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All That Glitters

This coming Wednesday sees the launch of Eve Online‘s most far-reaching patch to date: Trinity. Arguably Revelations Red Moon Rising had a bit more to say about the game was played, since it introduced capital ships and all the grand space-ganking that they entailed, but Trinity nevertheless adds new ships, freshly squeezed combat tweaks, and, of course, the long-awaited graphical overhaul.

It does look shiny, but I can’t help feeling that they did too well on the original visuals: Eve already looked pretty impressive, and now it just looks a couple of notches up the graphical ladder towards photo-realism… if such a term can be applied to fantasy spacecraft.

Read onwards for Eve thoughts and lovely screenshots.
The new visuals certainly update Eve’s fidelity – those spacecraft look all crisp and detailed, covered in lights and reflections and tiny windows. It gives an idea of where MMOs could go in the future – gradually repackaging the same world in fresh pixels – and, indeed, how they could have entirely different skins altogether. It might be possible to have a Steampunk skin for World Of Warcraft? Or an Art deco Everquest? Or a Star Trek Star Wars? Or not.

Anyway, what will really make a difference to Eve players are the new ships. They’re new toys and aspirational targets for the playerbase – giving the older and wealthier characters something to aim for – but they’re also going to have some impact on how Eve’s combat will play out.

Eve’s PvP combat is actually remarkably simple, although the overall range of options for ships and fittings of those ships is enormous. It’s simple because ships are like ‘deck’ card systems: you fit them out to complete a particular task and the selection of ships that you have in your fleet will determine what that fleet will be able to do, and how easily it will be able to do it. When two fleets collide the outcome is usually mathematical – except when quite unusual tactics are applied. It’s a game of rock, paper, scissors played with perhaps a dozen different items, and played between uneven numbers of players. This is one thing CCP have never really managed to deal with: the tendency to just try to get more people in your gang. I mean there’s every chance that the one guy with a rock will run into an entire fleet full of scissors (smart bomb vs interceptors?), but usually that’s not the case. What’s usually the case is that the bigger, better equipped fleet will win.

And this ties into one of my concerns about CCP’s direction with the game as a whole: jump-capable ships. One of the main tactics in Eve has always been to scout the enemy, to work out what ships they’re in and therefore what kind of deck is stacked against you. Being able to judge that by seeing your enemy coming at your from nearby systems has always essential, and pulling off a sneaky attack by getting close without being scouted is equally satisfying. Now though the ludicrously powerful capital ships are to be joined by jump-capable battleships – the Black Ops – and supplemented by ‘jump bridges’ that allow alliance members to jump between various points in their galactic infrastructure. No longer can fleet commanders rely on their network of scouts to keep the fleet safe, because a smaller, weaker fleet, or even an equally matched fleet, is just as likely to be a trap with jump-capable reinforcements just a few seconds away. This has, for me, removed one of the most vital aspects of Eve’s tactical game. Good scouting has been all the more difficult to come by.

There are ramifications for logistics too: jump-capable ships don’t have to run the gauntlet of blockades, or be escorted through dangerous systems: they simply jump past it all. Getting a freighter from a) to b) might once have been a challenge, and an opportunity for enemies to deliver a creative ambush. Now though all your toys can be delivered safely to their destination, with barely a sliver of possibility that a badguy will be able to get in the way.

It’s always been the case that Eve’s combat has evolved and changed: there’s never been a single, ultimate tactic that has lasted too long. But I’m uneasy about the future. After all, Evolution is more than capable of reaching a dead end.

And yes, I know those are all Amarr ships – I just like that Lynch’s Dune golden chic… And no, they haven’t changed the weird docking ranges on certain stations, Janek.

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Jim Rossignol

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