eve evolved

EVE Evolved is an EVE Online column by Brendan Drain. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]

EVE Evolved: 2015 EVE Online year in review

It’s been a busy year for sci-fi MMO EVE Online and developer CCP GamesEVE received more updates throughout 2015 than in any previous year, though it came in many small releases rather than a few big expansions. We got a whole new sovereignty system and new territorial warfare mechanics that have started to break apart many large alliances. We got new ships with the tech 3 tactical destroyers, tech 2 command destroyers, tech 2 logistics frigates, and more. Practically every module was also rebalanced, the graphics have seen a number of serious upgrades, and the NPC storyline began to seriously heat up with the appearance of a new Drifter faction emerging from wormhole space with insanely advanced technology.

We got a good look at the future for EVE‘s gameplay at EVE Fanfest 2015 and again at EVE Vegas 2015, with plans to return to big blockbuster expansions with the Citadels expansion in spring 2016. EVE‘s player activity also showed a slow decline in tandem with global MMO subscriptions in 2015 but appears to have finally stabilised toward the end of the year. As a company, CCP continued to position itself as a leading player in the upcoming VR games market with its immersive dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie and the recently released mobile VR game EVE: Gunjack. We also heard very little from PS3 shooter DUST 514, and the rights to the World of Darkness franchise were sold off to another developer.

In this year-in-review edition of EVE Evolved, I look back at the past year of gameplay updates, lore and news coverage for EVE and CCP.

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EVE Evolved: Operation Frostline patch and event guide

Practically every MMO does some kind of event for the holidays, but how do you bring the holiday cheer to a dystopian sci-fi universe set in the far-future of a warring galaxy? EVE Online usually just gives us gifts and snowball launchers, but this year CCP Games has gone all-out with its new Operation Frostline holiday event that ties in with the game’s core storyline and offers a whole series of prizes to be found. Players have reported finding lots of avatar clothing, Quafe Ultra speed-boosters, ship skins, and synth boosters as loot. If you’re lucky, you can also find limited run copies of the new Endurance tech 2 ice mining frigate, valuable impants, and even PLEX or multiple character training certificates. The patch also adds a heap of new stuff to the game, including new battle damage and thruster graphics and new logistics frigates.

The Operation Frostline sites themselves can be easily completed by a new player in a cruiser and spawn throughout the game, even in highsec and wormhole space. The storyline surrounding the site’s appearance all over EVE revolves around the ongoing arms race between the various pirate factions in EVE Online. Over the past year we’ve seen covert research labs belonging to several major pirate factions being uncovered, each one introducing some new piece of tech into the game and kicking off a mini gold rush. This time it’s the Serpentis pirate faction that has been caught with its pants down, as Mordu’s Legion has begun revealing the locations of their secret research facilities across the universe.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the lore behind the Operation Frostline sites, give some tips on completing them, and highlight some other major changes that landed with this week’s patch.

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EVE Evolved: Three EVE mechanics that need an update

With over 12 years of development under its belt, EVE Online has now revamped, rebalanced or replaced practically every part of its gameplay at least once. Almost every ship and module has now undergone extensive rebalancing in the past few years, for example, and the entire research and industrial side of the game was completely re-imagined last year. Just recently territorial warfare got a massive revamp, and player-owned structures are about to get an overhaul with the Citadels expansion next year. So many parts of the game have been iterated on and improved since their introduction, but there are still a few things that are badly in need of an update.

The most cited example of dated gameplay in EVE is its probably agent mission system, which sends the player on an endless stream of odd-jobs to ferry items from A to B or blow up a pack of bad guys. We’ve seen some good movement on this front with things like the burner missions and CCP’s long-term vision for PvE is pretty epic, but agents aren’t the only feature badly in need of a redesign. Low-security space has been badly neglectled over the years, off-grid warfare link boosting alts continue to plague small-scale PvP, and the temporary Sansha incursions that kicked off in 2010 have been running for five years.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I tackle three EVE features that are desperately in need of an overhaul and describe potential solutions for each of them.

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EVE Evolved: Huge PvP battles and corp wars in Citadel

Huge PvP battles have always been a core part of EVE Online‘s territorial warfare gameplay, with fleets of hundreds or even sometimes thousands of players slamming into each other in the depths of space. Battles usually erupt at points of interest such as stargates, space stations, sovereignty command nodes or individual player-owned structures. There might even be multiple fights going on simultaneously at different points of interest all across the same star system, each of them happening within its own little bubble of space just a few hundred kilometers across. Now it looks like CCP may be planning to increase the size and complexity of those battlefields by a huge factor in preparation for the Citadel expansion in spring.

