Eve Online: First Impressions

By Shamus
on Feb 17, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

While following up on some comments in response to my post on multiplayer games, I checked out Eve Online. They offer a free trial. I mean free as in: Totally free. You download the client for free. You create an account for free. You don’t even need to give them a credit card #. I give them major points for that last one. I know there is tremendous money to be made in getting people to sign up for a free trial that will auto-bill them in 14 days unless they cancel, and then waiting for them to forget. Everyone else does this, but not the folks running Eve Online. Nicely done. Below are my thoughts after a little more than a day with the game.

Doing a “first impressions” post on an online game is a little unfair. These games are large, and it often takes days just to get a feel for what works and what you like. Often there will be rewarding aspects of the game that won’t be available until you’ve been at it for weeks. You should read everything I say here with the same attitude you would have for an article titled, “The first twelve minutes of Starcraft”.

The good and the bad, in no particular order:


eo_minerva.jpg

The character creation process is a mixed bag. I love the visual aspect of it. You generate a face (lots of fun) and pick some clothes (you only see the character from the shoulders up) and a hairstyle. The editor is 3d, but what you’re really doing is posing for your character portrait, which will be the static picture shown to other players. It gets interesting once you position the avatar in relation to the camera, assign a background, and adjust the lighting. Want to seem evil or imposing? Just have your character glowering down at the camera, lit from below, in front of a dark industrial background. Want something more friendly? Simply place your character in a white utopian scene and give them a little grin. Make their head cock to the side to give them an inquisitive look. It really is amazing just how expressive you can be with just a little body language. The avatars in this game do more to convey personality and attitude than any other RPG I’ve played, and they don’t even have bodies. (There is a valuable little lesson here, which I’m filing away for another time: Body language is far more important than body shape when it comes to truly defining a character.)

On the downside, I never felt like I had enough information to really choose the rest of my character attributes. I knew I wanted to be a miner, but I couldn’t figure out which attributes would be important or what the various tradeoffs were. After a couple hours of play, I dumped my original character and made another, hoping that I could take what I’d learned so far and apply it. It didn’t seem to help. I still don’t know if I made wise choices, or if my choices really mattered. The tutorial admonished me to “plan ahead” when creating a character, but this was pointless since a) By the time you get to the tutorial you’re already done creating your character and b) it’s impossible to plan ahead when you don’t know the effects of the choices you make.

The intro movie is pretty interesting. It fills in the backstory and explains that the game takes place thousands of years in the future. The different “races” in the game are humans who have become very estranged from their Earth ancestors, and who have developed a number of distinct cultures. The movie set the stage and looked pretty, which is about all you can ask of an intro in a game like this.

eo_space.jpg

The graphics are fantastic, although I guess all space games look fantastic. You can go back and load up classics like Homeworld or Freespace and say, “Dang. That still looks good.” It’s pretty hard to make stars and nebulae look dull or ugly. The game is over four years old, but someone had to tell me that in-game. I never saw anything that made me say, “That looks dated.”

The load times are outstanding. The game starts fast, and area transitions are no more than a few seconds. The game itself launches quickly, works well in a window, and plays nice with other applications. That last item is important if you want to keep the game going in the background while you do other stuff. (Which is what I’m doing right now.) Other developers take note: Load times are part of the user experience. This stuff matters.

My Probe-class ship.  It looks exactly like every other ship of the same class.
My Probe-class ship. It looks exactly like every other ship of the same class.
The ships are very generic. If there’s a way to paint your ship, add decals, or otherwise customize them, I never saw it. Since you spend a majority of the game looking at it, this is a very disappointing omission.

This game is very complicated. I would classify this as both complaint and praise. I’m still pretty clueless.

The music is perfect. It’s mostly gentle, atmospheric loops that suit the setting, establish a mood, and otherwise stay out of the way.

