and Type-6 Lakon. It is going to take you a little while to reach the Type-6, as it is priced at 1.1 million credits and costs at least another million to outfit to a half-decent spec. Here are my top tips for trading.
1. Don’t impulse buy. When you are considering buying your new cargo ship, always remember to factor in the money you will need afterwards to buy your big stash of cargo. It is soul crushing to create a beautiful monster, capable of carrying 100+ tonnes of cargo only to have no money left to fill it up with gold. This is so crippling you will most likely end up having to sell it back just to get cash back, losing about 100,000 credits in the process.
2. Ask around. It is very satisfying to stumble across that brilliant trade route after wandering the stars for a couple of hours, doing odd jobs. But those are a couple of hours you could have spent elsewhere. The best trade routes will likely already be discovered. Use forums, Reddit and other community hubs to track down where the money is being made . You are one person, the hive is many. Later on, it may be more fun to strike out on your own but early in the game the internet-at-large will probably find bigger and better things, so let The People do the work for you.
3. Trade rares. Everyone is doing it. Rare goods are things like Lavian Brandy and the drug Onionhead, which are only sold from one particular spaceport and increase in value the further you get from its home system. 130-150 light years is the recommended distance you travel before selling. This will net you the biggest profit. Although you can generally only buy a small stash at a time (I have only ever seen the station supply being between 1 and 15 tonnes) there are routes which take in multiple rare goods stations on one end then hop 100+ light years to another cluster of rare goods stations, netting over 1 million credits in under an hour if you take the right ship. One such route is the Lave cluster to the Fujin cluster. Here is a full list of where to find them.
4. Look out for trade barges. These will show up on your Nav panel in supercruise as a signal declaring “Seeking luxuries” or “Seeking weapons”. Drop into one of these signals and you will discover a few Type-9s floating around, broadcasting messages about how much they love money or whatever. To make a deal with them, you just need to have what they are after in your cargo hold and fly close to them. The transaction happens automatically. Luxuries traders want Performance Enhancers and weapons traders want Battle Weapons. So far, it looks like these are the only things they want. Do not try bringing Personal Weapons to the arms dealers, for instance. They only want the big guns. Although not always useful, these barges are sometimes placed laughably close to a station that sells the very good they are after in vast quantities for very cheap. A popular example is the Seeking Luxuries barge at Beta Sculptoris, parked just 8 Mm from a station selling Performance Enhancers for dirt cheap. Doing this hop back and forth in a Type-6 can net you millions within an hour, easily. But be wary, because…
5. Pirates! Although the NPC pirates are not too challenging, other players can and will try to interdict you. They will specifically go for any player in a Type-6, especially near rare goods hubs. Interdiction itself offers a choice. If you try to get away but fail, your hull is likely to take damage when the robber nabs you out of supercruise. If you throttle down completely, however, you will “submit” to the interdiction, saving yourself damage. The way I see it, you have two options if the pirate successfully interdicts you: run or pay. If you have a heat-efficient power plant, some defensive options and you reckon you can outrun the rascal, be my guest. But know that this will invite laser fire immediately.
The other option is to amble along at a moderate speed and talk to them. Many pirates don’t want to murder you, or even attack. If they can avoid it, they will, because the bounty for murder makes them instant targets to bounty hunters. It also means docking at a station within their current system is a bit more dicey. They will usually make a demand of you. 10 cargo, 5 cargo, whatever. No shame in trying to bargain down. If they do not have a cargo scanner, they may not know what you carry, so you can jettison your least profitable good. You can also afford to be cheeky. Agreeing to drop 10 tonnes of Auto-fabricators over comms, revving up to full speed and only dropping 4 cannisters while you quickly boost away is a totally valid tactic. By the time the pirate realises you have not dropped the agreed amount, he has his cargo scoop out and is still approaching the first cannister super slowly. Meanwhile, you’ve jumped. Obviously, if you are at the tail-end of a rares run, you will be more defensive of your goods. But don’t let greed get you killed. It’s better to give up 10 cargo out of 20 than lose everything and get whapped with a big insurance bill on top.
