The ambitious plan was guided by the collective curiosity of Elite Dangerous’ exploration-loving player base. A player-owned megaship would use its unique abilities to jump into a previously inaccessible portion of space. Thousands of players who had docked their ships on the megaship would hitch a ride. It was to be one of the biggest expeditions in the game’s history. Then aliens showed up.
The expedition to the Cone Sector, as the locked-off area is known in-game, was planned by a thousands-strong player collective called the Canonn Interstellar Research Group. Roughly 11,000 players spent weeks preparing, making pilgrimages to the deep space position of the ship, The Gnosis. It was a proper event. Elite Dangerous developer Frontier approved and promoted the massive experiment. Canonn leaders made grandiose speeches about purpose and community. One player even put together a trailer for the big day.
Then the big day—today—arrived. Before The Gnosis could even make its jump, Frontier accidentally published an article on its official in-character news site Galnet that claimed The Gnosis had been intercepted by Thargoid aliens long before it reached its destination. After all that preparation, it seemed like Elite’s developers were going to step in and torpedo the operation.
Players pressed on. Perhaps the article had been a mistake or, taking note of immediate backlash to the idea of a failed expedition, Frontier would change course and let The Gnosis continue soaring full speed ahead.
It did not. The Gnosis jumped a mere 12 light years before Thargoids enveloped it in a sea of starfish-like arms and decidedly un-starfish-like lasers. While players have only experienced the aftermaths of previous Thargoid attacks, the thwarted expedition was dragged straight into the fray. Players had a brand-new kind of fight on their hands, but they weren’t impressed—this wasn’t what they signed up for, and bugs marred the moment even further. On top of that, many hadn’t prepared for combat, gearing their ships up for exploration rather than war. Players now feel disappointed and misled.
“This was hyped,” said one player of the expedition on Elite’s subreddit. “The fact that there were Galnet posts at all, the fact that a player group was being allowed to lead it, and most important, the fact that we were (seemingly) being allowed into a previously forbidden zone all implies that something new and different and exciting was going to happen. And in this game, new and different is a rare thing... So yeah, people are disappointed—and they have every right to be.”
“It’s even worse to know now that they never had any intention of allowing us to jump into Cone and that thousands of commanders spent thousands of hours working to plan for the ‘event,’” wrote Elite-focused YouTuber Exigeous on the game’s forums. “This really is Elite at the lowest point I’ve seen in my 2 years, 3800 hours, and 15,000 subscribers. It’s very, very sad.”
There are countless similar threads on the game’s subreddit and official forums right now. After all that build up, people feel let down. Others, though, are basically asking, well, what did they expect? Frontier had dropped hints that Thargoids were in the area, and even if the glowing space behemoths decided to let The Gnosis slip by untouched because they, too, were possessed by the spirit of exploration or something, what would players find? That Frontier had been hiding a treasure trove of secret content in a locked area of space for years? In a forum post responding to the outcry, Frontier community manager Will Flanagan said that the jump was never actually possible, despite players’ clever plans.
“Without revealing too much about this area of space, the Cone Sector both in content and in game lore was always meant to be locked off,” Flanagan wrote, “and the fact that certain systems within the sector weren’t permit-locked was an oversight from a time before it was possible for megaships to make such jumps, like the Gnosis.”
Instead of just telling players “no” and slamming the airlock shut in their faces, Frontier decided to try and have some fun with the whole thing.
“Based on feedback we’ve received in the past, and in an aim to involve player agency in Elite Dangerous’ narrative, rather than simply making a universal change, or flicking a switch to ‘permit lock’ the systems in question, we decided to incorporate the actions of a great Elite Dangerous player group, and a huge number of Commanders, into the wider lore of the game,” Flanagan wrote. “Supporting the event as best we could with our own channels while reacting to an emergent piece of content from the community.”
He noted that Frontier even debuted a new Thargoid type as part of the event to properly raise the stakes. Players have pointed out that this was a new type of Thargoid attack, too; this was the first time players had been actively involved in a Thargoid surprise attack on a major structure. Some are hoping this was a stealth reveal of a new game mechanic that’ll pop up elsewhere in the future.
Unfortunately, The Gnosis will never make it to the Cone Sector, no matter how hard players fight. Frontier head of communications Zac Antonaci clarified that the location has been set aside for a future narrative event, so it’s off-limits for now.
If nothing else, the Canonn group is rolling with the punches (and/or freaky alien tentacle lashes).
“Although all of us are hugely disappointed not to make it into the Cone Sector, the tiny amount of data were were able to collect does show this area as of great interest,” they wrote in a post on their website. “We must continue to stake out this apparent wall of Thargoids—thick enough to hyperdict a megaship.”
“Let’s make of this what we can. There’s science to be had out there.”