Updated Wed, May 18, 2011 by Space Junkie
Though EVE Online continues to publish two free expansions per year, there are also periodic updates that, while not total game-changers, are still a big deal. This patch is one of them, especially given how near and dear missions are to EVE players' hearts.
The Categorical Imperative
The biggest change of this patch is that agents will no longer be divided into 21 categories. Previously each agent would have a percentile change of giving combat, mining, trading, or courier missions. Out of all the agent types, only one (internal security) had a 100% chance of giving you missions of a particular type (in this case, combat missions).
Missions are the bread and butter of EVE Online. Most players will like these changes.
Henceforth, agents will be split between four categories that absolutely determine the mission type that will be offered. The result is that if you want to run combat missions, you can find a combat mission agent and run them to your heart's content without periodically getting assigned a mining mission.
The four mission categories and their mission types are:
It is not currently known whether trade missions feature at all, but I would guess that they are folded in with courier missions under distribution.
These changes unquestionably make things simpler for new players. Veteran players will also be able to exert more agency as to what missions they run. Nevertheless, there are some stalwart pilots that are disappointed by this change. I'm honestly a bit surprised, but it seems like some people enjoy the thrill of not knowing what kind of mission they would be assigned. Perhaps CCP will eventually re-introduce an agent that gives random missions some time in the future to mollify these chaos fetishists.
Since the agent divisions are being consolidated, there will no longer need to be quite so many skills dealing with them. The set of skills that increased loyalty-point payouts has been consolidated as well. These skill points are being refunded, though the ISK spent on them will not. Unfortunately, these skills were kind of expensive, so I imagine some people will be unhappy about that.
The second major change to missions is that agents will no longer have quality level, per se. Instead they will be accessed as though they have -20 quality level, but offer rewards as though at +20 quality level.
Previously, quality level was essentially a more minute gradation of the agent level system, with higher quality agents necessitating higher standings to use them and benefit from their superior rewards. It was, however, kind of complicated, and I don't think anybody will miss them.
This is a huge change to the way mission hubs work in EVE Online. Previously, the best corporations to run missions for were those with a lot of level 4, quality 20 agents in the same solar system. One could ask each of them for missions, accept the lucrative offers, decline the less lucrative or more time-consuming offers, and generally make a big ol' profit.
Now, every agent of level 4 is just as good as any other, so advanced mission runners no longer need to spend their time in Motsu (or wherever), and need not only run them for a few select companies. I expect that over time players used to living in these mission hubs will diffuse throughout high-sec in a sort of brownian motion.
Importantly, this gives some of the less popular factions a major facelift. Probably the best example of this the Thukker faction. Previously, the Thukker had very limited options for missions: their best level 4 agent that offered combat missions was quality 0. All the better agents located in more dangerous areas of low-sec and null-sec. The result was a disproportionately low number of people would run missions for them, and the items available exclusively from the Thukker (like nomad implant sets) were over-priced.
The agent changes will also make running pirate missions in NPC-controlled null-sec more palatable. Previously, all of the best pirate agents would be located in just a couple of systems, meaning that players looking for PvP targets would hang around there, making it disproportionately dangerous. After this change, every pirate faction will have better options with regard to agents without needing to cram within the same death-trap solar systems.