Music: Coheed and Cambria
Bounty hunting pays much better than you initially think. This is because you can stack missions from the bulletin board, so multiple “quotas” are filled at the same time. For example, a mission offers 15,000 credits to go kill 7 pirates. Another mission on the same board offers 13,000 to kill 6. Another station in the same system offers a mission to kill 9 pirates for 17,000. Accept all of these and go hunting. Each time you kill a pirate, it will fulfill 1 from each quota. So you only need to kill 9 pirates total to complete all the missions - not 22. On top of this, each pirate is going to have his or her own bounty. Cash! Here are my five tips for the burgeoning Boba Fetts of Elite.
1. Get a viper. This is your best bet for gunning down nasties. At about 150,000 creds, it is not cheap to a new player, especially after outfitting which can cost multiple millions. But it is a cracking fighter ship and speedier than a panicked emu. Once outfitted to include chaff, gimballed multi-cannons, beam lasers, a shield cell bank and military grade composite, this becomes a beast capable of taking down any NPC. Although I still have fond memories of the hyper-manoeuvrable Eagle, it would be a fool who did not acknowledge the superiority of the Vipe. The Viper is to fighters what the Type-6 is to traders. Just get one as soon as you can.
2. Don’t forget your Kill Warrant Scanner. And don’t neglect to use it! At first, it seems like this device does nothing. There’s no notification when it completes its scan, no sign of it doing anything apart from making a wobbly space-noise. But trust me, using the KWS before every encounter with a Wanted NPC is a must. It will get you more money either in your current system, or in another jurisdiction. You will notice, after using it and destroying a foe, that your transaction tab may include claims for bounty money in different sectors - Alliance, Empire and Federation. This is because the person(s) you have scanned and killed were also wanted elsewhere. All you need to do to cash these is head to any system governed by that group, and rock up at the Contacts desk. Honestly, it takes ten seconds to do and will earn you thousands more credits over time. As well as earning cash bit by bit they are a good reason to move about and save up. Just don’t get killed or all these cheques will disappear.
3. Know where to hunt. A lot of folks bang on about Nav Beacons, the congregation point for ships passing through a system, always placed close to the system’s star. The theory is that all sorts pass through here and Wanted ships will show up time and again for you to destroy. What do I say to that? PAH. Resource Extraction Sites are where the true bounty hunter stalks. These are located in asteroid belts and are often heavily populated by miners, policemen and ne’er-do-wells. Head to an Extraction based system and pop into one of these. You can tell where the action is just by looking out for long streaks of laser fire. On top of supplying endless streams of wanted fugitives to kill, the cops will also be there to lend a helping hand. And even if they all too often get in the way, they are instrumental in helping you take down larger targets like Anacondas. Which brings us to our next point…
4. Know who to fight (and how). Right from the off you will be able to take on Sidewinders. And although these are good for quickly filling up any “quotas” you have, they are usually only worth a few thousand credits in straight-up bounty cash. The real meat of your hunts will come from Cobras. If you see a wanted Cobra, always go for it first, as it will likely have a higher bounty. You’ll notice NPC pirates in asteroid belts like to come and scan you. If you are a smart bounty hunter, you will have stripped away your cargo bays anyway and will carry nothing of value. During their scans the pirate’s ship will stay still. Use this chance to scan them back with your KWS, then when they turn around, upset that you carry nothing, open fire.
The ship you need to be wary about tackling is the Anaconda. These are huge, thorny, well-defended leviathans. But if ‘wanted’ they can also have massive bounties, ranging from 30,000 to over 100,000 credits. Early on, if you do feel confident going up against one, I advise waiting until the cops open fire on it first and take out its shields (or at least weaken them). While waiting, target the beast and press the ‘Y’ key to cycle through its sub-systems. Find its Power Plant and when the time is right, let loose with everything you have. You will notice an Anaconda’s Power Plant can reach 0% way before its hull does. And that means one thing: KABOOM. Always get the sub-system targeted before you open fire. Because trying to avoid lasers while cycling through all its bits can be a hairy moment.
