Frontier Developments has announced that the fourth and final major update of Elite Dangerous' current season, Beyond, will launch in beta for all PC players on October 30th, with a full release to follow "soon" after.
Beyond: Chapter Four, as the latest update is known, marks the conclusion of Elite Dangerous' 2018 season, which has largely focussed on expanding and improving existing areas of the space sim, rather than on introducing entirely new features.
To that end, Beyond has already brought major changes to crime and punishment in Elite Dangerous, hopefully making the multiplayer game less vexing for newcomers, as well as improvements to Engineering. It's also introduced new ships, including the Chieftain, new ship-launched fighters, and welcome features such as Galnet Audio, which reads out the latest in-game news, providing a friendly voice in the lonely emptiness of space.
Chapter Four's headline features include new in-game organisational structures called Squadrons (but sadly not the previously announced ice planets and Fleet Carriers, both now due later). Functioning like guilds, Squadrons enable multiple Commanders to establish a formal group, complete with hierarchies, to tackle the likes of community goals.
New membership management and communication tools will be available in-game and via the web in order to help groups co-ordinate their efforts, and new leaderboards will enable Squadrons to show off their achievements. When the delayed mobile-base-style Fleet Carriers are eventually introduced, they'll provide a proper home for a Squadron's members.
Beyond: Chapter Four also attempts to enrich two oft-neglected disciplines in the Elite Dangerous universe: mining and exploration.
Exploration has been expanded via a new Analysis Mode (working in tandem with an overhauled Exploration Discovery Scanner and Detailed Discovery Scanner), which splits the existing 'honk to discover all planets in a system' set-up into a number of different steps. Following an initial scan of a system, players can tune their scanners to locate "stellar bodies and other phenomena", including unidentified signal sources and conflict zones. There are also new probes that can scan and map the surface of planets, locating points of interest too.
Frontier calls the new set-up a "more realistic, satisfying and engaging exploration experience" that "provides players with the freedom to make more informed decisions on where to look next, and be ultimately better rewarded for time spent exploring". Hopefully that's actually the case, and the new complications to the currently straightforward system feel meaningful, rather than like extraneous, time-consuming busywork with minimal financial compensation.
Elsewhere, the new exploration probes dovetail nicely with expansions to the mining discipline, and can be used to locate optimal spots for extracting resources around planetary rings. New tools, including ship modules, will make for a more "fresh, exciting" experience according to Frontier, and there's promise that mining will now be more lucrative too.
Also on the cards for Beyond: Chapter 4 are visual improvements, background simulation updates, and some currently unannounced new ships and cockpit interface changes. All of the above will be outlined in more detail during a series of livestreams leading up to launch.
Frontier's first livestream, which starts at 7pm BST on October 18th, deals with exploration, codex and visual improvements, with background simulation and scenario interaction being discussed on October 25th. Squadrons get a going-over on October 30th, with mining on November 1st, and ships on November 8th.
For those eager to investigate Elite Dangerous' new additions, Frontier will be holding a staged, four-week beta event from October 30th. Various mechanics from Chapter 4 will be available to play at weekly intervals (as outlined in Frontier's blog post), and the beta is open to all Elite Dangerous and Elite Dangerous: Horizons owners on PC.
Beyond: Chapter 4 will launch as a free update on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 at a later date.