The twelfth expansion for EVE Online has arrived on the Tranquility server. Each of these bi-annual updates brings sweeping changes to the game, effectively kicking off a new age that players must adapt to, and this latest expansion is no different.
Appropriately titled Dominion, the main attraction is an entirely new Sovereignty system for those players wanting to seize and control the vast swathes of star systems in the outer reaches of New Eden.
The old system, based around setting up more Player Owned Starbases (POS) in a system than anyone else, has been stripped out in favor of a much simpler, if similar process. Now players must anchor just one of the new Territorial Control Units (TCUs) in an unclaimed system and defend it for twelve hours to claim Sovereignty, as opposed to the old method of keeping a POS active and alive for a whole seven days. Establishing Sovereignty then allows players to set up an Infrastructure Hub and start to cultivate their new home using the new Infrastructure system.
Every player-controllable 0.0 system with an online Infrastructure Hub can now be developed by the players operating within it. Destroying NPC pirates, mining the asteroid belts, and other activities all help raise either the Military or Industrial level of a system. This, in turn, will open up slots on the Infrastructure Hub for different upgrades (such as Pirate Detection Networks, or Survey Arrays) that can increase the quality and quantity of certain spawns in the system, making them much more profitable and capable of supporting many more players than before.
Whether this will this lure more people out into the wild west that is 0.0 space, or if this is a change for the better remains to be seen, though; at the time of writing, the Sovereignty Blockade Units (SBU) needed to disrupt control of a system have only just been put onto the market, and the grace period that allows existing strategic upgrades (such as Cyno Jammers and Jump Bridges) to remain online during the changeover is still in effect.
But what else is new in Dominion? What were players able to get their hands on after typing in their passwords onto the fancy new login screen? The Sovereignty changes are important to those already living in, or looking to move to, 0.0 space but that is only a small chunk of the total EVE Online population.
The old fleet menu has been stripped out built into the new Fleet Finder. This new icon, just below the wallet tab, will let you form your own fleet, or search for an existing one, and is the closest EVE Online has come to having a Looking For Group option. While I think it might be difficult for players to get used to banding together with strangers in a game that is notorious for scamming and backstabbing, the new tools that let fleet commanders see the ship composition of the fleet, or allow corp members to jump into a fleet without an invite has already been very useful in the roaming fleets that my corp runs on an almost nightly basis.
For as long as I've been playing EVE, it has always had an In-game Browser, but one that was barely functional. This is no longer the case, and while this new version is still missing Flash functionality, it does let us browse the web without having to alt-tab out of the game. The decrepit EVE-Mail system has been completely re-done and now resembles a modern e-mail client. Neither of these are game altering additions (and the "OMG I CAN POST ON THE FORUMS FROM IN-GAME!" factor has already faded away), but they are very welcome changes that have been a long time coming.
Upon entering their new, Dominion-era galaxy, players will also be greeted by the new star field and planet graphics. Planets, in particular, have looked quite out of place since the game's ships and structures were upgraded with the Trinity graphics engine, but now each of the thousands of planets look fantastic, and the screenshots for this article really don't do them justice.
Ship changes, as ever, have been the most exciting, and controversial, parts of the expansion. Navy Frigates and pirate vessels have all been given a new lease of life with new stats and abilities, and four new, navy versions of the Armageddon, Typhoon, Scorpion, and Dominix Battleships are now available from their respective loyalty point stores (As a frigate specialist, I was checking out the enhanced Navy Frigates as soon as they hit the test server, and will be purchasing some as soon as the prices drop out of post-patch insanity mode).
Capital ship warfare also saw a massive shift, with the replacement of the Titan Doomsday Device area of effect weapon with a single target "Death Ray" (think Death Star from Return of the Jedi). Without the common appearance of fleet-destroying smart bomb, the balance of power in 0.0 might be swinging away from the current state of "Capitals Online" and back to sub-capital ship fleets. The new Doomsday is already making its presence felt as incredibly useful anti-capital ship tool, and we've already started seeing kill mails of Carriers, and even Mother Ships, that were "one-shotted" by a single Titan.
Speaking of Mother Ships, I can't talk about the launch of Dominion without talking about where it stumbled. Essentially, Mother Ships were going to be renamed Super Carriers, and be able to wield the new anti-capital ship Fighter Bombers, but after weeks of testing and tweaking the intended changes were dropped, barely more than a week before release. This has left every Mother Ship pilot in the lurch, especially in the face of the new Titan super weapons, and reactions to the situation have been, unsurprisingly, rather heated.
CCP will, hopefully, be quick to recover from this miss-step with a future patch, and if the regular, post-launch updates that the last expansion, Apocrypha, received were a sign of how they intend to deal with expansions from now on, then we should be hearing some news about Dominion 1.1 very soon.
The "Age of Dominion" has begun, but it hasn't quite gotten up to speed yet.