EVE Online has been a PC MMO staple now for over 16 years, carving out a niche for itself as a long-term hobby with a high difficulty bar. The game has had to adapt to changing industry circumstances over the years, catering to the rise of free-to-play and microtransaction-based business models and providing new gameplay that fits into shorter play sessions. Most recently CCP confirmed that it’s planning to bring the EVE Online MMO experience to the world of mobile gaming with the announcement of EVE Echoes.at EVE Vegas 2019 this year, and CCP’s development partner NetEase was in attendance to answer fan questions on where the game is headed. I held off on delivering my thoughts on the game until I’d spent some time with the live open beta, and I’m seriously glad that I did. So much of what makes EVE special is in the interactions between players, and the open beta has shown me that Echoes has definitely managed to recapture the spirit of the early EVE universe.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I run-down of the differences between EVE Online and EVE Echoes and give some thoughts on the open beta.
What is EVE Echoes?
The first thing to get out of the way is that Echoes isn’t just an EVE Online client optimised for mobile devices, and it won’t let you play with PC players. It’s a completely separate MMO being built from the ground up with the goal of providing the same core gameplay experience as EVE but in a more mobile-friendly format. The game is being co-developed by CCP Games and NetEase in China, which have promised to ensure the game stays true to its EVE Online roots.
The gameplay includes mining and resource gathering, player-manufactured items and ships, PvE missions, and open-world PvP in a copy of EVE Online‘s map with its thousands of star systems. While those core elements are present and assets from EVE itself have been used, some aspects of the game have been radically altered to suit a mobile audience. The user interface has most notably been redesigned from the ground up, the skill system has been significantly changed, travel is much faster, and the ship designs and module layouts have been simplified.
There’s also no directional scanner at all, which is frankly a huge improvement for PvP as people can’t just constantly evade fights. I also thought it was a refreshing change that bookmarks aren’t in the game as you can rely on people warping only to key locations such as anomalies and asteroid belts, but this feature is apparently coming in the future. Markets are currently available in just a few key star systems, but market visibility was recently made global across the game to promote inter-region hauling. Jita is still the main trade hub, and you can regularly see over 500 players in the system.
The user interface
If there’s one area that EVE Online needs a major overhaul in, it’s the user interface. After over 16 years of shoehorning new features into an existing suite of menus and windows, EVE‘s UI is now a hodge-podge of elements all created at different times in the game’s life and to very different visual standards. The slick new wallet panel and modern character sheet interface still sit alongside asset and overview systems designed when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Without those 16 years of baggage, Echoes has had the freedom to experiment and even improve some things.
Your ship’s shield, armour, and so forth are still displayed in a circle at the bottom of the screen (albeit one that looks quite different from EVE‘s), and the targeting and module activation UI look very similar to EVE Online. Where Echoes really innovates is in its version of the overview window, which is a small pop-up window that can be toggled from a button on the screen. The window can show you a list of all nearby interactible objects (including NPCs and player ships); celestials such as planets, stations, stargates; or points of interest such as PvE sites.
Interacting with objects was as simple as clicking on it to bring up a quick-menu and issuing a command, and Echoes even has a few improvements that I wish EVE had. There’s an “easy lock” button that targets all nearby enemies, for example, and the game can be set to automatically execute commands such as orbiting ships when firing on them. Other pain points that have been removed include longer looting distance of 10km and automatically firing on the next enemy in your target list when one dies.
Key gameplay changes
The UI isn’t the only part of Echoes that departs from EVE Online‘s established model, though some of the changes don’t seem entirely necessary. Ships have had their number of module slots reduced and many mid-slot modules such as afterburners have been moved to low slots, which has fundamentally changed the balance of the game. Cheap disposable frigates can’t even fit tackle modules, while faction ships seem incredibly overpowered on paper. Rigs are also far more powerful, with ships having three slots for defensive or offensive rigs and three for engine or capacitor rigs.
