EVE Evolved: Four PvE improvements EVE needs

EVE Online is typically thought of as being a heavily PvP-oriented game, and for good reason. Players can attack each other anywhere in the EVE universe with varying levels of consequences for their actions, and most of the big stories about the game do seem to revolve around players smashing spaceships together or screwing each other over in some manner. Even playing the market is considered PvP, as traders attempt to corner the market for particular items and force the competition out of business. Despite all of this, stats on the EVE playerbase have always shown that a lot of players engage primarily in PvE activities, and NPC bounties always come top of the ISK faucets lists in EVE‘s monthly economic reports.

All players have to kill a few NPCs now and then to pad their wallets, but PvE covers more than just shooting NPCs and many aspects of EVE‘s PvE gameplay are woefully outdated. Mission-running is an archaic system that provides little challenge or variety, mining is a severely unrewarding profession, and the Sansha incursions should have been replaced or heavily expanded on years ago. We found out at EVE Fanfest 2016 that CCP now has several new teams working on PvE, and this week game designer Linzi “CCP Affinity” Campbell released details of an interesting new PvE event called Shadow of the Serpent that will be kicking off at the end of the month. But what would our ideal PvE systems look like, and what more can be done to improve EVE‘s rapidly antiquating NPC-smashing gameplay?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at what the Shadow of the Serpent event means for the future of PvE and delve into four key PvE improvements that I think would improve EVE Online for all involved.

shadowoftheserpentShadow of the Serpent

We heard back at EVE Fanfest 2016 that CCP had put together two new PvE teams to work on dynamic content and time-limited gameplay like the hugely popular Crimson Harvest and Operation Frostline events. Details have now been released on the next big event, and it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun. The Shadow of the Serpent event begins on June 28th and will immerse players in the story of the Serpentis NPC pirate corporation’s arms race as it works to design and build its own customised capital and supercapital ships.

Rather than just releasing new event sites throughout the game and announcing the event on social media, CCP will be trying out something new with a series of challenges players can participate in to earn points toward rewards. The challenges will be visible throughout the game and will likely cover a broad range of PvE activities such as killing Serpentis NPCs, completing complexes, and perhaps even mining ore. Interestingly, if multiple people are working together toward an objective such as completing a site, everyone in the site will get full reward credit. CCP Affinity explained that CCP wants to expand this system to cover more types of PvE and even to test out completely new types of PvE.

shipsImprovement #1: More collaborative events

When I’m not playing the market in EVE or smashing people to bits on my secret pirate character, I can sometimes be found playing a bit of Guild Wars 2. While most MMOs end up with players competing over the same content, Guild Wars 2 took the unusual but highly successful stance of giving everyone involved in any activity full rewards as long as they meet a certain minimum participation level. Guild Wars 2 also capitalises on this with dynamic events that spawn throughout the map, many of which are specifically designed to be completed by ad hoc groups of random strangers.

The result of that combination of factors in Guild Wars 2 is that when you see someone else fighting the monsters you need to kill or completing an event you want to do, you see the other person as helping you rather than as competition. The Shadow of the Serpent event highlights that CCP may be willing to try out this idea of collaborative PvE that rewards players for helping each other, and I hope it’s a strategy that works in EVE. You could say that this kind of collaborative “everyone wins” type gameplay doesn’t mesh with EVE‘s competitive sandbox vision, but it’s not that clear-cut.

The majority of players live in high-security space and don’t seem to be terribly interested in hyper-competitive gameplay, and there’s nothing stopping players in lowsec and nullsec from smashing each other over the head at any time. It’s also important to remember that not every mechanic has to be uber-competitive in order to improve the sandbox. Compelling group content will get more players into space, for example, which ultimately means there’ll be more targets for PvP. In the long term, I’d love to see easily accessible dynamic group PvE designed for ad-hoc groups of random players, as it’s a good way to get players to engage with each other and the community.

pve1Improvement #2: Dynamic scaling

Incursions have already proven that group PvE can be incredibly popular in EVE and that’s partly because the rewards are delivered per player and so the total reward scales up with the number of players in the group (up to a limit). Most other forms of PvE encourage players to complete them with as few people as possible as the rewards will have to be split multiple ways, but it doesn’t have to be this way. A form of dynamic reward scaling could be implemented in other forms of PvE such as mission-running or exploration.

