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Eve Online : First Impressions

posted on January 24th, 2007 by golden jew

It’s hard to write “first” impressions of a game that’s four years old, but nonetheless, this is where I find myself. Burnt out by World of Warcraft, ranting and raving about my addiction on this site, and swearing off MMO’s for good is where we last left off.

Well, I’ve at least kept part of it up; I’ve resisted the Burning Crusade completely. But I find myself once again sucked into the MMO world, having started playing Eve Online.

Eve Online is very different from other online games I’ve played. For starters, it’s set in the future, in a space base universe. But rather than being first person, like almost every MMO, the game is entirely ship based. In fact, until an upcoming expansion (and keep in mind there have already been several expansions), you can’t ever actually “get out” of your ship.

Behold space in all its…blueness.

The best way to describe the game graphically and conceptually is Homeworld-esque. The interface is similar, with the same variation of ship sizes (you pilot one ship at a time, but can own as many as you’d like). Since space is quite different from your average Fantasy world, CCP, the makers of Eve Online, have taken a totally different approach to building their universe. Rather than hand crafting every last bush and shrub (for starters, bushes and shrubs don’t do too well in space), the universe is generated via algorithm, with each system having a random number of planets (with optional moons), space stations, and asteroid belts. The net result is a universe of over 6,000 solar systems. Many are controlled by various NPC factions, to which a fair amount of attention has been given, but many others are unclaimed–but conquerable–by player “Corporations” (what guilds are called in this game). The result is a near-infinite space that feels like one would expect. Adding to this sense of scope is the fact Eve is a single shard–not multiple servers. With a total subscriber number around 150,000, and peaks of 30-40k, this feeling of immensity is magnified.

Playing Eve Online for the first time when the game has been out for over four years is an interesting experience. Back when I played other early MMOs, I remembered wondering how a new player who jumped in the game later on would ever know what the hell was going on after so many patches. With so many patches, so many game play and rule changes, and no good documentation–what would a new player do? Picking up Eve Online, an MMO in a mature phase, I now have the answer.

You take it for granted. The game has amazing content, but when I go to Wikipedia and read what was added over the past major patches, I cringe at the thought of how boring the game would have been if I had jumped in from the start. I’d have never played it. Then I realized, I’ve already paid my “incompetent online game developer” dues through my other extensive MMO experience–I played boring, incomplete games for years. It is refreshing to play a game that is well developed, but with more content on the way: best of both worlds. Additionally, CCP is comfortable in their niche. They know they’re not Blizzard and Eve isn’t WoW, but they’re profitable, and they have their target audience. In a recent interview, one of their lead designers said they are quite happy with their numbers, and in fact worried that if they were to double in size again (as they have for the past years), it will make it difficult to maintain the “single shard” approach. An interesting dilemma, where bigger isn’t better.

Damn it, where’s Sub Zero?

Eve has a skill system that is innovative and controversial, but ultimately I find it pleasing. Rather than have an experience based system (kill X monsters, gain experience and unlock skills), or a skill based system (use X skill Y times to level it up), both of which are the bread and butter of MMO design, and ultimately different version of the same time sink, Eve Online takes a different approach. Eve Online unofficially admits skill training is a time sink. Their approach? Skills take real life time to train, but training is ongoing, whether you’re on or offline. The benefit to this is you’re never “grinding” a skill–you’re always training something on your own terms. There are no classes, only skills. While skills chain off each other, you are free to train anything you want in the universe (literally). Given that MMOs are all about the time sinking, I like that Eve’s time sink is outwardly stated, and a part of how long you’ve played the game (actively or passively) rather than a monotonous repeat fest. This makes casual gaming much easier, as your growth doesn’t revolve around your active play time.

The downside to this strategy is if you’re a new character joining a community that is four years old, you’re pretty well screwed to a certain extent. The gap between you and the top is not one you can close. Fortunately, the game is balanced enough that any character can play a useful role in a player corporation, but you are discriminated against via your play time. This is somewhat frustrating, but the way it plays out practically is that all characters are needed and contribute to the cause. A four year old player’s missile may hurt a lot more than my missile, but my missile will still be useful in a team operation.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The game is all about the money. You have a few ways to make money: kill pirates, mine asteroids (and later on, planets and moons), run NPC missions, make stuff and sell it, or kill players. Some of these are more exciting than others–but all of them can get mildly repetitious, as with any online game. You will be grinding something in order to make your living.

