As "online Elite" go, EVE has gone from strength to strength ever since its release in 2001. The game broke a new record for the most number of simultaneous users online recently (over 8,000), so to help celebrate we've teamed up with developer CCP and stuck the full client on our discs, complete with a free three-day trial. Just install and register an account, and soon you'll be living the life of a space cowboy.
To start, you'll need to create a character, almost a game in itself as you twist, turn, pull and prod an infinitely morphable face into what you want. Four different races provide starting templates, and with a basic head shape sorted, adjust everything from the position of your eyeballs to the colour of the background.
Once logged in, you get a basic starting ship and a brief tutorial. Follow your guide's instructions and you'll soon get the hang of zipping about the universe and earning a crust. Your starting space station should contain a corporate agent who'll be able to provide a handful of starter missions to get you on your way.
A useful tip to begin with is to open your character sheet and start training a skill straight away, as skills take several hours of real-time to learn. Handily, you can even continue learning skills when you log off - so before quitting each session, check you've got one running that'll be ready by the time you log back in.
The other thing to consider is finding a good guild (or corporation as they're known in EVE) - then join up with fellow space farers in your quest for fortune and glory. Each station houses a number of player and NPC-run corps - check out the ads and contact the recruiting officer. This way, you'll not only have your own meagre starting funds to work with, but also any corporation equipment they're willing to share. If you're lucky, they may even let you dip into the company piggy bank.
Download EVE Online
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Despite the apparent popularity, the idea of playing a massively multiplayer online game is rather unappealing to the great majority of PC gamers. For many, there's a technological barrier to overcome, seeing as many increasingly require relatively expensive broadband connections to play them. Add to that the cost of monthly subscriptions and you have yourself a fairly expensive hobby - cheaper than getting pissed once a month, but expensive all the same. Especially when you take into account the amount of time required to even get a foothold in the universe to which you must subscribe.
However, Eve Online is unique in many ways: aside from the deep-space setting, Elite-inspired freewheeling gameplay, endlessly appealing graphics and the mouse-driven third-person interface, it's a game that can be played as often as you can ill-afford - once you've overcome its steep learning curve. Since skills can be trained offline, the laborious 'treadmill' is neatly sidestepped, while for the power-gaming fraternity, there are still plenty of ways to upend the efforts of the less timeaffluent. And because the game is played across a single shard, Eve is alone among its peers as being truly international in flavour and the game world feels more alive and dynamic as a result.
In the nine months since its release, much has changed in the world of Eve. Technical issues of lag and excessive downtime have been largely eliminated and gameplay imbalances are now minor.
With the release of the Tech II 'Castor' upgrade, there's a breadth of opportunity for trade, player combat and resource and business management. Plus, research, manufacture of the game's hundreds of tech items and even information servicing has meant that players now have a far greater wealth of gameplay styles to explore. Castor effectively ushered in an entirely new and intricately layered game. Eve has evolved beyond being merely a detailed simulation of space-bound economics. Player-run corporations have banded together to form huge alliances that have laid claim to hundreds of outer-lying lawless systems. Those that favour PvP combat regularly haunt the trade lanes and warp gates, while those less inclined to engage in the game's rich strategic combat flit about trying to earn a decent wage. Eve may not be the busiest online game, sadly, but for depth and tension it's without equal.
If you'll allow me to divulge my own rather subjective views, I'm happy to admit that, having played Eve pretty much every day since it was released, it's by far the most enjoyable and attractive online game I've played. In fact, more than that, it's definitely the most stylish and absorbing game I've played on a PC full stop. For sure, it can be a demanding game, early on especially. It can also be frustrating and at times terminally uneventful thanks to a faltering storyline. However, for all it's minor faults, there really is no experience as rich or rewarding.
