EVE Online: Apocrypha PC, Mac
I had a hard time deciding if I should actually put a score on this review or not. Calling it a ‘review’ seems a bit disingenuous, as a full breakdown of EVE Online, and all its pros and cons would take literally years to write up. See, EVE is one of the most incredible games ever built. But there’s a 95% chance you’ll hate it. This isn’t some kind of challenge, or an implication that some people are too stupid to ‘get’ it. It’s just that the game’s often snail-like pace, and the amount of reading it requires to fully understand what’s going on, require a certain frame of mind to really appreciate it.
But why is this? It’s just an online RPG. Y’know, like World of Warcraft, that game that literally everybody in the entire world loves. But EVE Online isn’t like your average MMO, and it’s not aimed at people who just want to fly around shooting bad guys in space. It’s for people who want to genuinely get involved in a vast, cohesive online world that’s completely unlike our own, yet familiar enough to seem totally believable.
The clever thing about EVE Online is that, on paper, it’s pretty simple – you’re the captain of a ship which you can fully customise with all kinds of gear, then fly around shooting stuff, trading, chatting with people, and so on. But the vast majority of the game is controlled entirely by the players, not the developers. Areas of ‘high-security’ space are governed by AI-controlled police who will shoot down anyone who steps out of line, but outside of these areas, you can technically do whatever you like. You’d assume this would lead to people just treating the low-security areas as a massive deathmatch arena where everyone just turns up to blast the crap out of other players. But in actual fact, players soon found strength in numbers, and gathered together under a number of banners, forming huge corporations and laying claim to their own chunks of the galaxy. Thus the community became self-policing, whilst simultaneously leading to disputes over territory or resources. See, where most MMOs put you in one of two factions and say ‘okay you guys, start fighting’, EVE lets you do pretty much whatever you want, and so while most corporations are happy to work with one another, some are actively engaged in open warfare. And when people go to war in EVE, it’s usually for genuine, human reasons – not just because they were arbitrarily stuck on a certain side of the fence and told that the guys on the other side were all a bunch of complete jerks.
Of course, this isn’t for everyone. Personally, I hate having to talk to people I don’t know when I’m playing games online. So it’s just as well that the new Apocrypha expansion adds an absolute tonne of missions that you can just grab off non-player characters, and play on your own or with a couple of friends. While playing the game in this way sort of avoids the point of EVE’s player-controlled universe, it’s a really nice addition for people who simply don’t have the time to really get involved, or start the game by spending countless hours mining. That is, most of us. And it takes nothing away from those who appreciate the bigger picture in EVE, and are happy to get involved with the political side of things. You could argue that it’s a shame that people are going to play the game like a standard MMO and ignore the more interesting stuff, but it’s probably safe to assume that the kind of gamer who is specifically looking for the instant gratification offered by the NPC missions would, prior to Apocrypha‘s release, probably have given up on the game once their 14-day trial had expired.
Also in the Apocrypha add-on (which is free, incidentally – the boxed version you’ve probably seen in shops by now just gives you a bunch of free play-time and saves you an 8GB download, which is fair enough) is a whole load of changes to the way you start the game. Character creation has been streamlined, so that the risk of being dropped into EVE‘s frankly terrifying universe with a completely useless character has been lowered considerably. On top of that, the tutorial mode has been completely revamped so that you’ll spend less time wondering what the hell you’re doing. Which is always a bonus. As well as the game’s world itself being utterly daunting, the interface is a bit of a nightmare too, so any improvement to the way it’s taught to new players is definitely a welcome one. Remember: if in doubt, right-click.
The best thing about EVE, though, is the number of stories you’ll come away with as a result of playing it. As a player who’s never gotten involved in the wars between the various corporations, I don’t have any breathtaking tales of life on the front lines. But I will never forget the first time I had to transport goods through a low-security system for a mission. Up to this point I’d been running missions in high-security space where you’re safe from other players at all times, and the NPC opponents I’d come across weren’t much of a challenge. But even as a new player, I’d become aware of how much there was to the game, and I knew that there were other ships – player-controlled ships – capable of things that I couldn’t even imagine. Cloaking fields, electronic countermeasures, long-range weaponry, devices that can pull your ship out of warp… and so on. And I was using a tiny frigate with one pathetic cannon and a mining laser. And when your ship gets destroyed, there’s no getting it back – unless you completely run out of ships, and then you’re helpfully supplied with the bog-standard frigate that you started the game with. There’s also a number of insurance policies you can take out on your ships, but they cost money, and I was far too green to have deemed it necessary. So I warp into this low-security area, and started proceeding towards the next warp gate in order to get out of the system and continue my journey. And I’m thinking about how anyone could appear out of nowhere, utterly destroy my ship, take my stuff, and I’ll be erased from the galaxy in the blink of an eye without a single chance of fighting back. And I’m shitting myself. But I keep flying, and eventually I reach the warp gate. And absolutely nothing happened, at all. Yet I’m a complete bag of nerves, and I’ve never been so scared since I was five years old and thought someone was breaking into the house at night when in fact it was just the neighbours moving stuff around in the wardrobe really noisily. And I’d never have felt that way were it not for EVE‘s sprawling, daunting, over-complicated, beautiful, and terrifying design.
Ultimately though, Apocrypha opens the game up to a much wider audience, and that’s no bad thing. There’s very little stopping you from trying out the 14-day free trial, so give that a whirl and see how you go. It asks a lot of the player, but if you can hack it, you’re in for a truly unique experience. Chances are you probably won’t like it. But, secretly, it’s brilliant.
And now, a meaningless number: