It's Been Almost that makes it nearly four years -since we took a proper look at EVE Online, in the form of the Exodus expansion, and it's the understatement of the century to say a lot has changed. In those years EVE has had several expansions and one of the most radical graphical overhauls of any MMO. CCP have done an incredible job of keeping EVE relevant, given how inaccessible the game can feel to even the most MMO-savvy newcomers.
To start off, players can now effectively play EVE without paying real money. While there's still the $14.95 per month option (and you can now download the game through Steam), people can actually buy game time with real money to sell to other players in-ganie, using EVEs ISK currency. It's a fascinating setup, and one which sees many players mining their hearts out to keep up their habit. CCP supports this process officially, and eventually players can, in theory, pay for their entire subscription through in-game labour. It takes a fair amount of ISK to pay for a 60-day code (about 400 million) from the Timecode bazaar, but it's still an interesting way to get off paying real money for things. CCP still get revenue for it at the end of the day, so everybody's happy.
There have been nine expansions in all, and each has added layers of complexity to EVE. The key to this has been the amount of content that players can generate themselves, including conquerable stations that anchor the gigantic war that spans Tranquility (still the only EVE server) across the outer regions of space. And players can now build outposts -smaller stations that are easier to maintain - while corporations can now also create the absolutely terrifying Titan class craft, of which only a few currently exist in game, mostly owned by the gigantic Band of Brothers corporation.
If you haven't played since the early days, you'll quickly realise on leaving CONCORD (i.e. policed) space that there's a player-driven war between gigantic alliances and factions that's astonishing in scale and organisation.
If you're of a cosmetic bent though, and need to have every game you play looking spingly spangly, the new graphics engine, released in December 2007 with the EVE: Trinity patch, is a big deal. It upgraded the game to DX9 and generally made it more graphically competitive. So competitive in fact that it's easily won the contest of being the best-looking (and performing) MMO.
Alongside these huge updates are accessibility, UI and gameplay tweaks that have streamlined a great deal of the teething problems the game had. New players will still have a very demanding and verbose tutorial to conquer, with seemingly endless dropdowns to select and things to click, but once you've passed through it in its several-hour entirety, you'll find an MMO deeper than any other. CCP is planning, in the near-distant future, to let players walk around space stations, as well as let you fly onto the surfaces of planets. The very concept of this is somewhat ball-quaking for space ace wannabes, opening up a whole new level of potential warfare and avarice.
EVE is still cutthroat, ruthless and unfair. You will get ganked, pod-killed and insulted. The minute you step outside of the secure systems you're considered fair game for any passing player, and death leaves you shipless and (depending on how much you've invested in your clone) could set you back weeks of character development. However, there are now many helpful players who'll teach you the ropes (though they may backstab you later) as well as helpful tools like EVEMon (evemon.battleclinic.com) that help you plan your learning and skill paths.
The inaccessibility factor is still there, but CCP and the players have done a great deal to open EVE up to a larger audience. It's still not for everybody, but I heartily recommend that those who have taken a sabbatical from the game to log back on - and indeed for EVE virgins to jump in at the deep end. It's the most fascinating virtual world that online gaming has thrown up yet, and it's an amazing thing to play a part in.
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