Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Byte: EVE vs WoW - the revenge!

Last night I filed a review of the latest release of EVE Online - Apocrypha - with my editor at Videogamer. It's written mainly for the benefit of prospective new players, because I didn't really see much point in preaching to the converted. If you're already playing EVE, then the retail release now in shops isn't really meant for you.

Obviously, Apocrypha has been out for some time now, and in order to review the game properly, I've had a much longer stint playing it than my previous effort a couple of years ago. And what I found was very surprising. It's actually grown on me over the last few weeks.

The key to this was that rather than blindly flying around solo wondering what the hell you have to do, I enlisted the help of some EVE veterans I'm friendly with in what's laughably called "real life". They chucked me some money, a couple of spare frigates to get me out of the pathetic starting frigate as quickly as possible and then gave me all sorts of invaluable advice as to what skills I should be training and how to clean up your system overview window to concentrate only on the important stuff (and also how to avoid accidentally shooting one of your Corp-mates).

So rather than piddling around running missions for NPC agents (or worse, mining), instead I was able to head straight out into 0.0 space and see what's really out there. The first thing I learned was that frigates aren't entirely useless. Their speed and maneuverability make them great for harrying larger ships when you're in a fleet, but you still wouldn't want to fly into 0.0 space in one solo. If anything, I've found that EVE is a much more social game than WoW. It's players are certainly much friendlier and helpful in the chat channels than your average WoW player. I've found very little snobbery about the kind of ship you fly. This is because, unlike WoW (where unless you have a full set of top tier Epics, most people look at you like you're somehow inadequate as a human being), each class of vessel has its own particular strength. A small frigate or cruiser set up for electronic warfare or drive jamming, when used in a coordinated way with the rest of your Corp's fleet, is just as useful to have in a fight as the most heavily armed battleship.

This is something I missed entirely in my previous forays into New Eden, mainly because I never really made it out of 1.0 space and didn't see any of the tactics that can be employed in PvP. Even so, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of EVE now, but I suppose that's to be expected. The game is so huge, so complicated, it's only really now after dabbling with it for a month or two that I'm getting any sort of handle on it at all. I've still not really done much with the economic side of EVE, mainly because I've been trying to get to grips with the social aspects of the game. EVE is famous for its political intrigue and inter-corporation warfare, and I have to confess, this is one of the things that appeals to my Machiavellian streak. And it also demonstrates the real difference between EVE and the more traditional structure of an MMORPG like WoW.

The fact that you can influence the in-game economy and the social balance of power is extraordinary after you've played something like Warcraft for four years or more. There, if you nail Onyxia in her lair, she never really dies. She'll respawn in a week and you can kick her scaly butt all over again. But if, for example, you infiltrate a rival corporation alliance and use an administrative loophole to disband it (as recently happened to Band of Brothers), you've just made a profound change to the balance of power within the game. That's almost incomprehensible to someone used to the regimented structure of something like WoW. That the developers would allow players such freedom to do a thing that literally destroys years and years of effort on the part of the alliance involved, just beggars belief when you see the way Blizzard stamp at the merest hint of people playing the game in a way they don't want you to play it.

I still think I probably need to play EVE for at least another six months before I could really pass a proper judgment on it, but having experienced both games properly now (and I freely admit that I was an idiot for trying to play EVE like any other MMORPG in my previous efforts), I think I can do a more reasonable 'versus' comparison now.

Both games have a lot going for them. In their own way, I like both immensely, and it's not really fair to draw a direct comparison, because of the way that the games have been designed and structured.

WoW is a far more regimented experience. You have your levels and your level grind and the objective of the game is to work your way up to the level cap, enjoying (or not) the story along the way, before devoting yourself to either doing organised PvP or high-end raiding at the level cap, or rolling and levelling a new character. You also have to live with the fact that you're never going to be able to change the lore of the game. That's imposed upon you and what you do will never truly make the blindest bit of difference to the game world. That's just the rules of the game.

EVE on the other hand doesn't attempt to restrict you in any way. The game world is vast, complicated and dynamic. It's as much about making money and gaining power as it is about flying around star systems blowing shit up. EVE is what you want it to be. There's no grind, just time invested in skills research. I do still have massive reservations about the learning curve, however. While you can get started in WoW relatively easily, EVE remains utterly overwhelming and bewildering to begin with, and despite CCP Games's best efforts to tone down the learning curve with some nicely put together tutorials, I can see it still putting off a lot of players in those first couple of weeks. The key is to get in with a corporation quickly and let them show you the ropes, rather than stumble around in the dark wondering where the light switch is.

If I had to recommend one game out of the two for someone to pick, assuming that they've never played either before and would be starting a new character from scratch, it's a tricky decision. WoW is clearly a lot easier to pick up to begin with, but if you want to get involved with a guild and what they're doing from night to night, it's a long journey to get to the level cap so that you can participate in the top-end raids (assuming everyone doesn't sniff condescendingly at you because your gear isn't good enough to come along). I'm not sure what the average level 1-80 time is now in WoW, but it's got to be something of the order of 200-300 hours or maybe more - especially if you're a brand new player. That's a lot of time to invest in a game before you can really get stuck in and involved with the end-game. Which, frankly, I've never found all that interesting, myself. I'd much rather explore the game world and level characters. WoW was always more about the journey than the destination, for me.

I suppose this is why, now that it's finally clicked with me, I think EVE is arguably the more rewarding game, both in the short-to-medium term and in the long term. Those couple of hundred hours you would spend in WoW just getting to the level cap could (in EVE) instead be spent getting directly into the action with a corporation. Whether you wanted to go down the mining, trading or PvP route, EVE's structure, as unwelcoming as it might be at the initial outset, doesn't stop you from getting involved in a meaningful way, right from the start (because the whole game is the 'end-game').

So I've definitely changed my mind about EVE over the last few weeks. This may surprise a few people, given what I've said about it before, but hey, wisdom comes with age, I suppose...
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