It's the Economy, Stupid
EVE is a space game with a thriving economy, but it could be easily argued that EVE is an intricate economic simulation with a fancy, outer space interface. The economy of EVE is both the most complex and most rewarding feature of EVE. Ore, minerals, goods, items, ships, skills...everything in EVE is for sale and the mantra of, "buy low, sell high" applies. The economy is driven by players in pursuit of Interstellar Kredits, or ISK. (Note: ISK is also the international currency symbol for the Krona, the primary currency of Iceland. CCP, the developer of EVE is based in Reykjavik, Iceland.) NPC corporations manufacture ships, but they need minerals to do so, and those minerals are supplied by players. If no one is mining ore, then no minerals are refined which means no items are being manufactured which means no ships are being assembled. Money can be made providing myriad services in this economy. Mining ore brings a price, as does transporting minerals, etc.
Players who build large ships may offer to buy ore from other players. They may also offer other players a contract to transport items to the station where their manufacturing facility is. The builder then sells his ship for a profit and then proceeds to work on another ship where the whole process starts again. It is very much like a real world economy, and just like the real world, the supply and demand factors change. One station may sell spirits for 40 ISK/unit and another may buy them for 56 ISK/unit. After a few trade runs, however, station A starts selling for 42.50 and station B buys for 53, and the gap continues to narrow as the supply and demand normalize. The economy is dynamic which presents the EVE player with a unique challenge: there are better ways to get ahead than rushing out and killing things. Even when killing and looting is the primary source of income, the market comes into play. The nearest station may be buying that generator for 23,000 ISK, but with a bit of market research, a player may find that a station two systems over is paying 47,000 ISK for the same item.
Here is where EVE shines. No other massively multiplayer has as rich an economy as EVE. Most games are populated with NPC merchants that pay X gold for an item every time. In EVE, there are literally hundreds of places to sell goods, each with a different price and a different amount needed. If one has 15 cargo expanders and the station with the high price only needs 7, that's all they'll buy and he'll have to peddle the rest elsewhere. If the current station is paying 300 ISK for his goods and a station is paying 500 ISK for the same, he has to decide if it's worth the time and risk to cross 12 systems, 2 of which are in hostile, unprotected territory, to make a little extra money. The options and considerations are almost endless.
Let's Get Ready to Rumble
But isn't this a space game? Isn't there combat? Most certainly. In EVE a player can outfit his ship and head out to take on the bad guys, be they NPC pirates or other players. Combat, however, is more of an exercise in computer based warfare than aiming, shooting and maneuvering. It's lock on, set the ship to approach the target, and then activate the weapon. During the fight, an eye must be kept on shields and damage, making sure energy isn't draining too quickly, and reloading weapons that may need it. It's not aiming the crosshairs and dodging laser shots. Remember that this is a MMORPG, and the combat here is not unlike combat in a fantasy based game, in which one selects his enemy, attacks, and then watches his health and magic.
Not that this is necessarily boring or slow. A pilot may find himself warping into hostile space only to be greeted by 6 enemies. He must target the ships, aim weapons, and watch the status of his opponents. Just like in a sword and sorcery game, one down level opponent is not a challenge, but several all attacking simultaneously may put one in jeopardy, especially if he's running low on ammo. The real combat challenge, however, comes against other players. EVE is pure PvP. Anyone may be attacked by anyone just about anywhere. Systems with high security are patrolled by powerful police ships that come quickly when there's trouble, so players are in little danger there. But out in the unpatrolled systems attacks come swiftly and with little warning. Battling another human being is never an easy task and in EVE, a player in a smaller, faster ship may be able to take out a larger ship depending on tactics.
Missiles are good for long range attacks, but they are slow and can be outrun by some ships. Lasers and railguns are designed for close combat, but they pack less punch. Other enhancements such as shield hardeners, combat drones and targeting systems can give pilots an advantage in combat situations. Just possessing greater firepower does not guarantee victory, though. Understanding one's ship and equipment is often as important as the number of guns one has. While it's not fast paced FPS/Space Shooter style combat, it can often get intense and the battle may well go to the player with the cooler head.
