So for the last few weeks, the majority of my time in EVE Online has been spent exploring the newest PvE content that came out in the last patch, Invasion. For players in most MMOs playing PvE content wouldn’t be particularly unusual, but EVE has a reputation of being a PvP focused game. I’m someone who’s always deeply involved in that side of things, only doing enough PvE as strictly necessary in the past 10 years of playing to support my desire to blow up other people’s spaceships. That hopefully provides enough context to make the following sentence appropriately meaningful:
I’m having more fun with PvE than PvP right now in EVE Online.
These Invasions have provided primarily group content, as players have to band together to fight against the forces of the Triglavian Collective, a group of humans who’ve been cut off from the rest of civilisation in Abyssal Space for some time and developed an obsession with the number three - Hence the player nickname of “Triangles”. There are some cryptic hints that they might not even be invading properly, but merely testing the player characters for an alliance against the other new factions in EVE Online, such as the Drifters or Sansha’s Nation. Either way, these invasion systems have shown up all around the map of hisec and lowsec, forcing players to travel across the game world to take part.
In the initial release, there were no actual objectives to complete at all, with the Invasion just involving roaming gangs of 5-10 frigates and destroyers appearing in the affected systems. Whilst this might have been a little bit of a letdown in the moment, players eventually figured out ways to farm these spawns on gates, and gave insight to the developers as to just how players were dealing with the NPCs in a vacuum where anything could be used.
Two weeks later came the followup, and we had the initial two sites added to the game for completion in systems that were being invaded, Minor and Major Conduits. These had fairly simple requirements, with you just needing to go to the site and kill the various waves of NPCs that spawned, but are balanced around facilitating small scale social PvE. Minors seem to be designed to be run by 3-5 people, while Majors by 5-10 - which is far below the 10 player minimum that running the only other easily accessible group PvE in Incursions.
This did have some notable teething issues, with the AI often getting stuck on the scenery after warping out, forcing the pilots running the site to burn out towards them for 100’s of kilometres in order to get their payout for completion. However, the devs responsible for the feature were present in several community discords such as Roleplay is Primary and Malevelon Roe, and were quickly alerted to the situation. These problems were smoothed over during the course of the next few weeks, and the devs involved continue to maintain a healthy relationship with the community via these channels.
Some time after this, the Invasion content was expanded with a new, more hardcore challenge in the Proving Ground. This pitted groups of players - anywhere from 10 to 20 - up against the biggest ship ever added to EVE Online: the collosal, 59 km wide World Ark. This merged some of the elements of Abyssal sites and Incursions, with the group needing to deal with highly capable NPCs and AoE effects that could completely wipe a ship out, all whilst dealing with the usual problems that trying to coordinate such a group of people entails.
Around a month ago we saw yet more new sites, as Emerging Conduits started popping up in systems that weren’t affected by the Invasions, bringing a solo variation to the content that every player could get into. These sites can be run efficiently in pretty much any battlecruiser or above, making it easy to get started with. However, due to needing to fulfill both a combat and a salvaging role in order to gain the full reward, it makes for an interesting optimisation challenge for those who want to make the most of their time.
That finally brings us up to this past week, and the most recent addition to the feature: sites focused around a new Triglavian device called a “Stellar Accelerator”. This structure apparently threatens to potentially drag the entire solar system into Abyssal Deadspace if not dealt with, and adds to the list of global effects that change how pilots have to deal with other sites in the area. This site is also gated off to certain ship classes, only allowing in Tech 1 Cruisers and below.
Now, I wasn’t an early adopter of this feature, with my attention for the first few patches being firmly focused on nullsec, where the Drifters were staging an invasion of their own. However after the trailer that focused on the World Ark site, I began to ask some of my friends in the game about exactly what was going on, as I had some experience both running and theorycrafting Incursion fleets in the past. Pretty quickly I found myself dragged into playing with the streamer Ashterothi, who was running public fleets to tackle Invasion sites, after finishing up a discussion on some of the lore of EVE Online.
I quickly got a feel for what made Invasion PvE so remarkably different from anything else I’d taken part in, as we went through our first major sites. The NPCs used tactics which weren’t dissimilar to those used in PvP, with them warping off a short distance before coming back to the fight at their preferred ranges, stopping players from kiting them away and dealing with them piecemeal. They also use energy neutralisers and rapidly switch targets in order to both disrupt and confuse the healers of the players fighting them. Triglavians can even send out a distress signal, calling in roaming gangs from around the invasion area to assist them, adding even more pressure to an already challenging situation.
But what really hooked me was just how much that danger and chaos was predictable. Those reinforcements could be scouted and destroyed before starting to try and run a site, denying any future reinforcements, whilst dealing with the spread of pressure from the hostile fleet just requires everyone to be paying attention and calling out when they’re in trouble. All of this comes to make it so that losing a fight to NPCs doesn’t feel like the result of you angering the RNG Gods, and ending up with a series of spawns you just can’t fight, it feels like you messing up. That’s a feeling I’ve rarely got from EVE PvE until now, a palpable sense of controlled - and controllable - challenge.
Still, with familiarity came the desire to push the boundaries, and I pretty quickly did. One little aspect to the Conduits that I haven’t mentioned is the fact that all of the places where you fight the Triglavians have huge belts of Invasion specific ore there, both as decoration, and an invitation to try and mine whilst being shot at by some of the scariest NPCs in the game. So, I decided to try my luck, and see just what would happen if I decided to bring 9 seperate accounts using the biggest mining ships allowed in the system and just started mining everything I could.
Did anything happen? Did I unlock the next part of the ARG? Sadly not. But I did get the excitement of trying something that probably hadn’t been tried before in EVE, and doing something suboptimal just to see how the feature would react to it, all whilst having fun with a group of friends. With CCP (the company which produces EVE Online) revealing that they plan to spend another year of development time on improving and adding to this feature, it seems like there’s only going to be more opportunities for exploration in the future.
Right now though, my focus is squarely on the Stellar Accelerator site, as it comes with a range of new challenges to try and think through. The limit to T1 Cruisers massively lowers the amount of raw power you have to play with, but also removes a lot of the ships most commonly used in PvE, forcing you to think outside of the box if you want to be efficient. There’s also an implied desire to want to go as fast as possible, as the ships which are assembling the star destroying structure begin after you start the fight. So far no-one’s been able to kill them fast enough to stop it from deploying.
Currently, I’m working on a concept based around the Phantasm, with a few Ospreys to support them in order to try and get through it fast enough to see what happens if I kill all the assembling ships before it gets online. If - through some miracle - I succeed, I have no idea if it’ll actually do anything! But I want to get out there and find out.
That, in my opinion, is the sign of some well done game design.