Stick and Rudder: Trying EVE Online as a new player in 2021


It’s not often one has the opportunity to step into a bit of MMO history and do so with a fresh set of eyes and no expectations. Luckily, I’ve recently had the opportunity to do just that as a brand-new player in CCP’s classic space sim/sandbox/gankfest EVE Online.

Like most fans of the genre, I’ve always been intrigued by the stories of espionage, betrayal, economy, and massive battles that typically accompany this title. Content to sit on the sideline enjoying the view, I’ve never pictured myself playing the game. I’m not big on PvP. I don’t like being mean in games. A subscription was required to play. All these things dissuaded me from giving EVE a glance, even though space has always been a point of fascination. And yet here I am, writing up the new player experience of a game I’d sworn off some time ago.

Once I’d completed all the obligatory newbie stuff (picking a faction I know nothing about, painstakingly crafting the looks of a character who will never be shown onscreen) I was launched into the vast space of New Eden. My very first thought was, wow, this game looks good for as old as it is! Truth be told, I didn’t expect much out of the visuals. I’ve dabbled in Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen, and even Star Wars Squadrons over the last six months and I knew that EVE was around for years prior to these titles even being conceptualized. But to its credit, it looks and performs like a semi-modern game thanks to enhancements to effects and the UI that have been made over the years.

While the graphics might cause EVE to be mistaken for a more recent title, its mechanics are largely a throwback to a more tactical, less action-centric era of PC games. I read an interview with CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson describing the dual-speared development of the game. Originally, the 2-D (I assume, the overview and supporting databases/markets) and 3-D portions of the game were coded separately and eventually brought together. This approach still shines through as the overlay, the text box detailing all objects in the star system, is central to how objects and enemies are targeted, approached, and orbited, with the action playing out on the larger 3-D background screen.

EVE has spent a lot of time trying to smooth out the new player experience, and with good reason. Common wisdom among studios nowadays is that they need some big, extravagant hook within the first several minutes of playtime to make a good first impression on the playerbase and persuade them to come back for more. But with EVE, the game is truly a slow burn. There is no pivotal moment for new players early on, and the harsh reputation EVE has built up over the years might dissuade new players from trying the game at all. And the sheer complexity of the game and its decades of systems and development contribute to a long, steep learning curve that can seem daunting without a bit of early-stage hand-holding.

My opinion on the new player experience is that it’s not shabby. The most difficult thing for me to learn was (and is) where everything is located in the user interface. Underpinning EVE is a huge amount of data, and not only are there lots of data but there are numerous ways to slice it all up and display it, and multiple different avenues with which to access each of these views. It’s a PC game through and through. No consideration was given to designing it to be more palatable for consoles to broaden the playerbase.

So as you can imagine, there are menus upon menus, each popping out bits of data in separate, resizable windows that get littered across your screen. And while this contributes to the learning curve, it’s also something that I love about the game. No twitchy combat. No skill bar limitations. Just a deep, vast simulation sandbox backed by loads of numbers, statistics, charts, and some impressive graphics.

During the second day of my EVE experience, I was messaged by a GM in the chat window. I missed the message, but he followed up with an in-game email welcoming me to the game and a gift of several newbie items. Was this the harsh environment I’ve always heard so much about? I’ve played quite a few MMOs, but I don’t think I’ve ever been messaged by a GM just to thank me for trying out the game.

After finishing the tutorial, I was highly encouraged to complete all the career agent missions available at the station I got dumped at. These mission chains give the new player an introduction to several career options available within the game (combat, industry, exploration, and business) and some basic mechanics required for each. As someone who is brand-new to the game, I found these highly worthwhile and was able to stockpile a few million ISK currency along the way.

The thing that excites me the most about the journey ahead is the possibilities I foresee. Maybe most people don’t enjoy the learning aspect of picking up a new game. I could see wanting to jump right into the action of something you’re spending money to play. For me, learning new systems, exploring new areas, and mulling over how everything interacts are things that I enjoy the most about gaming. Once I’ve mastered, or at least understand, those things, I have difficulty motivating myself to continue. But in EVE, there appear to be nearly endless possibilities for learning, exploration, and trial-and-error. I’m not sure it will ever be possible to fully understand all the intricacies involved in the game, and that thought interests me all the more.

While I now have a bit of a grasp on some of the basics, my next steps are not as clear. I am not yet a part of a player corporation, which I understand is essential if I ever want to venture out into more dangerous space. I am training skills for my character, but they are of the most basic variety. I’m making a bit of cash, but I know it’s a pittance compared to those with real careers. I’m eager to dig deeper into the community and learn what all goes on out there in nullsec (zero security space).

But I’m also wary as I was recently reminded of the “anything goes” reputation EVE has earned, and why I’d avoided the game for so long: In one of my Discord channels, a returning EVE player proudly shared with me a video of his past exploits from nearly 10 years ago. His now-defunct corporation saw easy pickings when they caught wind of a funeral being held in-game by another group of players. A funeral for a real person. My stomach churned a bit as the fleet mates gleefully attacked, destroyed, and looted the entire procession in the span of roughly 30 seconds. It’s something I could never do, and if I did, would make me question my real-life character.

But that’s EVE. It’s a very realistic simulation. As in life, you take the good with the bad, the beauty with the cruelty. Welcome to New Eden. Just as in the original, there are some snakes in the garden.

It’s a big wide universe out there, and the MMO industry is busy filling up the space between the stars – with sci-fi MMORPGs! Join the MOP team here in Stick and Rudder for intermittent voyages into all the big space-trucking, dog-fighting, star-flighting MMOs of the moment.
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