As I walked into the main hall at EVE Fanfest 2023, prepped for the keynote announcements, the giant screen in the Laugardalshöll Arena was tuned into the Twitch stream of the MMO. In front of me was the giant Jovian stargate, tiny blips representing capsuleers eager to see what was happening in orbit around the structure.
Within moments of me finding my seat, the lights on the stargate turned on, the gate itself shaking itself to life. Almost immediately, capsuleers began jumping into the unknown - a new system uncovered as part of the unfolding events of August's Epiphany update.
Warping in, the screen filled with clouds suspended in space. It was an awesome sight, full of movement, energy, and chaos. And that last feeling is fitting, thanks to the system being owned by the new Deathless Circle, a new mysterious faction that has come on the scene in EVE Online as part of the recent narrative push.
EVE Evolved In Action
For years, we've heard, and at times seen, talk from CCP Games about their EVE Evolved initiative. Effectively, the initiative is all about modernizing the tech underlying the MMO, as well as boosting the visuals of the world. Things like volumetric clouds, better shadows, reflections on ships, or improved animation work have been drip-fed over a series of updates in the past few years.
However, in that first glimpse of Zarzakh, everything was there. Violent, chaotic clouds dominate the sight line, the shimmer of a bubble that notes the point of no return in space off in the distance. Visually, it's the most interesting system I've seen in EVE since the Triglavian invasion, and possibly the most visually busy overall. Normally, the starfield dominates the screen, and while still beautiful, it can feel one note.
In Zarzakh it's drastically different. Every pan of the camera is a visual treat, especially as the black hole in the distance comes into view. The new station in the region looks so incredibly distinct from the normal structures we see in EVE Online that I can't help but feel drawn to it whenever I see it, whether on the stream or in the new trailer for the Havoc expansion.
It's great to finally see all of this culminate in such a beautiful, but brutal setting within EVE Online.
The Gravity Hazard. It's a new mechanic in the Zarzakh system that fundamentally changes the way capsuleers can navigate and engage with each other in the system. Outside of specific pockets in Zarzakh, general space has what's known as the Gravity Hazard. Leaving the safety of the area around a gate, or the station itself, the gasses, particles and more of Zarzakh slowly crush your ship, making travel hazardous.
Deadly is actually more like it.
This can fundamentally change how travel is done in the system, as many times, players are dropping bookmarks in the vastness of space to hide out, forming a fleet to travel to a target in force, and more. It's almost second nature now as I fly through a warp tunnel to drop a bookmark or two to fly back to later on to get my D Scan on.
However, because of the gravity hazard at play, this entire aspect of gameplay is not possible, thanks to the sheer amount of damage that will be done to the ship. And it's not damage that you can mitigate with shields and armor - it's direct damage to the hull. Your ship is being crushed, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Hell, the developers almost lost their ship in the initial stages of showing the zone off, thanks to this.
As a result, it forces capsuleers to effectively pool in specific safe areas, which naturally is going to lead to some fights. Within moments of the new region opening up, players began to shoot each other out of space. I mean, killing is just a means of communication, right?
There is no hiding from other players in Zarzakh - everyone is right there, ready to be dropped from the sky. As of the writing of this article, just over 24 hours since the system opened up, Zarzakh has seen over 3500 ships destroyed, totaling over 180 billion in ISK lost. Those are outrageous numbers early on, and it's only going to grow as more and more players try to push the limits and test the strains of the emergent gameplay in this new brutal system.
Zarzakh connects New Eden in a new way, also. The new gates leading into Zarzakh creates points of convergence for systems that might be completely far apart. As Peter "CCP Swift" Ferrell tells me at Fanfest, the new gates create opportunities for players to move around New Eden.
"It connects the universe in a way that's never really been connected before," Swift says. "You might be able to find a wormhole chain connection that'll get you from Turner to Venal, but this is a gate that will take you direct. So right now Venal and Curse are effectively connected, even though they are on opposite sides of the map."
Given that we are talking about EVE players, the expectation is that we will see them try to break and bend things as far as they can for an edge, also, especially thanks to the implications this new interstellar highway provides.
" It's going to be interesting to see how players react to this," Swift continued. "Is someone going to now move to Curse to try to control it because there is a gate? [Are] Fraternity and WinterCo going to just say, 'Oh shit, Venal - let's just evacuate it, it's going to be a wasteland,' or are they going to just dogpile in there and say, 'This is our new HQ, we gotta protect this?'"
It reminds me of the Niarja incident during the Triglavian Invasion, where this one vital system was dropped into Pochven, turning a fast route between Amarr and Jita into a slog now. This is the opposite. A trip that once took 60 jumps now can take just one - and the implications this provides are just wild.
As Zarzakh matures, the Deathless Circle is expanded upon, and Havoc's expansion deepens, it's going to be very, very interesting to see where things go. Zarzakh is the linchpin of it all. It's a beautiful, brutal system ready for the chaos that EVE players like to bring to every corner of the sandbox. And I can't wait to see more.