As you may have heard, the latest title patch for EVE: Valkyrie has just dropped, opening the formerly VR-exclusive slice of New Eden to all interested gamers on the PC and PS4. In addition to removing the VR requirement (making the game ‘cross-reality’ in CCP’s words), the Warzone update completely revamps Valkyrie’s progression and reward systems.
Between CCP essentially re-launching the game for the non-VR set, and the buzz that it has generated here, today was the perfect time for me to check it out for the first time. Given that there’s been less than a day between the game’s release and this article, this is only going to be a quick look at the Warzone update; expect a full review from us soon!
First Impressions…In Space!
Warzone greets new players with an overview of the Drifter threat, and a nod and a wink to returning players about the all-new ship lineup using their technology. After the cinematic, the game wasted no time guiding me into a gratifyingly to-the-point tutorial, showing me how to pilot my new stable of starfighters.
Unfortunately, that’s when a few cracks started to form.
While it was simple to fly through some giant cubes and blow up target drones, the tutorial also brought up the first warning signs for PC players. The first bit of tutorial text informed me that [MOUSE X] and [MOUSE Y] are used to steer, instead of using more natural language. It’s possible to play the game with your mouse and keyboard, but that one bit of text describes the pure PC experience in a nutshell.
Valkyrie’s UI is not built with mouse and keyboard in mind at all. It’s perfectly usable with a controller, but the little annoyances trying to navigate it add up disproportionately. You need to hover your mouse over specific areas, or otherwise take extra steps that just don’t exist with a controller. Plus, all the menus are laid out in a carousel-like fashion that offers no extra benefit to those navigating it by mouse.
This is understandable in context – Steam, Occulus, and PlayStation controllers have been the only way to play Valkyrie from its release until extremely recently, and you can’t turn faster with a mouse than you can with a controller.
After my first hour, I plugged in an old wired Xbox 360 controller I had laying around from a previous games journalism life, and never looked back. If you want to get the most out of Valkyrie, you may want to do the same until a future update.
After my misadventures with the UI, I was away. The basics of controlling your starfighter are pretty intuitive – your mouse or joystick controls your direction, and resource management is simple. There’s a regenerating afterburner for acceleration, overheating and cooldown for most guns, a tertiary ability, and an ultimate ability that can be charged up faster through violence.
The basics should be familiar to anyone who’s played any hero/class-based game, and they come together pretty well in live play. The limited boost helps get people into trouble, and from getting out of it if they overextend. Likewise, weapon cooldown and regular special ability use means that there’s no real reason to hold back in a dogfight.
The fundamentals are pretty solid, but it’s important to note that Valkyrie is not a ‘six degrees-of-freedom game.’ You cannot strafe, but you can drift if you time your boosting and brakes right. The effect is akin to a World War II dogfight where the planes can’t stall, as opposed to the flight models in games like Elite Dangerous.
Valkyrie’s gameplay modes are also decently implemented as well. On top of the standard team deathmatch, there’s a surprisingly good take on point control. Instead of staying in place around a beacon or flag for a few seconds before moving on, players plunk down a control drone that does the job for them. As a consequence, anyone looking to capture has to split their attention between the defenders and their drones, and playing defensively is a lot more viable. It’s a simple change, but it works astoundingly well with the classic control formula. Kudos, CCP.
There’s another game mode that’s essentially space football/soccer, and the booster-inhibiting ‘weight’ of the Drifter relic/ball serves as a good focal point for combat. Valkyrie’s rotation of game modes never left me feeling sick of any one overly popular type of gameplay, and I look forward to seeing what else CCP adds to the mix.
While the game adds bots to round out teams, the player population was pretty decent and varied in my time with Valkyrie earlier today. I’m taking that as a good sign, and I’m quietly pleased that I got in on a few kills of CCP Manifest when I bumped into him.
Unlike earlier versions of Valkyrie, as I understand it, all ships are unlocked from the moment you buy the game. Progression in Warzone comes in the form of XP, which is earned by individual ship hulls, and raises your account level. On top of allowing you to keep score and show off your playtime, each level (and for every several thousand points of in-game score, a bit like a Battlefield One skin pack), players are granted a container filled with cosmetic skins and cash for buying skins of their choice – either on its own, or as compensation for duplicate items.
Ship XP, meanwhile, lets players unlock a number of sidegrades (and the occasional upgrade) to hulls they’ve spent time in. The modifiers are fairly modest, but still allow players to tweak key parts of their ship a little bit. Your ship of choice will always have the same guns, but you can trade endurance for damage if you’re confident in your marksmanship, slap on a little extra shielding, and other things of that type.
The pace at which these rewards are dispensed is pretty nice as well. Containers and ship mods flow fast and freely for your first few rounds, but you’re never far away from your next package of skins or node in the tech tree. The core tutorial isn’t stingy either, offering three premium containers after a quick orientation, and providing a foundation for a sense of space fashion as much as your piloting skills.
The Trouble with Targeting
I have a confession to make. For 80% of my time in Valkyrie’s fast-paced multiplayer brawls, I rode a Banshee into battle. Said ship comes with a pair of tracking beam weapons, which I used to consistently top the leaderboards. I didn’t do this looking for a cheap way to win.
I did this because I could barely make out the target lead reticule for non-flak guns, and that half the time my hits did not appear to register on my target’s shield meter.
Before you pick up your torches and pitchforks, please note that I live in New Zealand. Pings of 210ms are the BEST that can be expected to the western United States, and don’t get me started on Europe. Even the hitscan laser cannon of the Stryx, or the Banshee’s self-aiming phaser were only a little more reliable.
I’m happy to give CCP the benefit of the doubt for latency-related issues, but I still advise anyone outside of the continental United States or Europe to be a little bit cautious, at least for the time being.
Despite the core UI and latency issues, and a myriad of other minor problems that are easily tweaked away, CCP has the core of a solid space dogfighter here. Valkyrie was easy to pick up, and hard to put down once I looked at the clock and saw my rapidly-approaching deadline.
If there’s a key strength CCP can play to going forwards, it’s in introducing more interesting game modes that give new structure to Valkyrie’s dogfights. Valkyrie’s last ‘feature patch’ was around six months ago, and while I don’t expect anything as significant as covering a whole new platform and revamping the core gameplay, I can’t wait to see how the game continues to evolve alongside the rest of New Eden.
I just hope that I won’t need to remember where my controller is, and as much as I love Amarrian laser guns, I’m dying to have a competitive go at the other ships Valkyrie has on offer.
Stay tuned for a full review of EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone in the near future! If you’ve missed our Valkyrie stream, check out Joe Barbarian’s recorded stream on INN Twitch!