By Ben Lamb (BGLamb), Onrpg writer
For 6 years now, Eve has held a special place in the field of MMOs. Set apart from the rest of the pack in many ways, it has remained an oddity that nobody has yet managed to replicate. Offering a larger degree of freedom than most, it has attracted and repelled gamers in equal measures. An almost impenetrable interface and extraordinarily steep learning curve hide what might be the deepest and most rewarding RPG on the market today.
Running on one gigantic server, CCP games has just released a major (free) expansion last month, so there’s never been a better time to break in to this breakthrough RPG.
Graphically, Eve is like a stunningly beautiful but incredibly demanding schizophrenic; alternately making your soul weep at its beauty and your eyes bleed at its confounding minutia. To maintain its incredible integrity, the process of piloting a starship through even the most basic manoeuvres necessarily involves a multitude of menus and a plethora of displays, all fighting for your screen space. As you drift through the stars, however, you will quickly get used to turning all of these off for a moment, to press your face against the windscreen of your craft and gaze at the beautifully serene starscapes.
Sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum from Warcraft, Eve is notorious for throwing players in at the deep end. Eve’s galaxy is as vast and varied as the styles of play it encourages, and there’s nobody to hold your hand and guide you through it piece by piece like most MMOs. The entire galaxy of 5000 solar systems is available to explore right from your very first day, and with no Character Level to speak of, there’s nothing to stop you exploring every inch of it.
Eve employs a ‘passive’ skill training system, where your skills will level up in the direction of your choosing regardless of what you do or how much you play. You can train your combat skills while you make money by mining, or just turn the game off and continue training while you’re eating dinner. This doesn’t mean that veteran characters will necessarily have the advantage however, as the player’s skill in piloting a spaceship matters far more than a character’s skill points.
With no twitch element to proceedings, and the dense and complicated interface Eve certainly attracts a very select audience and has earned the nickname “Excel Online”. Eve’s player-base has consistently grown since its birth however, something matched by almost no other MMO. Even Warcraft seems to have hit its peak.
Due to the lack of Character Levels and Experience Points, the PvP in Eve is a singularly thrilling experience. When forming up a fleet, every ship counts, whether you’ve been there one day or 5 years. The scale of the ships is truly astounding, with the largest capitol ships stretching over 18 kilometres. For a new player there is nothing more satisfying than zipping close to one in a tiny frigate and jamming their engines or targeting systems while your team-mates in Battleships pummel away at them with projectile turrets and beam weapons.
The unique role of the Fleet Commander is also something that few will have experienced before, and is something that really takes the combat to a level above other MMOs. It is the job of the FC to organise the fleet (of perhaps 200+ players) into wings and squadrons and then issue orders over a headset. Calling out primary and secondary targets, ordering his Recon and Sniper wings into position and choosing the right targets for the Electronic Warfare squadron to hamper, the job of the FC is a more demanding role than I have previously seen anywhere in computer gaming.
The ‘Apocrypha’ Expansion
The producers of Eve Online, CCP games have an innovative business model that provides players with the client and all subsequent updates completely free. They see their development as funded by the subscriptions of their players. The most recent expansion (there have been 11 previously) has focused on features both for new players and old.
For the new players, there has been an overhaul of what they call the NPE (New Player Experience). This has been in direct response to the overwhelmingly difficult learning curve. New players are now guided much more slowly through the large numbers of skills and concepts they will need to understand, and give many more rewards and incentives along the way.
The main focus of the expansion is the much talked about wormholes. These randomly spawning rifts in space are the doorways to 2500 new star-systems, full of radical technology and slumbering ancients. This has given the developers an excuse to update the enemy AI which, to be honest, is rather disappointing.
The main benefit of these wormholes, however, is one of exploration. Despite the size of known space, Eve’s single-server model means that the exciting, valuable and dangerous territory at the fringe of the galaxy is pretty much all fortified by the huge player-run alliances. During Eve’s infancy, one of the unique thrills of the game was exploring these vast regions and laying stake to a patch, then trying to defend it when anyone else came prying.
The new wormholes will open and close randomly, sometimes granting players a temporary doorway into these new, uncharted areas. With no travel links between these new star systems, navigation is difficult and there is no telling if you will find your way home should your entry wormhole collapse. There is also a difficulty in bringing large ships through the gateways, which leaves players with a very exciting, if scary, opportunity to band together in a small group and lay claim to one of these new planets.
Eve is definitely not for everyone. If you want something easy, or instantly rewarding then you would be very disappointed in what Eve has to offer. If, however, you’ve pwned all your friends at all of those MMOs for kids and want something to really get your teeth into, then Eve is the place where all the hardcore end up.
Whether you want to build yourself the ultimate pirate ship and lurk in the dark corners of space where strength is the law, or hone your 1337 spreadsheeting skillz, commanding a fleet of 200 other players over your headset, the universe is yours for the taking, any way you choose.