EVE Online Screenshot

One of EVE's coolest features -- space billboards showcasing wanted criminals, all real player characters.

Other gripes include the steep learning curve and window-heavy interface. EVE has been criticized as a spreadsheet simulation, and at times it looks like one. Countless modules can be fitted to your ships, and knowing which modules work and fit best for different enemies is key to victory. The complex market must be studied to best identify trade routes in the game's dynamic economy, and understanding the ebb and flow of the various prices is key to exploiting the market to your advantage. Lastly, the game's tiny fonts do not scale with screen resolution, and even at 1024x768 are a strain on the eyes. Such a seemingly-minor detail as the font size is actually quite important in this genre, where gamers spend many hours staring at the game's screens. I hope that EVE's developers address it.

EVE's community is shockingly mature compared to that found in other online RPGs, and the steep learning curve serves no doubt as a filtering mechanism. Another explanation for the mature behavior is that EVE's developers keep the game balanced without constant nerfing. With the exception of a relatively recent change in the skill requirements for missiles, nerfs are pretty rare. Where most online RPGs offer message boards filled with buff and nerf pleas, EVE's message boards are actually filled with discussions about playing the game. Refreshing. I will note that the forums are heavily moderated and any discussion that falls outside strict boundries is promptly squashed. While the moderation is heavier than my personal taste prefers, the result is a focused forum that largely steers clear of flame wars and troll bait.

The Future

So where in the gaming world will I be next year at this time? I'll shortly finish the Half Life 2 walkthrough, and I may find myself pulled back to single-player FPSs. On the other hand, City of Villains is due to launch in two months, and EVE Online might just hold me for good this time. On the distant horizon is Star Trek Online, a game seemingly destined to disappoint. I'll be watching anyway.

Dungeons and Dragons Online is a big enough target to keep an eye on, and I'm always hoping there will be a graphical overhaul to Anarchy Online and Neocron, two sci-fi titles killed by terrible visuals. Perhaps the best thing to do is continue playing EVE, as I can write FPS walkthroughs at the same time that I'm playing! Sounds like a plan for this afternoon...

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Back to Part Two

- Mike Mangold - 10/03/2005

My Year in Online RPGs (Part Three)

Way back in the nascent days of computer games, back when my computer was a Commodore 64, one afternoon I was browsing the latest games at a local shop when I spotted a black box with the word, "Elite" on the cover. I picked up the box and spied a space sim - with 3D graphics! We're talking my very own take-home copy of my favorite arcade game, the vector-graphics Starhawk. I had to have it.

EVE Online

Elite is the inspiration for EVE Online, a space-based RPG with a heavy emphasis on its player-driven economy and PvP combat.

Life favors the prepared, and if your response to that fact is to be prepared, EVE may be for you. The game world of EVE can be harsh. Die, and you may lose weeks worth of work. Your ship, costing millions, along with all of its hard-sought trimmings, can be gone in the wink of an eye. The concept of real risk incurring real loss is at the heart of the game's appeal.

But EVE is many things to many people, and there is plenty to do for the PvE fan as well as for the many carebear aficionados in this complex game world. One of my fondest memories of Elite is of arriving at one of the amphibian-populated worlds, with premium prices for my cargo of skin cream. Space trading, introduced in Elite, has been elevated to a galactic version of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in EVE. Buy low, haul to where the demand is greatest, then sell high to make your fortune. Or perhaps asteroid mining is your preferred path to riches. While playing Homeworld, I found myself actually enjoying asteroid harvesting. I started to worry about my sanity, but alas I've discovered an entire mining community in EVE that enjoys the slow pace and steady rewards that mining offers.

And the beauty of EVE is that you can play it any way you want. A PvP player may want to mix things up and spend some time mining after a stressful day at work or school, and a trader may spend some time doing missions fighting NPC pirates (rats for short) to spice things up. And the skills required to perform these tasks can be trained in real time, even while offline. Whether a hardcore player or a dabbler, your skills train at the same pace, a great feature for those who honor real life commitments yet don't want to feel left behind in the game world.

EVE Online ScreenshotEVE Online Screenshot
EVE Online ScreenshotEvery moment in EVE is a screenshot. Click thumbnails for larger view.

And the game world of EVE is breathtaking. A beautiful woman of a game, EVE surrounds you with elegant visuals and the silkiest synthesized computer voice this side of Cygnet 14. Imagine snuggling with Weird Science's Kelly LeBrock while piloting a spacecraft designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, as your ears are bathed in the soothing sounds of Brian Eno. The only thing missing is aromatherapy.

Combined with the glacial pace of travel and the lack of any obvious goals, EVE can be a huge snoozefest for some. Common topics on EVE's forums include: "What do I do after the tutorial?"; "This game is boring."; and, "What game do you play while you play EVE?" (Common retorts include, "Anything you want," "You don't get it," and, "I do my laundry.") Personally, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with EVE's mellow pace. I like a game that lets me do laundry while I play, but I have to admit I've quit the game and come back four times since Beta. EVE can be repetitive after a while but I'm always pulled back by the game's darkly beautiful atmosphere.