CCP has begun to make some of the details of their next free expansion, Incursion, available to the community, via press releases, interviews, and developer posts on their forums. In this article, Ten Ton Hammer takes a preliminary look at the features of Incursion, based on the information that is available right now. Such an early look is useful for a lot of reasons: it is interesting, gives players a chance to start training useful skills early, and (best of all for me) may give some idea about what speculative purchases to invest in, on the market.
The villainous Sansha's Nation poses an existential threat to the entire EVE universe.
Over the past few months, CCP has introduced several live events, led by CCP staff (and perhaps volunteers). In these events, a wormhole would open in high-security or low-security space, through which Sansha agents would appear and begin to terrorize the local inhabitants. By working together, bands of players have been able to defeat them (despite some players aiding them), puzzled out how to close the wormholes (heavy ECM), and even journeyed through the wormhole to the other side (which connects to Jovian space, who may be giving the Sansha carte blanche to use their space as a springboard to attack the empires).
In Incursion, this concept will be refined. The attacks will occur automatically, in high-sec, low-sec, and null-sec, and will shut down entire constellations at a time. Entire groups of players will be able to work together to repel the invaders, involving a slow wearing away at the the Sansha forces. Eventually, the Sansha fleet will be weakened enough that an attack can be made on their mothership, whose exact nature is unknown at this time, but is certainly to be very difficult and a "boss monster" sort of opponent. The NPCs will be using CCP's dangerously advanced artificial intelligence that previously has only seen use with wormhole-dwelling Sleeper NPCs, and will probably include things like sniping battleships and stealth bombers dropping bombs.
The players that assist with the Sansha battle will be rewarded, though at this point nobody knows the specifics, aside from a mention in a developer blog that the Sansha mothership may drop a blueprint copy for making its own hull, and that the number one contributor will be rewarded most. Keep in mind that the existing motherships in EVE Online were re-named to "supercarriers" in the Dominion expansion, and so we have no idea what this mothership will be like. Will it be a faction supercarrier? Will it be something even weirder, like a portable station? As of yet, nobody knows, though we do have some indication that the reward given for destroying the Sanshas will be based on the security status of that constellation.
In any case, many players are excited at the twin prospects of cooperative player goals, and of making the landscape of EVE Online more unpredictable..
As mentioned above, there will be a new class of ships (or perhaps just a faction variant of existing ships) called motherships. There will only be a Sansha version, at least initially, and no real information is yet available about them.
However, there is another ship that is being introduced, largely due to popular demand. The Noctis is a special version of the previously released (yet kind of useless) Primae. It is a dedicated salvaging ship that will make absolute mincemeat of fields of wrecks. The ship has two bonuses: a bonus to salvage time (so that you salvage faster) and a bonus to tractor beam range (so that you can get wrecks within salvaging range faster).
The blueprint for this ship will initially only be available in stations owned by the NPC corporation, ORE, whose stations are located exclusively in the Outer Ring region of outlaw space. For a hefty 390 million ISK. This means that availability may be a bit limited at first, as pirates and ne'er-do-wells attempt to prevent access to those stations. Still, someone will smell a profit, and it won't be long before these beauties are available on the empire market. Actually, I think it is kind of cool that the blueprint originals for a ship that will be in such high demand is in a more interesting location than some random high-sec station. It should be interesting, anyway, and changes the character of Outer Ring a bit. I hope other regions get similarly unique features in the future.
In any case, the Noctis will be very desirable to salvagers, especially salvagers that help players of their own corporation, since one cannot use tractor beams on wrecks belonging to members of other corporations. Still, if I know one thing about EVE Online's ninja salvagers, it is that they will find a way to make use of this new tool for stealing wrecks, tractor beams or not. The ship will supposedly handle clumsily, like an industrial, but will not need to move too much if those tractor beams come into play. Incidentally, they should give a range of 68km with a new skill, ORE Industrials, trained to level IV. Another neat thing about this ship is that the only pre-requisites needed to train the ORE Industrials skill and use the Noctis are Spaceship Command III and the same skills as needed to user a Salvager I module. So it's newbie accessible as heck. That's a win in my book.
We know that the team that put together planetary interaction has continued to work on it, and that CCP wants to make it less about clicking and more about cooperation and intelligent harvesting. We do not know exactly what this next patch will bring, though in his interview with Ten Ton Hammer, CCP Lead Designer Noah Ward told us that we would be able to move around "Extractor Control Units" that most likely will control several extractors at once, to minimize clicking.
There will also be the ability to upgrade planetary command centers. As things stand, to upgrade now one needs to delete the entire colony and plant a new command center, which is as tedious as it is silly. This next patch will change all that, and give us the ability to upgrade the centers.
Planets, character portraits, and rockets, and the EVE Online forums are all getting a fine-tuning.
New Character Portraits
Well, the old EVE Online character portraits had a good run. I may be the only person that will miss the old character portraits, but I suppose my lonesome heart will have to make due with what CCP says are almost photo-realistic.
This is in effect the release of the first portion of Incarna expansion (aka Walking In Stations), which CCP is going to be "rolling out progressively", according to Torfi Frans Olafsson in a recent interview. Expect the rest of Incarna in summer, 2011.
Game Balance Changes
Based on what has been leaked thus far, missiles seem to be the topic du jour. Which is good, really, since they are largely regarded as a PvE weapon, which seems a little simple-minded for EVE Online.
Rockets are getting fixed, after literally years of kvetching from the player base about how easy it would be to solve. Expect more damage, less missiles, and better ability to hit fast or small targets. Still, I don't expect too many PvPers to switch ships and weapons, overnight, since their range necessitates being within tackling range. Ah, well.
As part of their general attempt to reduce lag, CCP will be fiddling with fighter-bombers, the special mega-drones used exclusively by supercarriers, noteworthy because they unleash a torrent of missiles. I would be pretty surprised if they did not also tweak them for balance while they were at it, though CCP's lead designer, Noah Ward, seems to imply that it is not a high priority for CCP. Still, I wouldn't run out and buy a supercarrier blueprint. That's my advice, anyway. They will get nerfed one of these days.
Missiles seem to be a big problem with lag, so other missile systems may also get tweaked or modified. I would not be surprised if, for example, smartbombs lost their ability to blow up smaller missiles before they hit. Or if defender missiles were removed or re-purposed. These seem likely because they presumably rely on missiles being actual objects in space, and CCP has laid a lot of the lag at the feet of missiles being such objects.
It also seems inevitable that, as long as CCP is tinkering with rockets, they will mess with other missiles and missile systems. It would be rather unlike CCP to just tamper with one thing, though I suppose stranger things have happened.
EVE Gate Tweaks
The only thing we have heard, thus far, is that there will be new forums. This is a much needed addition, though I doubt that anything can save the more prominent forums from their near-constant level of trolling and disingenuous posts. Still, this will be an exciting development and I can't wait to hear more about it.
There will be a lot of respectable changes in Incursion, though some of it just seems like a modernization of older features. The actual Incursion part seems really amazing, and I especially have hopes that it will introduce a major element of unpredictability to EVE Online's politics and situation. The worst thing that could happen is if the Sansha attacks were reduced to a simple formula, and were then farmed by the same people over and over. I'm hoping that big swaths of important high-sec space get shut down for weeks at a time, for example, rather than a hundred people without work the next day being able to kill everything in a night. We'll see, eh?