Ever since I started covering EVE Online as one of my major beats in gaming around 2017, there has been a constant refrain from the studio, as well as concerned veterans who frequent the shipping lanes of New Eden: improve the new player experience. Since then the tutorial that introduces capsuleers to EVE Online has seen some changes, but nothing to the extent that developer CCP Games has pushed out as part of its latest Quadrant update, Gateway.
The vastly new and improved new player experience is the result of hard work by all facets of the dev team, from the artists themselves who have crafted the tutorial area capsuleers make their start, to the team responsible to not just creating portraits of the NPCs who interact with you, but creating a full 3D render of them in order to give them more life. The tutorial itself feels more streamlined than before, with it seemingly hitting many of the major beats you'll need to know before first trying to find Jita 4-4.
Yet, despite it's improvements, I'm left wondering if it will be enough to stem the tide of players who simply don't log back in within a few days of creating a new account.
To set the stage, the new-new player experience sees you stranded in a pod, the basest form of ship in EVE Online, as the cloning facility you were in is destroyed by an unknown enemy faction. Your onboard AI, Aura, is tasked with teaching you the ropes, as you find your first ship (CCP is generous by giving you one of the most popular ships in EVE - the Astero) and learn basic navigation in the sci-fi MMO.
EVE Online's UI looks complicated to the untrained eye - and even those who have spent hours upon hours in game can still feel daunted by the sheer amount of information thrown at you. So to that end, the UI is uncovered slowly, with CCP Games drip feeding you new information as you need it to complete the next task so as to not overwhelm you. You'll learn how to approach items in space, how to rotate the camera, and even how to get into a basic dogfight.
EVE Online's new player experience does a great job as well in forcing you into something that EVE is often praised - and criticized - for not having: direction. As a true sandbox, the universe is your oyster, and traditionally the MMO hasn't done much to hold your hand as you decide just what kind of pilot you want to become. Do you want to be a soldier for hire, turning into an F1 jockey, or a budding industrialist cornering the market on an in-demand mineral? You can do that - and you could before. Now, new players are more or less corralled into making a choice before the tutorial ends thanks to Aura pointing out the Agency panel. This can go a long way towards keeping a new player invested early on and, having been given a task and direction, keep them engaged over time.
However, I still feel the MMO falls flat in some aspects of the tutorial, namely when it comes to learning about some key factors players will need to know when starting out.
There are some incredibly smart choices made when you first start up your new life in EVE. CCP thrusts players into an incredibly beautiful environment, simply displaying all of the outrageous talent of the art team for new players (Seriously, CCP - HDR support when?). First impressions go a long way, and the first thing new players see is absolutely breathtaking. It also sets the scale: you're a tiny capsule, floating in the vastness of New Eden's universe - a tiny speck among the stars.
You're given a ship by AIR (after the aforementioned Astero is destroyed to teach you about death in EVE), and the ship is already fitted with a weapon turret and mining laser. One thing you're not taught about, though, is that some weapons require ammo, nor are you taught where to find it, how to equip it, and what types of ammo there are.
In fact, you're not really introduced to the market at all - such an integral part of EVE Online. Part of this could simply be down to not wanting to overwhelm the player. However, this could have been an opportunity to teach a new player how to both navigate that screen and acquire something that is pretty important to surviving in New Eden: ammo to actually defend yourself.
You're taught how to warp between systems, but you're not really taught how to search and plot your own routes through space. I feel like a better way to teach how to warp would be for the player having to go in an actually select the system to align to when venturing to your first career agent, rather than it already have been pre-plotted. It's a small thing, but navigating in EVE can be daunting, so teaching the process could go a long way towards helping stave off some confusion later.
I do appreciate the new Skill Plans window, though. I love how much information is displayed there, as well as how easy it is to read. The team have really done a good job of presenting the skill tree in a more easily digestible manner, and skill plans, especially those on offer to begin with once you start poking around after the tutorial is essentially over, can get you into a new and better ship quickly. There are still too many skills, and the current window is still not conducive towards teaching you what skills you should prioritize if you decide to forgo the skill plan (seriously, plaster The Magic 14 everywhere on the screen for new players, CCP), but it's a vast improvement from how skills were presented for the longest time.
It also seems weird that EVE's developers are pushing EVE Academy as a way to help new players learn the ropes, but I'm not sure in my two times through the tutorial it was even hinted at as a resource. One thing Final Fantasy XIV does for Sprouts is every time they log in there is a pop up to remind them that they can access a database of tutorials and information while playing. This is something I think CCP should borrow - a pop up in the Agency or in the left-hand UI that reminds players that EVE Academy is there in case they need it for something. Just that little extra nudge to learn more about the MMO.
No tutorial is ever going to teach everything in EVE. Some things are simply only learned through trial and error, through your first ship being destroyed, and through the community helping each other out. The new player experience brough by Gateway is a vast improvement over the original tutorial, though, and while it still lacks some explanation I feel would be important for budding capsuleers to learn before being turned loose on New Eden, it's most definitely a step in the right direction.