I've been playing EVE Online for a week, in a corporation at war with three others and a strict policy of non-aggression except in self-defense. But somehow, I've managed to get away with not being blown up yet.
Losing ships and equipment is punishing in EVE. It's not like what I'm used to in MMOs where you generally get to keep your stuff, and death is a mild inconvenience. When some veteran player loses their huge vessel they are not getting it back. Even if you decide to take out insurance on a ship, it won't completely cover your losses.
This is another thing about the game that players love and I'm unsure of. I think it does interesting things for the game, for sure. But I don't yet know if I'll latch onto EVE enough in the long term to be able to truly accept that kind of setback as a vital, even welcome part of the game.
So it's almost a shame that I've survived so long. My ability to stay alive may just be luck, but after a few days I thought it would almost be nice to break the streak. If only to get a taste of the sort of losses EVE will expect me to deal with.
I don't want to force it - I want my first explosion to be honest. But after dipping my toe into exploring in high and low security space, I felt it was time for the next challenge: Thera.
The High Life
Before I get to Thera, I ought to bring you up to speed on how life in the higher security systems has been treating me. The primary concern here is war, because it makes ordinarily secure space trickier. Common tactics include sitting ships outside of trade hubs, waiting for those legal war targets to get tempted towards them, or even camping outside gates on common routes.
It's been interesting how different my reaction to this kind of behaviour has been in EVE as opposed to, say, Elite: Dangerous. In the latter, I have no time for PvP without consent. Part of it is that there are just not all that many strategies for a player to avoid someone who wants to blow them up or take their stuff except not to be there. Since there's no form of guild system or proper player economy, it's much harder to build strength in numbers. And so piracy seems all too easy and the consequences for the offender seem far lower than the rewards. People end up playing in solo mode or in groups with strict rules about PvP, just to remove this often tedious aspect that they don't want to engage with.
In EVE, everyone plays in the same conditions. Things are tuned such that as long as you are willing to learn how (and accept all the clunkiness that sometimes comes with it), there are plenty of ways to improve your chances of survival in the early game, and joining a corporation with good new player support is a great help. One of the founding principles of the game seems to be that even new players with cheap equipment can find a way either to avoid fights or be a genuinely useful part of a larger fleet. That's a position I can at least respect.
As for me, I only had one run in with our unwanted enemies. I had been briefed on how to set up my interface to be alert to such threats. My reaction wasn't quite so prepared, with me starting a series of panicked jumps and warps through different systems, throwing my keyboard and mouse everywhere as I got pursued. I lost the pursuers, and I haven't seen one since.
I've mostly avoided trouble by staying out of heavily populated areas, and running my exploration in systems with very few other people. EVE has very solid tools for getting an overview on what has been happening in a system prior to jumping into it. But even then, I was unwittingly putting myself in extreme danger.
I found a Data Site in one system - that is to say somewhere with hackable objects which contain loot - and was very pleased with the haul of over 22 million ISK (the EVE currency). I had to bug out of the place pretty quickly when a load of NPC hostiles I was not equipped for showed up. Only later did I learn that this was a special sort of place called a Ghost Site. Had I known about them I'd have realised I was just one click away from the container I was hacking exploding and probably taking my ship out with it.
But while I did face dangers in high and low security space, I at least usually had a good handle on what danger looked like. Thera was another matter entirely.
Here a Wormhole, Thera Wormhole, Everywhere a Wormhole Wormhole.
Thera is a special system in EVE, one of several only accessible through wormholes which connect distant areas of space. Within that category, it has the distinction of having the most wormhole connections. They're everywhere, and come into or disappear from existence with high regularity, usually only existing for a day or two.
The corporation I am a part of, Signal Cartel, make it their business to keep up to date and accurate mapping of these wormholes, as well as to use Thera as a launching-off point to all the most interesting spots to explore in the galaxy. A Cartel member had kindly promised to give me a guided tour.
I decided to equip myself with a brand new Covert Ops frigate (pictured above) for the trip. It was a calculated move - much more expensive than anything I'd flown previously, it would be a pain to replace, especially when you pack in the fancy cloaking device I bought. But being easier to hide and better at scanning would be most welcome here. The potential rewards, too, should be much more significant than what I was getting for running those high and low security sites.
The trip through the wormhole was painless, and my guide flawless. She showed me how to navigate more safely to the base using time-tested tricks. We watched our destination from afar as it was camped by several ships, and observed helplessly as one of our fellow members departed a little too slowly to escape.
When the coast was clear, we docked up and I'd made it to my new home. There was just one more order of business: Jump Clones.
In order to keep maintain an easy way back and forth between this new realm and the old place, I wanted something known as a Jump Clone, making it possible to travel back and forth instantly once a day, though leaving behind any ships and gear at the other location. Part of the plan was to fly back to my old home in a cheap shuttle, so that when I jumped back to Thera, my Covert Ops ship would still be there.
Only one problem. The wormhole I had come through had already closed up in the brief time we'd been docked. At first I thought my fears about this place versus my incompetence were coming true - I'd left my tour guide and immediately found myself unable to do even the simplest task like locate a massive wormhole. But no - it was really gone.
I was already getting a taste of the ever changing landscape of Thera. I would have to take a longer, more dangerous route back in my defenseless, uncloakable shuttlecraft. I flew as fast as my little space legs would carry me. Some close-runs later, I made it back to my high security base, and jumped back into Thera, activating my clone there.
EVE continues to reward my curiosity, and for that I'm willing to forgive many of its oddities, for now. In Signal Cartel, I've landed with as nice and helpful a crew as I could hope for. Yet there's still an undercurrent of something I'm not so fond of: a kind of reverence for the more unforgiving aspects of the game.
As I alluded to earlier, I respect EVE's purity in its PvP design but I do also wonder whether it too-readily favours mechanics intended to push people towards conflict. People are pushed towards trade hubs on easy-to-intercept routes. Wars make space less safe and can't be declined. The best ways to keep safe are awkward player-invented strategies. I do wonder what the game might look like if there was more incentive to get along in the first place. For my part, I'll try to be as friendly a face as possible.
First I just need to get out of the station alive.
Full disclosure - I spent a little extra real money on fitting myself out with the skills and equipment needed to make the Covert Ops upgrades possible. Doing this the old fashioned way would have certainly taken me considerably longer.
I'm still not sure how I feel about real money being able to let me skip weeks of progression in this way, but in its defence, it hasn't felt too much like pay-to-win. The skill tree feels more like specialisation than raw power, and experience in the form of actually playing the game is just as important as the skills backing it up. A rich kid with no time in the game isn't going to last a second.