One minute, there’s an offhand report of some malfunctioning weather satellite in the Seyllin solar system. The next, wormholes are ripping open time-space over the entire New Eden star cluster.
Apocrypha, the eleventh expansion for the six-year-old EVE Online, measures the most dramatic sea change of the sci-fi spaceship MMO to date. The aforementioned wormholes, Tech 3 Strategic Cruisers, and revamped New Player Experience mark the top three highlights, though the devil resides in plenty other details. Developer CCP pulled a significant amount of stops in the creation and implementation of Apocrypha, and -- thanks to a newly-minted and thus far fruitful partnership with Atari -- has put EVE on store shelves once again; the first time since after its initial launch in 2003. That hardcopy presence today serves more as a victory lap than a show of force for the Icelandic developer, but the expense of putting out a boxed product speaks to the admirable and still-growing success of EVE.
As the in-game story goes, a wormhole opened up in the Milky Way galaxy that brought humanity to the New Eden star cluster. That wormhole eventually grew unstable and collapsed forever. The phenomenon hasn’t repeated itself since. That is, not until the May 10, 2009, launch of Apocrypha.
Wormholes -- which, in-game, operate on randomized algorithms -- can now appear anywhere in known space, and can lead anywhere into wormhole space. Every feature in these new systems must be scanned anew, as opposed to the pre-mapped environs of known space, and the local chat channels are disabled. (Local chat, in known space, serves as an ad hoc indication of which and how many players are in-system with you, giving players warning of potentially hazardous run-ins with one another.)
With the wormholes being wildly unstable, tales emerge daily of pilots finding themselves stranded on the oft lonely, unexplored side of a now-collapsed wormhole … with no immediate means of returning home. The only way back to known space in those instances is to seek out yet another wormhole, and hope that your situation doesn’t escalate from bad to worse by being unceremoniously spit out inside some uncompromising player-corporation’s borders. Self-defense doctrines often necessarily employ “kill on sight” orders as a nutritious part of a complete breakfast.
Exploration is certainly a reward in itself, as the introduction of nearly 2,500 new star systems to the EVE universe marks an approximate 30 percent growth spurt to the original number of stars. The total number is now north of 8,000. And while risk without reward wouldn’t be enough, there are many rewards indeed waiting to be culled on the other side of known space. The opportunity to carve out sovereign territory is tantalizing for solo artists as well as corporations, and the mineral wealth located in asteroid belts is phenomenal.
An ancient and chronicled race known as the Sleepers exists in those unexplored expanses as well, and they’re an enemy that fights with an ability (read as improved AI) heretofore unseen in the NPC lineup. The Sleepers are not unbeatable, but they typically give pause to even the most seasoned flyers in the EVE universe.
Tech 3 production and engineering, coupled with Tech 3 Strategic Cruisers, marks the apex of ship customizability. Up to this point, static components fit into static hulls. Your frigate, your destroyer, your cruiser looked exactly like everybody else’s frigate, destroyer, and cruiser. But now, within aesthetic and technical limits, Tech 3 Strategic Cruisers lend themselves to a font of creative setups and shapely designs. As in the real world, the introduction of new technologies comes at a premium. Stuff ain’t cheap. But EVE’s player-run economy will -- as it does with all things -- find an equilibrium, and prices for Tech 3 items and ships will stabilize, allowing this advanced-level addition to gain prominence in New Eden.
Not everything is high-geared for veterans, however, which makes Apocrypha an ideal starting point for newbies, despite EVE’s well-earned reputation as a scary-complex simulation. The New Player Experience is a major rewrite of the game’s tutorial in an attempt to ramp down EVE’s perceived learning “cliff” into a more scaleable learning curve. Thus, the opening tutorial is drastically shortened, boiled down to the most critical elements of moving your ship, “pew-pewing” (shooting) a few NPCs, mining a couple rocks, and shaking hands with the marketplace. Then, as you later find the time and inclination to explore the user interface further, the piecemeal EVE tutorials make themselves apparent when you see fit. Let’s not mince words: EVE is mind-numbingly intricate. CCP accepts this, and fully understands that it can be detrimental to new-player retention rates to heap too much on them from the get-go. Previous EVE players will (rightly) wonder if they’re missing something. They’re not. The onus is simply being placed on players to learn at their own rate.
To engage players in the lore of the land, an Epic Mission Arc now spans empires in breadth, and the animosity of nations in depth. Further, since dedicated writers have been (months prior) added to CCP’s payroll, the NPC-granted missions have been proofed and edited from top to bottom. As a self-professed story whore, this is one of the most welcome changes I’ve seen in EVE. Before CCP had full-fledged writers on board, the mission texts were a frequently-garbled spattering of mission objectives and half-baked motivations. Still, rarely do the standard “kill ten rats” missions incite national pride and heroic chest thumping, but the Epic Mission Arc -- if in name only -- portends to up the ante for the ten or so of us players that pore hungrily over storylines.
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