Massively's Apocrypha expansion hands-on: Epic Mission Arcs and Tech III

James Egan
J. Egan|03.06.09

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Massively's Apocrypha expansion hands-on: Epic Mission Arcs and Tech III

Epic Mission Arcs and Lore

EVE Online's setting of New Eden is one with a rich backstory, which is always being fleshed out further through regular Chronicles (short stories found on the game's official site), video footage tied into the game's lore and, as of last year, brought to life in the Empyrean Age novel.

While not all players opt to delve into this aspect of the game, the content is there to immerse yourself in. The problem is that there's a disconnect between the story and gameplay because of how mission running (quests) work in EVE and the repetition that characterizes them.
The missions in the game (pre-Apocrypha) are typically stand-alone events, with little to offer players in the way of real choices to be made, and few consequences attached to those choices beyond faction standings. While there are currently storyline missions that play out over a few chapters, in truth the stories are no more engaging than standard missions as they're simply a linear progression. Choice plays no real part the experience; the only real choice made is whether or not to accept the mission.

"Epic Arcs are going to be this long, branching story where you're able to make different choices along the way... affect the outcome of the storyline, which is more like a traditional roleplaying game."

Getting players swept up into the backstory of New Eden is one of CCP's goals, and thus Epic Mission Arcs are a major new feature in Apocrypha. Ward says, "Epic Arcs are going to be this long, branching story where you're able to make different choices along the way, and have dialogue boxes when you talk to the agents that will allow you to affect the outcome of the storyline, which is more like a traditional roleplaying game."

With Epic Mission Arcs comes the potential to better define your place within EVE's setting. Ward says, "With branching, you might be able to defect from one side to the other, even working for pirate factions rather than the main Empire factions." Although this will not be the case with the initial Epic Mission Arc which will be released with Apocrypha, it's interesting to know that the game's creators do have this potential in mind.

Speaking of potential, major events loom on the horizon in terms of EVE's lore. While he didn't give away any of the Apocrypha surprises, EVE Online's lead writer Tony Gonzales mentions that future game expansions will have tie-ins with the Chronicles. Gonzales says, "In general the long term goal for content is to let the game do more showing instead of us telling. With epic arcs and branching paths, we can take all those different outcomes and tie them directly to clues you'd have to be reading the Chronicles to pick up on. Integrating this with Chronicles is something more that you'll see in the Winter expansion, but for this first one, it's more or less isolated to the NPE. We finally have the groundwork and the tools needed to really integrate the story more with content."

As with many of other Apocrypha revamps, missions will sport a new dialogue box that incorporates everything into one screen. In addition, you don't need to accept or decline missions right away since CCP is adding a 'delay' option. You'll eventually need to be accept or reject your missions, as with the current system, but you'll have a much larger window to decide before agents will stop speaking to you.

Fitting Screen Revamped

Until Walking in Stations becomes a part of the EVE Online experience, the game is strictly a ship-as-avatar affair. Given how central fitting one's ship is to playing the game, CCP decided there's a lot more that players should be able to do in the ship fitting screen, prompting a radical UI revamp. The new ship fitting screen is more than just a facelift on an old feature, however.

The circular interface may take some getting used to for players who've been with the game for a while, but what Ward showed Massively makes sense. There will be more information at one's fingertips during ship fitting when Apocrypha launches than there is today. But, Ward shared a bit about CCP's plans to add even more functionality to the ship fitting screen, which will show what a ship setup is capable of, not unlike the third-party EVE Fitting Tool. "We're going to be doing more with the fitting. We're looking at putting in a tanking simulator and a cap simulator. That won't be in the initial release of Apocrypha but that's our plan, to continue to improve it," he says.

"In general the long term goal for content is to let the game do more showing instead of us telling."

The ability to save specific setups, and share them, is a new feature that really has the potential to change things, particularly for newer players. CCP wants to make sharing configurations a ubiquitous aspect of the game. Much as you can simply create contextual links in the client's chat windows, you'll be able to paste hyperlinks to specific configurations in chat and share them in this fashion with anyone and everyone in-game.

Beyond creating linkable ship setups, saving configurations is done on three levels. Personal and corporate fittings are saved on the server, while locally saved fittings are exportable as xml files, and will eventually be usable by the third party software already popular with the playerbase.

As it's possible to make saved ship fittings available to members of a player corporation, new players will easily be able to draw upon pre-made configurations, and apply them with the push of a button (as long as the proper modules are on-hand.) Ward cites the benefits of this new system for the corps in EVE that train new players as well as large alliances that can specify that certain configurations be used for given tasks or fleet operations.

Tech III

One of the most hotly anticipated features coming to EVE Online with Apocrypha is Tech III. Dubbed by some as "Lego in space", the feature has the promise of being much more than that. Tech III's modular technology builds upon a ship's hull with five subsystems: Propulsion; Engineering; Electronic; Defensive; and Offensive. Each race's Tech III ship, or "strategic cruiser" as CCP calls it, is named for a mythological (or biblical) shapeshifter:

  • Amarr: Legion
  • Caldari: Tengu
  • Gallente: Proteus
  • Minmatar: Loki

True to their names, each strategic cruiser has thousands of potential configurations, making these the most versatile ships in the game. But will this flexibility allow a player to escape from the typical race-specific ship designs the game is known for? No, says Ward. So Frankenstein-like Tech III ship configurations will not be multi-racial. Players can't combine the Gallente Proteus and its generous amount of low slots (used for armor tanking) with the abundant mid slots that the Caldari Tengu can offer, for instance. "They're going to keep the racial flavor, so the subsystems will keep that racial style and they're not interchangeable between races. So you'll see a Loki on the battlefield and you won't know if he's speed-fitted or if he's a long-range artillery boat," says Ward.

Ward is up front about the fact that, in some respects, Tech III is arriving pre-nerfed, given how this new feature to the game has so much potential. CCP prefers to introduce Tech III in its current state and then make adjustments as time goes on. Tech III strategic cruisers in Apocrypha will have all five subsystems, but there will initially only be three variations per subsystem (for each race). As time goes on, a fourth and finally a fifth variation for each of the subsystems will be released.

Ward is flying a Tech III strategic cruiser of the Gallente race, the Proteus. He gives a quick demonstration of how the five subsystems work, framed in the ring of the new fitting screen. As a few moments go by it's clear what he's really doing though -- trying to make his cruiser look as close as possible to a hammerhead shark. Once this important modification is complete, he begins to explain how Tech III will be tied into exploration in Apocrypha and beyond.

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