The tutorial was very gentle. It took a long time, but it made extra sure I never got lost. When it came time for fighting, the game was sure to warn me, “This is dangerous! Be careful!” And then it let me fight a couple of ships that were more or less incapable of bestowing harm on me. This was nice, and let me ease into the game.

But that ease only made it all the more shocking when the tutorial ended and my very next assignment was to go out to a given location and blow up some pirates. When I got there, I found six ships, any one of which would have been my equal. My ship was blown up and I lost a lot of the assets I’d accumulated in my first three hours of play. The game never gave the slightest indication that I might be in for a real challenge, much less certain death. Now I’ve lost some standing with my employer because I never did the job they gave me. I’m not sure what went wrong with this quest, but this was pretty appaling and nearly ended my game for good. I’m still pretty much stuck. Even after stepping up to the next class of ship and investing in some better defenses, I can’t even kill one of them before I have to run for my life. I don’t know who to go to for quests now, since I can’t trust NPCs not to send me off to my death.

Most MMORPG games will tell the player, “Nice work, kid. Now go get a few levels under your belt. Come back and see me when you hit level six.” This game seems to accomplish this by killing you and letting you figure it out for yourself. There is no obvious way to judge the relative strength of a foe other than to let them shoot at you, which tends to be deadly. This is flat-out wrongheaded game design and it’s pretty much a deal-breaker for me.

When you enter a space station, the button says dock. When you leave, it says… undock? What’s wrong with good old-fashioned “launch”? (And then we can replace “dock” with “unlaunch”.)

The community is about par for the course. The chat channels aren’t a wasteland of l33t-speaking juveniles, but in the newbie areas the ambient level of idiocy is a bit high. Here is a pretty typical example of how newbies are welcomed into the game. I’m sure this is a result of having the free trial, and not reflective of regular paying players. I can see things get a lot better once you make it out of newbieland.

The interface is nice. There is a lot going on here, and for the most part the game manages to give me the info I need without things becoming too onerous. The Marketplace interface can get kind of crazy, but I can’t think of how it could be simplified without removing features.

Your character levels up certain skills over time. This happens realtime, even if you aren’t logged in. You can have three characters at once, but only one of them can be learning a skill at a time. This stikes me as strange. I’m still trying to figure out why things work this way.

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From the Archives:

  1. Jadawin says:

    As with most MMOGS, a good guild (or corporation in this case) makes the experience. EVE’s tutorial turned me off, but two sites that have apparently successful corporations and a generally mature user community are Ars Technica (on the Gaming Extra Strength Caplets forum) and The Older Gamers. The folks at either of those places would probably be happy to give you advice.

  2. kamagurka says:

    I have to say that I find that conversation pretty civil and outspoken for a MMOG, especially a newbie area. The level of douchitude is only at about a 6/10, when I expected about a twelve when I clicked the link.

  3. Stirling Westrup says:

    I just checked out EVE Online, and they have page after page of online help describing what skills you need and especially going into the mining profession in great detail…

  4. Shamus says:

    “I just checked out EVE Online, and they have page after page of online help describing what skills you need and especially going into the mining profession in great detail…”

    I didn’t doubt that there was lots of help available. My frustration was that it isn’t really provided within the character generation process. If you play something like WoW, you can intuit that high strength=good fighter, but that sort of thing isn’t available within Eve.

    To be fair, I see that even if you make poor choices, you don’t end up with a fundamentally crippled character. (Which is what I was afraid of.) You can make bad choices and still get to be the greatest miner ever – it will just take longer.

  5. Mordaedil says:

    I personally wonder how well a game like Freelancer would do if made impossible to cheat in and supported a better online ability.

    It’s one of those space-sims I find have been greatly misunderstood.

  6. Daviot44 says:

    I was quite impressed with the graphics and design of EVE, and I loved how it made you feel the immense distances of a realistic outer space, but not take too long to travel from point A to point B. However, the majority of the game was just that, travel, and it wasn’t easy to see how you could work with other people. Since the interaction and play with other people is the main thing that draws me to MMO’s, this game just did not hold my interest.

