by Gabriele Giorgi, Onrpg writer
More than 20 years ago, on machines that can now be found only in an attic or a museum, a game called Elite appeared. Starships, planets, orbiting stations were all made by polygons (really the best graphics you could ask for, at that time) and the player took the role of a space pilot traveling through different star systems. What made that game really unique was its absolutely freeform approach: you could be anything you wanted a trader, a soldier, a pirate, a smuggler, a bounty hunter, a killer the choice was up to you.
After two sequels and lots of imitations throughout the years, in the 2003 the MMORPG EVE Online was released. EVE was profoundly inspired by Elite, as the producers revealed in some interviews, and brought that freeform concept to the upper level, letting thousands of players roam the stars at the same time, the first step to create a real universe.
The software house CCP, based in Iceland, released EVE for a short time in the stores; the game was published by Simon & Schuster Interactive, but the boxed version did not stay on the shelves very long: CCP bought back its rights to distribute it via internet (even if a new release in stores is planned for 2010), making it one of the few really independent MMORPGs on the market. They developed versions for all platforms and had the tutorials translated in many foreign languages, to appeal a larger public.
A long time in the future
In a galaxy far far away called New Eden, the descendants of the first human pioneers who got there 35,000 before through a space anomaly called EVE are now rebuilding their society and technology. In the millennia, they have evolved again with different views and beliefs, and now that they have all discovered again space travel, they can do nothing but clash. The orthodox Amarr, the bellicose Minmatar, the libertarian Gallente, the efficient Caldari, they are all struggling to avenge old grudges or to annex sectors of space to their faction.
This background is presented in the initial cinematic. Afterwards you are prompted to choose one of the four playable races and select your field of specialization, and your journey through the stars will begin.
In the game your avatar will be a customizable image of your character against a background of your choice, but when you are in space you will actually control your current spaceship, be it a tiny shuttlepod or an imposing battlecruiser.
The management of your ship is one of the most important aspects of the game: you have to fit it with all the equipment you need to mine asteroids for ore or scavenging wreckages, defend yourself from enemies and pirates and so on. Larger ships will have more energy and slots available, but you will need the appropriate skills to pilot them.
This leads us to the other capital aspect, the evolution of your character: there are so many skills you can never hope to learn them all, no matter how much you play and this is due also to a very innovative feature of EVE: skills are developed in real time. When you select a skill to train, you will be notified of the precise time to get to the next level; at higher levels it will take days to advance. This can also be used to your advantage: if you know you cannot log in the game for days, you can just select one of the longest skill to train. There is no penalty for switching skills and all partial advancements will be saved.
Skills are needed in order to fit and use most of the available equipment. There are really thousands of different items, each with its own description and peculiar requirements. There are so many you can easily get lost, when browsing through them in the market.
Traveling from one place to another can be a bit boring: you set the route and the autopilot will take you to your destination: if you are not passing through dangerous regions of space, you can even go away from keyboard and do something else while you wait.
Also there are no fixed career paths: you can choose whatever you want to become simply developing the related skills. You can be a scientist or an engineer, researching new blueprints or using them to produce items and even ships. You can wander through space, exploring and looking for interesting artefacts or rich asteroids. You can enlist in the army of your faction. You can simply make money by extracting ore. You can join (or form) a corporation and climb its ranks. No path is set in stone, and you can really decide and even change on the fly.
One easy way to garner money and reputation is through quests: these are provided by agents and in different stations; unfortunately they seem to be a bit repetitive, and you might find a contact who will offer you the very same story arc you have just completed for another agent.
Anyway, whatever you decide to do, dont forget that, like in real life, in EVE money makes the world(s) go round, so always keep an eye on your ISK (InterStellar Kredits) balance.
Combat and death
Spacefaring is risky, especially when you venture into systems not patrolled by police: when you bump into someone hostile, your ship might be blown to pieces, but there is always an escape pod to save your hide unless your opponent is a human Player Killer with the bad habit to pod his enemies, i.e. to shoot and destroy their escape pod.
In the first case, all you need is a simple insurance for your ship; for the latter an interesting solution permits you to retain your character: a clone. Its important to keep your clone up to date, since its memory will hold up to a certain amount of skill points.
Combat itself involves using your equipment at the right time and keeping your ship at optimal distance for your opponent, depending on the weapon you use. The game calculates the odds of hitting the target with complex formulas that take into account many spatial factors. On the other hand, the laws of physics have been somewhat bent, so you will not see collisions, nor there will be any gravitational attraction between objects in space.
Graphics and sound
Each race has its own distinctive design for ship and space stations. The graphic effects for stars and nebulae are particularly noteworthy. While the textures might look quite plain at the beginning, you have the option to download an additional graphic pack to enhance them, along with improved light effects.
The sound theme is mostly techno: nothing particularly memorable, but it fits well with the setting and, like in most science fiction series, the computer speaks with a female voice.
One of the distinctive features of EVE is that all players share the same game server, Tranquility. There has been only one server until 2006, when a new one, Serenity, was open in China, dedicated exclusively to Chinese players. Thus every action of every player affects the entire universe like no other MMORPG: prices are subject to the laws of supply and demand; space pirates can become infamous throughout the universe and have the bounty on their heads increase more and more; group of players may form huge corporations that will have their impact on the balance of power, building space stations and issuing their shares.
And it goes even beyond that: for example, when one corporation built the first Titan ever, the most powerful ship available, news spread as a wildfire through all the server but it did not last long: the Titan was destroyed by an opponent faction, and the rumour of their deed spread even faster.
On the net there are many websites and forums revolving about the game and its mechanics, and CCP also publishes the official EVE magazine, E-ON (NOT a webzine): you can subscribe to it and it will be mailed to your home quarterly.
EVE Online is undoubtedly a unique game, but its not for everyone. Many of its features make it different from other MMORPGs, but this might not appeal most people. Moreover, merits like its freeform play might also be perceived as its greatest flaws. To find out if you can get hooked by it, the best way is the 14-day trial version. Just play and see if you are ready to join this living, breathing universe where the skys the limit.
– available for all operative systems (Windows, Macintosh, Linux)
– dedicated and passionate community
– all players really contribute with their actions in shaping the universe
– steep learning curve (but tutorials might help)
– repetitive quests
– long waiting times when traveling from one place to another