Given that CCP's landmark creation, EVE Online has consecutively walked away with our annual "MMORPG of the year award" it would be safe to assume that we like this game. I would even be so bold as to say that this collective Internet cloud cherishes, loves, adores, and embraces everything about this online-romp. Eve Online is perhaps one of the most purest definitions of the genre; a definitive example of how a PC, monitor, and Internet connection can open a gateway to a virtual world.
Let's just get it out of the way - if I could, I would marry, buy a condo, and have children with Eve Online: It is just that damn sexy. With that said, let's get on with the formal make-out session I like to call a review.
Given that the game is now approaching almost 9 years in age, you have to hand it to CCP for keeping EVE so visually appealing. Starting out in 2003 as a slightly emancipated, ungainly child of an MMO, the Icelandic developer has continually updated and refined their vision of space. From sweeping vistas, colourful gas arrays, and goliath ships that pound seven tons of laser out of each other - EVE Online has a graphical charm you can't help but admire.
The scale and "epic" nature of the entire ensemble fights tightly with the adventures that unfold around you - couple this with an inspired soundtrack and you might just believe you are a space-faring smuggler. Since Incarna, the developer's have taken us one step closer in letting us walk around in space stations (still no direct contact) which also adds another layer of immersion, and helps create some of the most camp looking avatar's in MMO history (I prefer the sunglasses and a look that says "I'm casual but I'm ready for anything.")
Perhaps EVE Online's biggest draw however, above and beyond the new interior bits or the awe-inspiring space stations, is its scalability. Whether you have the dimmest laptop or the mightiest gaming rig, New Eden is a forgiving mistress when it comes to processing power, meaning that you won't have to earmark a thousand dollars to make the game actually run - and that's what we like, humble yet attractive.
Eve Online is a game in which you can run quests in the morning, build a spacecraft for lunch, and pretend to be an inter-galactic Gordon Gecko for the afternoon. No MMO has ever come quite as close in achieving the multi-faceted, "make your own adventure" that defines this genre. Starting out with a tiny ship and without a single credit to your name, it is a player’s choice and individual journey that will lead them to the height of piracy, or even a freighting-empire.
The ever-refining tutorials now streamline the process from creation to first steps with easy to follow guides, as well as nudging you to a number of missions which give a taste for the various facets of the game. While newcomers will still suffer from what is known as "Eve-istentialism" at the enormity of the experience, CCP is doing their upmost to help this feeling dissipate.
And yet if you come from any traditional online game, you will be confused and scared by EVE Online. The lack of a level system, grind, humdrum questing, or even equipment (+135 Strength YAY!!) building will shock most people. This MMO takes a different tact, skills are gained in real-time, ticking over in hours or sometimes days, meaning that progress isn't about gaining an Engineering level 4, but the bits you do in between. The biggest indicator of success is in the ship you cruise around in, and the amount of money you have in the bank - sort of like a galaxy hopping rap artists: it's all about thruster-spinners and the fuzzy space-dice.
How you achieve riches and infamy within New Eden however, will be up to you. It isn't highfaluting talk to say that you could pirate the vacuum, or mine your way to fortune. Eve Online is developed is such a way that every play style is catered for, whether you want to be an action-ready pilot or instead a docile mogul looking for that chance to make it rich.
This is also one of the last few MMORPG's to emphasize the "multiplayer" part. Making it within New Eden will require a few choice friends, and seeing some of the more dangerous and exciting sights will definitely require a buddy or two. Low secruity space offers some of the most intriguing and thrilling moments of PvP known to the genre. This FFA full loot area will see paranoid groups mining for the finest ores, or even cruising asteroid belts looking for unaware opportunists - whatever the case may be, low-sec will never provide a dull moment.
From the economy to warfare amongst corporations, the individual can influence everything, and that is where this game shines. Like Ultima Online before, this is the type of game that you can proudly nail your colours the mast and proclaim that the experiment works, and you do indeed have a second life, in a galaxy far, far away.
