This week, Yahtzee hits the final frontier in search of a truly different MMO. Instead, he finds Eve.
The unspoken goal of exploration is to make the entire planet completely boring. Life was at its most interesting back when we still thought grass huts were a bit hoity-toity and when there could have been dragons made of raisin bread over the next hill for all we knew. Nowadays, everything’s mapped out, and we’ve even spent enough time on the moon and the very bottom of the ocean to know that firstly, there aren’t any dragons there either, and secondly, we’re definitely not in a hurry to go back and double-check. Now it’s only the depths of space that remain unexplored and un-boring, plenty of grey area where any number of interstellar sparkle dragons could be hiding. EVE Online does the impossible by making deep space boring and demonstrates that the best way to do that is to let nerds colonize it.
With cards now hurled onto the table hard enough to bounce off and slice someone's eye open, let me back up. A few weeks ago, in the Age of Conan review that inspired so much delightful porn, I mentioned that all MMOs are trying to be World of Warcraft (i.e., full of grind and spiders). Well, some urban cavemen took exception to this remark and decided to fill my lughole about their personal favourite land of make-believe, EVE Online, an online space sim boasting a gigantic playable universe with enough simultaneous players to populate a small, whiny city with serious personal hygiene issues. Also, they advertise on The Escapist, which I sometimes interpret as a challenge.
I made a firm decision starting out that I wasn't going to have anything to do with any of those player-run corporations the game boasts. I've seen their recruitment threads in gaming forums, and I'm frightened that interacting with such people to any great degree would infect me with some kind of weird disease that causes flowcharts. Besides, I only had a 14-day free trial; enough time for a holiday, but not a middle management induction course or whatever. Once again, I will play the everyman, observing from a distant bush the amusing rituals of a tribe of overweight, bespectacled natives.
Creating a character involves picking a home planet, a bloodline, a job, an education, a gender, a hair colour, a preferred brand of underpants, and whether you squeeze the toothpaste tube from the end or the middle. There's the prerequisite physical appearance editor with the usual batch of sliders, but the fact that your character never leaves their spaceship makes it a massive waste of time. But then, if there were ever four words that completely summarised EVE, those would certainly be they. With the runner-up being: "bored, bored, bored, eyestrain."
The purpose of all the character background stuff is to tweak what skills you start out with, of which there are a massive number I couldn’t even begin to get my head around. How, for example, does “Signature Analysis” differ from “Signature Focusing,” and how is it supposed to help me fly around space shooting things? What the fuck is “Tactical Logistics Reconfiguration,” beyond something that sounds like résumé-speak for “I play too much Counter-Strike?” Whatever. The big black was calling, so I just went with whatever skills I could decipher and leapt into the EVE universe.
And the first thing that struck me is that whoever said that EVE is completely different from other MMOs was talking out of their intergalactic arse. Let me give a brief rundown of an average online RPG fight: You click on an enemy and start kicking his shins, he then starts kicking your shins, then you take in it turns kicking until one of you falls over. It basically comes down to who started the battle with the biggest boots, and the only strategy involved is realising when things have gone tits up and legging it. And it seems even deep space isn't far enough to get away from that, because all you do in the EVE Online combat is fly around the enemy taking it in turns to ram missiles up each other's exhaust pipes. The main difference is that if tits start to get upwardly inclined, you can't just run away; you have to mess around with drop-downs, set a destination, and wait for your warp drive to warm up, by which time the enemy has already killed you, blown you to bits, and displayed your goolies on his space mantelpiece.
Another thing that sets EVE apart is the lack of a leveling system. The only way to develop your character is to train your skills. You do this by picking which skill you want to train, then turning off the game and going to sleep. Seriously. Not that I'm complaining, but why am I being rewarded for not playing the game? Watching the little XP bar slowly climb in indirect proportion to my social skills is generally the only thing that keeps me going in an MMO. All you get from mining and doing missions and shit is money. Meanwhile, the market is full of weapons and shit add-ons that you can't fucking have until you've acquired the appropriate skills. So most of the time they sit on the shelves and taunt you, like the painted wonders in the window of a Dickensian toymaker taunting the small orphan child with their nose pressed up against the glass.
Normally you have to factor in personal taste, but if you think EVE is fun, you are provably wrong. The interface could only be less intuitive if your monitor was at the bottom of a fucking well. The missions are all just variations on "go here and shoot things." It takes forever to get anywhere, and even when you arrive it's just more identical floating fucking rocks!
I was gonna say in jest that EVE feels like a game that doesn't seem to want to be played at all, but on reflection I think I might be onto something. My theory is that it's either a glorified, space-themed chat room for the nerds who are what to nerds what nerds are to normal people or an executive toy for high-powered businessmen who are too busy to play a real game, something that you run in the background and occasionally mess with in between negotiating mergers, neglecting your spouse, and becoming emotionally dead. But then again, there are apparently people who could stay awake long enough to join and run player corporations. Either they're all Bizzaro people who wear shoes on their heads or I'm underestimating the appeal of having a second job you have to pay for.
- He is the preacher and you are the choir: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Actually I looked up Tactical Logistics Reconfiguration and it involves 'the operation of triage modules', so that clears that up
- Just one decent alien race would have livened things up