We're So Pretty, Oh So Pretty, We're Vacant
EVE boasts some of the prettiest graphics in computer gaming. Some have said that it's not too difficult to draw space. Well, that may be so, but it's what fills space that makes this game look so good. Ships and stations are highly detailed. Light and shadow show the texture of rotating asteroids. Nebulae paint wispy shrouds across systems as warping ships sail the solar winds. Even EVE's harshest critics must concede that the graphics are stunning. Zooming in and out on the ship is seamless and shows the scope of the interface. Inside the stations are just as well done. In some, hover traffic speeds by below the ship. In others, scrolling marquees and floating billboards move about. The graphics bring the world of EVE to life.
As good as the graphics are, they are only matched by the sound. It borders on sinful to play EVE with the music off. Jon Hallur's score is one of the best composed for any game and rivals some of the best Hollywood has to offer. From ethereal dirges to epic marches, the musical score puts the player squarely in the EVE universe. It is amazing how much a professional score, properly done, adds to a gaming experience. Sound effects are well done also, from the crackle of a mining laser to the dull rush of a warping starship. In all aspects, EVE is aurally magnificent.
The biggest drawback to EVE, given that it is a massively multiplayer role playing game, is how solitary one feels at times. Space is a big place and one often finds himself alone in the void. Other players are always available for chat, but all one sees is a portrait in a chat window. Even when "face to face" with another player, the cold countenance of a non-animated portrait, coupled with a slowly moving ship, does not engender a sense of connection between players. So much of the game can be accomplished alone that it often feels like a bunch of gamers playing solo in a common universe. The social aspect of EVE is sorely lacking. Most MMORPGs are adding more things like emotes and other things that animate the avatar. EVE's portraits are static and dead. This is not to say that there is not player interaction here. The chat window stays alive with conversation, but the players could be anywhere in the universe, and even seeing a ship fly by during a conversion does not give the other player any real identity.
Another issue is the learning curve of the game. A brand new player to EVE will likely find the interface confusing and the goals unclear. The tutorial is good to give the player an intro, but beyond that, the game becomes intimidating, if not overwhelming. EVE has a very good network of player guides and CSRs in game who are usually available to answer questions. Also, the Help channel and the Rookie Help channel are always filled with veteran players who are quick to answer questions. Regardless, EVE is not for the casual player. A person must really want to play EVE to stick with it. Once the learning curve is surmounted, the interface is really very intuitive and the good design becomes evident, but getting there is not the easiest chore.
Once a player makes the decision to stay with EVE, he may still find himself weeks or months away from getting to the meatiest parts of the game - particularly the mining of rare ores and the involvement in corporate wars. As seen with skills, it may take months of training just to get a character to a point where he is ready to fly the bigger craft. This is not out of the paradigm of the MMORPG. All MMORPGs require a time commitment to reach the upper levels of the game. But EVE's skill training implementation, while strong in many respects, removes the need to actually do anything other than try to make money. A savvy player will make enough money to buy a battleship well before he is ever able to fly it. It can only be frustrating to a player who has a fully equipped capital ship that he cannot fly because he must wait 10 full days to get the skills trained to use it.
EVE is unique in the MMORPG world, even among space flight themed games (of which there are few these days). It has certainly carved out a niche for itself and has established itself among an international fanbase. The community is surprisingly welcoming to newcomers, which is something not all MMORPGs can say. The game is not for everyone, but it is by no means a game that only a select few will enjoy. EVE continues to break its own records for subscribers and for simultaneous players (11,284 is the most recent record). With the upcoming Shiva expansion which promises new ships and player built structures (such as space stations), the future continues to look bright for EVE.
Or perhaps that's just the star in the next galaxy calling.