updated 12:10 am EST, Fri December 21, 2007
First Look at EVE Online
Massively Multiplayer Online games - commonly referred to as MMOs - are quickly becoming one of the most played genres in the world, with millions of users worldwide subscribing to games like Everquest, World of Warcraft, Star Wars: Galaxies. With the Intel Macs saturating the market, Mac gamers have a lot of games to look forward to, with the help of Boot Camp, but some users prefer to stay in the Mac environment for their daily activities. Sadly, very few major MMO games make their way to the Mac, but with the help of Cider and wider Mac awareness, users can expect to see more hot titles gracing the Mac platform.
EVE Online, a space-themed MMO, has recently landed on the Mac side courtesy of the original developers, CCP, through the use of Transgaming's Cider technology. EVE is vastly different than most other MMOs, featuring an almost entirely player-driven economy, NPC traders, offline skill enhancement, and a completely perpetual game world. EVE's playable area is absolutely massive, consisting of over 5000 solar systems, with thousands of players occupying the same server cluster. This means, unlike other MMOs that divide their user base up among different instances of the same game world on multiple servers, every single player that is logged in to EVE online exists in the same universe.
Tutorials exist for entry-level players, but let me first say that EVE's learning curve is enormous. Coming from a game like World of Warcraft, where areas are littered with trodden paths that bring the player from province to province, and with in-your-face vendors and towns, EVE's open nature and jump gate system may prove a bit tedious for less-involved players. I found that as I played, however, things became very clear, and despite being very open, it's very easy to navigate to where you need to be. The game mechanics also range from simple to complex, but luckily the game is crafted in a way that lets players enjoy the game at their own pace.
Choosing a race and class in EVE is quite varied, initially granting the choice of one of four factions: the tribal Minmatar, the militaristic Caldari, the religious Amarr, and the democratic Gallente. The term "race" is used loosely since all of the available races are human, but exist through segregated cultures that have had several thousands of years to come into their own. Each race is subdivided into three bloodlines, which tweak certain characteristics of your character. Lastly, you choose an upbringing, such as slave child or an artificially "grown" human, which further define your skills and abilities.
Character creation continues with choosing a class, which is also subdivided into multiple areas. First, players can choose between several career paths, such as industry, business or military, and then define what stream of influence their career has taken - military characters can be either standard fighters, trained in common weaponry, or a special forces members, where they will be more inclined to use electronic countermeasures to cripple their enemies. Of course, there are several non-combative careers as well, giving players a wide berth of gameplay to sample from. Luckily, players that start off in a particular class can train to use skills outside of their normal realm, greatly enhancing a characters' usefulness beyond their initial set of skills.
After choosing a race, bloodline, sex, class, and specialization, players have a versatile avatar creation tool at their disposal, allowing them to change everything from face paint, eye color, clothing, and accessories, to head, eye, and body orientation, and facial structure. After choosing a name, players are ready to embark on their journey through the EVE universe.
The tutorial takes players through a set of tasks that take around an hour to complete. Players are taught how to move, approach and orbit objects and enemies, fight, loot - all of the essential game mechanics. As I mentioned previously, EVE's game mechanics vary according to how the player wishes to run their character. Skill training is completely automated, requiring only that the user choose the skill they wish to learn, so this can easily allow players that have a busy life outside of the game world can pop on for five minutes a day and still keep their character relevant. Players can decide between combat, trading, science, business, engineering, mining - in short, EVE has very multifaceted gameplay, allowing players to tweak their style accordingly.
The perpetual nature of the game world is something not many games undertake. Players are the driving force of the game's economy, deciding prices of goods and services throughout the game world. Interactive elements are also changeable. For example, corporations can band together and create a space station orbiting a planet, while a sufficiently large fleet could destroy either non-player or player-run stations. Either effect is permanent, until someone else comes along to build another or destroy the existing structure. Players would be wise to ensure they log out of the game in the safety of a space station, since even when the player is not active, their avatar is. Players could log out, flying harmlessly around a high security area, only to log back in and find that their ship has become a pile of rubble thanks to some pirate players. Luckily, those pirates can consequently be hunted for credits, issued by the bounty office.
Player versus player gameplay is also quite different from other games - it can happen anywhere at any time to anyone. You won't be dodging bullets constantly while playing, but there is nothing stopping a player from attacking anything he sees. There are some elements to counterbalance this, such as police that fly around in "high sec" space, or any sector that is ranked from 0.5 to 1.0 in security rating. "Low sec" space, however, everyone and everything is fair game. Some pirate players can even sit cloaked along a popular trade route and knock ships out of warp with the hopes of liberating the trader's goods.
EVE Online does carry a monthly cost, like most MMOs, but CCP provides frequent updates, feature additions, and expansion packs at no additional charge. One feature that will be making its way to the Mac client in early 2008 will be the high definition graphics pack, which is currently available on the Windows client. Check back soon with MacNN for a ful review of EVE Online.