Many of the ships in Echoes have been renamed compared to their EVE Online counterparts, for example the Deimos heavy assault cruiser has become the Thorax Guardian. While this type of naming convention might make things easier for people not familiar with the game, it’s pretty confusing at first for an EVE player. Some ships in Echoes also just don’t exist in EVE and seem to have been added to plug a progression hole, such as the Catalyst II destroyer that’s just a better but more expensive Catalyst.
Resource gathering gameplay has been similarly adjusted for mobile play. All ships now require a combination of minerals from asteroids and products from planets to create, and planetary interaction has been re-imagined as a mobile-style idle miner system. Rather than building and maintaining complex industrial infrastructure on specific planets, anyone can just set up extractors on any planet and must just log in regularly to add mining time or collect their materials.
The skill system
The biggest thing to get used to as an EVE player in Echoes is how the skill system works. Rather than items or ships having specific skill requirements, each one is given a “tech level” from 1 to 10 and players progress through tech levels based on how many total skill points they have trained. EVE Online is currently striving to remove module tiers with its tiercide initiative, but everything in Echoes is organised into these tech level tiers. Meta levels for modules are now tier 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 versions, with higher tiers simply having better stats.
Each skill has five levels just like in EVE, but these too have been organised into tiers. Investing in level 5 of the Small Hybrid Turret skill unlocks the ability to train the Advanced Small Hybrid Turret skill for a smaller additional bonus, which in turn unlocks the Expert Small Hybrid Turret skill for an even smaller extra bonus. The result is similar to EVE but more spread out as you can get around 50% of the effective bonus with a few days of skill training and then later spend time specialising heavily to get the rest.
Content in the game is laid out in a similar tier system, with cosmic anomalies and asteroid belts in each star system having a little number beside them that indicates which tier they belong to. One nice thing about the skill system in Echoes is that the game trains skill points into your unassigned skill point pool for a few days at a reduced rate if your skill queue is empty, so you aren’t punished heavily for missing a few days. There’s also a daily login reward of 200,000 ISK and 50,000 skill points, which is a pretty solid incentive for your early days in Echoes.
When I first tried Echoes at EVE Vegas, I thought the fact that it wasn’t connected to the main EVE server was a huge mistake and that gameplay changes such as reducing the number of ship slots would make the game too different from the EVE I know. A few days playing the open beta thoroughly changed my mind on both fronts, and the idea of starting fresh in a new mobile arena actually sounds pretty appealing. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve been logging more hours in Echoes than EVE lately, and am looking forward to the end-of-beta server wipe.
My first few days in game were spent hunting for cosmic anomalies, building rigs and ships, mining planets, and idly thumbing through combat missions on the morning commute. It wasn’t long before I was having fun chasing miners around the lowsec belts in Sinq Laison in a destroyer and learning a few Chinese swear words in the process. But it was only after someone I’d killed days earlier came back and got revenge on me that I knew for sure: Echoes has successfully reproduced the secret sauce that makes EVE Online work.
Issues and improvements
There are still some missing features in the beta, and some real problems to be solved. The high-end graphics are pretty impressive for a mobile game, but Echoes absolutely decimates even the biggest smartphone battery. It used 1,000 to 1,700 mAh per hour of play in my tests, depleting my Huawei P30 Pro in under three hours when it normally goes two full days between charges with heavy use.
We also don’t currently know how the game will be monetised, but I imagine a model based on skins, PLEX, and skill injectors similar to EVE Online wouldn’t be a problem. Some players are worried that the game could suffer if it becomes pay-to-win and sells skill injectors directly, while others would hate to see ships and items locked behind an EVE style Omega subscription.
Corporations aren’t currently enabled and there’s no way to send someone ISK or directly trade yet, but these features are on their way. There are also some major balance problems brought about by the game’s altered ship stats and fittings, such as missiles being overpowered and certain ships getting one-shot by high-DPS setups. If CCP Games and NetEase can solve these problems and get that battery usage under control, EVE Echoes has a lot of potential as a serious mobile game.