Above all: if you hit a space cop by mistake, just leave the belt. Finish off your target if you can but don’t stick around afterwards. There is no sense in having four or more Eagles hounding you around the extraction site and even less sense in fighting them back. You will only get a high price on your own head. Go back to the nearest station, coast in quietly and pay off that pitiful bounty. It’s a pain but it has to be done. With time, you’ll be able to intuitively hold your fire when a cop interrupts your line of sight.
5. Become an assassin. There are missions on bulletin boards marked with a big crosshair that offer payment of an average 150,000 credits. These are generally missions to hunt and kill Anacondas or Federal Dropships. You will have to roam around one of three systems in supercruise popping in and out of Unidentified Signal Sources until you get a “lead” on your quarry’s current whereabouts. Then head to that system and do the same until you find them. Although these are dangerous missions, a well-equipped Viper can take on these enemies with only a little trouble. And even if you are having some problems with the sheer amount of teeth an Anaconda has, you will be glad to know that after a few minutes spent fighting, the police will show up! Just lure your mark closer to the cops and soon enough they will be helping you out. Stacking these missions is a good way to make money once you feel adept at dogfighting and, besides, it is a little more interesting than popping Sideys like womp rats.
Music: Blade Runner Soundtrack, God Is An Astronaut
Exploration! The good news about this career is that Frontier are shortly going to be adding a permanent ‘Discovered By’ credit to each newfound system on the galaxy’s wide map, meaning you can etch your name in the history books in a tiny but measurable way. The bad news is that exploring still won’t pay quite as well as other vocations. Certainly, there are ways to maximise profits but, honestly, that isn’t always in the spirit of wandering. Here’s my tips.
1. Get your loadout perfect. When you go exploring, it is likely you won’t be back to populated space for a long, long time. Even a small jaunt into the unknown, say about 400 light years, is going to take you a little while since you are stopping to scan all the time. With this in mind you need to get your ship’s outfitting perfect. No mistakes. It is pretty much essential to have good rating equipment. Do not get a bargain bin fuel scoop, for example, or you will be stuck circling stars for ages. Splash out on a more expensive one, at least C rating, or higher if you can. Likewise, I would not advise going into the beyond without at least the Intermediate Discovery Scanner. At 500,000 this is not open to absolute beginners but it is worth putting off your urge to explore until you can pick this boyo up. It increases the scan range from 500 LY to 1000 LY. (The even more expensive model, the Advanced Discovery Scanner, costs 1.5 million and has a system-wide range - so perhaps worth it if you’ve got cash to splash). Do not leave home without a Detailed Surface Scanner (250,000 credits) and it may be worth having an Auto-Field Maintenance unit attached and some heat sinks in case you get too romantic with a sun and need to pop one in an emergency. Double check and triple check everything because you can’t change your ship when you are hundreds of light years away from the nearest Chipotle.
2. Set a goal. Some people set their sights for the galactic centre. These people are crazy. Although charting the supermassive black hole of Sagittarius A is an impressive, wondrous feat, you will likely want to set your own sights on something a little closer to home. Nebulas are a good end goal and often house crazy systems with multiple stars and black holes, all of which will get you super dollah when you return. But more than that they are the best looking attractions and noticing them as they slowly enlarge on your hud offers a pleasant visual incentive to keep those thrusters burnin’.
3. Be wary of trickster stars. You cannot use your fuel scoop at every star. T Tauri type stars, for example, look exactly like the kind of beautiful flaming orbs you can scoop tonnes of fuel from. In reality, they are bastards. Getting close to these means you will overheat at such a rate that it will be impossible to collect fuel. There is a fascinating scientific reason for this involving helium or or hydrogen or, I don’t know, one of those ‘H’ elements. Similarly, neutron stars, despite being small and cute, have a fearful sphere of gravity that will whap you out of supercruise reet sharp, so watch out. Check this visualisation to see which stars are scoopable and which are not.