To balance out the increased total reward, any gameplay that has dynamic scaling on rewards or gives full credit to all involved would also require a form of dynamic difficulty scaling. As more players enter a PvE situation, the NPCs would need to analyse the threat and escalate their offensive accordingly. I can imagine a future EVE in which every piece of PvE content has an estimated minimum group size, tank, and DPS necessary to take it down. Players would be free to bring more than this to the fight if they want, but know that it would risk provoking an escalation response.

If you bring a lot of DPS, then the NPCs could warp in backup or a logistics ship, and if you bring a few of your own logistics ships, then they might counter with some electronic warfare during the battle. Speed tanks might similarly prompt an interceptor response, and heavy tanks could provoke a stealth bomber squad or reinforcement wave if you take too long to eliminate the enemy. Sites might even have lookout towers or com relays that can be hacked to disable escalation for 2-3 minutes, or stations that can be destroyed to prevent reinforcements. There could even be some high-value NPCs that warp out when in structure if you don’t warp scramble them, encouraging players to narrow the gap between PvP and PvE setups.

threefix-1Improvement #3: More static resources and sites

Back in the early years of EVE, CCP distributed pirate dungeons in the form of DED-rated military complexes all throughout New Eden. The complexes were placed in specific star systems and in static locations that never changed, and some of those star systems became quite desirable to control. These challenging dungeons contained tough boss NPCs that respawned only once or twice per day and dropped rare loot such as Corpum X-type armour modules and Gist shield boosters.

Nullsec alliances often used access to these complexes as bargaining chips, and fights routinely broke out over complex rights in high- and low-security space. Years later, CCP introduced the Exploration system that let players use scan probes to scan down various PvE sites that spawned randomly throughout space, and over time developers moved all of the static DED complexes over to the new random spawning mechanic. While the Exploration system was definitely a step forward for EVE, I can’t help but look back at this era and think that we lost a huge sandbox element with this change.

I think EVE needs more static resources like these to compete over again — things that appear on the map and the overview rather than being hidden behind scan probes and dynamic spawning mechanics. The drilling platforms coming in the winter update may help achieve this by letting players invest in their space to create resources that can be fought over, but I’d love to see low-security and null-security space get some new static NPC resources or sites that only move around every 30 days or so. Perhaps NPC corporations could install their own drilling platforms that we could destroy or steal from.

pve3Improvement #4: Rebalance lowsec PvE

The relative uselessness of low-security space for PvE has been a recurring topic in the EVE community for as long as I can remember. High-security space allows players to steadily grind for ISK in relative safety, and farming in alliance-owned nullsec can be just as safe if your alliance has strong political ties, but lowsec gets the worst of both worlds. The PvE rewards fall somewhere between highsec and nullsec, but lowsec is filled with pirates looking for easy kills and everyone you meet there is a potential threat.

The problem is that the rewards in lowsec can’t be made commensurate with the actual level of danger without tempting nullsec alliances to take over and monopolise the space. What I’d love to see happen is for lowsec to become not just a slightly better place than highsec to grind ISK but a place where you go to try to strike it rich. Most of the lowsec-only ore, exploration sites, and NPCs should be added to high-security space too, but in lowsec you should have a small chance of getting huge rewards.

Exploration complexes might have a chance of spawning a super rare NPC boss or loot-filled structure, and asteroids mined to depletion could have a chance of revealing a pirate structure or a cache of refined minerals and loot from a pirate drop spot. You should still be financially better off grinding ISK in nullsec and a lot safer in highsec, but the added risk of lowsec would be offset by the fact that you could hit the jackpot at any time.

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for over a decade and writing the regular EVE Evolved column since 2008. The column covers everything from in-depth EVE guides and news breakdowns to game design discussions and opinion pieces. If there’s a topic you’d love to see covered, drop him a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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