Massively got word that EVE Online lead game designer Noah Ward, aka CCP Hammerhead, would be in New York City last week. We jumped at the chance to find out more about the Apocrypha expansion, and Ward was kind enough to give us our own hands-on demo while answering our questions about where EVE Online is heading. We were pleasantly surprised to find that EVE's lead writer Tony Gonzales was on hand as well. Fans of the game's backstory will know him for writing The Empyrean Age novel, which chronicled the events leading up to New Eden's factional warfare.

Apocrypha will be the most significant expansion in EVE's history to date, introducing new -- and some controversial -- features while revamping existing aspects of the game. Ultimately the aim of CCP Games with Apocrypha is to make EVE accessible to more gamers while adding depth for the existing playerbase. The Apocrypha expansion launch will coincide with EVE Online's retail release on March 10th. Leading up to that date, a number of the CCP developers have dropped info about what's on the way through dev blogs and the occasional interview, but the expansion seen as a whole is mind-blowing. What we have for you here is the most complete look at the Apocrypha expansion offered to date, in one place, and much of it from the developers themselves. We've tackled Apocrypha in four parts: the New Player Experience, Epic Mission Arcs & Tech III, True Exploration, and the Sleepers.

Strap yourself in and get ready for Massively's exclusive hands-on with the Apocrypha expansion for EVE Online.

New Player Experience

A significant change coming to EVE Online in Apocrypha is the New Player Experience (NPE). One of the chief draws to the game is its depth and subsequent complexity, but it's that same complexity which acts as a barrier to entry for many new players. In fact, at present many players have to look to the EVE forums for threads on how to optimally create a character. CCP is aiming to make this less of a necessity.

The character creation screen won't be a series of stages or pages where one makes a few choices and skips to the next step, but consolidates everything about the character (and their race) onto one page. Noah Ward says, "We're constantly looking at the New Player Experience because we recognize that EVE is a very challenging, really deep game. We've taken out all of those choices that you were forced to make in character creation about attributes and skills that you really had no business making as a new player. We've also added in movies so it helps people get a feel for the race, see what the ships look like."

The New Player Experience is designed to ease a new player into the possibilities in New Eden. Those choices about the character will still have to be made, but the more permanent decisions will be made much later on in the process, once the player has a firmer understanding of the game. New characters will begin with far fewer skillpoints, roughly 50k, than the 800k a new character starts out with today. But new characters made in Apocrypha will train their skills at double the normal speed up until hitting 1.6 million skillpoints. The hope is that this will allow a new player to better understand what they're capable of, without limiting their usefulness in the first weeks and months of being a pilot in New Eden.

Neural Remapping

New players who've tried EVE in any of the title's previous nine expansions had to make choices during character creation that they couldn't possibly understand the ramifications of. Many EVE players elected to boost their Charisma attribute during character creation. Being liked by others in a corporate dominated galaxy will make things easier, right? Dead wrong, as many of us have learned.

CCP recognizes that a player's interests change over time and the character build they began with might not be what's suited to their playstyle as time goes on. To address this, Apocrypha will be the first time players can respec their attributes with the Neural Remapping feature. Those bad choices players have made with character creation can now be undone, and it's a safe bet that many of EVE's existing characters will be boosting their Perception attribute in Apocrypha -- speeding up their training time of combat related skills.

Likewise, this newfound versatility means that not all players will need to have alts solely dedicated to a particular pursuit. Given enough time, a character can adapt to the player's changing interests. Characters in EVE's setting of New Eden are supposedly akin to demigods, and gods don't get locked into dead end jobs. They do whatever they choose to. So all those characters who've grown tired of toiling for countless hours mining in asteroid belts can now opt to (quickly) go the way of the gun via Neural Remapping, should they want that change of pace. Likewise, a combat-oriented character could shift gears and focus on scientific and industrial pursuits. Neural Remapping will make these radical changes in direction possible.

Neural Remapping won't be something players can easily abuse, however. At the time this preview was written, the feature is planned to be offered free of charge, but limited to one attribute respec per year. (Additionally, there is no confirmation at this time about whether 'once per year' respecs will affect characters legitimately sold/transferred to the accounts of other players.)

Mad Skills

Skill Injection is a new feature coming to the game, albeit one that CCP hasn't discussed much thus far. Simply put, once you've bought a skillbook you can 'inject' or load it up into your character sheet. Injected skills will remain untrained but will be visible in the character sheet, trainable at any time. Once injected, a skill is permanently within the character's list of skills and cannot be removed or resold on the market. Skill Injection won't interrupt a skill that's currently training, it just adds it to your character sheet for a later time.

This feature eliminates the risk of losing expensive skillbooks from your ship's cargohold when you unexpectedly find yourself getting vaporized out in the cold of space. Skill Injection will be limited to 50 skills, far more than most players are likely to use, and is being included in Apocrypha in tandem with the much-discussed Skill Queue.

Apocrypha's Skill Queue will limit players to a 24-hour window of skills they can set to automatically begin training. For newer players, this will eliminate the constant need to log in and switch skills in the first days and weeks of playing, although the initial training stages of virtually any skill in the game can be automated in this fashion. The Skill Queue is primarily a feature that benefits newer players, but even the game's veteran players will undoubtedly have use for it at times.

This article was originally published on Massively.