  7. Adam Bloom says:

    Eve’s character creation is a problem. It’s one of those games where you have to do your research before you create your first character, or you’ll probably end up throwing him/her away. Luckily, only a small amount of research is needed to understand the basics; you don’t need to find out how to powergame him into the perfect character, because in the long run a few stat points makes only a small difference.

    Eve is a game where you have to go into every fight assuming your opponents are strong enough to kill you in seconds. It’s a problem, but in Eve there’s no way to judge the “strength” of a player. Even flying a single type of ship, depending on fitting, player skills, and character skills, any one enemy could be anywhere between easy and impossible.

    I notice you’re playing Minmatar, my chosen race. If you want some quick tips that should get you running pretty quickly, I’d be happy to help.

  8. Dr-Online says:

    I first picked up the game back in July, at which time they had a different style of tutorial, which was much faster, less streamlined, and basically akin to “This is a brick wall of knowledge. You will learn by osmosis.”

    Once you get past that though, I’ve found the game to be endless fun. Especially bounty-hunting.

  9. Having never played the game, I would like to say that I love the concept of all the races being human evolved along different paths is great, and I wish more sci-fi would delve into the idea.

  10. Tausney says:

    I’ve been playing EVE on and off for a few years and can understand why the game has been winning awards year after year. Simply put, the developers know what they are doing.

    Like most MMO’s, they will add content to keep things fresh but without ruining the balance (Planetside Devs take note!), they constantly create events within the game world to keep the universe moving, but most importantly of all they let the players get on with it.

    It’s the players that really make the game, and the devs know it. They will sit back and let the players make the environment they want to live in, even if it means losing some in the process. The most famous of those would easily be the Guiding Hand coup (http://eve.klaki.net/heist/).

    There is a real sense of self-preservation in the game. Unlike most MMO’s where dieing comes as an inconvenience, dieing in EVE is almost crippling at times with losses of assets that take months to claw back.

    As long as the devs keep Eve a classy open-ended and open-minded game, it’s still be going for years.

  11. Robin Z says:

    All I know about Eve Online is one possibly-fictional-but-very-well-written personal account.

    I guess I’ll wait until I hear more before I decide whether to try it.

  12. Shamus says:

    There is a real sense of self-preservation in the game. Unlike most MMO’s where dieing comes as an inconvenience, dieing in EVE is almost crippling at times with losses of assets that take months to claw back.

    That is a major drawback in my book. Coupled with the inability to judge foe strength, the game becomes a huge gamble. Some people thrive on a sense of danger and risk, and it looks like this game is aimed at that sort of player.

  13. Jim says:

    Your first mission shouldn’t have kicked your butt like that. I’ve run a few new characters through newbie agent missions, and they all started out with simple courier missions leading up to doable kill missions.

    There are some safety nets for new characters, too. If you lose your starter ship, you get another one free. Your clone is essentially free until you have accumulated some time training skills, so dying early only really costs the value of your ship and whatever’s in it. If you keep everything you own in a station when you go out on a mission, and run the newbie ship in the mission, the cost of dying is pretty much zero.

    Even at higher levels, dying in EVE isn’t that incredibly bad, especially compared to what it used to be. Clones (pay money so that you can come back without losing skills) and insurance (pay money to get a portion of your ship’s value if it’s destroyed) soften the blow of death somewhat (and note that getting your ship blown up is different than being “pod killed,” which can hurt a lot more than just losing a ship). But there are still consequences. Insurance doesn’t pay for your ship’s fittings or cargo, just the ship itself. When your current clone is killed, you lose whatever (very expensive) implants it had. So there are costs, and getting killed sucks – especially compared to a game like City of Heroes, where you just pop up in the hospital with a little XP debt.

    Death is — or can be — rarer than it is in games like CoH, though. Mission foes won’t pod kill you, so the worst that can happen is you lose your ship. One of the first mantras you learn in EVE is “only fly what you can afford to lose.”

