EVE Evolved: What else is coming to EVE Online in November?
The central feature of the as-yet-unnamed expansion will be the introduction of a new line of player-built citadels for us to build and fight over, this time with a specialised focus on manufacturing and research. Gang and fleet warfare throughout EVE also seems set to change for the better, with a complete redesign of the fleet boost mechanics and the removal of controversial off-grid boosters. Titans will be given new strategic superweapons that provide huge gameplay-bending effects to large areas of the battlefield, and the Rorqual capital mining ship is getting a serious buff.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at a few of the features that have been announced for the November expansion and speculate on how some of them might impact EVE.
CCP has tried a huge variety of different approaches to the new player experience throughout EVE Online's lifetime, and the truth is that none of them has made much of an impact. EVE remains as impenetrable a game today as it was over a decade ago, with only a small percentage of people who try the game staying and subscribing in the long term. The players who are most likely to stick with EVE are those who manage to find a place for themselves within the community. Those who try EVE without a support network in-game are far less likely to commit, and that unfortunately describes most new players.
Earlier this year at EVE Fanfest 2016, we discovered that over 1.5 million people try EVE each year through the free trial system and that over 51% of them quit within the first two hours. Some are overwhelmed by a user interface they aren't familiar with, and many get stuck and are afraid to ask existing players for help. These stats show that the challenge of keeping new players isn't one of long-term sticking power but of simply keeping them engaged enough to play for more than a few hours. CCP announced that it plans to solve the problem with a story-based introduction before dropping players into the sandbox, and we got a small glimpse into how this will work in the latest development update video below. More information on this feature is expected before the end of the month.
I've written before about the evil that is the off-grid booster in EVE Online, a ship that provides passive bonuses for an entire fleet but doesn't actually have to be on the battlefield to give its bonus. Although a ship can't give boosts while docked or cloaked, it currently doesn't have to be put in harm's way and can buff ships in its fleet from the other side of the star system. This allows someone running a second account to have a not-insignificant hidden advantage in PvP with very little additional risk to himself, which can skew the odds considerably in solo or small-scale gang warfare.
Those of you who don't play EVE are probably wondering how in the hell such an unbalanced feature was ever implemented, and it's certainly been a hotly debated tactic in EVE over the years. The good news is that off-grid boosting is being removed in November when all passive gang and fleet bonuses will be replaced with a more recognisable MMO staple: simple area-of-effect buffs. Warfare Link modules will be replaced with a new Command Burst high-slot module that emits a buff in a sphere around the ship, and the buff then lasts for its full duration even if the target ship leaves the area of effect. The buff given depends on what type of charges are loaded into the module, so you can switch between them as the situation demands.
The headline feature of the expansion is the introduction of a new line of player-built structures called Engineering Complexes that are specialised for manufacturing and research. While the Engineering Complexes will get bonuses to science and industry, it turns out that standard citadels will be able to fit the new industrial station services just fine. Developers are still considering whether to make the materials in active build jobs or final products in completed build jobs drop as loot when the structure is destroyed, but the current plan is that blueprints will go into the asset safety system and won't be lost.
In the latest CSM minutes, CCP also confirmed that you won't be able to anchor an Engineering Complex closer to your existing citadel than usual or link them together in any way, which I personally find kind of disappointing. I had originally envisioned all industry happening in these structures so that players would put them near citadels to create a kind of citadel village, but now it appears that this may not even be possible. The decision to allow citadels to perform industry may make Engineering Complexes a poor choice for players. Since we now know that they'll be weaker than standard citadels and have longer vulnerability windows, the additional possibility of loot could turn Engineering Complexes into huge space piñatas.
Back in the early days of EVE, the only choices we had for PvE were repeatable agent missions or hunting pirate NPCs in asteroid belts. Belt NPCs were ostensibly there to claim the resources for their pirate faction or to prey on miners; they were really just random spawns you could farm for ISK and loot, but their presence was immersive and based on the local environment. Fast-forward to today and a lot of NPC farming takes place in cosmic anomalies that respawn after being completed so that you can literally grind the same content forever. Needless to say, this is not immersive, and it has nothing to do with the local environment.
It looks like EVE may be taking its first step back to a more immersive PvE model in November with the promise of industrial NPC activity in asteroid belts. Local factions and possibly pirate corporations will now be in the asteroid belts mining for ore, and they'll call for backup if you decide to attack them. The goal is for these NPCs to mimic player actions by actually hauling ore and even interacting with you differently based on your standings, but we don't yet know the fine details here. I've written before about how I think developers made a huge mistake when they started moving away from using static resources like asteroid belts and relied on random spawning mechanics, so the potential of this small change to improve PvE immersion has me pretty excited for the future direction of PvE.
While the big news for November's upcoming EVE expansion is of course the addition of a free-to-play option, there's a lot more to look forward to. Small-scale warfare will become more fair with the removal of off-grid warfare link boosts, Engineering Complexes will let us build our own research and factory stations, and the new immersive PvE improvements give us a hint of what's to come. The new players that come in through the free account option will even be met with a new story-based introduction that might manage to keep them engaged for those first few crucial hours.
There's still a lot of information to come on the expansion over the coming month, with devblogs planned for release throughout October and some big presentations reportedly planned for EVE Vegas 2016 from October 28th to October 30th. I'm happy to announce that I'll be on the ground again this year at EVE Vegas for MassivelyOP to get an update on the November expansion and pose your burning questions to developers and players in the community.