But is it perfect? With a score winking a mighty 10 above, I'd say that whatever few negatives pale in comparison to the sheer volume of things that this game has going for it. For whatever cat-calls of it being too slow, too group-orientated, or indeed "We play to crush, not to bake bread!" well that's just missing the entire point of EVE Online: it is a virtual world, go out there and take advantage of it in its full glory.
Originally EVE Online was a slightly broken, online Elite with nods towards Ultima Online. Now almost 9 years later that game is the hulking Goliath that most sandbox MMORPGs look to emulate. From the exclusion of grind to the classless, limitless choices for your avatar, CCP's title is leading the way in terms of what can be achieved within the genre.
Like UO before it, the game bangs the drum of the "playing to bake bread" in that it gives you the option to play an action-packed pirate, or a simple engineer. This is the type of game that truly brings to life the idea of virtual world and finding your own place within it. Even before we exclaim about player-driven markets, low-sec space, or the countless ways its developer's have overcome the most extensive genre issues, EVE Online is first and foremost the greatest definition of the term MMORPG. Innovation is what its Icelandic studio guzzles for breakfast.
Developing an MMORPG over the course of many years must become like a routine juggling act. On the one hand, maintenance, patching, and refining must all be attempted, but tweaking one thing might cause the whole thing to fall to a crumbled mess on the floor, with several angry little people caps locking "OMFG NEWB RUINED THE GAME". To this end, CCP have done a very admirable job in keeping this game in check, whilst continually adding and tweaking in whatever way they see fit.
EVE Online will rarely splutter or stall, neither will it kick you out like a stroppy horse. Through years and years of continually bettering their product, the Icelandic developer has, with gaffer tape and lots of spittle, forged a well-made, tight game. Now just get on with remaking those newbie ships.
Most MMORPGs are victim to what is known as the "locust player". This is the type of gamer that will not rest, sleep, eat, or poop before they can claim that they dinged 50 before the servers even opened. CCP have once again bucked the trend by offering a game that makes it not only unconquerable with days, but even within months you will still be training skills and juggling abilities.
What this means is that not only is the experience in New Eden vast, but also there are many ways in which to go back through it all, never doing the same thing twice. With so many skills and with those taking a finite amount of real-life time, unless you have dual accounts alts are essential to the experience, as well as time consuming to make: the result being that you'll be playing EVE Online for a very long time.
Given that the game is now almost a decade long in the tooth, socialising within EVE is a mixed bag. As the game is largely is a group-driven affair once you hit the midway point, being pleasant is a must; thankfully CCP offer a seemingly unlimited amount of chat tabs to facilitate this. From the always bustling "Rookie" channel, to the randomly assigned beginner corp it is easy to find someone to help or conversely provide a choice insult.
While finding a guild or likewise group of players may be difficult in some MMOs, Eve Online is geared up towards finding that special set of comrades. The "Recruitment" tab for instance will have you stalked by desperate cooperation members as you merely utter a timid "LF Corp" and aside from a small minority of elitist veterans, the experience is almost always friendly.
Like most games of Eve Online's age, it boasts a subscription fee, albeit with the caveat of a new micro-transaction shop. While some might view this as an archaic method in these new hip "freebie" times, CCP have also managed to muster value for that money in the sheer amount of free content updates they put out. From Castor to Crucible, that is 16 expansion-sized additions that the developer's have put out, all for the price of your loyalty and a subscription fee. Can we really see fairer than that? Well perhaps lower the monthly fee slightly.
Eve Online is a truly special MMORPG. Regardless of your predilection for sandbox or theme park gaming, CCP have created a piece of entertainment that truly exhibits what we are all here to talk about, moan about, and generally wish for. Whether you're an adoring subscriber, neutral admirer, or disgusted space-hater, you can't deny that this one of the MMORPG-all time greats. If I had the authority I'd name it our Massively-Multiplayer President, and we'd all follow it to the moon - shame Bill Murphy won't let us (fat cat with his finger on the button).