EvE Online is the work of CCP Games, an Icelandic company, who currently function as both the game’s developer and publisher. It was released in May 2003, and unlike many MMOs shows fairly steady growth even still today. This review will center on EvE Online: Trinity, the expansion released in early December of 2007.
EvE is essentially a sandbox style game, where there are no set “classes” and no restrictions on what you can choose to do. If you start out your character as a combat pilot, there is nothing stopping you from later deciding that you want that character to be a miner or a scientist or an industrialist. Consequently, the game appeals to a wide variety of interests.
Gameplay is just as varied as the paths to take in the game. You can make money doing almost anything; you just have to set out to do it well. If you want to beat up NPCs, you can. Want to spend all your time mining instead? You can. Just want to sit in a station and make ships? You got it. Don’t feel like working and just want to rob people as a pirate? Sure enough, you can do that too. While not all these things are immediately viable at the start, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it if you set your mind to it.
The thing that makes that variety possible is that there are no “levels”, only skills. You can train in whatever you’d like, the only thing that impacts it are your attributes which will determine how long the skill takes to train. Training occurs whether you’re playing or not, so in minutes a week you can still keep up an active character and advance to better ships and gear.
The economy of EvE is a wonderfully deep simulation, prompting a few deriding remarks that the entire game is nothing more than Excel with better graphics. Would-be entrepreneurs can likely spend hours on end doing nothing more than manipulating the market, trying to game the best deals on their goods. Thousands, if not millions, of transactions occur between players daily and the whole economy is so detailed it has drawn the notice of economists who want to observe the effects on markets in a semi-controlled environement.
Combat in EvE is seemingly simple, but the underlying mechanics are surprisingly deep. Gun-like weapons, for example, will factor in range, speed of the ships, the relative directions of both ships, size of the target and the speed at which the turret can turn. Of course, from the player viewpoint it’s just “F1 fires the gun” but to be effective you do have to learn to “fly” your ship properly to make the best use of the weapons as well as knowing the tactics opposing classes of ships employ and how to counter them.
Balance in EvE is also fairly good, from ships to characters. There are very few “super ships” that will win any engagement they fight in, and even the lowly frigates can do some damage against a battleship if flown by a skilled enough pilot. Characters would seem to get unbalanced by the fact that a veteran player would have far more skills than a new one, but to an extent this is mitigated by the fact that each ship and setup will only make use of a few skills. So the veteran might have many ships at his disposal that he can use equally well, but the new player can fight on even ground if they focus on one particular type of ship and flying it the best they can. This is a similar setup to the old PlanetSide MMO, the veteran can use more guns, but there’s only one in the holster at a time and the gun kills people regardless of who wields it.
Graphically, EvE is simply gorgeous with the Premium Graphics Content. While more intense on the computer than the old graphics, which were still impressive, the results are simply amazing (two screenshots of a Merlin-class frigate are attached for reference). The effects are top-notch, even if some of the design aesthetics might not agree with everyone, such as the Caldari race being accused of producing ships that look like welding accidents from a high school shop class. Still, the effect when you first jump to warp is a warm tingly feeling for just about any sci-fi nerd.
Audio-wise the game includes some very fine music that sets a proper “sci-fi” feel. There’s some sounds that on the face of it seem out of place, like the wind tunnel effect when traveling at warp speed or the fact that guns make sounds in a vacuum, but outside of hardcore nitpicking the sound in EvE is most enjoyable by game standards. A few songs would actually not feel at all out of place on one’s mp3 player for the commute to work.
Meta-gaming in EvE is almost as fun as the actual spaceship portion. While there’s “patrolled” space under the jurisdiction of the NPC CONCORD police, the vast majority of the systems in EvE are what is known as “0.0 space” or “nullsec” where anything goes. Player alliances have set up full empires in these spaces, and frequently war with each other. This will stretch beyond just the expected combat in EvE and will extend to “news coverage” and propaganda and all sorts of politicking and backstabbing. While not of an appeal to everyone, reading the stories about these conflicts and dealings helps give the game an authentic feeling, like if the names were a bit different these wars could actually be the subject of a novel.
Tagging right along with the meta-gaming is that there is, quite simply, one EvE server. If there are 35,000 people playing EvE at one time, they are all sharing the same server. This is a sharp contrast to other MMOs that take a sharded approach such as World of Warcraft. This makes the meta-gaming and stories much more interesting as you don’t have to read about how great some war between two rival alliances is…you can go out and watch if you want to (and likely become collateral damage…it is a war after all)!
The greatest strength of EvE however, is arguably the company behind it. As CCP is an independent studio and publisher, EvE is less a commercial venture to them and more of a favored child. While the fact that their child pays the bills is a bonus, they never stop tweaking and adding to it. These additions go beyond just adding more ships and systems, as they will often change how the game works or, in the case of Trinity, completely re-work core parts of it. Their slated plans for 2008 include expanding PvP in “safe” empire space as well as what they’ve termed Ambulation, or allowing players to walk around on the stations rather than being an abstract pod in a ship. While walking around stations has been done before in Earth & Beyond, CCP’s plans for it are certainly grand with corporate war rooms and restaurants and clothing and seemingly a whole slew of related activities. While this is still on the drawing board, the fact that the company continues to have such grand plans for what an MMO that’s been out for years is commendable. The fact that all their expansions and improvements are included in the subscription price is doubly so.
