Apocrypha, the latest expansion of Eve Online – my gaming mistress with whom I continually flirt, tease, and occasionally enjoy for hours on end to the exclusion of all else – was recently released. Unlike many other MMOs, Eve expansions are free, with typically 2-3 major expansions released a year. Apocrypha is the latest, and perhaps one of the most ambitious expansions produced yet, with a variety of features for new and old players alike.
Most notable for new players is a revamping of the Eve character creation experience. In earlier versions, the character creation experience involved choosing a variety of broad traits for your character which would translate into attributes and starting skills. This process was extremely opaque, particularly for a new player, resulting in many players being confused with their starting attributes, often with a variety of worthless skills that prevented them from enjoying the game immediately. This was one of the many reasons Eve has been viewed as unfriendly to new players, which can kill an MMO.
Under the new system, characters begin with near-standardized attributes and a dramatically reduced skillset. However, new characters train skills at double speed for the beginning of their life, allowing players to rapidly train the skills that will assist their play style, be it peaceful mining or dastardly pirating. Augmenting this are two features which are useful for new and old players alike. The first is a skill queue, that will automatically train a preset number of skills. This is massively helpful as Eve has a number of skills that take an hour or two to train, and it can be easy to forgot to set the next skill in line. Players can now knock out masses of these little skills with the easy to use queue, a huge boon for new and old players.
The second is a “neural remap” ability which allows players to shuffle stats once a year. This grants players who want to take characters in different directions (say, a science based direction as opposed to a combat based direction) the ability to optimize accordingly. Collectively, these features give players much more flexibility in planning and playing their character, and offer some reduction in the burden of getting started in Eve.
For existing players, the most notable new feature is the introduction of the new exploration system, highlighted by wormholes. Eve has always supported an exploration system which used a largely text-based, cumbersome interface. The result was various goodies for the intrepid, but the process to get them was arduous, which at some levels is a good analogy for the game itself.
Under the new exploration system, an intuitive graphical interface creates a “mini-game” like experience which allows players to quickly find what goodies are waiting to be found in a much more pleasant manner. I’d never touched the exploration system prior to this patch, but now many of the players I play with and I are scavenging the galaxy as fast as possible for cosmic signatures and the treasures they may contain.
The creme de la creme of exploration is wormholes. No, these aren’t infected, cankerous orifices filled with parasites, but rather exactly what you’d expect them to be (although they are decidedly more unstable than the wormhole of Deep Space 9 fame). Wormholes in Eve are constantly spawning and decaying, this rate based both on time and the amount of mass (player ships) that pass through them.
Some wormholes connect existing systems, creating convenient trade routes – or sneak attack routes. The most valuable wormholes lead to Worm Space, or W-Space, where the revamped AI NPC awaits, guarding some of the most valuable loot in the game.
Eve has been well known for its dumb as rocks AI. NPC ships basically exist to be killed and provide their loot. They pick a single target and hammer away regardless of the circumstances, begging to be exploited and slaughtered. In Apocrypha, this has changed. Worm Space is full of a special NPC type known as Sleepers. And Sleepers don’t wait to be killed: they try their damnedest to kill player groups.
Utilizing a threat based system combined with a wide array of player-like behaviors (directed targeting, electronic warfare, etc), Sleepers provide a new challenge for players to combat. In my experience with them so far, Sleepers have been challenging and follow one of the most basic tenets of the Eve experience: bring a group of competent friends or expect to be thoroughly savaged.
And Sleepers should provide a challenge: the loot from Wormhole space can be combined through a long, complicated process into Tech 3 ships, the newest class available in Eve. Unlike predecessors, Tech 3 ships can be customized at a systems level, with five slots and five possible variations per slot. The result is an unparalleled level of customization.
As the process to create these ships is arduous, debate as to how good these ships actually are has been based on paper statistics and not yet combat experience. But regardless of the actual utility, the Universe of Eve is filled with explorers trying to get in on the production of these ships.
Rounding off the expansion are various graphical improvements, the largest being the unification of the Eve client under the “Premium/Premium Lite” banner. This allows players with older computers to take advantage of the new graphics without grinding their computers to a halt, and allows Eve’s developer, CCP, to optimize development resources by only needing to code for a single client.
In the past, Eve had a classic client and a premium client, spreading support and resources from a development standpoint. I am now using the Premium client’s “light” mode on my non-gaming work computer with significantly superior results, so this change seems to be for the better. In addition to the new client, various graphical features such as asteroids, were redone throughout the universe.
Apocrypha is one of the best patches I’ve seen throughout my Eve career. During the open testing process, it seemed that CCP was biting off more than it could chew, and many players, including myself, anticipated a problematic patch process. However, the only adverse effect was a server crashing three days after the patch, and its unclear if the crash was even linked to the patch.
One of the biggest challenges that CCP still faces is that Eve remains, by far, the densest, richest, and most difficult to learn MMO on the market. This is both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. The strength is that the Eve experience is totally unlike any other MMO, with politics, battles, and a sense of ownership you simply cannot find in any other MMO. But learning the ropes is tremendously difficult: I can’t imagine anyone ever playing without a direct referral from a friend and a great deal of help.
CCP needs to continue to figure out how they can encourage players to recruit their friends and develop true gameplay and pricing strategies that leverage that. But for me, I’ve figured out where the little man in the spaceship is on the lady named Eve, and I continue to enjoy a unique and satisfying game.