The Holiday Gift Patch For EVE Online

The second part of the Incursion patch, originally slated for Tuesday the 14th, has been delaye

The second part of the Incursion patch, originally slated for Tuesday the 14th, has been delayed until the 15th. It contains a grab bag of minor fixes, a new unique ship that each subscribed player will get for free and, most important, the patch will removal the learning skills from the game and reimburse any skillpoints spent on them. Just like they promised. Not bad, CCP, not bad.

The Removal Of Learning Skills

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Every player in EVE Online is about to get a major boost to their skillpoints.

This Wednesday, CCP is going to remove all the learning skills from EVE Online. Any skillpoints spent on them will be reimbursed, and player attributes will be increased so that every player gains skillpoints as though they had maximized learning, henceforth.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with how EVE's skillpoint system works, this is a category of skills that increase the rate at which you gain skills. Put another way, they are a thing you spend experience points on that then increase the rate that future experience is accumulated at.

This game design decision had some unfortunate consequences: right off the bat, every new player needed to train learning skills for a month or so, or they would fall behind other players' skill totals very quickly. That means that instead of new pilots training interesting skills, they had to train boring skills that don't really add anything to their enjoyment of the game. This is particularly bad for new players, who will want to try everything there is to do in EVE and will need many different skills to do it.

So now, CCP is getting rid of them, and all characters will train skillpoints about as fast as a max-learning character would. The 100% learning speed bonus for new players' skillpoints is going away, but with this change they don't even need them. This is probably the single most newbie-friendly thing that CCP has done since EVE Online was first released. New players will not need to waste their time on superfluous skills, and EVE Online will be a better game for it. But what about the veteran players that have already trained the learning skills?

Reimbursing Learning Skills

CCP will be reimbursing any skillpoints spent on learning. You can respend them however you like. The spare skillpoints will be easily used on your skills screen, in a manner similar to when CCP gave most pilots in the game a bonus 100,000 skillpoints because of an unsceduled downtime, a few months ago.

Each player will also automatically be reimbursed ISK for any skillbooks in their hangar, in their ship cargo holds, or in containers, though for macroeconomic reasons CCP will not reimburse the ISK spent on skills that have already been used.

Learning Skill Controversy?

A lot of players in EVE Online enjoy that the game is difficult and has hurdles to entry, because it makes the game seem more elite. Others just want new players to suffer through the boredom of training the same learning skills that they did. I think both of these complaints are pretty silly. As to the first concern, EVE Online is still the most difficult MMO on the market, and reducing the barriers to joining up and being useful does not compromise how "hard core" the game is, nor does it put EVE into some kind of easy mode. As to the second issue, if it was stupid when you first started playing EVE, it is still stupid now, and there is no reason to leave it in.

The one situation where someone might have a real complaint is if a player has recently re-allocated their attributes with a neural remap, under the assumption that they would need to train the learning skills. Such a character could be stuck with a sub-optimal set of attributes until they gained another remap, a year later. That would stink. Thus, though it is not explicitly stated anywhere, it is hinted by a CCP developer that characters may get a bonus remap. On the test server, it seems that players that have no remaps will get one, while those that do will not receive an extra. This is presumably to help people that were essentially screwed by the game changes, without compensating those that were not. If this is how things roll out, I'll be pretty pleased with CCP because it is such a nuanced solution.

New Ship: The CONCORD Echelon

It is always nice when a new ship gets introduced to EVE Online. And free things are good, too. So a new, free ship given to each player has to be a hit, right? Alas, it is not so. The Echelon is a shiny new ship that has that distinctive CONCORD look, and each paying account in EVE is going to get a free one, assuming they can dock in an NPC station to receive it. How can that possibly be bad? How, indeed.

The Echelon is a dedicated hacking ship. To the best of our knowledge, it will only have a single mid-slot, and that slot will only fit a special Sansha hacking device. Since we know that it is a frigate hull, this begs the questions of what will it hack, and can it possibly survive long enough to do any hacking? The answer to the first is easy: hacking will be integrated into the Sansha incursion encounters, in order to reduce the system-wide resistance penalties that players will suffer while trying to battle the Sansha. Not bad, so far. The second part is trickier, because the new and improved Sansha are very nasty to fight, and will make mincemeat of a lone frigate.

The solution that I have inferred is that the new and improved Sansha AI must regard the frigates as a very low threat, and not target them whenever there is something more dangerous around. That's not fantastic, since there are almost certainly better ships to bring, but it will let new players with low skills at least peek into the incursion sites and participate with larger groups that are running them.

Hangar Eye Candy

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Though the Echelon is pretty, it is a very limited ship.

The down sides to the echelon are many: Anybody with more than a month of skills trained can probable think of a better ship to fly. Non-sansha hacking sites do not use the improved AI that the Sansha will, and are therefore too dangerous for a shrimpy ship like the echelon. Because of their poor tank, echelons will be easily suicide-ganked by players in high-security space. If previous limited-release ships are any indication, there will be many players setting out to gank as many of them as possible. Before long, most players will be afraid to undock in one, for fear of being blown up (in Caldari space, anyway). Finally and most importantly, it is unlikely that the way the incursion rewards are divvied up will allocate a huge amount of rewards to a ship that does not actually do any fighting. We'll see, though.

The Ghost Of A Chance

There are two things that are actually pretty neat about the echelon: firstly, it will make a fantastic investment piece. Most of the limited release ships (Zephyr, Primae, et ceteras) end up being worth at least 20mil ISK a pop. That is not too shabby, especially for newer players, though this is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the ship's design.

The other chance is much less likely, but would be a complete vindication if it turned out to be the case. We still do not know what the echelon's bonuses are, and the exact capabilities of the hacking module that it will use. The developer blog about it stated that "The advanced cryptographic processors on board provide superior hacking capabilities for use on most known password-secured devices." It is most likely that this is intended to refer only to hacking containers. Still, it is an intriguing idea to think that it might allow a pilot to hack into secure containers left by other players. This would have a lot of interesting possibilities for certain kinds of mining, POS setups, and so forth. Again: it is most probable that this was just a poorly worded phrase from an overtired or mischievous developer. Still, one can dream.

The Minor Fixes

Most of the fixes are pretty negligible. We're talking about fixing some minor graphics glitches, some love for the Mac client, fixing fighter-bomber aggression mechanics, and resolving some issues with setting up item contracts from a distance or from a corporate hangar.

While all of these changes are welcome, nobody is screaming with delight over them. Contrast this with the bug fixes of the previous patch. People were dropping their coffee mugs and screaming hallelujah, there were so many fixes. This patch, the other two changes are much more important.

Keep in mind that all this is just the appetizer course of the Incursion expansion. The main course, with all its nightmarish Sansha combat, is yet to come. I can't wait until January.


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