We’ll be able to build citadels close enough together that they’re only a few seconds warp from each other, but due to a quirk of how EVE divides its space up into small bubbles, structures and players more than 500km or so apart usually can’t even see each other. That’s the problem CCP is experimenting with right now, with grid sizes on the test server currently increased from around 500km in diameter to 8,000km or more. This would allow players to build communities of citadels in order to work together or to use them as huge battlefields where warring corporations can have staging citadels within visual range of each other. The change could have wide consequences for everything from territorial warfare to piracy and even industry, and it could be the first big step toward finally fixing corporation wars in high security space.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I examine what increasing grid sizes would mean for EVE and propose some much-needed changes for the war declaration system that could soon be possible thanks to the Citadel expansion.

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EVE Evolved: Could achievements save EVE’s new player experience?

EVE Online has always been a very long-term game, with players setting goals that often take months to achieve and forming friendships over the course of years. This poses a real problem for new players, most of whom find the game slow and don’t stick with it long enough to become part of the community. People often hear about some awesome battle or read an interesting article on EVE and finally decide to give it a shot, only to discover that it plays very differently to other MMOs and doesn’t give them any direction. Even players who have been around for years will often admit that it took them two or three trial attempts to finally get into in the game and finding their place in the community. Faced with this problem, CCP has tried to revamp the new player experience several times over the years with limited success.

After the recent announcement that CCP will be letting players buy and sell skillpoints on the open market, I got into a debate with some friends on whether skillpoints represent a real barrier to new players and what CCP could potentially do about it. Practically everything you want to do in the game is locked behind a skillpoint barrier, and that’s assuming you can figure out what you want to do. There are career agents to introduce players to the various parts of the game if you know where to find them, but the majority of the new player experience occurs through an Opportunities system that guides the player through a series of achievement-like popups. I’ve begun to wonder whether these systems could be modified to produce something better: A Life Goals achievement system that rewards players with skillpoints for hitting major milestones.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I pitch an idea for a change to the new player experience that would help players invest in their characters and encourage them to settle in the community long-term.

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EVE Evolved: Does skillpoint trading make EVE pay-to-win?

EVE Online‘s realtime skill training system has been a major point of contention throughout the game’s lifetime, being a boon for those with little time to invest but often stunting players who prefer to work toward goals. While you could grind your way to your first billion ISK and can play the market freely, skill training will slow your progression. The system made a lot of sense back in EVE‘s early life when subscriptions were the only game in town, as you’re guaranteed to make progress even if you don’t have time to play. EVE quickly got a reputation as an MMO that rewards careful planning more than hours sunk into grinding content, and it settled in that niche for quite some time. For new players, however, skills represent roadblocks lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on what ship you want to fly or what role you want to play.

The inability to grind for skillpoints has been a common complaint among today’s prospective players, who believe they’ll never be able to catch up to veterans no matter how good they become at the game. Those complaints may soon be silenced, however, as CCP has announced plans to let players extract skillpoints in unwanted skills and sell them on the open market as Transneural Skill Packets. You’ll be able to respec your character by extracting skills you don’t use and re-assigning their points to other fields, and players who grind their way to riches will be able to buy skillpoints to boost their characters. The player reaction to the announcement has been oddly mixed, with over 150 pages filled with doomsday predictions on the forum but more cautiously optimistic responses from the EVE blogging community and subreddit. So what’s the big deal with selling skillpoints, and does it make EVE pay-to-win?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at EVE‘s skill system, what will change with the introduction of the Transneural Skill Packet system, and whether this makes EVE pay-to-win.

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EVE Evolved: Bring on the big expansions again!

When EVE Online‘s development switched from two major expansions per year to ten smaller releases, the benefits were pretty difficult to argue with. EVE had garnered a reputation for pushing out new features before they were ready just to make the expansion deadline and then moving swiftly on to the next big idea. Moving to smaller but more frequent releases means a missed deadline is only a delay of a few weeks and completed features don’t sit in limbo for up to six months until the next expansion window. The results in terms of gameplay are pretty hard to argue with too, as EVE has seen more updates and content in the past year than in any previous year.

Dropping expansions hasn’t been a wholly positive change, however, and in the long term I think it may have actually harmed EVE‘s player numbers. The smaller updates don’t make much of a splash in the media and don’t seem to make people excited to play or resubscribe in the way that a big blockbuster expansion does. Some big expansion-worthy features have been deployed in the dozen small patches released over the past year, only to slip silently under the radar of past and prospective players. Executive Producer Andie Nordgren recently announced that EVE is switching back to a standard expansion model next year, but with the twist that expansions will be released when ready rather than forced out the door for an arbitrary six month deadline.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss some of the problems caused by smaller updates and why I think big themed expansions are an integral part of EVE.

