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Rising to Ascension

Gareth Harmer Posted:
Editorials 0

A while back, I was chatting with a corpmate in EVE Online. After playing for years through wars and conspiracies, he’d seen it all, industriously building a small collection of accounts that he managed as part of his retirement. He reminisced about his experiences and, as the conversation shifted, shared how he got into the game: a guiding mentor, with some good advice.  

It seems as though CCP, through design iterations and focus interviews, has also latched onto that idea of a mentor. As part of Ascension, the latest update to the spacefaring sandbox, the whole experience for new capsuleers has been completely reworked. In this case, an NPC mentor acts as a guiding hand for rookie pilots, through a factional story overlaid on the multiplayer sandbox.

Half the battle with any game is persuading people to try it, which is why the second new feature – a limited free-to-play model - makes absolute sense. Without a subscription, characters have access to 27 ships and a limited set of skills; enough to try out a significant chunk of the EVE Online experience. Pair it with the newcomer storyline, and, it’s a mix well worth discovering. And that’s without touching on all the new content and improvements to delight the existing residents.

Starter for Ten

Many of the stories we hear about EVE Online are based around player events; someone forgot to pay a bill, pressed the wrong button, or fired the missiles at the wrong ship. Sometimes alliances want to expand into new regions of space, settle a score, or exact vengeance. The tapestry of capsuleer-crafted drama is so colourful that we often forget there’s actually a lore and story threaded through the backdrop of a universe. It’s this lore that’s been tapped to provide the foundations for Inception, CCP’s name for the new player experience.

Free access is managed through a new feature called Clone States. As standard, all characters start out as Alpha clones, with access to a basic set of skills, ships, skill points, and so on. Subscribe, either by paying for it, or by obtaining a PLEX token, and you unlock Omega clone status while the subscription is active, giving access to ev-ry-thing. Once it lapses, characters drop back down to Alpha, meaning that veterans and former players can pop back and check out the changes without paying moolah.

For those choosing the Amarr faction, the new experience starts with a catastrophic event. An Avatar capital ship ripped asunder by unknown forces, and a small corvette left tumbling in space amongst the wreckage. As the only sentient being in the area, it’s up to you to discover what went on, under the guiding hand of a factional mentor and with the help of Aura, your shipboard AI.

Telling the story also uses several new techniques, with new NPCs being fully voice acted. Interface highlighting is also used, with Aura drawing attention to objects that require action. It’s possible to spot the existing Opportunities framework at its core, but Inception is a significant and welcome upgrade to the experience. The only snag is getting access - Inception is only available to brand new accounts, which means that existing characters won’t be able to try it out. Whether that’s a big deal or not is up to you, but I can imagine a few lorehounds who are going to feel miffed at the prospect.

That said, it’s an initiative that seems to be working. New characters are being made, and the number of concurrent players logging in is reaching new highs. And, for all its reputation about being a haven for crooks, thieves and swindlers, the community has welcomed this wave of newcomers with open arms. Corporations are rallying around to welcome new players with new initiatives and offer them a home in New Eden. They aren't being treated as peasants, but seen as new blood and fresh names, whether it’s meat for the war machine, bait for privateering, or engineers for the factory floor.

Captain of Industry

Besides the new-new player experience, Ascension is also big on new industrial toys. Like many, I was excited by the changes to mining fleets, with Orcas and Rorquals playing more of an active role, instead of being passive booster boats. With the way Mining Foreman and Command boosts are managed, there’s a clear advantage to bringing a mix of vessels to larger mining operations. With bigger assets on the field, there’s also a chance for more conflict; Lowsec and nullsec ops could get a little more interesting over the next couple of months.

Then there’s the Porpoise, Outer Ring Excavations’ new entry-level command ship. A new player can gain the skills to fly one inside a month, and pricing is relatively cheap, but does the Porpoise have a purpose? There’s some potential around wormhole hauling when there’s not a conveniently placed citadel, plus some potential around low-attention highsec mining, but the collection of stats mean that (beyond those few niche roles) it’s likely to be a stepping stone towards bigger space whales.

While on the subject of industry, Ascension also brings in a new type of structure: Engineering Complexes. Like Citadels, these stations can be built across New Eden, but focus on manufacturing and research. There are three sizes to choose from depending on need, and a variety of new modules to fit them with. But, although they look snazzy, we’re mainly left scratching our heads, running the numbers, and wondering if they’re worth the effort to build one. As a small industrial corp with a supply chain that stretches over different regions of space, there’s no ideal location that’s worth the significant investment. For us, it’ll be a waiting game while the idea gets refined (ha ha) and we stockpile the parts to build one.

All in, we’re left with a mixed bag. The Orca and Rorqual changes have been instantly positive, so much so that I’ve put my ISK where my mouth is and bought one of the former. The Porpoise remains a curio, and the new stations have a watching brief while the market develops. In the meantime, I’ll keep prodding people to refuel the POS.

Special Effects

Last, but by no means least, Ascension also continues EVE Online’s visual makeover. I’ll come to the new Character window in a moment, but I want to start with the new ship fitting interface. Finally, we have an easy way of sharing fits corporation-wide, making it easy to recommend fits for our most popular vessels. As a way of sharing knowledge in a way that doesn’t require a third-party site, this is an absolute godsend. It may seem like a minor quality-of-life feature, but it has a major impact with almost every group.

On the flip side, there’s the new Character pane. While I get the idea of grouping all the character aspects together in a single interface, I feel that the skill management approach was a slight backward step, making it harder to manage long skill queues. I’m hoping that CCP will continue to iterate on the concept, perhaps offering a skill queue pop-out for more advanced tweaking.

Things go BOOM.

And then there are the new explosions - absolutely Michael Bay-grade delicious. We ended up taking out a Level 4 mission fleet purely to find big things to blow up, and then bask in the glow of catastrophic engine failure. If I ever needed an incentive to shoot things until they pop, this was it.

Overall, Ascension makes this the absolute best time for new players to check out EVE Online, as the revamped experience makes it much more accessible. For industrialists, there’s some to smile about, and some to wait and see about. And for everyone, there’s a glorious video of things going boom in space. Enjoy!


Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.