EVE Online screenshot
I might leave the EVE Online number-crunching and analyzing to Massively's Brendan Drain, but my personal history with the game is long, however, and I have proudly reactivated my 2004 account (complete with a 10 million skill point character) once a year to see how things are going. I generally spend several hours playing and getting used to the changes but end up playing other games for columns like Rise and Shiny.

This time around, I thought I would try something different. I was spurred into action by the recent Steam sales, one of them offering an EVE Online Starter Pack for something like two bucks. (Now it's almost $5.00) It comes with 30 days of time, some special newbie goodies, and a booster to help skills grow faster. Sure, I could have reactivated my old account for $15.00 (and probably will after this is over), but I wondered how making a new character now would compare to what it was like all those years ago.

It turns out that it's still pretty darn cool.

EVE Online screenshot
New players start off by choosing one of fours races: the Caldari, the Gallente, the Minmatar, and the Amarr. My original character was a Caldari, picked for her bonuses to missile damage, but that was years ago. When you pick out a different race a video will explain its history and advantages. You'll also pick out one of three bloodlines, create your avatar (amazing fun in itself), and then choose a portrait. After that you'll pick your ancestry, education, and a full, three-part name. The videos are top-notch as most EVE Online videos are, but later on in the tutorial the lack of any voice-over or video guides makes the rest of it feel a bit dated. I'll explain more in a minute.

Next you'll pick from one of three bloodlines, each with its own general specialization. Don't get too hung up on some of these because you can technically eventually learn almost everything in the game because, you know, sandbox reasons. It should be noted that I have not once met an EVE Online player who did not specialize or follow some sort of guide that helped that player become a more specific player. Yes, even in the classless world of sandboxes, players are sure to create classes, even if they are more open than standard. Still, don't let that stop you from trying anything and everything and failing along the way. Failing is fun in an MMO -- yes, even in EVE Online -- because there's no harm done. Experiment.

EVE Online screenshot
You'll next visit character creation. Several years ago CCP reconfigured the character creation to make it some of the best in the business, but many players became upset that any emphasis was being placed on systems other than on combat or spaceships. There was a perceived uproar (at least from this permanent newbie's perspective) that many EVE Online players thought that creating what is essentially in-game housing for avatars to walk around in was a useless and silly endeavor. There are many players (and I am not exaggerating) who would be happy with a series of spreadsheets to play with so they wouldn't have to mess with silly spaceships. Don't listen to some veteran player with a super-mean looking avatar: There were and still are many, many EVE Online players who would love the ability to socialize and explore outside of their spaceships. I am one of those people.

EVE Online screenshot
When we look at it from the brand-newbie's perspective, the character creation and in-station time is essential. It gives the game some life, something that is often missing from the game. You can always find plenty of life within the chat box, but either you understand the appeal of social environments or you don't. It's a real shame that a new player walks up to the exit that will bring him into the social area of a station and it remains locked, even after all of this time.

The newbie tutorial does a fantastic job of distracting you from the lackluster avatar interactions. I am already familiar with the game, but I have never looked into exploration. An explorer goes out into the cold of space to search for ancient relics, bits of loot, or piles of data to extract and possibly sell. It always felt a bit overly complicated to me, but that's because until now I never really took the time to explore it deeper. The tutorial does a fantastic job of explaining things and the game starts to feel quite epic almost immediately, even to someone who is used to its sights and sounds.

EVE Online screenshot
The tutorial also teaches a new player how to outfit a ship, engage in combat, explore space, activate warp gates, take on an agent, complete missions... almost everything that a basic pilot will need to know is covered in depth. It never feels overwhelming, but there is a sense of something massive going on outside of the station. The chat is very active. There are helpful players spread throughout the newbie help channel, and almost every question I had was answered within seconds.

Exploration wasn't so hard to figure out, but it was explained -- as most things in the tutorial -- through massive walls of text. Not only did I have to read paragraphs of information, but I had no way of changing the white text to something that would be easier on my eyes. I felt as if I was watching a hacker movie from the '90s. The developers do such a wonderful job designing trailers and animations -- why shouldn't they be able to add in some nice voiceovers that cut through the mountains of eye-searing text? Luckily, I was already familiar with many of the systems that were being explained, but just be aware that being a newbie in EVE Online means reading... a lot. Oh, and listening to music that sounds like it's coming out of a college station at two in the morning.

I have to admit that I can hardly remember when I first made my EVE Online character all those years ago. But I have to say that even I felt the sense of wonder and excitement that those first few hours in EVE Online bring. Forget all of the stories you read about players who rip each other off, ask their followers to encourage someone to commit suicide, or provoke real-life losses in the thousands. Being a lying jerk is not a game mechanic and is not native only to EVE Online.

EVE Online screenshot
Even CCP seems intent on spreading the idea that EVE Online is nothing but ruthless pirates who come to your house and kick your dog, but the fact is that there are just as many players who simply log in to one of several accounts, set offline skills to learn, do some mining, and then log out. The game is often not that glamorous because a lot of players tend to lose the sense of wonder that the game can provide if time is taken to enjoy it.

Outsiders refer to EVE Online as "Spreadsheets in Space." There's a lot of truth to that. In my opinion, the game is actually more of a PvE game with PvP on top. Most players in the game just want to make some cash and blow up a few spaceships and would rather avoid any drama. If you have wanted to try the game, why haven't you? Are you scared that you'll get some sort of virus just for chatting with some 20-year-old who claims to be a hacker? Are you worried that whichever male-dominated wolf-pack is in charge of the drama these days will come to your house to throw a kegger?

While you can, snag a cheap 30-day account on Steam. Signing up for the game through Steam is remarkably easy. Take your time picking out a race, have fun making an avatar, take your time in the tutorial. If you do these things, you will probably feel that feeling that a massive sandbox world is supposed to make you feel. It's called immersion, and the newbie tutorial is a fantastic first step.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!

This article was originally published on Massively.
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