CCP Games describes this 20th expansion as a “point of no return.” But what makes EVE Online: Rubicon radically different from everything that’s come before it? For the Icelandic developer, it’s all about intent; setting the direction for a multi-year story arc that will see players take increasing control of the vast universe of New Eden.
As the first chapter in this new story, Rubicon works well at setting the scene. The concept of the Empires losing their grip and Capsuleer corporations flooding in is certainly tantalizing. And, barring a few hiccups, the new tools that CCP has provided are definitely fun to use. But it’s difficult to judge the expansion on its own, partly because of the ten year legacy that it’s built on, and partly because it takes time for changes to ripple through the MMO sandbox. While the first few steps are solid, it’s going to take a while to know if the direction we’re heading in is a good one.
In Rubicon at least, that direction has a tight focus. We’re encouraged to explore deeper with the lure of Ghost Sites – pirate-controlled research outposts that are trying to develop new stargate technology. The promise is that, at some stage in the future, we’ll be able to break into new areas of space beyond the current network of stargates. The prizes we find in these clandestine facilities are thought to be the first step on that journey.
Facilitating this are two further features. The Sisters of EVE, ostensibly the Red Cross of EVE Online, have started producing exploration-focused ships of their own. The Astero Frigate and Stratios cruiser are both visually appealing, invoking a 1990’s style that’s been brought completely up-to-date. They both come equipped with bonuses to hacking and scanning, making them ideal for cracking open exploration sites. Both ships can also use a covert operations cloaking device, should you want to prowl the depths of space in relative safety.
While they seem great on paper for PvE site running, it’s likely to be PvP where these ships fall down, although all kinds of exotic fits have been proposed. These aren’t the kind of ships that I’d suggest being a hero in, unless you have friends.
Rubicon also brings in a new class of structure that can be deployed whenever it’s needed and scooped up afterwards to use again later. The Mobile Tractor unit will be a boon to anyone who destroys masses of ships regularly, as it pulls in all the wrecks left behind. The Mobile Cyno-Inhibitor feels less useful – although it blocks most incoming jumps, it doesn’t block the Black Ops Cyno.
The Mobile Depot – already nicknamed the ‘Yurt’ – provides access to fitting facilities, allowing an explorer to reconfigure their ship while away from the station. It’s useful to have one of these tucked in your cargo hold, together with a few modules, as it means you can tweak your ship to handle whatever you’re facing. After all, you never know when a few warp core stabilizers might be useful.
Less clear is the usefulness of the Mobile Siphon Unit. The idea is fairly clever: being able to siphon off resources from an unattended processing station. It can also be looted by anyone, making the stolen resources fair game for anyone passing by. It means that you could become a thorn in a larger corporation’s side, or lay a trap for any would-be opportunists. Time will tell if it proves itself as a tool of war, or ends up as a discarded dead-end.