The most appealing part of Eve Online to me is that the game is designed to be a player “sandbox.” All of the important aspects of the game are extremely nonlinear and customizable. For example, the skill system is open ended and based on other skills, rather than locked in by a player “class.” Ship customization is very robust, with a variety of combinations of ships and ship components available quickly to most characters at the “conceptual” level, with more advanced components requiring higher skills. For example, I can get access to an “afterburner” relatively quickly, but the fancier ones require more skills. I can still get access to enough toys to customize my ship uniquely, even at a low level. I like this. It makes the player feel rapidly engaged and gets around “no plate mail till level 40,” situations that annoy me. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the player-driven aspect of the game.

Daddy, where do solar systems come from?

Although one can make a perfectly acceptable career hunting NPC pirates or mining asteroid belts solo, the game is designed for player corporation versus corporation warfare. Corporations, both PC and NPC, drive everything. They require resources, they control planes and bases, and can conquer the stars. Reading the message boards alone gives a feeling of the scope of player on player interaction: one post was announcing that due to an ongoing war between two large corporations, a third party corp was unable to pay its debts because it wasn’t getting money from the protagonist of the conflict (follow that?). This was followed by a flamefest of every party involved, and pleas from other corporations on other sides who also wanted their debts paid. Some fleet on fleet operations involve 200+ ships, creating epic images of Star Wars and Star Trek. All for the control of intergalactic resources and ultimately–money. Not so different from the real world.

I have not yet gotten to the point where I can participate in this aspect of the game. Until my skills are higher and my character more developed, most “serious” corporations won’t take me. The key lesson I took away from Warcraft is that it is important to find a big, active, and strong guild. So for now, my merry band of friends and I are are slowly building our resources and characters. The question will be if the inevitable grind boredom sets in before we can get ourselves into a meaningful corporation. My hope is to at least taste the player driven part of the game, since that’s what separates Eve Online from other MMOs. So for now, I ride the “honeymoon period” of my new MMO, and Eve Online is refreshing enough to keep me intrigued.

15 Comments

  1. chris said on January 24, 2007:

    Eve Online is the only MMO I could see myself trying.  EV Nova or Space Rangers online… It looks to have so much more freedom than other games, and the entire system is player-driven, so players create their own "events".  Thanks for the preview; I may have to try it out at some point.  Looking forward to hearing more. 

  2. Christian said on January 24, 2007:

    My one worry about this game, the one thing keeping me from trying it, is the warnings i hear from players that as soon as you start, if you want to get anywhere, you’re going to become some corp’s mining bitch for a long time.  Is that really the case, or can you find yourself doing other things instead? 

  3. golden jew said on January 24, 2007:

    Tough to tell, I need 3 million SP to even be qualify as a corp’s mining bitch.  The big problem is that mining is by far the most boring, but also by far the most lucrative activity.  So I wouldn’t outright dismiss those accusations.  At the same time, you can participate in PvP at a lesser level.  The fact is though that there is more mining going on than PvP.  As with the real world, war is a last resort (except for bully and pirate corps).  I’ll keep you all updated as my experience continues.  If you do start up though, let me know and you can join our impromptu group.  

  4. Christian said on January 24, 2007:

    sounds good man, thanks

  5. Max said on January 24, 2007:

    > A four year old player’s missile may hurt a lot more than my missilethose damn 4-year-olds are such little monsters.(sorry, couldn’t help myself :) 

  6. Max said on January 24, 2007:

    on a more serious note, I’ve been long tempted to try Eve.  I’ve played a lot of MMOs, including WoW, EverQuest, AC, Dark Age of Camelot and A Tale in the Desert (a must try for anyone remotely interested in MMOs, btw), but one of my favorites was the little known (and long canceled) Earth and Beyond.  As you can guess it was the only space-based one of the bunch, and by what you describe it sounds like it had a lot of similarities with EVE (I wonder if EVE was inspired by it in any way).  My only problem is that I don’t think my current PC set up will support it – the processor and memory are sufficient, but I am running with a GeForce 4 MX 440, which is probably not going to be able to take the graphics load.  And I really don’t feel like getting a new computer just for EVE….  ;(

  7. jay said on January 24, 2007:

    Haha, good one, Max. Golden Jew, your editor should’ve caught something like that before the article went up. He must suck.

  8. golden jew said on January 24, 2007:

    It’s a shame my talent goes to such waste with such poor editing.  good thing the guy who runs the show here has a monstrously dugg article, or I’d so quit for Znet.  oh wait, they don’t pay their online writers as much as their print writers…

  9. Dave said on January 26, 2007:

    I’ve been playing Eve off and on for a good portion of those 4 years, and the game has come LEAPS and BOUNDS since the beginning. I just wish I would have kept my account and characters from when I originally signed up…

    I stay with Eve precisely because of their skill system. When I get burnt out, I just set “long skills” and leave it for a week. Then, when my real life has calmed down, I can come back and feel like I still accomplished something.

    I tried WoW for a week and just couldn’t find enough free time to make it worthwhile. Eve, I can literally pop up on my second monitor and run low level missions, or do mining, while I work on my main monitor.

    A good corp, and your INVOLVEMENT in the corp, makes or breaks your experience in Eve. Nothing beats gang warping in and tackling the enemy en mass. Nothing sucks worse than coming online and never seeing your corp mates in chat.

    Good review – I liked seeing it from the WoW convert side.

  10. Carole said on February 5, 2007:

    I am new to MMOGs but lots of experience with real life RPGs. Since lack of time and access to other players makes playing real life RPGs unfeasible, I searched for an online substitute and discovered Eve. I have been playing 4 days. It is a BLAST, but then I got lucky–got recruited by a small friendly fairly rich player corp and now I have buddies to mine and do other profitable stuff with, so I am constantly busy "working", training, "shopping", calculating how to fit missions in with other activites to maximize the profitability of travel time, and figuring out how best to upgrade my ship and its stuff. Also I spend a ton of time exploring the star map, researching markets, etc., as trading is my desired career path. It is enormously complex and engaging–it’s like I have a job in the real world and a job in the not-real world, too. Does this make me a Type AA personality? Who knows, I just know that I enjoy the sense of scope, realism, and opportunity in Eve and hope to play for a very long time.

  11. Griss said on June 4, 2007:

    i started playing eve around the end of the beta. i was actualy around when they introduced a new class of ship.. the cruisers then later battle ships. i played for a while and just got bored with the lack of content. i quit vowing to come back after a couple of years to check out the progress. two months ago i reuped my account. and i have to say the game i quit and the game i came back to are almost two totaly diffrent games. a shed load of new ships to play around with agent missions out the wazu corps actualy having legitimate control over systems (as aposed to just saying they do) i hooked up with a decent sized corp and have been having a blast ever sence.

  12. Chris said on July 14, 2007:

    I have been thinking about playing EVE and I want to because it sounds really cool and my type of game, but my computer is not good enough. What kind of a computer or graphics card would you recommend?

  13. PaJin Darox said on October 3, 2007:

    @Chris: Requirements at the moment -> https://support.eve-online.com/Pages/KB/Article.aspx?id=124

    Later on this year there is coming a new expansion, Revelations III, which should include a HUGE graphic patch, and could change these requirements a bit.

  14. Jamie said on October 3, 2007:

    I started playing Eve 4-5 months ago and am completely addicted. I joined Eve University (they have an office in every starter station) and went to their classes to learn and practice the different aspects of eve. Their instructors are very experienced players with vast amounts of in game knowledge. I now have nearly 6mill skill points and have started venturing into low security space where the risks are greater but so are the rewards!!

  15. Ditmus Lozada said on January 14, 2008:

    Hey guys, So I’ve been playing EVE for a few months now. This game is so big that if you have imagination there literally is no limit to what you can do. you can start your own corp, become an arms dealer, become a pirate and prey on the new pilots, become a bounty hunter and prey on those pirates, you can become a low security miner and sell your rare ore for cut throat prices and the list goes on. There’s even a gamer that has figured out a way to host Illegal poker games, I swear :). And the ships…OMG. Frigates, cruisers, battle cruisers, battleships, support ships, interceptors, mining barges, recon, transports, freighters, fighter carriers and motherships. They are all fully customizable(and I mean put a different races’ guns on your ship just because). As for the graphics, my GeForce 6200 Turbo cache does the job. Jump in guys the water’s hot. And look me up if you want a Noob friendly home. The name is Katsuo Achura.

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