4. Plot your route carefully. Having a good ship, a large fuel tank and a fuel scoop to be used briefly at every stop will almost guarantee you do not get stranded. Nevertheless, you ought to plot your route and stay vigilant. All it takes is for one continuous run of “bad” stars during a lapse of attention for you to realise you have ended up in a barren system without enough fuel to get to a decent refuelling point. If you think this has happened, DON’T PANIC. Often your galaxy map will simply reveal a system you have overlooked. The realistic view of the galaxy map will show you stars as they appear in the ‘real world’, giving you a clue to their usability. And anyway, the map should also tell you the star type. It is unlikely you will get stuck if you have a good loadout in the first place but it can happen.
5. Go mini-exploring. It is a completely sensible idea to fit your ship out with a scanners and fuel scoop even if you are just popping from one end of populated space to another to meet friends or relocate. Although you might only cover a couple hundred light years, there are likely to be many unknown systems between your start and end points. And even a basic system scan as you pass through should give you an average 1000 credits. Arguably, you should just look about for the nearest rare to haul along, but if you don’t want to waste time with that, earning a few extra pennies from charting the systems as you pass is a good way to make money while travelling. Don’t be afraid of splashing out and pimping your ride for the journey. You can always drop into a high tech system when you get there and re-fit your ship to its previous setup.
Music: the radio, podcasts
This is probably Elite’s weakest job right now. Buying a big refinery and a bevy of mining lasers means you can saunter up to an asteroid field and chip away, gathering precious metals and other minerals to sell at nearby stations. It is the career I have spent the least time on but, as we’ll see, there are reasons for that. Here is my one big tip for mining.
1. Don’t. Seriously, my only tip if you are considering mining as a career path is to forget you even had the idea. This is not because it can’t be profitable. It can. It’s just because it is the dullest, most time-intensive thing you can do. For one big reason: the cargo scoop. For every bit of rock you chip away from an asteroid, you are going to have to glide along and scoop it up. And those are only the chips that look good. Your refinery can only handle a set number of metals/minerals and many belts are mostly depleted, with asteroids that are not metal rich. So to get a good haul you are going to have to: a) find a metal-rich or metallic belt. b) go from asteroid to asteroid, testing to find the best chips (and realistically, Palladium is the only metal you are going to actually want). c) scoop up all chips one by one. d) do this for HOURS. e) bring it all back home. It is the most fiddly and uninspired mechanism of the game so far and it is also the least developed. There are no scanners to highlight which asteroids are good to use, no device you can buy later that will “drag” the rocky chips in towards you, and no guarantee that you will not get interdicted at the end of an hour of metal collection. Getting intercepted and blown up between trade runs can be frustrating enough. Now imagine it happening after an aeon of mind-numbing rock blasting. Don’t put yourself through that. Just don’t.
Music: Johnny Cash
Now we’re talking. With only 9% of players bothering with piracy (according to this player survey of approx 2700 people), you could be forgiven for thinking it is just another waste of time. And in some ways you’re right. Piracy is not a great money maker. This is a high risk, low pay job that will very likely get you killed, lose you money and earn you a price on your head. But pirates don’t do it for the cash. They do it for the thrill of the chase, the fear, the adrenaline and the challenge. Here’s how to do it right.
1. Go for other players. Chasing down NPC cargo hauliers in anarchy systems and shooting their cargo hatches until the spoils fall out is where every pirate’s life begins but it isn’t what you should aim for. Other players not only carry consistently better booty (particularly around rare goods hubs) but they are also capable of communicating and listening to reason. It might seem cruel to take goods from another human player but trust me, if they are playing Elite for the same reasons as you, they will relish the pursuit. Make your encounters interesting and they will not even begrudge you the spoils. And if they get away from you, their heart will be pounding out of their rib cage with pure elation. Remember: you’re not a mugger, you’re a pirate. Talk to your quarry, make fearsome threats and harsh demands, give ‘em a warning shot across the bow. Be the villain you want to see in the galaxy.
