Just as the vendors at the Turkish bazaar in Istanbul offer a caveat emptor on the wares that are hawked there, I will offer a caveat emptor on this review. I'm not a corporation leader. I'm not the top villain on the bounty list. I'm not an industry magnate who refines ores or has access to unlimited factory production space. I'm not anyone, for all intents and purposes, in EVE Online: The Second Genesis and perhaps that's the best way to approach the game in the beginning.
The biblically sounding game EVE Online tells of the distant future of a human race that is broken, literally, by the severance of the inhabitants who hail from Earth and those on the new frontiers of space, known as New Eden and accessed only through the EVE gateway. But then the gateway suddenly collapsed, and the humans left on the other side were left to their own devices. EVE Online puts you in the shoes of those humans, each developing traits suited to their own environments.
As a persistent universe, EVE Online maintains qualities similar to other titles of its genre. A great deal of the game has to do with the generation of income and the procurement of material resources; better technology upgrades for your ship, more home bases, favourable connections to factions that are found in the game - all the attributes of achievement in an online world. There are different avenues to this objective: making money by mining minerals, trading commodities or couriering goods, hunting down people for bounties and doing missions for 'agents' or NPCs that are in the game.
No matter which route you take, one aspect of EVE Online dominates the entire gaming venture and that's capitalism. EVE Online's weltanschauung is capitalist par excellence. What are known as clans, guilds and teams in other online worlds are known as corporations here.
Corporations have CEOs and shareholders. Rule is not by dictatorship but by a consensus amongst members. Open up your "wallet" and you don't see just how much money you have, but a window for receivables and payables. Insurance can be bought on the ship you're trading with. Courier or Fedex type missions aren't simple at all; you must foot collateral on the goods you carry before you can even embark on the mission. And while each space station is outfitted with services like the ability to repair or outfit your ship, the only unique entities are corporate offices, hangars and brokers.
Yes, EVE Online does really sound like a business and while you're never hard pressed to join a corporation, corporations are a requisite to accessing the higher-level functions in EVE Online. Blueprints to battleships, construction of battleships, extracting resources to build these behemoths and filing them into a factory to create the necessary ingredients are some tasks that are beyond the grasp of one person.
It's the extracting resources part that takes up most people's time in this game. Even if you were to steal or pillage from the regular NPC driven convoys, it'd take awhile. Like in all capitalist societies, the directors and CEOs are only great because they are supported by underlings willing to do the mundane stuff. In the hierarchy of first, second and third world nations, most of us will have to try our hand as a mining peasant in EVE Online, extracting ores to fuel the creation of products.
Another interesting facet of EVE Online is its dynamic economy. Many products are made and sold by people. Missions themselves can also be chartered by people, giving them that much more ownership of the universe. For every NPC corporation, there are player-controlled corporations to match them.
Relying too much on the onus of humans, however, proves to be a double-edged sword for developer CCP. For starters, a stroll through
EVE Online message forums will net you a variety of problems – mainly to do with what to do at higher levels of the game. And a lot of it has to do with the catalyst of players. At any one time, I see maybe 3000-5000 active players. That's not a whole lot if you're counting on them to build their own ships, mine and manufacture their own items, hence the economy tends to be skewed or pulled towards the magnates' agendas, not your personal one.
The other problem is the barren population level. The EVE Online universe is, for the lack of a better word, massive. Even using autopilot and a number of navigation chicaneries (including bookmarks, a 'people and places' address book, 'safe' versus 'fast' waypoint selection) will result in tens of minutes of real time passing by before you get to your destination. Multiply this for the many times you'll do your rare ore processing or NPC agent missions and you'll realize it's no joke when people say the universe stretches to infinity. I wish CCP would close some of the frontiers down for the time being to get the players closer together.
By now you've probably heard that EVE Online has a steep learning curve. Much of it is because of the aesthetic design. EVE Online looks like a Linux front end, like GNOME or KDE. Everything is driven by the right-click, which produces a context-sensitive menu. Right-click a space station and you'll see the feature to dock. Right-click a threat and you'll see a feature to lock on. It's not exactly intuitive but it gives the game great depth since other titles simply use the keyboard.
If that were used in EVE Online, the one hundred or so keys on your keyboard would be used up pretty fast.
There are many places where the translucent menus and resizable dialog boxes work well. I liked the fact that I could keep my Journal on top of every other module I accessed in the EVE interface. That way, I could keep tabs on where I needed to be going, whether I was on the star map or in front of the ship's scanner. You can also chat and check your e-mail (or eve-mail) while on your travels.
In fact, working a bit like KDE's Konqueror browser, you have a mini-web browser built into the system. Using the browser, you're allowed to check up on the website of other corporations. Some corporations have even implemented tools like trade route calculators or notepad functionality - this is the stuff of dreams for players of the antiquated Tradewars 2002 BBS game.
The steep learning curve isn't helped by a short introduction into the game. I don't know how many times I heard from the starter NPC agent that there is a lot to the game, that I must progress through the tutorial missions carefully, that I must not deviate until I've learnt the basics. But there are less than a handful of missions assigned to this. You learn how to conduct combat, mine ore, trade and do a Fedex style quest. After that, that's it. You aren't told that your ship probably won't be able to do any long-range Fedex quests. You aren't told things like how the different security ratings and faction affability ratings work for or against you. You aren't really instructed on how market dynamics work and I don't honestly recall them even mentioning that you should buy insurance once you move past your starter ship. The intricacy of running a corporation? Better find your own book about it.
Luckily, a lot of these things are documented in a hyper-linked online help. You can read them at your leisure and it seems more up to date than the actual website for the game itself. If you seek help on the message boards, the contents oscillate between the mundane (how do I get past the starter missions) to the very complex, so there's little help for the median.
Many elements are yet to be introduced into EVE Online. It's still very much a work in progress in terms of content. Some of the more pronounced bugs, like getting stuck during warp transit, are being quashed. But unless the interface tightens up, I can foresee problems as the game grows. For example, with so many logistical decisions involved, I can't foresee a CEO of a hundred person strong corporation actually having anything to do with the day to day work. You're probably too busy creating safe houses and organizing production and personnel, not to mention an up to date in-game (as well as off-game) website, that you'll barely have time to go "explore". Maybe that's why I'm not the CEO.
EVE Online does have a few answers to current dilemmas plaguing the online game space. The need to spend forty hours a week in order to advance your character is solved by setting your character to train and having him or her advance in real time, even while you're at work, soccer or yoga classes.
Furthermore, the game looks stellar - much better than its rivals and on par with Digital Anvil's recent Freelancer. Although comparing EVE Online with Freelancer or Westwood's Earth and Beyond isn't fair (it's really comparing apples and oranges), the visuals and the theme will most likely lead most people the pass judgment based on the other two.
It's also a pity that EVE Online missed its initial launch date, making it seem like a latecomer to the game.
The quintessential difference between this title and its competitors
(Earth and Beyond and Freelancer come to mind) is the detail. There is so much detail and so much planned to expand on those details that you could literally be enthused on tangents for months at a time. If you can get past the initial learning curve, and the mercantilist or capitalist theme interests you, EVE Online is hearty enough to become your main pastime on the PC. But, what a glorious year it is for space-borne games; now we have two massive universes and a riveting single player title after years of drought in the genre.