21 days ago I decided to dive into the Eve-Online Steam demo.
Steam – Just click to play
I knew that Eve was too big a prospect to be able to review in more than the lightest terms and indeed to cover everything would reduce me to bullet-points PowerPoint style. I had avoided Eve for many years mainly due to timing in that I was too heavily involved in other games to give it the attention it certainly deserved. I did however try it about a year ago before the last major upgrade. I was fresh out of other MMO’s at that point but found the clashing change of style and the famous learning curve to be a major hindrance. Eve seemed to be inscrutable, complex and baffling. The newbie missions proved too much for me to understand and the interface very badly implemented. I put it to bed after only a few nights struggle.
So why return?
Anyone paying attention to the MMO news and websites could not help but notice the shockingly high scores that Eve has and continues to receive in the press. I looked further than just these. The strength of any MMO is in its community and from some of the incidents I have read about it was clear that Eve possessed a community of special significance.
In space no one can hear you Cha, Cha, Cha!
But would this community be penetrable by a newbie? Eve has been out for a long time and large and powerful guilds (corporations in Eve) have claimed parts of the game territory as their own kingdoms. This would put off all but the most stalwart of hearts as how can one start afresh when everyone else is so far ahead of you? I wanted to find out if this was true and my opportunity to test the theory was granted when Steam launched a 21 day free demo of Eve.
I am a big fan of Steam and, unlike the myriads making complaints on Steampowered’s forums, I have never had a single problem with it. In fact I pretty much see such services as the only future path for gaming delivery and community building. The ability to click one button and have Eve delivered to my desk, installed and ready no less, was too much temptation for me to resist. So I clicked to install fully expecting to be as disappointed as last time.
How wrong can you be?
A NPC Space Station
Much has been written about Eve’s graphics, and justly so as they are mind bracingly beautiful, but this is a facet of a greater truth: Eve is the best programmed MMO I have ever played. I have never found a game, let alone an MMO, that is so alt-tab friendly. Diving in and out of Eve is not only smooth it is actually a joy. It is quite possible to set your ship on a journey, alt-tab out to surf or write and then alt-tab back in when you get to your destination. You can even surf in game through a basic browser window built into the client. The prodigious programming skill demonstration does not end there. Eve features a single (cluster) of servers. All players are in one place and when logging in at night expect to be sharing Eve with over 30 thousand players.
That’s 30 thousand ways to die
The Space Journeys in Eve are amazingly beautiful and all colours
Moreover, and often overlooked, the music and sounds of Eve are startling. Drums and bass tunes sound the coming of battle with a pulse quickening action tempo, which give way to Bladerunner like soulful space-musings as you either loot the fallen or yourself get looted. Whilst in station the sound provides a much needed injection of bustle, an atmosphere that would otherwise have been missing as stations are essentially instanced and you can’t get out of your ship at all and walk around.
This is the first of the design decisions that one must get used to with Eve. You, to all intents and purposes, are your ship. You never get to see anything more of yourself than your portrait. This may strike some as strange because, since your character can of course change ships merrily, this can lead to Eve having a sense of disembodiment and dislocation.
Inside a Station – each race has very different architectural styles
Most MMO’s spend much of their design budget in making you feel ever more your avatar but here that is taken care of in the portrait designer in the first ten minutes of play. I personally imagine that I am a ship “Mind” from Iain M Banks’ Culture novels and play the game that way. This works surprisingly well since also like the Culture I use a lot of drones to do my fighting.
My lovely Drones
So what can one expect in the first 21 days of play?
If you are a long time Elite or X3 player you will quickly find slipping into what is called “Carebear” Eve to be very simple and welcoming. The gargantuan amount of Space in Eve is split into core systems (based on 4 factional play areas) and the dangerous “low-Sec” space, which is similar to the Wild West in that the gun is the only law.
You have been warned
Staying in “High-Sec” space is safe enough that one can play the entire demo and, with luck, not get into any conflicts with players at all. I say ‘with luck’ because Eve is permanent PVP and players can opt to become pirates earning their living by the highway robbery of other players. This usually revolves around camping the large jump gates that connect all the zones with a team of specially rigged friends and blasting anyone too slow to get away or defend themselves. This is not only allowed in Eve; it is actually positively encouraged.
My Vexor Cruiser
However as a “Trial” player I knew I stood very little chance in such scenarios and so spent much of my time avoiding them. My plan was to understand the game before diving into PVP and thus I focussed on the missions available whilst improving my skills. This is essentially because of the way progress is managed. All of the game’s skills can be learned by anyone. Many have prerequisites in the form of core skills and require skills books to be bought from Universities or the Marketplace, but there is nothing holding you back in any other way. The catch is that learning skills in Eve takes place in Real-Time™. So a skill that is 3 days to learn will literally take 3 real days before it is ready for use. This means that a “Trial” player is completely outclassed by players with months into the game and has absolutely no chance of winning in PVP. On the other hand the game is impossible to twink and the old problem of new players with gear above their station is gone. The size of the skill tree is so large that it would take literal years to learn it all and so there is plenty of room to specialise in different areas and indeed this is the way it has been designed.