    Now, if you head out to low-security or zero-security space, you may end up facing players who have been in the game for years, have far greater skills than you, have fancier ships, and who want to kill you. It’s no place for a newb, but it’s also where adrenaline really gets pumping. You can stay in high-security, but large parts of EVE are devoted to PVP, and EVE PVP is about as hardcore as it gets. But you can choose whether or not to go into PVP areas — mostly (even high-sec space is dangerous if you aren’t careful. CONCORD will quickly kersplat anyone who starts a fight in high-sec space, but in some ships it’s possible to get off enough of a volley to destroy a cargo ship full of expensive goodies before CONCORD comes and makes you hurt. So there are occasionally “suicide gankers” who will sacrifice their 100k ISK frigate for your cargo ship carrying $30 mil ISK in ore. Moral: keep your wits about you).

    I think EVE really benefits from the fact that death means something. They seem to have the balance about right — it means something, but it’s not (usually) devastating. Space is big and dangerous, but you could make a career just mining, or trading, or manufacturing. It’s the most sandbox like of any MMORPG I’ve seen.

    Yeah, I’m pretty addicted to it.

  14. Robert says:

    What you have to understand about EVE is this: it’s the reverse of most MMOs in terms of whether skills or gear is more important.

    Physical capital is not all that important. It’s easy to get more. Go buy a game time card for $15, sell it for 125 million game credits, and you’ve got enough money to outfit a dozen starter ships. (This is perfectly legal, btw.)

    Human capital – your acquired skillbase – is all-important. The only way to get more is to study. Slowly and painfully and over a course of months and years. You can buy characters that other people have trained up – I train up characters and resell them to more hardcore players as a side business – but it’s expensive.

    You can insure, inadequately, your physical capital if you really want to. You can also COMPLETELY insure your human capital via cloning. If you have 1 million skill points, then you get a clone that has that many skill points, and even if you get completely blown away in a battle, your clone still has all the skills. You have to buy a new clone, but clones are cheap.

    So death is an inconvenience – and perhaps a drain on capital for serious PVPers who die a lot – but it’s a secondary concern for players with foresight.

  15. Vendrin says:

    EVE is the best. No question to it. Played for over a year, haven’t looked back.

  16. Vendrin says:

    Oh, and the game has a great roleplaying community if your into that. Really makes the game even better.

  17. ngthagg says:

    When I played the trial, I learned pretty quickly to avoid combat missions. I stuck to courier jobs, and spent my money on getting a faster ship to help with that. The only problem with courier work is that it’s boring: you can plan your entire route and have the game fly you from A to B without any input needed. This makes it very tempting to wander off and do something else, which is generally when you get ganked and pod-killed.

    Still, I enjoyed the game for the short time I played it. I like the fact that it doesn’t demand your constant attention. If, for example, you get hooked on another game, you can log in every now and then to update your skill training so that when you come back you’re better off than before. Definitely very kind to casual players.

    ngthagg

  18. AJ says:


    There is a real sense of self-preservation in the game. Unlike most MMO’s where dieing comes as an inconvenience, dieing in EVE is almost crippling at times with losses of assets that take months to claw back.

    Shamus – That is a major drawback in my book. Coupled with the inability to judge foe strength, the game becomes a huge gamble. Some people thrive on a sense of danger and risk, and it looks like this game is aimed at that sort of player.

    Sorry…no good at quoting in here yet. So with Eve, and I’ve been an avid fan for a few years now, the risk of death is mitigated quickly. You learn what you can and can’t handle and when to give up the fight and run. If you lose things, they can almost always be replaced with relative ease. It’s all about learning what you can and can’t handle at your “level” of play.