2. Set up a hideout. A true pirate does not piss in their own pool. Find a system with good Type-6 traffic and lots of humans, then find an adjacent system with a black market. Without a nearby black market station your labours will come to nothing as you’ll obviously have nowhere to hawk your stolen goods. You could use a black market station within the same system you are pirating but it’s good to have somewhere to immediately escape to if your bounty becomes suddenly monstrous and untameable. Which brings us to our next point...
3. Manage your bounty. You might think part of being an outlaw is having a reputation and a huge sum of money above your name on a wanted poster. But this is only one option. You can choose to live dangerously, destroying all around you and not giving a hoot who thinks nasty things about you. But the higher your bounty gets, the more those carebears and space deputies are gonna come a-lookin’. One thing is true for every pirate: sooner or later, someone is going to kill you. So why give them a reason to chase? The alternative is much safer and much more gentlemanly - keep your bounty under control. Do not kill anyone outright if you can avoid it, it doesn’t make sense. When and if the NPC cops give chase, don’t fight back. If human players start to rally, as they increasingly are around rare goods stations, it is time to relocate. You are not a hunter, you are a chancer, a rogue. Be smart and keep violence to a minimum. Always threaten another player before firing. If they give up some cannisters based on the threat of death alone, well done! You have just stolen from someone without even obtaining a wanted status. If you do end up blowing someone up, swallow your pride and pay it off. Interdicting other people is much easier when you don’t have a cadre of wannabe sheriffs hanging on your back like an infestation of barnacles.
4. Use the right tools. A good FSD Interdictor, a cargo scanner, solid weaponry. This is all stuff your are going to want fitted to your Cobra (this is the lower-tier ship for pirates). But my favourite toy for blackbearding in the void is the limpet drone. This Hatch Breaker clicks onto your target, disrupts the cargo hatch and spills their guts, leaving a floating trail of goodies for you. You want a good rating for this part, because the lower ratings will often fail to siphon the goods, even if they successfully attach. All you need to do is lower your targets shields. I have even launched a limpet drone and been able to laser down a quarry’s shield while the drone was in flight. It also makes anyone travelling without a shield in the first place a flying piñata and has the benefit of being relatively harmless to your victim in terms of hull damage.
But you should know that the drones themselves take up cargo space. I usually carry about 10-12 in a Cobra with about 36 tonnes of cargo space. They also have an annoying habit of clipping off your own ship and getting immediately destroyed (you want to release them on the side of your ship that faces the target). Be careful when you take on ships with point defence, as these will effectively scupper your drones’ chances of getting latched on. In these cases, you’ll have to target their cargo hatch with the ‘Y‘ key and prise it open in the old-fashioned way. Remember to keep an eye on their hull while you fire. You can easily destroy them by accident before weakening the hatch, which is just bad for everybody involved.
5. Always threaten and cargo scan first. This is probably the golden rule for pirates. The threat comes first because using comms can be a fiddly procedure and if you are spinning out after a too-hasty interdiction, you can use this time to get it over with. My favourite is the standard “10 CARGO OR DIE.” But I’ve seen others announce their intentions with a more affable: “Friendly neighbourhood pirate! :)”
The cargo scan comes immediately afterwards. Keep pace with them, riding right behind to disrupt their FSD drive charging if they attempt it, and scan away. You need to know if they are worth the time, bullets, drones and effort. Knowledge is leverage. If they are an amenable victim, they will talk to you about giving up certain things over others. Don’t be a hardass. If they negotiate down, show some goodwill and give a little way to their demands. You can only really scoop a limited number of canisters before they begin to decay in space and disappear anyway, so demanding huge sums or a ship’s entire cargo hold is a pointless and spiteful endeavour, since you’re unlikely to pick them all up yourself. Above all, remember that this person is the good kind of spacer - they did not combat log, they are using the game to have a meaningful interaction, and they are showing a certain amount of trust by submitting to your threats. You can betray that trust if you like. But know that there are vigilantes out there looking for you. You can run on for a long time, but sooner or later God’ll cut you down.
And there it is, our guide to space careers. Wait. What. Did I just black out and write another 4000 words? I did, didn’t I? Oh well. Whatever pays the bills.