Just as it is impossible to speculate on the latest first-person shooter without referring to the mighty Half-Life (or should that be Half-Life 2 now?), so too it would be a great injustice to comment on a game like Eve without mentioning the classic space game Elite. Unlike the recent Freelancer and the looming X2: The Threat however (both featured in last month's magazine), there appears to be much more to Eve Online than the prospect of plundering a vast universe for riches. As was the case with the Braben/Bell classic, trade, mining asteroids, mugging convoys and mercenary work do form the basis of Eve's gameplay, but aside from 20 years of gaming history, there is much that separates it from the greatest space adventure of all time.
Most obvious is the unalterable fact that Eve can only be played with or against real people. Via the magical medium of the information superhighway, developer CCP claims it can accommodate in excess of 100.000 simultaneous users, a number that, if realised, would put the game in the same league as Everquest. CCP's ambitions are. however, more realistic, with an early target being around 25.000 regulars. Which, when you consider there will only be one Eve reality to explore, as opposed to the many servers other online games operate, means friends and foes will still be in abundance.
"Our vision is to create an epic world where players are the movers and shakers in an elaborate social environment." says Hrafnkell Oskarsson. responsible for creating Eve's ever-deepening backstory. "The only way to fulfil that vision is in a huge world where thousands of players vie for economical, political and military ixiwer wit li each other. If we were to break the game across many 'shards' we would never be able to see the dynamic and vibrant online society that we want, plus it would divert the attention of the live team and make our support for each world less than we would like."
Never Stop Learning
Although it is the many ships that are the focus of the graphics and gameplay in Eve. the aim isn't so much about bolting on expensive kit to your craft as expanding the skills of your character sitting inside. But rather than have you boring through lumps of rock for months on end to 'level up' your mining skill, abilities are bought for cash and effectively installed into the brain over a period of time, which means your character can be learning about some new gadget while you are offline. The emphasis evidently, unlike most RPGs, is on grabbing as much money as you can by whatever means you see fit, rather than wasting time doing tedious tasks to build skills.
"On the individual level, players can advance their character through buying skills and upgrading or buying new ships," says Oskarsson. "But there is a whole new social level to the game where players can create or join a corporation and aim to increase their status within it, and through this, their status within the entire game community "
These player-run corporations are far more advanced than player-run factions in games like EverQuest and Ultima Online, as Oskarsson explains: "Corporations are like guilds in other online games, which players can create or join and be assigned a certain role, from lowly positions such as accountant, right up to chief technological officer and CEO. The corporations can own and build space stations, planets, and even whole solar systems. They can then wage war on each other over coveted resources, with the winner being able to dictate the conditions of the surrender."
"Corporations can also ally with each other to create larger political power blocs," he continues. "Finally, through the superior financial means of these larger organisations, they can engage in large-scale research and manufacture of new items that might be better or cheaper than those found among the NPC empires. Of course, the competition here is just as intense as the fight for resources."
Where Eve differs from virtually every other space combat game is in the design of the player interface. The traditional method of control using a joystick to pilot your ship is gone, replaced with a control system closer to that of a real-time strategy game. Your view at all times, whether you are flying or docked, is set so you can admire your ship from all angles, close up or from a distance. Double-click anywhere in space and you will head in that direction. Remarkably, considering interfaces in most 3D strategy games tend to be poor, Eve's is smooth, versatile and far from confusing. The trade off, if you can call it that, is that combat will be much closer to that seen in Star Trek rather than Star Wars, with battles often decided not just on manoeuvrability and firepower, but on power levels, electronic warfare, stealth and counter-measures too. So no seat-of-the-pants WWII-style dogfighting, it seems.
"Eve is not for everyone," admits Oskarsson. "in that it is maybe more competitive and ruthless than many other MMORPGs. But this was a conscious decision on our part, and for those that enjoy pitting their wits directly against other humans in a game that supports Player vs Player (PvP) at every level then Eve is the game of their dreams."
Though it may be too early to call Eve a dream game, having taken part in the recent beta test, I'm of the opinion that CCP has fashioned what could be one of the most important and unique online games since Ultima Online, and perhaps even one of the finest space adventures since Elite. The prospects look good, but with more mass-market online licenses like Star Wars Galaxies looming, the reality could be very different.
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.