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EVE Evolved: New roles for capital ships

In the past two editions of EVE Evolved, I looked at the Aegis sovereignty warfare overhaul and how it played out in a recent war in the Providence region. The new system has been a pretty big success in terms of improving the day-to-day play of those living in the depths of null-security space, but there have been a few casualities. As I mentioned in last week’s article, capital ships have lost their primary roles in the new war dynamic and are fast becoming unnecessary on the battlefield. The new gameplay encourages the use of highly mobile gangs of medium sized ships such as battlecruisers and cruisers, leaving not much use for battleships and capitals. Dreadnoughts have been made completely obsolete as we don’t shoot at structures any more, triage carriers have little use in a war that doesn’t need battleships, and you don’t need supercapitals to counter enemy capitals if they aren’t fielding any.

CCP has promised that a full capital ship rebalance is in the works to give EVE Online‘s capital ships new roles in nullsec warfare, and a recent devblog has shed some light on the first step of that plan. Dreadnought pilots will be happy to know that shooting at structures is coming back in a limited fashion; the new Citadel structures that are planned to eventually replace player-owned starbases and space stations will use a new damage mitigation mechanic instead of the entosis mechanic. There’s still no word on what roles carriers, supercarriers or titans will be squeezed into, but there are plenty of ways they could be adapted to serve important strategic roles in the new sovereignty gameplay. Could supercarriers become actual carriers for moving fleets behind enemy lines? And maybe titans could be the mobile space stations we’ve read about in the EVE lore.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at a few problems with the new damage mitigation mechanic and suggest possible strategic roles for the other capital ships.

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EVE Evolved: The war for Providence

In the previous edition of EVE Evolved, I looked at how the state of PvP in EVE Online has changed since the Aegis Sovereignty overhaul and asked whether it’s been a success. Players quickly started adapting to the new system and reported getting a lot more fights, with some smaller alliances even managing to capture space from established entities. Small fleets found themselves able to kick down another alliance’s space doors and become a credible threat, being rewarded with either a good fight or an opportunity to capture something. Station capture events also naturally became beacons to third parties that signaled a big fight was about to go down, and huge alliances discovered that they could no longer easily hold space they don’t use. The day-to-day PvP in alliance territories seemed be massively improved, but we had yet to see an actual turf war using the new mechanics

Since then we’ve got our first taste of a real territorial war with the battle for the Providence region. Alliance theorycrafters have been drawing up experimental fleet doctrines and battle plans since Aegis landed, and at the end of August we got to see them tested on a real battlefield. The Imperium announced plans to mobilise its forces to conquer Providence as a way of testing new strategies and gaining experience with the new sovereignty mechanics, and it wasn’t long before other major groups like TEST Alliance and Legion of xXDEATHXx joined the fray. The results of the battle were very illuminating, with people having a lot more fun than expected and the defender’s advantage being thoroughly tested. We also saw how capital ships have lost their roles in today’s territorial warfare, which was expected as CCP has already stated that a full capital ship rework is coming.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at how the recent war in Providence played out and give my views on why capital ships have lost their roles in the new territorial warfare dynamic.

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EVE Evolved: Has the Aegis sovereignty system worked?

It’s been over a month since EVE Online deployed its new sovereignty and territorial warfare system, and the dust is only now beginning to settle. The Aegis update completely revamped sovereignty warfare, replacing the grind of shooting massive structures with massive fleets with a new system based around the Entosis Link module. It was hoped that the new system would lower the barrier to entry for sovereignty warfare and allow smaller but dedicated alliances to capture and hold space against larger opponents. While the old system made large fleets practically mandatory and led to ever-growing coalitions banding together, it was hoped that the new system would encourage a larger number of smaller fights. When fleets of any size can attempt to contest the ownership of a structure, it’s up to the owners to aggressively defend their space or lose it.

There has been considerable noise in the EVE community since the update went live, with plenty of critical feedback from nullsec alliances and even some backlash directed at its designer CCP Fozzie. Despite complaints, it’s clear that the sov system is achieving some of its stated goals: players have reported an increased number of smaller fights, a few small alliances are capturing space, and industrialists are being actively recruited into nullsec alliances again. The past month of warfare has nonetheless highlighted some pretty serious problems with the sovereignty mechanics that CCP will need to address, some of which it plans to tackle in Tuesday’s Galatea update.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into the player response to EVE‘s new territorial warfare mechanics, highlight a few remaining problems with the system, and look at the upcoming Galatea sovereignty update.

