Despite being what appears to be a model citizen of what an MMO can be, EVE’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: the game is bone dry. Like Antarctic dry. Most of your interactions occur through a plethora of transparent windows that can become overwhelming quickly (especially if your display resolution is on the low end). You can spend almost as much time travelling between star systems and planets as you do accomplishing things in them. Missions (no, don’t call them quests, they aren’t that exciting) are doled out through similarly impersonal interface panes, but you’re gonna need to spend some time mining in order to acquire funds early on, whether to get mining equipment or weaponry. Because of the game’s always-on player-versus-player (PvP) mode, it’s not unheard of that some jerkwad of a player will pop on top of you and demand a ransom.
Feeling the need for something new, I decided to hop back onto EVE. I reactivated my account with a thirty-day pass, not knowing how long this visit would last, and found a nearly seven-year old pilot that I hadn’t done much of anything with. I spent the next week mining solo and acquiring a destroyer (which is in a tier above the starter frigate ships) so I could miner faster and more efficiently.
In EVE, there is no ‘leveling’, everything is skill-based. In order to equip that more powerful laser, you’ll need the book and then the time to learn the skill, which has five tiers that take gradually longer to learn. So, you’ll need to mine or do missions for the money to acquire the skill which will allow you to acquire the more powerful laser. Then you’ll need a bigger ship and not only need the money for it, but, again, the skill to fly it. Skills aren’t developed by using it, like Skyrim, but are rather learned by calendar time. The first level of a skill may only take ten minutes to learn while the second may take an hour. Final skills generally take days. I’d given up on the game six years ago when I’d already produced the funds to buy a high-end mining barge (a Covetor) and the high-end lasers that make it shine, but my final skill to learn it was going to take another two and a half months. Needless to say, I cancelled my subscription before I ended up paying out of pocket to wait to play it how I wanted. In that way, EVE is the ultimate MMO partner for passive interactions. Sure, you can acquire a ton of funds playing it regularly, especially in a corporation, but you could probably skirt much of this by playing enough to buy a new skill book and then make sure that your skills to learn are queued up.
So what happened to me this time?
Well, after a week of building up my gear and going so far as to learn lasers, buy a laser, equip it to my ship, then learn how to use and acquire the ammunition for said laser, I ended up in an asteroid belt in .8 space (which is still pretty high security) mining as my home system had been flushed clean of harvest-able rocks. I was about to wrap up and head to the nearest station to sell off my goods when a player stuck me up for five million ISK (the currency of the game), a quantity that was far beyond what I’d collected in the game in the past week. Of course, he had jammed my engines, so I couldn’t warp to safety. I rebutted with the fact that I didn’t have that kind of money. He returned with a smaller jab of a million ISK instead. I didn’t have that either, but while I offered the 400k ISK I had on-hand, he decided to blow up my ship and everything on it instead. While I’d insured my craft and had enough to purchase it, I was still shy of the amount to get my original setup.
Rather than mess with that debacle, all of which occurred in the course of two minutes after a solid week of play, I just cancelled my account.
But is this really the fault of EVE? Not really. The game promotes a free-spirited approach to play that allows you to be anyone and anything you choose. The problem is that it can certainly be punishing, even at early stages of the game when a player may have just gotten over the complexities of the game’s hooks. EVE exists for its audience, which is more than enough to keep development of the game on-going with regularly released episodes of content. It’s also allowed CCP to produce a PS3-exclusive first-person shooter called Dust 514 that will be out this summer and tie into the main game. Players in EVE will be allowed to enlist players to fight ground wars for the control of entire planets. The connectivity between the two games is tantalizing, but unless CCP makes the game accessible (or fun), then they their own uphill climb to appeal to new players.
So that leaves us back at the beginning: is there a contender for a truly massive multiplayer online game? Will we be forever sequestered to realms with hundreds of players in order to experience a great experience that a player can easily sink into?
We shall see.