The final frontier awaits us in part two of our MMO Showdown. Eve Online, the fabled origin of many great stories, and often hailed as one of the most obtuse and user-unfriendly games of all time. As PC gamers, we consider this a challenge, and so out of masochistic curiosity we signed up for the Eve Online 14 day free trial. Our thoughts below.
Eve really makes you feel as though you’re creating a real person, with a history and a background of their own. The race and bloodline you are born into denotes many of your characteristics, and choosing the kind of school you were enrolled in conveys stat points to your starting character. We had no idea what most of these stats and skills were in aid of, but we picked the ones that sounded the most interesting. Dante belonged to the Minatar race, an angry looking brand of warriors with a penchant for mirrored aviator shades, I opted for the Gallente, picking the bloodline that looked like space born Japanese warlords.
We then got to play with Eve’s marvellous avatar creator. You morph and mould a model of your character’s head and shoulders, then attach fittingly stupid clothing, and then customise the angle and expression of your avatar, whilst adjusting the lighting to make him look as demonic as possible. Sometimes you find something in a game that you wish other developers would shamelessly steal, and this is one of those occasions. It’s a lovely bit of technology that could easily find a home in many other games. This makes it all the more disappointing when you discover how underused the avatar is in the actual game. A tiny and indistinguishable version squats in the top left corner as you play, but never really has a role greater than this.
Soon enough we were in the game. Dante spawned as a pathetic, spindly anorexic collection of tubes and solar panels, I was a meaty asymmetrical brown hunchback … thing. Most importantly, we were in space, and the game was afoot. We launched ourselves into the tutorial, which slowly taught us most of the things we needed to know about controlling our vessels. Our first task was to do some mining, which involved sitting near an asteroid and doing nothing for ten minutes as our cargo bay filled with useless rocks. This was the first and last bit of mining we did during our stay in space. Whatever you decide to do with your time in Eve, don’t spend it mining.
The basics of navigating space aren’t too difficult. As with most things in Eve, you’ll be doing it with menus. These allow you to warp between locations, including jump gates, which allow you to access different systems. Bringing up the map of the universe for the first time was an awesome moment. You’ll see huge collections of systems and stars, linked by intricate jump gate pathways. Eve’s world is huge and alive with people. There is only one server of which all players are part. The map is carefully divided into varying areas of security. Anyone can attack anyone at any time, but in secure areas NPC security forces will sweep in and swiftly deal with aggressors. In the unsecure areas, anything goes. We played it safe, our weak ships wouldn’t last a minute in dangerous space.
We formed a fleet – the equivalent of grouping – and started doing some missions. These mostly involved travelling somewhere and shooting something, and then reclaiming an item from the wreckage. It’s your standard fetch quest, but its setting gave it a sheen that masked the simplicity of the task. For any sci-fi fan, Eve will always have a draw that your standard repurposed Tolkien-esque fantasy universe will always lack – it’s in freaking space!
It also helps that Eve is easily the prettiest of the MMOs we played. At times it’s staggeringly beautiful. You’ll forgive the time it takes to travel between space stations as you watch the glowing nebulae glint off your ship’s hull. It’s impossibly slick.
Eve’s interface isn’t slick at all. It’s like falling down a waterfall of endless menus. Boxes of stuff will clutter up the screen as you play, and nothing is ever as simple as it should be. You’ll buy something in a space station, but buying it doesn’t actually give you the item, you have to open cargo hold, and then open your inventory and drag the item you’ve just bought into your ship. This is something we constantly forgot to do, which meant , once we had eventually figured out what was happening, that we had left a trail of forgotten ship upgrades in storage hangars in various space stations scattered across the galaxy. Much time was spent retrieving them. We upgraded our weapons to take on some tough space pirates, after much peering at tiny stat values trying to figure out what the difference was between a Laser Cannon and a Railgun, and whether or not our characters had the skill to use them or the money to buy them, we rolled into battle to find ourselves confused and really quite embarrassed when none of our weapons worked. My Laser Cannon had packed in because the energy grid on my ship couldn’t handle the new hardware, and Dante hadn’t bought any rockets for his rocket launcher. We warped the hell out of there to spend some more time menu-gazing at the nearest space station. All in all, it was a constantly frustrating experience with a near vertical difficulty curve.
Eve is a game of systems, vast and endlessly complicated systems. The buying and selling menus took us an hour or two to understand, and the trading screens were almost traumatising in their intensity. A high percentage of newcomers will be completely alienated by this. A lot of the time Eve simply feels like work. Perhaps the most damning thing to say is that it just isn’t fun most of the time. For the beginner it’s a struggle to do almost anything. The rewards, as seen so often in MMO games and RPGs, come from your gains and growth as a character. About five hours in we could buy new ships. Dante got his rocket launcher working and the results were spectacular. It was satisfying and intriguing in a way that the other trials weren’t, but in retrospect the hours of hardship weren’t really worth it.
Eve is fascinating for the fact that it’s so different to any other game I’ve ever played, coming closest to ancient space trading stalwart Elite. Of all the trials we’d be most tempted to play Eve, if just to unravel its mysteries, to join its enigmatic guilds and learn more about the huge world that has been created by its inhabitants. Ultimately though, it’s a game you’ll want to read about more than you’ll want to play.