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EVE Evolved: CCP can’t just focus on EVE Online any more

The recent announcement of arcade shooter EVE: Gunjack for the Samsung Gear VR has prompted some pretty interesting negative responses from gamers this week. There’s obviously still a lot of ill will in the air over the cancellation of the World of Darkness MMO, and people have been a bit skeptical of CCP‘s plans since Monoclegate and the underwhelming reception of DUST 514. Many of the comments on Massively Overpowered and other sites suggested that CCP should release Valkyrie before starting work on yet another title, or that the studio should stick to EVE Online and stop wasting money from EVE subscriptions on side projects. People are honestly suggesting that CCP should keep putting all of its eggs in one big (and slowly shrinking) basket, but that just doesn’t make business sense.

Nobody should be surprised that CCP wants to develop several new games or that it’s failed to replicate the success of EVE Online. EVE activity seems to be on a slow decline, and the truth is that very few independent game studios strike it big with even one game. Previous success is not necessarily an indicator of future success, and it’d be naive to think one game can support a large studio indefinitely, so CCP naturally has to keep working on new titles just like everyone else if it wants to survive. If we want EVE Online to still be around a decade from now, it may depend on experimentation with new games and emerging trends such as VR today. There may even come a time when CCP won’t revolve around EVE Online but around whole collection of titles spanning the EVE universe and beyond, and it won’t get there without taking some measured risks.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at why CCP can’t just focus on EVE any more and why developing lots of small experimental games could benefit EVE Online in the long term.

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EVE Evolved: Fitting Tech 3 Tactical Destroyers as PvP brawlers

The past few months have seen a flood of frequent updates hitting EVE Online, and among them we got a whole new class of ship with the Tech 3 Tactical Destroyer. Unlike their cruiser-sized bigger brothers, tech 3 destroyers can transform mid-battle to choose between three separate roles: Defense, Propulsion, and Sharpshooter. These versatile little ships have carved out a niche for themselves in small scale PvP such as Faction Warfare, each functioning as an effective tackler and brawler rolled into one. Tech 3 destroyers can also fit a combat probe launcher to get a warp-in on enemy fleets and have become a popular anti-tackle tool that can snipe from over 50km and track interdictors and interceptors.

I’ve previously written a guide on fitting the Amarr Confessor, the first of the new tech 3 destroyers to be released, but since then a balance patch has made those setups obsolete. Now that all four races have got their own tactical destroyers and the prices have come down to an affordable 35-60 million ISK, I’d like to take a look at how we can fit each of them for PvP. EVE has become a testing ground for dozens of experimental ship setups for each of the tech 3 destroyers as players compete to find out what fitting works best for a variety of situations. The dust has far from settled, but some pretty decent brawling and kiting fits have been gracing the killboards lately and I’ve put together four of my favourite brawling fits. All of the fittings in this article use only tech 2 and named items, but they require good fitting skills and sometimes a 2-3% CPU or powergrid from implants. They’ve been put together with the aid of the fantastic EVE Fitting Tool.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at PvP brawler fittings and strategies for the Amarr Confessor, Caldari Jackdaw, Minmatar Svipul, and Gallente Hecate.

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EVE Evolved: It’s never too late to start playing EVE

Any time an in-depth discussion pops up about EVE Online, it’s never long before someone pipes up with the complaint that new players just can’t compete with veterans. EVE has been out for over 12 years now, and thanks to its realtime skill training mechanic, there are players who seem to have up to a 250 million skillpoint head start. Existing players have also had years to build up wealth, join together in huge alliances, learn how all the game mechanics work, figure out the best ship fittings, and get a lot of PvP practice. Actually catching up to the veterans in every way is next to impossible, but the truth is that you don’t need to. You can be very effective in PvE and PvP with just a few months of skill training and practice, and you can still contribute heavily to fleets with cheap tech 1 ships.

As EVE has been in constant development for 12 years, its history is full of moments when the rules of the game changed and the gulf between newbies and veterans suddenly shortened. When a new major feature comes out and changes the game in a significant way, new players and veterans alike must adapt and effectively have the same challenges and opportunities. We could be approaching one of those moments with Tuesday’s patch, which will turn sovereignty on its head by allowing small groups to potentially steal star systems from larger alliances. There’s a lot of theorycrafting left to be done on strategies and fleet compositions in the new system, and anyone who implements a good strategy before anyone else will get a significant advantage.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at several moments in EVE‘s history when players found themselves suddenly competing on a more even playing field and ask what lesson older games can learn from them.

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