I blame Shamus. It’s all his fault. Over on his blog he’s been talking about Eve Online, one of those massively multi-player thingamajigs. I’ve yet to find one that actually works without descending into IM chat hell with pretty graphics, but the words “14 day free trial” are incentive enough to give it a try.
Ok, that’s not the real reason why I decided to try out Eve Online. It’s the promise of what it could be. I’ll spell it out. With words. OK, I won’t spell it out. I’ll use words. I’ll word it out.
Elite. Online. Amazing graphics.
For those of you who, like me, think that Elite was and still remains the greatest computer game ever invented in the history of history, read no further. Just grab your 14 day free trial, and die happy.
Still here? Oh, ok then.
Eve seems to have it all. There’s a terrific backstory, great character generation, lashings of sci-fi finery (can you say warp drive and stargates? Wow!), space trading, tense combat encounters, missions and much, much more. It is, in every way, a perfect evolution of Elite from the early days of computing.
And there’s those graphics. Eve Online has, bar none, the best graphics I’ve seen on any sci-fi game. A still from the game would make stunning desktop wallpaper. Then it moves. It’s all too easy to forget this is an online game too, as the lag is undetectable and only the presence of a chat window on the screen (if enabled) reminds you that a lot of all those ships are manned by folks from all over the world. Eve Online runs from a single server and, incredibly, handles over 33,000 players at a time. All without appreciable lag. Nice.
So far, so good. The game starts with one of the best tutorials in any game. It’s taken me two days, on and off, to complete. You’re rather led by the nose, but that’s a good thing as this is a game where it would be all to easy to feel overwhelmed. There’s literally so much to the game.
The interface is all pointy-clicky and while it does a good job of keeping you in control, I do end up feeling disjointed from my ship. I feel like I’m in control of the craft, but not inside it, piloting the thing. Unlike Elite, where every hit caused you to flinch and check your shield, your craft in Eve is just a thing, hovering in the centre of your screen.
Talking of which, the ships are just amazing. They wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen, and stand right up there with the best ships from Serenity, Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon-5 and any other sci-fi big name you can think of.
But. They’re just crying out to be customizable! All of the ships have a fixed paint scheme colour coded by race. More on those later. In fairness, I can understand why custom paint jobs aren’t an option; imagine the resulting “works of art” and terrible spellings of all the swear words known to man on the side. Ugh. A load of pre-set colour stylings would be nice though.
On to the races. There’s four, and they’re all human, albeit with differing philosophies, skillsets and abilities. While this is initially disappointing – I WANT COOL RACES! – it’s actually pretty smart. Each of the “races” are very well balanced, and play more to the outlooks of the players than having much to do with the game itself. This is perhaps better than everyone wanting to play cool Wookiees and no one playing an Ewok. This levels the appeal of all the different races, and actually makes for a great political dynamic in the game.
Where Eve Online does fall down a little in the perennial problem every MMORPGs – the players! The magic rubs off a little with the chat window open and you see other players chatting about what was on TV, what they had for dinner or saying gnite because it’s bedtime. Ignore that though and this is a real corker of a game, and the multiplayer aspects do shine through. Anyone can form their own corporations and alliances meaning it’s the players themselves who are the movers and shakers in the universe. It’s all good stuff.
There are still a few holes to the game however, though plans are afoot to fix these as a part of Eve Online’s continuing and very active development. First off, it would be good to actually leave the ship, and walk around the docking stations using the excellently portrayed characters we’ve created. This would give the game a much more personalised feel, and help alleviate some of the disinvolvement present in the piloting system. After that, I’d like to be able to land on planets and see cities as we skim the atmosphere. It’s a big wish, but considering what Eve Online has achieved so far, I have faith that they will deliver, eventually.
What’s great about Eve Online is that it doesn’t feel like it’s an online game, but a very, very very good standalone game that just happens to have other players too. The online aspect is there if you want to form corporations and alliances, or just chat, but it’s not as in-your-face as some other online games I could mention.
If you like your sci-fi, I strongly recommend taking the 14-day free trial for yourself. See you there!