EVE Online is a game with a certain reputation. By which I mean, EVE Online has a reputation for being vast, arcane and chock full of arseholes. Much of this is based on the stories that make it out of the game and into the wider public consciousness. There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, you would’ve heard some of these yourself. Incidents like The Bloodbath of B-R5RB or the embezzlement of billions of ISK (in-game currency) from a player-run bank have made headlines in mainstream media. As such, I’m sure I’m not alone in being curious but hesitant about giving EVE a go. After all, MMORPGs are not really my genre of choice at the best of times, given the time commitment they usually require. Especially as this is a game so dense that actual books have been written about its in-game history.
Still though, I recently decided to paddle out into the piranha-filled waters of New Eden and see what EVE Online is really like for new players. This was largely prompted by two realisations; firstly that EVE Online is (mostly) free to play and secondly that EVE was released in May 2003 – that’s before World of Warcraft or Half Life 2. Coupled with the fact that CCP, the game’s developer, just got bought for half a billion dollars, I figured it’s probably worth a look. So, I signed up and boldly went where at least several hundred thousand people have gone before. After the fancy opening cinematic came the character creator. I decided on one of the four factions, based solely on how their ships looked, and then slapped together an avatar. Don’t expect full RPG style cheekbone depth sliders or the like here, but there are more customisation options than I expected.
Once your character is set up, then you’re essentially free to do whatever you like right away. That said, if you’re new to EVE then you should really avoid the temptation to just throw yourself into the game and try to work it out as you go along. There is a lot to learn, far more than even the game’s tutorial missions can explain. I’m going to summarise some of what I think are the most useful points below, things that I would’ve preferred to know before I started. Although perhaps the best bit of advice I can offer comes from a space pirate of an entirely different universe – “don’t get cocky”.
Do the Tutorials
Despite what I just said, the tutorial missions really are a must if you’re a newbie. There are a lot of menus and mechanics to get to grips with. At one point, I tried to skip ahead and alter the equipment on my ship before the tutorial had explained how; let’s just say it didn’t go well. If you want to learn the basics then there’s really no better way of doing it. The other benefit is that the “career path” missions which follow-on from the tutorial are a great way to make money and acquire new ships. While none of these ships will provoke the envy of established players, it gives you the opportunity to try most of the main money-making options in the game at no cost. For example, you quickly learn the value of a good book while you’re mining asteroids.
Don’t Rely on the Tutorials Teaching You Everything
While the tutorials are undeniably helpful, there’s a lot that they don’t tell you. Sometimes this are just oversights in the explanation; for instance the “Exploration” career path requires you to manage some probes you’ve just launched. The problem I had was I didn’t see any explanation of how to do that. After some heartfelt but very crude pleas to the gaming gods (and Google) I found the answer. Alt-P, for the record. Beyond this though, there’s just far too much in EVE to fit into a structured tutorial. Fortunately, the game’s community does a great job of filling in the gaps. I found the EVE University Wiki very helpful and there’s an active and supportive “rookie chat” in-game which acts as a Q&A for new players. It’s worth noting although that the fact the game has been running for so long means there’s a lot of out of date information online, so random internet searches are not always reliable.
Trust No One
This is virtually a mantra for most EVE players. CCP take a very hands-off approach to moderating player actions. You really have to do something serious to incur their wrath. As such, scamming and robbing other players can be quite a lucrative source of income. Essentially, as in real life, if someone offers you a deal that seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Similarly, if you’re in a system with a low security rating (i.e. a system with a limited or no NPC security presence) then there’s a fair chance you’ll be attacked. You get little sympathy for being foolish in EVE, so be careful. Then again, even long-standing players sometimes get tricked.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by my experiences. I didn’t get shot at once. You can even do some actual science. What most impressed me though was how EVE allows players to really make the most of the freedom it provides. Too many games give players liberty without agency. They provide massive open-world sandboxes, but then don’t back that freedom up with the required mechanics. I was briefly enamoured with Elite: Dangerous at launch but soon felt it was shallow and grind-heavy. I never really got on with Skyrim as, despite the size of its world, all I could really do outside the quests was walk around fighting things. By giving you a selection of specialised starter ships, EVE lets you experience a variety of roles from the outset. Even then, that’s just a taster of what’s possible.
I really only scratched the surface of what’s on offer. I didn’t join a corporation, for example. These are the groups of players which are key to much of what makes the game unique. Also, I only created one character, when each account can support three, further increasing the opportunities for experimentation. Ultimately, I’m still not sure I have enough free time to really make the most of EVE, but the fact the character skill training system works in real time means that at least some progress can be made when you’re not actually playing. EVE’s free offering is quite generous too. You’ll need a paid account if you want to play with the bigger ships or some of the more interesting equipment though. EVE won’t be for everyone – there’s very little hand-holding and it is certainly vast and arcane – but it’s not as hard on new players as you might think. Just don’t let anyone “borrow” your ISK…
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