jEve Online is the game that Freelancer should have been. After five years in the making, and more missed deadlines than anyone cares to remember, Digital Anvil’s space trader sim finally materialised a couple of months ago, and while Freelancer is a passable if brief single player experience,it failed to deliver what the developers promised, and what got us so excited about the game in the first place: a MMORPG (that’s Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) version of the ruling champion of space sims: Elite. To this day, twenty years after its original release, the Braben-Bell classic remains the game that all space combat/exploration/mining/trade sims are measured against.
Now that Eve Online: The Second Genesis is here and X2: The Threat is just around the corner, we can expect Freelancer to sink like a stone. It just may be that Iceland’s CCP have succeeded in creating the Holy Grail of space games, the challenge that proved too much for Digital Anvil:a functional online equivalent of Elite, where each character the player encounters is an actual,human player. There is no single player option – the game is played in a living and constantly changing online universe.
There are no less than 5,000 solar systems that the player can explore and exploit at will, and any ship that the player comes across will be piloted by another player. It is here that we come to the most controversial thing about Eve: you cannot avoid player vs. player conflicts. Unlike most recent MMORPGs, some of which do not feature PvP at all, Eve does not give the player the option of sticking to “safe” areas (or, in this case, safe systems) or any other forms of protection from player killers. Eve operates on the same principle as the game that began the online-RPG revolution, Ultima Online: other players can and will attack you, and if you lose and die, it’s all over and you have to start again from scratch.
Hrafnkell Oskarsson, Eve’s storyline editor, explains that the team did not even attempt to appeal to gamers that are put off by PvP. “Eve is not for everyone – it is more competitive and ruthless than other MMORPGs.” Of course, this means an open season on newbies, who will be prayed upon mercilessly by more experienced players.
At its core, Eve is a traditional role playing game, where the objective is to acquire wealth and better equipment and to improve your skills. But unlike previous RPGs where new skills were gained through battle and adventure, Eve takes the easy, 21st Century approach and promises immediate gratification to anyone with the cash: the necessary skills are simply “installed” in your brain. All technological improvements are researched automatically – you simply click on the appropriate icon and wait. You don’t even have to be online during the research. Eve’s technology tree is not a tree, it’s a forest. Still, it is so well designed that tackling it will seem like a satisfying challenge rather than an overwhelming chore.
Visually, Eve is stunning. The environments are vast but still astonishingly detailed. The spaceships of the four different available races all have their own distinctive styles – nothing fancy or terribly original, but definitely very well done down to the last details. This is quite important, since it’s the ship itself, rather than the character the player creates at the start, that the player will be looking at most of the time.
One thing that Eve has is common with Freelancer is the mouse-keyboard interface, with no joystick support. The ship’s piloted from a third-person view from outside the ship, and while the controls are not perfect, they are definitely above average for this particular genre.
As always with this type of game, it is still too early to predict how Eve will develop, but that is just the beauty of it: it is the players themselves who determine how the game universe develops. Like all MMORPGs, Eve has had its share of bugs, server problems and inconsistencies – but they are nowhere as severe as the horrible problems that still continue to plague, for example, Asheron’s Call 2. If you can get past the game’s extremely steep learning curve and don’t mind having to survive in its ruthless, dog-eat-dog world, then Eve Online:
The Second Genesis is as good an online multiplayer as they come. Eve is just a few months into its undoubtedly very long lifespan, but we wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of it Eve were considered a true classic for SF games. A very impressive first game for Crowd Control.
An ADSL-connection strongly recommended
In addition to the price of the game, players are also charged a monthly fee.