I have returned from my first exploration expedition in Elite: Dangerous. I'm putting a checkmark here: huge success.
Financially, I made over 7.8 million credits. I spent about that much buying and outfitting my Asp Explorer for the trip, so I’m very happy with that. Exploration is not an easily lucrative venture—yes, you can make money by “farming” more valuable stars, but it takes much more time to make the same amount of money you can get through bounty hunting or trading. This being my first trip, I had no concept of how much money I was likely to make. I would have been happy to make 1 or 2 million credits (as it was, when I left I was perilously close to the buyback cost of my ship—well above, but enough for only one buyback). Nearly 8 million left me quite comfortable.
Making the Journey
I left from Alioth on February 29, 3302. After much consideration, I decided to go to Barnard’s Loop, via the Witch Head Nebula. My Asp had everything I needed for exploring, but I could not afford an A-rated FSD, limiting my jump range to about 22 ly with a good tank of fuel, and 24 ly when nearly empty.
Consequently, it took me a great number of jumps to get even as far as the Witch Head Nebula. But it was worth the effort! While nebulae are more popular destinations (and thus have fewer undiscovered stars), they are beautiful. In the subsequent weeks I pushed onwards, past the Running Man and Orion Nebulae and into the Horsehead Dark Region.
This was a very auspicious journey. I encountered no serious problems. Once I emergency-stopped because I approached a planet too quickly, but I was able to escape its gravity well before I took any more damage. Once I took some heat damage from charging my hyperspace drive too close to a star. These are rookie/fatigue mistakes. Thanks to persistence and caution, however, when I returned from my journey my hull was still at 96%—and this was with no shields!
I spent much more time in the area of Horsehead/Orion than I had originally planned to, but it was just so interesting. This was my first real experience just meandering from system to system rather than jumping to specific destinations for missions. I took the opportunity to experiment with different ways of plotting routes, different styles of fuel-scooping, etc.
My scanning strategy is what some might call “vegetarian”: I scan almost everything, but I will make exceptions. On the outbound leg of my journey, I tried to scan as much as possible, even rocky planets. After I decided I was going to head back to the Bubble, I stopped scanning rocky/icy planets and only scanned the more “valuable” finds, with exceptions made for undiscovered systems/planets.
My return trip saw me loop eastwards from my outbound course, mostly because I suspected I could find a few more undiscovered systems this way (and I was right). I also angled myself so I could travel above the galactic plane, trying to get as spectacular a view of the Milky Way as possible given my limited jump range. I drew ever closer to the Bubble, then as I got “above,” started to pull away for a bit as I chased those distant systems.
Once I reached as far as I could comfortably go without backtracking and doing some tedious manual plotting, I opened up the Galaxy Map and began to plan my return proper. My first priority upon returning and selling my data safely was to buy an A5 FSD, so I filtered out everything but the hi-tech systems. Avikarli proved to be the closest, and it had a good-sized station within 300 ls of the arrival point. Perfect. I set a course, and 30 jumps later I arrived, on March 17, 3302.
Some Hauling and Horizons Now
As I mentioned earlier, I was bowled over by how much I made from this trip. I didn’t actually go that far from Sol—only about 1700 ly. This was actually a very tame trip as far as exploring goes, but it was definitely profitable. Also, I’m now up to the Pathfinder rank.
Exploring definitely remains my long-term focus. I am glad I did not just set off across the galaxy (especially without that A5 drive). I think I might travel corewards next, then maybe out east or west towards one of the rims, rather than the more common galactic crossing. I would like to farm some neutron stars and black holes, just to see some of them, before I return to my more vegetarian style of scanning systems rather obsessively.
That being said, I don't want to get burnt out on exploring. I'm going to hang around the Bubble for a few weeks. I've outfitted my Asp for trading (I added shields, and I swapped out my nice big fuel scoop for a piddly one so I could use that bay for a bigger cargo rack). I’m going to participate in one or both of this week’s community goals, which both involve trading. Thanks to my new FSD, I now have a 33–37 ly jump range, so even the vast distances involved in one of the CGs is not much of an issue for me! This will be a nice change of pace … and also profitable.
I also finally bought Elite Dangerous: Horizons, the DLC that expands the game, including planetary landings. After I'm done with my trading binge, my next goal will be to outfit for landing, buy an SRV or two, and practice landing and driving around planets somewhere near a station that can repair me when I mess up. This way, I can head out on my next trip equipped and able to land safely and take even cooler screenshots, as well as find rare materials on surfaces.
I have put a lot of hours into Elite: Dangerous over the past few weeks, particularly this week, because it is March Break. I don’t expect that to continue, of course. But I have the best feeling of accomplishing something: I am no longer a rookie commander but someone with goals and history in the game. Better yet, with Horizons to play with, more exploration ahead, and of course, the updates coming later this year, there is just so much more new for me in this game. I don’t see myself getting bored any time soon, and thanks to the way the game works, it's so easy to do it at my leisure, a few hours a week depending on my schedule and preferences.