    I say “level” loosely because it’s a strictly skill based game. Your attributes only determine how fast you learn skills. A high intelligence and low perception (not recommended) means you’ll learn skills with a primary requirement of intelligence faster than those requiring perception. That’s all there is to it and the greatest part is that you continue to gain skill whether you’re logged in or not. For those of us who can’t compete with the 50-60 hour a week gamers, that’s a great benefit. They still have more gear, and usually nicer setups for their ships, but I’m not unable to compete with them.

    As far as the whole “self preservation” part of the initial post I copied, y crew and I fight in what’s called 0.0 space, which means it’s players whomping on players for control of those sectors of space. Unlike most MMO’s where the battleground style control of area shifts around constantly, there are major powers that hold major lands and so necessarily we lose lots of gear in pretty constant wars along borders. My friends were part of a fight this week that knocked out a ship it takes entire alliances working together to build, and so while that loss is devastating, it’s not something you’re likely to feel until you’ve been playing for a year or so. Particularly not as a mining specialized character. For you more than any other profession in the game, your risk is controlled by where you’re doing your mining and what skills you have. You have the ability to play it completely safe, and many very successful players do.

    Sorry about the essay, but the game is the best I’ve ever played, and I’ve tried more than my share. It’s worth trying for a few months no matter who you are.

  19. Dave says:

    … and maybe you just suck balls… sheez.

  20. Nick says:

    I just started the trial account yesterday (Thanks to this post), and I’ve already upgraded to a better frigate and I’ve been mining. Heck, I don’t think I’ve even been in any combat outside of the tutorial. I pretty much haven’t bothered to talk to the second agent that was recommended to me yet. I might do that when I build a better ship than I have right now.

    Not a bad MMO to just have running in the background while doing other tasks. I’m only half-paying attention to it right now while mining… :)

  21. Telas says:

    That 1337 sp33k reminded me of this.

    Concerned. Great webcomic, if you haven’t read it.

    Telas

  22. CoarseSand says:

    EVE was great when I played it, but over the course of several months it just dwindled for me. It’s the best MMO currently out… but there’s just a feeling of “Okay, and now I can leave the game for two weeks because that skill is going to take forever to train.” If you can fight past that, I imagine you can enjoy it, but personally I wound up only logging in once or twice a month, and that’s just not worth my 15 CAD or whatever a month.

  23. Jeff says:

    In a strictly irrelevant post…

    According to this link: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=undock

    “To undock” is defined as:
    (spacecraft) “To uncouple”
    (nautical) “To move (a ship) away from a dock.”

    Generally, terms for spacecraft is pulled from nautical terms, and the nautical definition of ‘to launch’ is “To put (a boat) into the water in readiness for use.”, which is distinctly different from ‘to undock’.

  24. bLz says:

    EVE is a great game, however as the OP says, it requires some involvement. Getting started sucks balls, as you are ‘the new guy’. As training is in real time, your very own character has a hard time catching up. But with proper specialization, and dedication, you can equil them in specific areas.

    Combat, requires experience. Simple as that. It doesn’t matter what you’re flying, if you’re clueless, you’ll die very often. May it be PvP or PvE; both the same.

    In this gameplay experience and skills do matter alot.

    As for the OP’s death while trying the first mission… You cannot charge in to 6 hostiles in the basic newbie ship, and expect to get out alright. There are several ways to get past this though. Either use the advantage of your guns’ range, damage or speed.

    If you are out of their range, they cannot hit you, if you are too fast, they cannot track you, and will miss. If you see you will die, allign for a static point in space, and get out. There is no harm in flying out, repairing your ship, and flying in again.

    This is where the experience part kicks in. These are things you need to get used to when fighting multiple or stronger targets. You stay alligned, and use your range, or you get really close and go really fast. These are just some ways to do this, there are plenty of other things you can do as well.

    I can image this being really hard for new players. And as said above, getting killed actually is somewhat of an annoyance.

    For myself, been playing EVE for a good year now, and i’m still enjoying it alot, every single day.

