EVE has been going from strength to strength in 2009. It broke its previous peak concurrent user record of fifty thousand players earlier in the year, and now Apocrypha, the tenth free expansion for EVE Online, is upon us. While the previous expansion, Quantum Rise, was a little light when it came to new content, Apocrypha is bristling with new features and upgrades.
One of the first things that current players will probably notice upon logging into their shiny new client, are the effects. Every effect in the game, from lasers to shield boosters, has been completely redone. It's been more than a year since CCP introduced their Trinity engine, and gave us enhanced ship and structure models, so it's very nice to see the effects finally catch up with the rest of the game. Shadows have also been upgraded, with ships and objects now casting proper shadows.
There has also been another, more important, change to the graphical side of EVE: the discontinuation of the classic client. Now there is only the "premium" EVE client, which is split into two different versions; "premium" and "premium lite". Obviously, this increases the system requirements to run the game, with a graphics card that supports Shader Model 2 being the new minimum and some people are, unfortunately, going to be left behind, but the requirements are still low enough that only people with relatively ancient hardware are going to be affected.
EVE has also just been re-released at retail, which should mean an influx of new players on the server. It's a slow burning, complex beast of a game and all of the reports of EVE having a learning "cliff" are entirely justified. So it comes as no surprise that CCP is making a determined effort to make those first few days less troublesome with an updated "New Player Experience".
The introduction movie has been replaced with one using the current game engine, which is very fancy, but each of the four main races also has their own cultural "trailer". These can be seen through the completely new character creation screen. All of the choices are made on one simple page, but the most noticeable change is that every character starts with roughly the same skills and attributes, and your choices of bloodline and race have no tangible effect on your character. What this means is that, unless you want to spend hours getting your character portrait just right, it's possible to create a character with the race and background that you want in seconds.
Once you've made your dashing capsuleer and run through the "crash course" tutorial, you are now presented with three different career path tutorials. Each one is a ten mission arc that focuses on a particular area (combat, industry, or business). As well as giving you information on each area, the missions reward you with relevant items. The combat path, for example, gives you better ships and weapons as you progress, as well as basic combat skill books. This kind of progression, while business as usual for most MMOs, is a massive leap forward for EVE in terms of introducing players to the game. These tutorials also provide links to the new EVElopedia wiki articles, which contain more information and advanced tutorials for players to go through at their leisure.
All of these changes are very nice, but there are two outstanding additions that affect both new and old players alike. Quite possibly the most requested feature ever; the skill queue, has changed skill training for the better. Instead of having to log on and set a new skill training each time one finishes, you can now queue up multiple skills (as long as the last one starts within twenty fours hours) and just walk away. New characters have a ridiculous amount of skills that can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours to finish and logging in to change each one is just no fun. The skill queue allows them to clear that hurdle and get on with actually playing the game. Skill training in EVE is now something you just check on now and again, rather than something you have to keep a constant eye on.
While I'm on the subject of skill points, it's also worth noting that characters now start with substantially fewer skill points than they did previously, but will train at double the rate until they reach a certain skill point cap. Instead of being given a large block of skills, including some you might not want, you can now pick the skills that are relevant to what you want to do.
The second new feature is the ability for any character to redistribute their current attribute points. So, along with removing the danger of dodgy stats from character creation, it's possible to get rid of those extra charisma points you don't need and put them into, say, willpower or perception instead. New characters get two free attribute remaps, but after that they are limited, just like everyone else, to one remap every twelve months.