Elite is not Eve. In many ways, Eve will forever stand alone as a game that has defined what a MMO can become when the social element transcends what is possible within the software of the game itself. Elite Dangerous does, however, share a rather surprising number of aspects with Eve. In this piece I will showcase the places where the two games overlap, where Elite falls short of the expectation of Eve, and the couple of places where it truly shines.
The best and only place to start discussing Elite is to talk about the grind. The grind is relentless. It is pervasive, and it is what causes most players to give up on E:D. The balance of an MMO’s delayed gratification against the discomfort of the mechanic is in many ways the place where E:D has failed players the most. You might ask, “Then why start here Froggy, with the very worst aspect of the game you are, ostensibly, trying to convince me to play?”
The answer is simple. I don’t want anyone reading any further without their eyes opened to the reality of E:D.
The best way I can think to put it into Eve terms is to imagine if your skills training only ran while you were logged in and playing the game and doing “Game stuff.” Imagine how long training Wing Command V would take if it only ticked up actively commanding a wing. E:D is much like that.
I won’t lie, dear reader. The grind for money to upgrade hulls and put sufficiently powerful systems into it is soul-crushing and off-putting to many players. The methods of making money are few, and almost all of them involve one degree of tedium or another. But for all that, E:D still has much to offer as a game.
Wide Open Spaces
To counter balance my opening thoughts on what E:D did wrong I will give you the thing that they did right. The grind for money is enough to cause depression, but getting out into space and watching an alien sunrise over a ringed gas giant is uplifting enough to make it all worthwhile.
I wrote a piece a while back about Eve exploration. On the heels of the exploration revamp and the new mini game, the Eve exploration mechanic really became something viable. But honestly it had nothing at all to do with exploration. Finding sites and breaking into puzzle boxes, while fun, is not discovery. It is not about getting out there and being the first. In E:D, however, it means just that. E:D is reported to contain more than four hundred billion systems.
I will say that again: four hundred billion.
As it stands, getting there “first” to any system has been largely taken care of. Systems that can be reached have been by a team of players who set up to visit every available system. However, to quote, Mr. Adams,
“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
The place that E:D truly shines is how well they have captured that feeling of bigness. Some might say too much so. There are a lot of systems that to get from the nav beacon (the system warp in point) to a given station it can take many minuets of flight in a straight line. As a parallel it feels a lot like crossing a long warp in a freighter.
Another point where E:D surpasses Eve, is in its basic mechanics of space flight The actual control of space ships is very satisfying. Sure there is much room for discussion of physics and mechanics of flight, particularly when around planetary bodies, but the sound and weight of an E:D cockpit just feels right. Add a VR headset to that mix and it can be a transcendent experience.
The core social play aspects of E:D and Eve have significant overlap. There is a lot of space and very little direction on how to behave within it. Eve has the HI/LOW/NUL construct to deal with, but by and large security status in E:D is window dressing. NPC’s are easy to evade, and if you want to fight, then the addition of cops taking your kills is a nuisance. That being said, there is more room for being obnoxious to your fellow pilots in E:D than there actually is in Eve.
If you thought the Jita undock was rough, orbital stations in E:D have a tiny spinning aperture (the “Mail Slot”) which all craft must fly though. If you don’t get through the slot in a short period of time, the station itsself will shoot you to clear the clog. Not only can you be shot coming out of the station, you can be actively jammed up in the spinning slot and left for the station to not only kill you but give you a hefty fine for not undocking correctly. E:D’s Concord equivalent shoots the victim as often as the transgressor.
Interdiction and Interdiction
Eve is focused on not letting your opponent get into warp, but once they do they are completely safe from you until they land. E:D has the opposite focus put onto pulling you out of warp. Unlike Eve, that five-minute freighter warp is not the time to get a sandwich; it is the time to be most aware of danger.
Players and NPCs alike can and will take a liking to you and your cargo and pull you down to relieve you of it. To avoid this, you need to be at the controls. A good pilot paying attention can evade interdiction and continue on their way. If you are interdicted, it pulls you and the attacker out of cruise and into real space where they can (and generally will) shoot you. You have a longish cool down before you can spool back up to cruise speed and try again to escape. Chain interdiction of a player by another is a common harassment tactic.
In the category of social and communication mechanics, Eve beats E:D hands down. This is another place where E:D could shine but drops the ball. Getting in touch with, forming bonds with, and working with other human players in E:D is full of bugs and disappointments. Instancing has a number of issues. There are no guild or corporation mechanics native to the interface. Heck, there isn’t even a good way to talk to strangers in E:D, let alone form groups. The keyboard interface is right out for most E:D players as they use flight stick controls and not the keyboard, so establishing communication over voice with a stranger is as problematic as you would expect.
That being said, and against all odds, there are a number of vibrant social organizations in E:D. The aforementioned group of explorers who set out to put flags throughout those 400 billion stars for example. There are special interest groups for racing, for engineering, for hauling goods, for providing fuel to stranded pilots, and for laying claim to the different community goals.
Understanding community goals is closely linked with understanding the server mechanics of E:D. Another place where I feel Eve did better is the single persistent universe. In E:D there are a number of different options where you can play in the open (with other players) or solo (no other players allowed) or in a private group server which is a hybrid of the two with only whitelisted players allowed in. The issue is that all three of those play types are linked when it comes to community goals. So the obvious tactic of direct interference of another group trying to accomplish the same goal is easily bypassed.
If there is a community competition to move items from point A to point B, the obvious tactic for a group would be to interdict and destroy all players who are not affiliated with your organization who were trying to do that task. In E:D however, they can do those tasks in solo or private mode completely safe from your interference.
Similarly, if your goal is harassment it is almost trivial for a player who wishes to avoid interaction to do so. In many ways it a showcase for the worst case conditions of the bot aspirant that Code warns of. Completely mindless tasks are done in complete safety.
E:D is not Eve. But is that really a bad thing? Eve’s game play is terrible and boring, and well, E:D is also boring most of the time but at least it is gorgeous. Eve is full of the worst people imaginable, E:D is just as full of horrible people and you can choose to evade them if you so desire. But Eve also has the best people imaginable, so too does E:D. There are a number of social organizations to be involved with in E:D, including a goon chapter called the Diamond Frogs (before you ask, no I am not affiliated with them, but it is an awesome name coincidence). The Steam Autumn sale included E:D, and the inevitable Christmas sale almost certainly will too. If you are inclined to try a space sim that feels like flying a space ship, right down to the long flight times and poorly prepared space food, go check it out.