Updated Tue, Jan 26, 2010 by The Mittani
I had a few ideas for this week's column, but I kept putting it off. Not because I didn't have a topic, but because I kept finding myself playing a spaceship game called "Eve Online" in my spare time, a game that some of you may have heard of. That's strange behavior from me, because Eve Online has mostly been an exercise in nail-pulling frustration. Part of the reason I got involved in the spy game was because espionage allowed me to play within the penumbra of the metagame - enjoy myself when I wanted to, and dodge all the miseries of pos warfare, fleet lag, AoE doomsdays, terrible evemail, eye-stabbing horrid PvE, sluggish and counterintuitive controls, etc.
Since the Dominion patch, I can't seem to stop logging into the game itself and blowing people up. None of what I am doing has anything to do with the new sovereignty system, which was one of a pair of Big New Features supposed to be implemented in this expansion. The other Big New Feature was supercapital/capital reform, which was mostly yanked at the last minute due to a display of over-the-top developer incompetence.
Yet, Dominion has succeeded independent of its talking points and heavily-advertised features. For example, as I write this, I'm waiting for this poor bastard who thinks he's going to be joining Goonswarm to cyno his carrier into the loving arms of our lurking capfleet. The little guy doesn't have Jump Drive Calibration properly trained, so it's taking several cynos and a lot of hijinks before we ambush and summarily execute him. Since last Monday, I've logged more in-space hours than I have since Delve II, and that was mostly terrible pos-war driven by an enduring nerd grudge rather than actual fun.
Ok, the poor schmuck is dead . With that out of the way, let's examine how Dominion stands up to its copious marketing hype.
Quality of Life
Post-Dominion EVE makes me wonder about why World of Warcraft succeeded. It may not be because of original concepts in MMO design or fantasy archetypes, but rather because Blizzard went through and relentlessly eliminated anything that made the gaming experience frustrating or otherwise a pain in the ass in WoW's precursors. CCP once appeared almost proud of the warts in the EVE client, the various things which made the learning curve vertical and the newbie experience nigh unplayable, but apparently with Dominion the concept of quality of life has come into full focus. This, far beyond anything else, is what makes Dominion (and now EVE) fun.
The Fleet Finder
Before Dominion, joining a fleet involved picking out a fleet link in a channel. No fleet link, no easy way to join. If a fleet wasn't actively advertised, you wouldn't even know it existed. With the advent of the fleet finder, you can both join any open fleet yourself and see a consolidated listing of all available fleets. Already we see the impact of this in nullsec; rather than having one big fleet up at any given time, pilots are branching out into five or six small roaming gangs. More importantly, the fleet finder has brought something that has always been missing from EVE: the ability to log on and immediately find something to do at any hour with friends, rather than having to wait for scheduled groups. I can't emphasize enough how big this feature is. The looting tracker is another sensible fix, finally putting to rest the endless arguments about who stole what from which wreck.
Having an evemail system that works is nice and should have been fixed years ago; another annoyance removed. Adjustable audio alerts upon taking damage gives players a reason to actually turn the sound on, and also allows you to wander away from the client without worrying that you'll be attacked and destroyed while you're off getting coffee. That's a subtle change, but for everyone who's lost a ship while making a snack, going to the bathroom, or browsing in another window, it's an incredible feature.
Planets look pretty, but they hardly have the earth-shattering impact CCP seemed to think they would. Likewise, the fancy new in-game browser (which is fancy on account of working at all) isn't a big deal, since we already have working out-of-game browsers and most people play EVE in windowed mode. Also: give us a manual joystick control mode for small fast ships, someone coded a mod that allows this, but include it in the real game.