EvE really does suffer from being a sandbox-type of game. What’s that you say? I listed that under good so how can it be bad? Well, a great many people are not self-driven. They can, and will, suffer a “paralysis of freedom.” Nobody’s telling them what to do, and they’re scared by that. The box is there for a reason. You’re out there trying to fly a Hulk…for what? Yeah, you’ll mine faster and produce more money but what are you going to do with it? That can be a hard question to answer after a while. If you have troubles coming up with things to do on your own, EvE is probably not a game for you.
Another slight on the record is that to do all the “cool” stuff, EvE takes time and lots of it. Training to fly any of the advanced ships (referred to as “Tech 2”) will generally be measured in weeks, if not many months. Then you have to factor in that the ability to fly a ship is not the same as the ability to equip it properly and will add even MORE training time. Even though you earn skill points while you’re not playing, so there’s no slow down in training, you can’t do anything really to speed up the process either. It will take as long as it takes. If you’re a person who likes to be able to get things quickly, again…not something you’ll enjoy.
Additionally, the game is not very solo-friendly. While some people would cry “Why would you play a Massively MULTIPLAYER game if you want to be solo?” I would say “Because the vast majority of people on the Internet are a bunch of twats.” It’s fine to have the option to tackle things in a group, but by and large with EvE you’re borderline required to do so. Sure, you can do a great many things by yourself after a fashion, but it’s quite easy to drive yourself batty if you were, for example, to mine asteroids, haul the ore back to the base, refine it and then haul the processed minerals to market. You can do all of that by yourself, but it will really take up a lot of time and cut into the profits you make on the activity.
Compounding that problem is the fact that even though there’s three character slots on an account, only one of them can be training a skill at any given time. This really does play into the “you need multiple accounts” if you’re not in with a group of friends. Good for CCP, perhaps, but it presents a higher entry barrier to people who prefer to be self-sufficient.
The game’s UI has, by CCP’s own admission, a steep learning curve. You start a character, get your shiny new starter frigate and BAM; you’re faced dozens of different buttons, this strange mouse-driven menu system to get anywhere and tons of blinking icons and a tutorial begging for your attention. Information overload at its finest. However, once you get past the deluge of information and become adjusted to it, it really becomes hard to pick out things that could be removed. With few exceptions, most every button becomes quite important once you get used to what they do. Ugly, to be certain, especially with the way it will confuse newer players.
The death penalty of EvE is quite harsh. Someone blows you up; they’re free to loot the wreck that was once your ship and take any equipment that survived. While there’s insurance available to cover the cost of the ship, it will not (in most cases) approach the money lost in modules on the ship. It is entirely possible to work for months for a ship or item and lose it in seconds. Some people find that sort of thing appealing, as there’s a true price for failure, but others find it terribly annoying and a major turn-off.
Following along with that is there’s very little regulation of in-game behavior. While race/gender/etc. insults are frowned upon and action taken against offenders; there are no rules against player scams and schemes. While most everything has a “secure” version to ensure that everyone is getting what they want, there are always people who are willing to risk it to save a few more credits and get taken advantage of. Good life lesson perhaps that they get scammed out of virtual money, but most people don’t play games for character lessons.
Alongside the mention of secure methods comes one of the more controversial topics about EvE, its semi-legitimate Real Money Trade (RMT, to those in the know). CCP provides mechanisms for players to exchange pre-paid Game Time Codes to other players in exchange for in-game currency. What this basically equates to is that if you find a way to make ~200 million credits a month (as of this writing), you can play EvE for free by buying these codes from other players. It’s a useful model to allow people who might otherwise not have the funds to play the game, but it does raise a lot of discord in the community that someone can turn real-world assets into an in-game advantage. All of the money involved does end up benefiting the game directly in this model, but even years after its implementation the debate about the idea’s merits rages back and forth in the community.
The Gryph Factor*
By it’s nature, EvE Online appears to be a shoe-in for a high Gryph Factor. It’s a game about markets, spaceships and math…what could possibly be more geeky? Still, beyond that it has a number of interesting features of interest to budding Gryphons out there. CCP provides various XML feeds of database data for use by external applications, such as EvEMon
(which is a tool that will let you plan your skill training for a specific ship, item or even loadout and suggest skills that will make the training time shorter). The only knock against EvE’s Gryph Factor is that the UI is effectively static, supporting only a re-arrangement of the elements and not any user-made addons or customizations. Of course, in a game that has such a strong focus on PvP, CCP probably feels their interests are best served by ensuring everyone is on a level playing field. A minor detractor, and the game still has one of the higher Gryph Factor ratings around.
EvE Online is a game that provokes extreme reactions. Likely, one will either love it totally, or despise it utterly. The open-ended gameplay is both the game’s biggest strength and its greatest albatross, and many people will be discouraged by their first forays into unsafe space and coming back wearing their buttocks as a fedora. It has a great many things to offer, but to take part in all of them will likely require a huge investment of either time or money for multiple accounts.
I feel the game for most people will be right around three out of five stars as a promising idea that misfires in a few places. However, for people who enjoy hardcore PvP, playing with markets or just the idea of Internet spaceships the game will probably go up a bit higher. CCP has a 14 day trial program, so it's a low-risk venture to see if you're one of the people for whom the game is 5 stars, or one who'd find giving it a half star to be overly charitable. Unfortunately for people typing up reviews, EvE (like many MMOs) is just so huge in its scope that it's well-nigh impossible to give it a rating that will apply to everyone.
* - The Gryph Factor is a measure of how much of the game can be interfaced with outside of the game. As an example, World of Warcraft with their Addon API, web-accessible Armory and other “geek” features would rank high on Gryph Factor while a game without any of the above, such as Solitaire or Pinball would rank poorly.