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Massively's Apocrypha expansion hands-on: The Sleepers

James Egan

The Sleepers

The inhabitants of these uncharted solar systems may take offense to your encroachment upon their territory, however. The Sleepers, an ancient race of NPCs known for their mastery of virtual reality and cryogenics, will provide the greatest PvE challenges players have ever faced in EVE Online through their guardian drones. Their AI is far beyond what players are used to going up against in PvE. The Sleepers will have varying levels of strength and adaptation to player threats. They do seem to have a particular hatred for their creators at CCP, given their ultra-violent response to Ward's arrival at a structure the Sleeper drones constructed in space. They move in on him, dishing out *all* damage types: beams sizzle for EM and Thermal damage; warheads obliterate for Kinetic and Explosive damage. Fortunately Ward's Proteus is set up to deal with this ("I'm going to put on a GM shield extender, or when we go through there I'm going to get wasted!") making his ship virtually impossible to kill, letting us witness the Sleeper offensive in safety.

"It seems from all the feedback we've been getting that the players really like it. PvE hasn't been a challenge for a long time and they're excited to have a real challenge again."

Contrary to rumor, Ward states that there will be some lower level encounters with Sleepers that a solo player could potentially take on. Ward says, "The way we put up the level of challenge is that with the easiest ones you could be in a really well-fitted Tech I cruiser with all Tech II [or better fittings], or a battlecruiser or a HAC, and you should be able to solo the easy stuff. But also newer people in a group of Tech I frigates should be able to take on the easy stuff together. And then it moves on to the hardest stuff where the sky's the limit, and taking in two carriers is going to be a good idea, because it's really going to be that tough."

Wormholes found in high security space will (often) lead to weaker Sleeper opposition. Without a doubt though, the higher level encounters -- such as those already seen in the Singularity test server videos in circulation -- will require grouping in order to even have a shot at taking down the Sleepers and salvaging their technology. Gonzales adds, "It's going to be a good time for groups, it really is. It's going to be a blast."

Some of the players who've experienced the Sleepers on the Singularity (aka Sisi) test server agree. Ward says, "It seems from all the feedback we've been getting on Sisi that the players really like it. PvE hasn't been a challenge for a long time and they're excited to have a real challenge again."

Added to the risk is the fact that the local chat window cannot be used as an intelligence tool in wormhole space. This means if other players enter the system you're in, you'll have no warning of this and may find yourself fending off other players while trying not to be torn apart by the Sleepers.

Being torn apart should be a chief concern for players who engage the ancient race's drones. Sleepers won't simply spawn by blinking into sight out of nowhere, as anyone who's run missions in EVE will be accustomed to. They'll actually warp in to a location as players do.

Added to their repertoire of destruction is the ability to switch targets and focus fire. Sleeper frigate-class drones will maneuver evasively, rather than simply orbiting players in combat, and comparisons are already being made between how these NPCs react and the kinds of tactics that players use in PvP. Moreover, the Sleepers are resilient opponents. They don't have shields but they spider tank (repair one another while in combat), so while their numbers are superior they'll be very difficult to wear down.

New Graphics and Sound

On top of all the new features being added to the game and the ones being revisited and refined, the CCP devs have also made across-the-board changes to the game's graphical effects. When EVE's players log in on March 10th, they'll see new cloaking and warping visuals. Much-improved effects connected with modules should also wow players, whether it's the look of weapons fire, emanations from electronic warfare equipment, or visuals showing that tanking modules are active.

If you've seen the Apocrypha teaser trailer, you might have noticed that ships cast shadows upon one another. It's a subtle effect, but it's not just something done for the video. Objects in space will cast shadows on other objects, and this will be especially noticeable in the game's asteroid belts. Another bonus is that for those players who mine in asteroid belts, or those who hunt for prey within them, the ores will be visually distinguished from one another. The changes aren't just skin deep. Apocrypha will be using a new (middleware) audio engine as well, adding a host of new sounds to accompany the enhanced visuals.

The Apocrypha Storyline

Noah Ward and Tony Gonzales answer most every question I have over the course of our conversation, but I do still have one other thing on my mind -- why call the expansion "Apocrypha" and how will the game's lore accommodate all of these sweeping changes to EVE Online?

"This patch changes EVE very drastically, practically overnight. So we have a storyline that accommodates that."

They can't go into specifics as they don't want to ruin any surprises, but Gonzales is able to drop a hint or two. He says, "This patch changes EVE very drastically, practically overnight. So we have a storyline that accommodates that. There's been a build up to it quietly happening through the Chronicles. There's a series running right now called The End of the World and it's been dropping clues and building up to the last installment, which will be released on patch day. The New Eden cluster is going to be shaken by something cataclysmic. As far as the lore goes, New Eden hasn't seen a naturally occurring wormhole since the EVE Gate collapsed so this is a really big milestone. For them to be spawning all over the place has all kinds of biblical implications and prophecies."

* * *
So here we are, only a few days away from the most significant expansion EVE players have ever seen. Will it live up to expectations? That'll be up to the players to decide, but what I've seen of Apocrypha thus far leaves little doubt in my mind that this expansion will add new dimensions to the EVE Online experience. That's always a good thing in my book.

Thanks again to Noah Ward and Tony Gonzales for offering to meet me and be subjected to my endless grilling, and to Atari for letting us take over their office.

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