  25. FT Diomedes says:

    I’ve been playing Eve for about 18 days now. It’s easily the most addicting game I’ve ever played. It’s the first game since CIV III that kept me up all night playing. With that said, the learning curve can be a bit steep – but if you play careful attention during the tutorial, then most things will be made relatively clear. I’ve had good experiences with the nooby help chat room.

    My enjoyment of the game has been enhanced a great deal by being part of a corporation. Some of my friends started a corporation a while back, when I joined, they invited me in, gave me some training tips, loaned me 5 million ISK and helped me fit out the best ship I could fly. I started out doing a few courier missions, then found a decent agent and have been running nothing but command missions for the past 15 days. I played Level 1 missions until I got my cruiser, then moved up to level 2. I just paid off my BC using the reward and bounty money I’m getting for doing these missions. I haven’t mined anything at all.

    I’ve only lost 2 ships in the time I’ve been playing. Once, I got bored using my good ship and tried out a new cheap ship. I bit off more than I could chew, then I got stuck on a piece of space wreckage and couldn’t warp out. The other time was when I stupidly took my destroyer on one of my friend’s level 3 missions. I didn’t realize that my destroyer warped much faster than his BS. Although I hit warp after him, I got into the deadspace first, had everything lock on me, took 1 hit, had no shields, tried to warp and died from the 2nd hit. Yes, getting hit by battleships is not good. Simple rule of thumb: pay attention to how much money you will get for the mission. If it is a lot, then be prepared for some trouble. Also, always read the directions – many missions are not meant for you to kill everything you see. If you try, you die.

    The second way I’ve found to make lots of money is trade. This is hard for a new player, because it takes a while to develop the trade skills. But, that being said, browse through the market. Check prices for various things on either side of a regional boundary line. You can often find someone looking to purchase something in Region 1 that is selling for much less in Region 2 or Region 3. Then check the route between those places. Is it all through low sec space? If so, consider going through in the late afternoon (EST), there are fewer pirates around then. Then check your cargo space and figure out how much you can carry. I made 4 million ISK in profit doing this the other day.

    Be smart about your training. Raising your learning traits first will greatly lower the training times for the other skills. My rule is to avoid training a non-learning skill above the same level of learning skill. So, for example, I won’t train level 4 missiles until I have level 4 Learning.

    Another thing, plan your training well. You can stop a training session and switch to something else without losing any points. This means that if you have 3 hours left to train Skill A, but you have to be at work for 8 hours, you should find something else that takes at least 8 hours to train while you are at work. Then finish up training Skill A once you get home. By doing this, you maximize your time when you are “not” playing the game.

    Finally, NEVER use autopilot. Warp to 0 is so much faster. Most people cannot lock on you or warpscramble you if you warp to 0, jump, warp to 0 again.

  26. MK says:

    truly is a good game i tried eve for a month till now and have enjoyed it well, i won’t focus on the down technical sides of the graphx which we all had a share of noticing as the developer promised to correct that issue, also good news coming up under development post revelations 2, u will be able to create ur own avatar and roam about the station and visit ur office and others no longer bound to the ship this has been confirmed by the developers ccp, and forthcoming ull be able to interact with the planet atmosphere how cool can that be…

  27. DM says:

    The only game you don’t have to play, to play!

  28. Lemon says:

    Yeah.. the game has its points.. but it lacks what it needs to keep your interest. It has all the right things in place, yet when your try to dig deeper.. nothing. It isnt a part of the game, or you have to train for months to get it. Training isnt the problem, just makes the wait painful.

    I just wish they would model it after the wooden ship days of history. With more conflict with the big powers, and not invinsible cops.. who kill you even if you have attacked your races mortal enimies.. Too controled.. no boarder raids, secret strikes.. nada. Only the agent missions, that dont count in the grand sceme.

    And then there is the total lack of exploration.. forget it!! Try to go anywhere new, and you get blasted by campers. I mean it works great for the developers.. lose your ship which requires time.. which means a secure subscriber base. Not bad if you like what you get, which I did.. just wish they fixed the holes.

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