Ascension aims to turn EVE Online on its head by opening the doors to subscription-free users for the first time in the game’s 13-year history. To prepare for opening the flood gates on a free-to-play EVE and get all of those new players over the game’s infamous learning cliff, developers have produced a story-based tutorial system and overhauled the character sheet interface. Veterans can look forward to a dramatically improved ship fitting screen, new player-built industrial complexes, huge mining ship buffs, a new EVE mobile app for Android and iOS, and NPC mining ops using advanced AI.
Read on for a breakdown of some of the big things we learned at the EVE Vegas 2016 Keynote and to check out CCP’s new expansion trailer and feature videos.
Free to play EVE in Ascension
The anticipated influx of fresh meat into the famously violent sandbox of New Eden has been the cause of a great deal of speculation in the community about exactly what an Alpha Clone free user can do and how much they can really compete with subscribers. I examined this question recently in an edition of the EVE Evolved column and concluded that free players may have bigger teeth than we give them credit for, and now we have some stats to back that up.
On stage during the EVE Vegas Keynote presentation, CCP Rise showed a breakdown of the ships that participated in one of the most important battles in EVE‘s recent history — the battle of M-OEE8 at the start of World War Bee. The stats showed that around 17% of the ships involved were those that Alpha Clone players will have access to, indicating that free players will have a definite role to play even in EVE‘s endgame territorial warfare even using existing strategies.
To drive the point home, CCP Rise then showed us his own proof-of-concept alpha clone experiment in which he played on a fresh character and attempted to compete with and kill older players. Rise’s journey had its ups and downs but was thoroughly entertaining and seemed to demonstrate that he could engage in a broad range of experiences that are core to EVE. It made for some very interesting viewing, and I’m actually tempted to try my own “alpha clone challenge” when the expansion lands after seeing that.
Revamped New Player Experience
EVE Online has a reputation for being an impenetrable spreadsheet of a game, and I’m afraid this reputation is well-earned. At EVE Fanfest 2016, we found out that over 1.5 million people tried EVE over the past year and that 51% of them quit within the first two hours of play. CCP has tried to revamp the new player experience several times over the past few years to turn newbies into long-term players, but it’s never really made a dent in conversion rates because most people wouldn’t even stick around long enough to learn the ropes.
The rough ideas of a story-based introduction to EVE that we heard about at Fanfest have now been hammered down into actual implementations that you can try out right now on the EVE test server. New players will now be dropped into a storyline scenario where they are a new recruit helping their empire to investigate the Drifter menace. Each race has a fully voiced tutorial agent who leads you through the story and gives you your instructions and motivation, while a voiced computer AI named Aura gives you step-by-step instructions on exactly what to do to accomplish the objective set.
This storyline gives players a safe space in which to learn the very basics of how to play EVE without having to reach out to other players or read guides. The storyline scenarios are controlled environments that minimise the potential mistakes which could derail the tutorial, and Aura will even test you on the things you’ve learned to ensure you’ve got it before proceeding to the next part of the tutorial. While the influx of free users will likely ruin any future stats on how long people play before quitting (as free games naturally have a lot more tire-kickers than subscription games), the new tutorial looks like it might finally flatten the EVE learning cliff down to a gentle hill.
What’s in it for veterans?
Though alpha clones and the tutorial overhaul are aimed at new players, it looks like there are plenty of reasons for us EVE veterans to be excited about the Ascension expansion. NPC mining operations belonging to the various factions and NPC corporations will begin appearing all over EVE modeled on real player-run mining ops. The EVE mobile app will give us access to notifications and skills outside the EVE client, and a new EVE merchandise store will be opening with delivery from the US.
CCP Seagull gave us a sneak peek at a new type of ship skin that will be released during Ascension which include decals projected onto a ship’s hull. These new skins will work on literally any ship in the game, so we’ll finally be able to have fleets of mismatched ships with a single coordinated look. The new skin technology could also be used to paint our corporation and alliance logos on our ship hulls, which is something players have wanted for years.
The most exciting change for current players is definitely the overhaul of the ship fitting screen, including the addition of the highly anticipated ghost fitting mode for designing and testing ship setups. Most players use external programs like EVE Fitting Tool to design ship setups and see how their stats will change when modules are swapped, and that functionality will now finally be in-game. The new ship fitting tool will even let us test module activation and will have built-in multi-buy and multi-fit functionalities, so we can design a PvP setup and then have 50 of them ready in our hangers within minutes.
All of the Ascension expansion announcements are now out in the open and we’ve seen most of the expansion in action during the EVE keynote, but EVE Vegas 2016 is just getting started! The remaining schedule includes panels from the EVE Online and Valkyrie dev teams, some fascinating player talks, and feedback-gathering roundtables. There will be more information on everything we saw in the keynote, including some interesting information on the new NPC mining operations that may begin to merge PvE and PvP.
We’ll also have some opportunity to pose questions to developers and follow-up with attendees to get a feel for the community’s responses. If you have a burning question that you’d like me to find out the answer to or pose to a developer, please drop it in the comments or mail me at email@example.com and I’ll do my best to get you some answers during the event.