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I have always been a huge fan of games that allow the non-linear exploration of space. Dating all the way back to Starflight at the dawn of computer gaming, and leading through the Privateer series and even up to Freelancer, space games are both popular and beautiful. However, no matter how large the world, they all seem to have one problem: they end.
So CCP decided to do something about it: they created an online game that does not end. Eve Online is a huge endeavor and a real turning point in terms of non-linear online gameplay. There are literally thousands and thousands of systems in the Eve Online World, and almost all of it can be controlled by the players.
But all of that is something you will probably notice later. The first thing that will grip you is the fact that this is one of the most beautiful titles ever created. Space here looks completely real, or I should say, it looks like everyone thinks the ideal version of space should appear. There are gorgeous nebulae clouds, colorful planets made of rock and ice, space stations glittering with light and glowing suns that cast their rays out across the darkness. You look at the amazing frontier all around you and just ache to explore it.
When you put your jaw back and start to play, the first thing that you will find is that the game is played from the cockpit of your ship. You don't really leave your ship, though it is implied that you do when in a space station. Also, you don't really fly your ship like you do in Wing Commander or the Jump to Lightspeed expansion pack for Star Wars Galaxies. So don't worry if you are not a stick jockey.
If you want to navigate within your sector of space, you can simply right click with your mouse and a series of valid targets will appear. Sectors can have any number of moons with bases, planets with docking facilities or free-floating space stations. I was in one sector that had about 20 different places to dock, though you might find some without any. Since you don't have total control of your ship, you dont have to worry about collisions. If your ship should bump something, you won't take any damage.
If you are close enough to an object to see it, you can also click on that object and then approach, dock or orbit it at various distances. If you need to leave the system, you can do so by finding a jumpgate to the next system. There are thousands of systems in the game, so finding the right path from one to the other might be tricky. There is a systems map that helps you a great deal here and also shows the enormous nature of the game world.
You will quickly learn by taking the tutorial that you will need to find some way to earn a living. Though your initial ship is free, if you want to upgrade to bigger and better things you are going to have to find yourself a job or career. And thankfully, there are many paths to this end.
You can become a bounty hunter, and go after NPC pirates or various bad guys, learn how to craft different objects to sell, become like a FedEx employee delivering goods from system to system or nearly anything you can think about. The game is very open in terms of letting the player find their favorite niche.
The easiest way to make money safely in the game initially is to mine the many prevalent asteroid fields. So long as you stick to your home sector were there are likely plenty of police units, you should be fine and safe from attack from both other players or NPC pirates.
Most of the ore you will find in the safer sectors will be of the common type, which means you won't be getting really rich mining it, but I found it gave me a good start in the game. Mining, like everything else in Eve, is based on a simple interface. You simply equip your ship with a mining laser and warp to an asteroid field in your chosen sector. You can then look around the field and find one that interests you. There are some rocks that are more valuable than others, even in the safe sectors. You then click on the rock you want and move your ship in close. When you are in range, simply activate your mining laser and it will begin to extract ore from your chosen target. When your cargo hold is full, head back and sell the ore.
When you get back to the station, you can also choose to sell what you have, or refine it into a potentially more valuable commodity. Being a professional refiner could be yet another valid career choice.
You learn skills by simply clicking on existing ones, of which you can work on one at a time. This lets you choose to upgrade that skill, and it takes anywhere from several minutes to several days for the process to complete. You don't have to be online for the skill timer to work either.
Should you die, you have a clone that will take your place. The clone is basically a bank of skills, so as long as you keep your clone updated - more skills means more expensive clones will be needed - you won't lose any knowledge should you die. Ships you own can be insured as well for a price so you won't lose them. And you can always get a starter ship for free, or a tiny little shuttle for next to nothing.
When you get enough money you can even purchase a battleship, or your own space station which you can manage. With a ton of money, you can even purchase your own sector of space and set up your own mini-empire.
If you venture out of the safer areas - each sector has a security rating to tell you the likelihood hood of attack - you will find that space is not such a friendly place. Combat though, is easy to control, through there are many options. You just need to click on an opponent and activate your weapons for basic fighting. If you want to be clever, you can order your ship to try and maintain a certain distance from your opponent, such as one where your missiles can hit but their lasers are out of range for example. There are also plenty of special moves you can perform such as boosting your shields or using electronic warfare to gain an advantage. But you won't have to dogfight with your enemy. The game handles all the mechanics for you.
This is also a player versus player game. Many people make a living robbing and killing each other in the outer and more lawless sectors. You can join a corporation of fellow players for protection if you wish, banding together to tackle difficult missions and for defense in hostile space.
Eve Online is simply the best online space game you have probably never played. I was shocked to find such a huge and well detailed community when I first arrived. There is a rich back story to the world and tons of short stories and literature on the eve-online.com home page, much of it written by players. Combine this with a completely huge and non-linear world that is largely controlled by the players, and you have a truly unique experience that is not to be missed.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : email@example.com.