My Character Sheet and skills
Complexity is the watchword in Eve. Where something could have been smoothed over and made simple, ala’ WOW, Eve has purposely gone more complex. Indeed interface is often viewed as being too complex, but I feel that this is entirely the plan CCP have followed. They want Eve to be deep in every way and having a large amount of information is an aspect of this. The whole experience of playing Eve is alike to operating Microsoft Windows. Similar to Microsoft’s approach, there are many different ways to do any one thing. For example, locking onto a ship; which requires that you are in range of your ship’s abilities; your own targeting skills, away from any interference; both yours and the target’s velocities; any ECM active in the area and finally that you haven’t used all your available lock-on’s (which is based on your memory ability); can be performed by clicking on the target in space and clicking lock on or clicking and holding down the mouse and picking lock-on from the pop up menu or clicking with the RMB and selecting lock-on or right clicking on the target in the Overview and selecting lock-on or throwing all that aside and fitting a “Auto Lock-on” module to your loadout. And that’s just to lock-on. To actually shoot something you need to consider your ships power capacity, the range of the gun, the range of the ammo in the gun, the bonus’s of any modules you have installed, both ships velocities & facing, ECM again, your implant bonus’s and any possible legal implications of attacking this target. Not for nothing did I play the game with a calculator and a pad of paper next to me.
That my friends: is DEPTH!
However, one man’s depth is another man’s confusion and the newbie help channel is chock full of new payers completely lost. Moreover, most of the help they receive is also from slightly less newbie players who perhaps have only a few days extra play on them.
Rookie Help Chat in full flow
Many people have complained about the cliff-like learning curve, but I prefer to think of Eve as an enormous meal. Like a Christmas dinner or banquet. Your eyes will definitely be bigger than your stomach and it takes an awful lot of digesting to get through the starter before one can even consider the main course. In fact even the volauvents are filling. This leads many new players into a great feeling of indigestion and frustration in that they are reading about all the fun things in Eve but that they cannot yet do any of them and will not be able for quite some time.
Relief congestion tablets come in the form of surrogate programs and websites that surround Eve and are essential to play. One such program is EveMon that logs into your account while you are logged out and keeps an eye on your training and when you can expect the current skill to complete. It also allows you to make a plan for the future of your character by picking a job, ship, loadout or skill set and showing the correct progression through to that glorious achievement. This is only slightly dented when one reads that the best plans are all over 90 days of training away and to fly a Titan is 250+ days itself! Another good system is that found at Battleclinic.com, which outlines all sorts of useful information and has a program for uploading ship loadouts and reviewing popular fits. Actually being able to fit all you could want on a ship is an art form in itself and I have spend an inordinate amount of time playing with my modules to find the best balance for my ship. For example: my level 1 destroyer was paper thin but could mount an impressive 8 guns. Thus my fit was all about keeping a long way from the enemy and using multiple long-range mods and long-range railgun ammunition to blast them from afar. This is in contrast to my Vexor Cruiser that specialises in remote combat drones and so I was loaded with high end armour and automatic repair systems that would keep me alive until my combat drones could destroy the opponents. This means that the ships it is possible to fly all require a different playing style.
Styles you will need to learn to avoid death
Caught in the rays of the pirates
OMG a pirate is on me!
Death in Eve is in two flavours. Firstly your ship can be blown up. Scratch that. Your ship WILL EVENTUALLY be blown up. This leaves you in a tiny little escape pod which is then your transport home to collect the insurance (that you really should take out) and buy another ship. If your pod is killed then you wake up in a clone, which is like life insurance, and it costs money to purchase a clone that is good enough to recover all your skill points.
System Jump-Gates, often surrounded by pirates
Thus death in Eve can seem expensive and it is only in the supreme job of game balancing that has gone on in Eve development that means that this is not as bad as it first appears. Firstly, cash in Eve is everywhere. Very soon it is possible to earn a ton of cash from either mining or mission running and you can own any number of ships. Secondly, the business side of Eve is even more advanced than the basic gameplay.
The market is vast and well designed
I am talking here about Corporations
Most MMO’s have Guilds, but Eve has taken that to a new level. Here Guilds can actually own (control) parts of space and declare war on each other to contest entire areas. Alliance tools and every type of Corp’ management function is available and the entire process is very advanced. More advanced than even in SWG. There is even a system to create contracts that can be for anything at all. This means that the only real limit in Eve is the imagination of the players and the corp leaders. I have read of teams of players that sell themselves out as mercenaries and fight dirty little wars on a larger corps behalf, or act as security for a mining corp that has been targeted by pirates. Massive fleet battles abound in “Low Sec” space as rival corps battle each other in hundred strong teams of carriers and even mighty Titans (which are 3 mile long super-ships).
It is all amazingly complex but far away from a 21 day account
A mighty transporter ship
Complexity is like Marmite then. Myself I love it in a game and those without it such as WOW turn me right off. Eve has it in spades and one can completely envelop your mind in the deep waters of Eve’s gameplay, only occasionally surfacing for air and to remember that you were married.
However no good corp touches a “Trial” player and so I spent my 21 day’s solo’ing missions and building my skills up to the point I could fly something worthwhile. The missions are all given out by NPC faction based agents of varying quality and level. High level agents give harder missions and it was not long before the search for new agents became a highlight of an evenings play. Eventually I found 3 good level 2 agents in one star system and could take 3 missions at a time. This quickly boosted my ISK (cash) reserves and I was able to graduate to a cruiser and thence to a BattleCruiser. Some of the missions were very hard indeed and required I took time off to think of the best approach to beat them. This was all great fun and I happily salvaged the wrecks of my fallen enemies while planning my next missions and helping out on the newbie boards.