Each new year brings a wave of changes to EVE Online. The game gets two new expansions, the players get better at killing and defrauding each other, and the game mechanics are tweaked for the better or for the worse. Let's take a look at what the past year has brought to EVE, and what the next year might look like.
Changes To The Game
The Tyrannis Expansion
The first expansion of 2010 was Tyrannis. I would characterize it as a mixed bag as far as expansions go. With it, players could use planets to manufacture various essential commodities. While the process is a bit annoying, there is no question that it has shifted a lot of wealth downwards toward newer players, and thrown many parts of EVE Online's economy into chaos.
The Tyrannis expansion also included EVE Gate, a not so revolutionary social networking tool that has been pejoratively called "spacebook". Not many people find it to be all that useful, and in hindsight CCP would probably have been better off making some kind of application that would integrate with the real facebook. Though I am sure that would have been prohibitively expensive, it would probably be a better use of resource than having a whole team build an effort-intensive web site that nobody would ever really use.
The Incursion Expansion seems to be popular thus far, and the main portion has yet to arrive.
Despite the economic chaos of this expansion, it was not well received because of the lack of polish of some of the features, lingering dissatisfaction with gameplay issues introduced in the Dominion expansion, and the revelation that CCP was not planning on expending much in the way of company resources to fix various glaring game issues. Following this becoming public, there were some major shake ups at CCP involving re-prioritizing the polishing up of various aspects of EVE.
The Incursion Expansion
The Incursion expansion reflected this newfound dedication to finished products: rather than release a rough patch and theoretically smooth it out over time, CCP opted to offer Incursion as a staged release. The first part introduced the Noctis ship, a dedicated salvager, with blueprints for them found only in the hilariously dangerous Outer Ring stations (dangerous for a week after the patch, anyway).
The next part of Incursion included the removal of learning skills, an early poor design decision that has haunted EVE Online since its creation. With their removal, every player, even the newest, will find themselves training as though that character had all the old learning skills trained. This is excellent, and puts new players on more even footing with older players than at any other time in EVE's history.
Lastly, the titular Sansha incursions have been delayed to January, pending more polish. This is fantastic, because it means that CCP is willing to eat some marketing crow for the sake of game design excellence. On the other hand, it also means that I can't fully evaluate whether the Incursion patch is a success or not. Still, even if all this expansion did was remove learning skills, it is still the best expansion in at least a year.
The State Of The Game
Overall, the game has been more interesting economically than usual, but less so politically and militarily. Small-scale PvP has in many ways become harder because of the prevalence of hard-to-catch/hard-to-probe tech three cruisers, the popularity of cosmic anomalies, and the ubiquity of "hot drops" where a ship is merely bait for an entire fleet that will literally appear out of nowhere to back it up. Large-scale PvP suffered due to huge amounts of lag introduced in large part by supercarriers, a ship class that became the dominant factor of null-sec politics. As things stand, and as they stood throughout 2010, the only practical counter to supercarriers is an equal or larger amount of them.
The politics of null-sec really stagnated throughout 2010, in large part due to the changes to how systems are conquered. These changes, introduced in the Dominion patch of late 2009, mean that an attacker must be victorious three times in order to take over a system, with a single defensive victory resetting the attack. Unfortunately, the best way to make that happen has been to pack a system as full of people as possible, because once a large enough number of people are present it becomes impossible to enter a system. Consequently, the largest alliances have mostly maintained their borders, with the only major territorial changes coming as a result of internal problems rather than external threats.
Another feature of 2010 was the constant presence of drake battlecruiser fleets, backed by remote-repairing scimitar logistics ships. Because drakes have such an effective hit point buffer, the scimitars have ample time to repair them before they are threatened. They are also very cheap and easy to replace, as well as easily trained for. Though there are now signs of this changing, for a long time it seemed like every major sizable battle was won by drakes (or perhaps by supercarriers busting in), with the alternatives rather paling by comparison.
Though the null-sec map looks almost nothing like it did a year ago, most of those changes were early on.
- The most prominent change is Goonswarm's mega-ironic loss of Delve to a combination of incompetence and corrupt leadership. Delve was the most valuable region in the game at the time, and Goonswarm has subsequently relocated to Deklein. IT Alliance, the newest incarnation of the famous Band of Brothers alliance, quickly moved in and took up their old stomping grounds.
- Pandemic Legion moved from controlling the lucrative Fountain region to becoming a sort of wild card mercenary alliance. Their most significant achievement thus far is the complete and utter destruction of Atlas Alliance at the behest of the newly resurgent Red Alliance. Pandemic Legion is such a potent force, militarily, that bribing them may well be the most important factor in any inter-bloc conflict. I would never have imagined that a mercenary alliance could be successful, effective, and a genuine political commodity, but there it is.
- One of the last of the old-school mega-alliances, Against All Authorities has dwindled and waned. Their character as an alliance has significantly changed over time. I kind of doubt that they will still be on the map, a year from now. The Initiative. alliance (dot intended) have taken up much of their old territory.
- Despite a best-effort shot at moving into the drone regions at the expense of Legion of xXDeathXx alliance, the various Northern Coalition alliances have mostly stagnated, with the notable point that the francophile Tau Ceti Alliance is long gone.
- Meanwhile, various and sundry smaller alliances keep their heads down and are plugging away. Shout outs to all the little guys out there that have maintained their territory. Shout outs especially to the endearing Curatores Veritatis alliance. You guy beat some long odds.
Forecast For 2011
Some predictions for the upcoming year in EVE Online:
- The Sansha incursions will be a major factor in null-sec politics. Every alliance or group of alliances will develop the skills needed to take the sites out, or risk their territory totally getting shut down for unacceptable lengths of time.
- As the lag clears up and (perhaps) supercarriers are rebalanced, we may see some real territory changing hands between the various power blocs.
- Much of the fabled "Walking In Stations" feature will be introduced over the course of 2011, starting with the improved avatar design in January. This should be pretty exciting and draw new people into EVE, if nothing else.
- Finally, I predict that in 2011, EVE Online players will still cheat each other out of ISK, manipulate markets to the detriment of others, and try to sell 1 tritanium for hundreds of millions of ISK via contracts. Also, I will lose at least one hundred ships.
Until next year, pilots!