Why 2024 is the year I'm playing EVE Online
I'm late to the party, I know. Almost 21 years late, in fact. In a world where huge new game releases are arriving just about every week or two, I found myself more curious than ever about EVE Online, the space MMO that's been kicking since 2003.
That could be down to the barrage of YouTube ads I've seen for it, or it could be a general malaise with my current MMO of choice, Destiny 2, which has freed up a little time (after all, Season of the Wish is going to last much longer, so there's no rush to grind the battle pass).
So, what's it like jumping into a 21-year-old MMO? As it happens, it's not quite as scary as I expected.
I'm no MMO veteran, but I cut my teeth in games media covering a variety of games-as-a-service titles, including Destiny. I'd consider myself pretty capable when it comes to learning new systems, but something about EVE Online always looked and felt so obtuse.
Every time I've seen the game, it's had a complex UI of overlapping, cascading windows, while every time I've heard about it it's been because its community pitted their huge fleets against each other in battles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And yet, what struck me during my guided tour of the game's new player experience from Community Developer CCP Swift, is just how relatively easy it is to pick up the basics, and how gradually it unfurls its UI to show you what's important and where to find it.
EVE Online players operate capsules which allow them to pilot a variety of ships, but also means that death is a setback, not the end. Players are resurrected as clones, and somehow that helped unshackle the idea of the game's veteran pilots gunning me down as a negative.
Sure, you lose your ship and your cargo can be swiped, but in the early stages, that simply wasn't an issue because I was too busy learning systems rather than making material gains.
It also doesn't hurt to fly with a fleet for protection, and it's this focus on community that sets EVE Online apart from so many of its similar, server-based contemporaries.
One Shard to rule them all
You see, most MMOs run on servers, which are serving players the same events at the same times, but they're not always linked. EVE Online is all on one 'shard', which makes it the largest single-shard MMO in the world, CCP Swift tells me.
Perhaps due to the work it would take, or because it's just more fun that way, CCP lets players control much of the game's economy and systems.
PvP is a great example of this. It can happen anywhere, but there are Police or reputation considerations to starting a skirmish in some areas. On the one hand, that means players can rob others before going down in a blaze of glory when the feds arrive. On the other, it means you can become a wanted pilot and be denied entry by some of the game's factions, all of which are player-driven.
Some factions, or Corporations, are autocratic, with one person making the decisions. Others have hierarchies. Some are just chaos, there to have fun and maybe make ISK (the game's currency) while doing it.
That does mean EVE's enjoyment can be somewhat diminished when playing solo, but in my short few hours playing so far, I've had plenty of offers to join Corporations - and the community is remarkably attuned to new players.
Once I've spent hundreds of hours building a ship to see it beset by pirates I may change my tune, but EVE Online's first impressions are positive - as are those of its community, something that's just as important as making sure the game is fun when looking into a new MMO.
EVE Online doesn't look a day over 20
While CCP Swift explains the New Player Experience, the game's tutorial, has been revised in recent years, it's also clear its visuals have received plenty of attention, too.
The EVE Online today looks lightyears ahead (get it?) of the EVE I saw someone playing back in 2008. It's maintained its industrial aesthetic, surrounded by inky black space and visually arresting set dressing, but there's no way you'd expect a 21-year-old game to look this good.
That's likely due to the consistency of its art style, with ships given the reverence they should be considering how long some of them can take to acquire. They're packed with detail, whether you're hauling coveted items from one system to the next, or looking to hunt down some rivals for a score.
Will I keep playing? It's hard to say, but not because of anything EVE has done - my first few hours with it have been a blast, and I'd like to find more time to play. It's more a case of still needing to catch up on some 2023 releases, and the potential for some big 2024 launches. Whatever happens, though, if you're curious about EVE Online, I definitely recommend jumping in and checking it out - there really is nothing else like it.
For more on MMOs, be sure to check out our list of the best MMORPGs to try in 2024.