Taking advantage of the 14 day free trail of EVE Online, I downloaded the Mac-native client and logged in. I created my first character, picking my way through each step of the creation process as carefully as I could, having almost no knowledge of the game. I ended up with Penny Ibramovic, a Caldari special forces operative, who dissents against the capitalist machine, and found myself in a space station.
I ran through the tutorial, which explained a lot of the basics of flight control, combat, and missions, and started to familiarise myself with the world. There is little keyboard control and a lot of clicking, although there are shortcuts available for the functions. It's fairly simple to control the ship and to find the right functions, but some bits can be a bit fiddly.
I really should mention more of the 'world', and it's a little surprising I've gone this far, even though it's only been two paragraphs, without mentioning just how huge it is and how stunning the vistas are. Calling up the star map shows what looks like a whole galaxy of pin-pricks of lights, each one a star, each one a system with multiple planets, asteroid belts, and space stations! At least, I assume they are all populated, and aren't going to have populations concentrated within a few dozen stars before becoming devoid of life like I found Frontier to be, but I think it's a good assumption to make in this case.
The sheer scale of the world is overwhelming, particularly when trying to comprehend what it means for your options, and there doesn't seem to be any barriers to entering unsafe areas as there are in other games, although the idea of the security level, ranging from 1.0 and being as secure as it gets to 0.0 being a lawless zone for pirates, gives a good idea of the type of area you're going. As far as I can tell, missions send you to parts of a system that aren't generally available to travel to, which makes them instanced in their own way, but I could be wrong about that and I just haven't played a mission in a low-enough security level to warrant intrusion yet.
As for the vistas, they are breathtaking. Each system is close enough to a nebula to get a beautiful background, and the planets are impressively large and imposing. The space stations, stargates and ships all look functional and interesting. Travelling with the use of the warp drive is a fabulous experience to start with, as space judders around you as you accelerate, leaving everything behind you pretty quickly. When the juddering stops you hit warp speed and even planets and stars whiz past. It's like the best bits of all the space games, tv programmes and films have been realised in a single game's visuals, and it is wonderful just to experience it.
In order not to break the immersion that the space environment builds so nicely the loading screens when transitioning between 'zones' are presented to the player as protocols. For example, docking and undocking have progress bars that show permission being granted and necessary services being performed, disguising what is actually being loaded whilst actually showing your progress. It's a nice touch.
My only problem with the beautiful graphics is that I don't think I can take screenshots of everything that visually impresses me. Whilst this is saving many gigabytes of hard drive space it is still a little frustrating. The reason I am flummoxed is because the keymapping for the screengrab command in EVE Online is protected, meaning that I cannot change the keymapping for that command, but the key it is mapped to is 'printscrn'. I have no 'printscrn' key on my Mac's keyboard, and I am not sure why the keymapping cannot be changed. I wondered if F13 performed the same task, and there is minor graphics lag when I press it, but a cursory glance hasn't found where the application may be storing any screengrabs or logs yet, although it must be doing so somewhere. I'll have another look soon.
I completed the tutorial and got hooked up with another agent, who gave me my first mission proper, Cashflow for Capsuleers. I accept it and head out, remembering how to set my destination and jumping to the required system. I then check my mission log and find that I need to intercept some pirates at an asteroid belt, but there is no detail about which asteroid belt. The system I am in has several planets, and most have at least one asteroid belt around them, some with a dozen. I check the mission log again and I'm in the correct system, and I still can't find a decent reference to which field I should be looking in.
I start checking the asteroid fields systematically but quickly get frustrated at the effort this is taking and know that there must be a better way. Either I'm doing something wrong or the game is seriously flawed for me. I decide to hit the web to find out what is going wrong. It takes a few hits to find the solution, and it takes a few hits because it turns out that I had forgotten the part of the tutorial that tells you to right-click on empty space at the destination system and select to warp to the deadspace area from the agent missions section. I'm still getting used to right-clicking with my mighty mouse, but I can manage that. I wonder what else I've forgotten from the tutorial.
I complete the mission and, over the course of the weekend, complete the chain of missions of which it is the first part. Over the course of the missions I manage to upgrade my ship to use some missiles, a shield booster and fit a better gun, and I worked out what an acceleration gate is and how to use it, after wondering why I had apparently got to my destination but couldn't see any pirates. I'm not sure if there is more to work out in EVE Online or if it is sufficiently different in style and theme that much previous game experience doesn't apply. What I need to do is stop worrying about trying to learn everything at once. I think I've done quite well to start with, and it shows that I'm capable of picking things up as I go, so more will come with time.
Learning isn't always a quick process. After I upgraded my ship's cannon I spent what must have been a good half hour jumping four systems back-and-forth between my base and mission working out that the new gun does indeed need some ammo and, after picking up a few hundred suitable rounds from the market, that it preferably needs to be loaded with more than one round for it to be effective in a fight. It took some time and was a little frustrating at not being particularly obvious, and I don't think making the process more transparent would detract from the atmosphere. Still, I got my gun loaded in the end, and worked out how to reload from my cargo hold when running low, and am getting a good idea of what fittings any particular ship has, what can be fitted, and what capacities and power drains they exert on the sytems. The more complicated aspects of ship system management will again come with time, and it would be foolish to expect to have to learn them so quicky.
My newly upgraded ship did not last too long. I was ambushed and didn't see the warning to warp out to safety that was hidden in my chat window at the edge of my wide screen. Instead, I stayed to try to fight the pirates and was promptly blown to bits, although my capsule survived and I was quick enough to get that back to the safety of a space station. As this was my second ship, a Condor given as a mission reward, I had my first training ship as a backup, and I used this to hop the one system away to pick up a Merlin that I bought from the market. The Merlin looked quite powerful, more so than the Condor, and I was almost glad that the Condor got blown up, particularly as I thought I got a good deal on the Merlin and the mission money was still rolling in. Even so, I took out an insurance policy on my new ship, just in case.
This got me back in to a position where I wondered how I was supposed to keep all my ships and items in one place. When I left the training station I couldn't carry all the items I had salvaged or received as rewards, and a packaged-up frigate won't fit in another frigate's hold, so I had to leave one ship in one station as I flew the other back to where I had tentatively set up my base. At the moment, with just one active ship and a replacement that I'm not likely to use, it doesn't seem to be too much of a problem, but I am left wondering if there are services that can be used either to get items shipped or shuttle services that let you fly without your own ship to another station to pick one up.
Another interesting aspect of EVE Online is the skill system. Skills are what enable you to fly certain ships, fit certain equipment, or build various items, as well as defining how well you can fly, shoot, or manufacture. You learn in real time, so that if a skill takes four hours to learn you will learn it in four hours, likewise for a skill that takes over three days to learn, but you don't need to be logged in or at a station to be training the skill. You are always learning, whether out on a mission, or asleep with your computer turned off, which makes it less of a requirement to have to dedicate large amounts of time to improve in-game abilities. It also makes it rather important to remember to have a skill being trained that will take at least as long as the down-time between logins to learn, to maximise the process.
There is a program that can be run separately from EVE Online to help with monitoring skill training times, called EVEMon. I tried to install the application, but Crossover Games had no luck installing it on my Mac, with it being a Windows-only application. Maybe I shall try to install it using Crossover Mac instead.
I'm enjoying my introduction to EVE Online overall. Missions were interesting and challenging enough, I was making money and learning about ship's systems and upgrades, and there was clearly far more to be discovered. The game is certainly complex and the amount of information to process and learn can be a little daunting, but taken in small chunks it seems manageable. I'll certainly be playing more during the trial period, and if the level of interest continues like this I will probably end up subscribing to the game.