EVE: Journey into the Unknown Pt 4

After one month in EVE Online, Gareth Harmer has the skills to pay the bills.

By now, I’d been playing EVE Online for a month. After learning the basics of ship piloting and working my way through the tutorial, I’d headed out into space with no real goal in mind. I half-stumbled into a corporation, earned a healthy amount of money and started exploring some of the hidden mysteries.

It was at this point that I found myself at a crossroads. I could continue down the industrial road, become better at mining and earn even more money. Or I could use the money I’d earned to start buying powerful equipment and pursue the life of a battleship captain.

Little did I know that my hand would be forced. War was delivered to our doorstep, forcing me to reconsider everything.

In EVE, everything comes down to ISK. Controlling it can be the ultimate weapon – you can starve a corporation from making money, then watch it wither and die. But you have to keep an eye on your own books – a mercenary group won’t last long if it’s losing more in destroyed ships than it makes from looting.

As much as they might hate to admit it, every player is a businessman. It’s just the tools of their trade that are different.

And so, my little industrial corporation ended up on the receiving end of a war declaration. A roving band of hard-nosed veterans with top of the line spacecraft rampaged through Gallente space, looking for soft targets. Anyone small enough or weak enough was hit with a wardec – a formal period of hostilities sanctioned by Concord, the galactic police. Not even high-security regions would be safe – Concord would just turn a blind eye to anyone involved in the war.

With no way of defending ourselves, our options were limited. A wardec costs a significant chunk of ISK to create, so any marauding band of space-pirates has to make it worthwhile. That might be from profit – destroying and looting enough ships to make it profitable – or from the entertainment of being lawfully allowed to hunt down a weaker enemy, or probably a bit of both. Our response, if boring, was simple: deny them both.

Some of us spent the best part of a week holed up in a nearby space station, while others simply relocated to a different region of space. A brave few played games with our antagonists, snooping on them in cloaked ships, bumping up alongside before warping off in an instant. By denying the enemy kills we also kept the public War Report clean, making our corporation a less attractive target for other groups.

Even so, it can be a boring episode to endure. I had the option of leaving the corporation and freeing myself from the war, or allowing my subscription to lapse and renewing it once the war had finished. In the end though, I chose a different option – creating an alt.

EVE’s mechanics for alternate characters are unlike any other MMO I’ve experienced, and it’s largely down to how new skills are learned. In RPG-style MMOs, you pick a class, level up and buy new skills as you go. EVE has a different perspective, discarding levels entirely. Instead, a skill is learned from a skillbook, before being trained through five levels of proficiency. Some skills require others to be a certain level as a prerequisite, creating a tree of sorts.

The interesting part is that skills are learned over time, with the top tiers of more advanced skills taking days or weeks to master. Even though this training continues while you’re logged off, it means that mastering every skill can take a massive amount of time. The result: players specialize in one niche, and create alts for other specialist areas that they want to play in.

And since, until recently, it wasn’t possible to train two characters on the same account at the same time, this meant creating a new account as well.

That said, the skill hierarchy is the biggest argument against EVE being a pay-to-win game. Yes, it’s possible to buy game time for real money, convert it to a Pilot Licence Extension (PLEX) and sell it for in-game ISK on the marketplace. Yes, this means you could buy something snazzy like a Megathron, and maybe kit it out with a nice set of weapon turrets, sensors, shields and armor. But, without months of skill training, it’ll just gather dust in your station hangar.

My original plan was to create an alt around six months in, when I’d be earning enough money on my main account to comfortably buy a PLEX for the other. The war ended up crimping those timescales somewhat, so I cranked up a trial account and upgraded it to a full version. I also needed to pay the monthly fee for my main account. But instead of playing the monthly subscription or buying a PLEX, I tried something else.

One of the surprising aspects of EVE is how CCP allows players to spend their ISK. Scams and deceit are part of every MMO but, in EVE, economic PvP is embraced rather than shunned. The hands-off approach even extends to gambling, with one particular corporation specializing in lotteries where ships and other desirables can be won. SOMER blink, as it’s known, even offers a bonus – buy your game time through them and they’ll throw in some extra credit to gamble for internet spaceships.

In the end I had my game time, my new account, and a couple of battlecruisers. I can’t fly them, but they look pretty in my hangar.

With a new account primed and ready, I made a determined effort to avoid anything mining-shaped. This character would be reckless! This character would be foolish! This character would get... blown up a lot flying into dangerous places. But still, screaming through pirate-besieged stargates in a tiny frigate was a change of pace from drifting between asteroid belts.

For the rest of the war, I alternated between the serious and the suicidal; playing the market on one hand, playing crazy with missions on the other. Without the constraints of a corporation or a need to make money, I spent my time looking for something to shoot.

When it all ended, I wasn’t sure what to do with my time again. While it’s fun to play the gun-toting maniac, it can get a little expensive on ships. For now the alt is in training camp, learning more advanced skills to make his rockets and autocannons even more deadly. Meanwhile, I’m out and earning ISK again, making plans within plans for my future in EVE.

And then, as luck would have it, an opportunity presented itself that would offer the best of both worlds…

Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Senior Contributing Editor

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