“OK guys I wantcha to align to Vard annnd... warp. That gate is green on land.”
Our FC – Fleet Commander – takes EVE very seriously indeed. This is great because I have no idea what I'm doing. The soothing computerised voice of the ship fills my ears: “Warp drive active.” I arrive out of warp and, per the FC's instructions, jump through the waiting Stargate.
“I got three purples, four, OK we're all here.” The FC's taking care of his newbie charges, babying us through the basics. Our scout is already in this system, checking out the various instances we can warp to for anything interesting. His reedy voice fills comms: “Not much on d-scan, oh waitaminnit I got... a Merlin and a Slicer in the open?”
“Guys how brave are we feelin'?” The FC doesn't wait for an answer, and starts to jump the fleet while barking at the scout. “Let's go! Get in there and scram 'em, I want webs!”
I watch our warp drives activate one-by-one, as space begins to shift around the fleet. I double-check my keyboard hand's position. My throat tightens. Time to die.
My ship lands out of warp, in front of gas clouds in the far distance almost silhouetting this solar system's sun. I click 'lock target' on the two flashing yellows in the overview I spent hours customising. The Slicer and the Merlin are both serious ships, and it idly occurs to me that this might be a bad engagement despite superior numbers. But I start approaching in a manual zigzag; now is the time for my Kestrel's true might to be shown.
“Webs webs webs!” The FC is barking at his clueless fleet. “What the hell is that Kestrel doing?”
Oh shit. Erm... floating elegantly? “On my way!”
“Shoot the god damned thing!”
I activate every module I've got, even the ones that aren't in operational range, because I'm a noob. We have five ships and the Slicer has taken down one – our unfortunate scout who managed to 'scram' him, i.e. mess up his warp drive so he can't escape, but didn't get away in time. Luckily the Merlin, hesitant to abandon his buddy, has been scrammed and is being destroyed by two of our fleet. He's soon down and it's four-on-one.
In a straight fight a well-piloted Slicer would destroy any of us. But this guy's already switched targets once, a foolish mistake, and even in the cold depths of space I can smell his fear. I know that right now he's not thinking about the fight, but about how much this is gonna cost him. Our frigates cluster around the stricken ship like ants on a wingless dragonfly, I click my modules like mad, and explosion after explosion reverberates through the vacuum.
With a final mighty crack the Slicer splits apart. I didn't get the last hit, but I feel like a hero anyway. Endorphins flood my system to saturation and I look out over the star-speckled backdrop to my first successful engagement in EVE. I'll never forget it. Some of my fleetmates scramble to lock onto the guy's ejected Capsule, but as a gentleman I refrain – and am secretly pleased to see it suddenly accelerate into the distance.
Nothing compares to EVE PvP.
My first two months in EVE were marked by a kind of foolhardy bravery. I figured that, seeing as most players are so daunted by the prospects of what might happen to them in low-security space (lowsec) or null-security space (nullsec), I'd go out and find it – who knows? And in general it really wasn't all that bad.
What I'd do was simple – some nights when I needed to chill out I'd fit up a super-cheap Kestrel, a tier 1 frigate, make sure my clone was in order and then pick a spot in EVE's gigantic universe. The only rule was that I had to end up in nullsec. And then I'd try to fly there, and see what I could see along the way.
I'd read so many horror stories of new players getting bummed beyond belief in their first few weeks and, while I was sure that would happen to me at some point, I wanted to know what was out there. I practised scanning new systems as I arrived, seeing if I could tell when I was in trouble, trying to judge when to stick around and when to just get out of dodge.
The first thing that will happen to you in EVE, if you're caught, is a notification on the screen saying that some dirty so-and-so is interfering with the ship's warp drive – scramming you so that escaping into space is no longer possible. This is an awful sensation; you're stuck until you either get out of range, kill the ship jamming you or (much more likely) die. The biggest shock, in a way, is the sudden inertia – where before you're bouncing from gate to gate at speeds beyond comprehension, now you're locked in a little deathloop with Jimmy Scrambler and have to manoeuvre in close proximity.
The fights themselves are about managing your ship's systems, squeezing everything out of the available modules while at the same time trying to keep at an optimal distance for your chosen weapons – which will almost certainly be different to that of your opponent. Take away the lasers and missiles and you'd simply see two ships, vast in their own right but specks on this cosmic canvas, gracefully pivoting around each other.
These nights taught me the most valuable lesson I've had in EVE. The intricacies of PvP are endless, but the key skill is in picking the right fight. As I became more experienced at navigating, I began to see opportunities where maybe – just maybe – I stood a chance. Other solo frigates, or the odd hauler. And I'd have a pop. The first time I had a fight that lasted for a few minutes, even though I ended up losing, felt like a personal triumph.
Sure, on these long journeys I got caught more than a few times and utterly destroyed (hence my antipathy to pod-killing). Sure, I didn't kill anyone. But most of the time I was running – and it was great. There's no feeling quite like seeing a group of guys out to get you, and accelerating to warp speed just as they get within scramming range. If this game had a button to flick Vs in the rearview mirror, I'd have worn it out.
I sometimes waver between thinking EVE is the greatest game in the universe, and thinking it's the greatest screenshot-generator in the universe. On these long and lonely trips into the unknown – with the occasional frisson of sighting other, much more competent, pilots and dashing into the distance – it has never looked more beautiful.
As I've learned how to better fit ships, started joining fleets, and moved around with a little more confidence, that basic lesson's never quite left me. It's not that I'm a pro PvP-er now by any means, or even much of a threat to players who know what they're doing. But I'm beginning to know where I stand and that, rather than all the skills and fittings in the world, is EVE's take on PvP writ large. It's not the size of the dog in the fight that matters; it's picking the right dogfight. And four-on-one never hurts.
In next Monday's third and final diary entry, Rich joins a Corporation and gets blown up lots.