It's been almost four months since EVE Online switched from publishing two major expansions per year to releasing ten smaller updates, and so far it looks like the new schedule has been a huge success. Rather than forcing the industry overhaul out the door in Kronos before it was ready, CCP was able to push it forward to the Crius release window seven weeks later and the extra development time meant the feature launched in a very polished state. It may be too early to tell if the new schedule's success can be seen in the concurrent player graph for Tranquility, but the numbers have remained steady for the past few months in what is typically the annual low-point for player activity.
The Oceanus update is scheduled to go live in just two day's time, adding several graphical upgrades, more difficult burner missions, an experimental new notification feature, and other small improvements. The scale of the update seems to be on par with the recent Hyperion release, consisting of mostly small features and minor iterations on gameplay. While we're told that CCP is still working on large projects behind the scenes, the new release schedule means they won't be rushed out the door and so we may not see them for some time.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I summarise everything we know about Tuesday's Oceanus update, and take a look at what's to come in further releases.
EVE's recent patches have introduced some pretty heavy gameplay changes, completely overhauling the game's industrial gameplay, introducing tough new level 4 burner missions, and iterating on wormholes for the first time in years. While Oceanus may not have any game-changing new features, it makes up for it with some much-needed graphical upgrades. A new cloaking effect covers your ship in a shimmering layer of hexagons, which looks pretty badass and should help you see your own ship more easily when cloaked. A coloured aura effect will also be added to wormholes to visually indicate the maximum size of ship that can squeeze through.
All of the wormhole systems are getting new high-resolution nebular backdrops to match the same dark style as the rest of the game. Many in the wormhole crowd aren't happy with the new nebula graphics, which look a lot more realistic but make it harder to determine what class of system is on the other side of a wormhole. Gone are the bright blues of class 1 and 2 systems, the muddied beige of class 3 space, the luminous orange of lucrative class 4 systems and the dark blood red of classes 5 and 6. Every system will now fall on a spectrum from dark beige to dark red, and the only way to be sure what class of system you're in may be to look up the system's locus signature in a database.
Do you love blowing up over and over again?
If you've tried one of the new burner missions released in Hyperion, I hope you had more luck with it than I did! These extremely difficult new missions can be tackled only in frigate sized ships and see you face off against an AI-controlled faction frigate with the skills and modules of a real player. It's like a half-way house between PvE and PvP, mostly because there's a good chance you'll get your ass handed to you on a plate. In the three weeks after their release, burner missions destroyed almost 900 billion ISK worth of player ships and completely dwarfed the value of kills by any player alliance.
Now that some players have figured out the optimum setups and strategies required to beat the burners, CCP is adding a wrinkle in Oceanus. As if the burner missions weren't tough enough already, four new ones will pit you against an AI-controlled assault frigate backed up by two logistics frigates that repair him throughout the fight. If you fancy flying home from one of those missions in your shiny ship instead of looking at it mournfully from an escape pod, it's highly recommended that you tackle the missions as part of a group rather than charging in solo.
Quality of life improvements
Many of the features added in the past few months have been quality of life changes that make the game more enjoyable or less frustrating to play. The much-maligned loot spew mechanic was removed from hacking and archeology sites, for example, and tech 2 Amarr and Caldari drones are now actually useful again.
Oceanus will continue this trend with the first wave of a project CCP is calling "module tiericide." The project aims to remove all of the unused meta level 1, 2 and 3 named modules in the game or replace them with useful versions that serve a particular role. One version of a module might have lower capacitor usage, for example, while another might have decreased fitting requirements. Oceanus will only tackle a few of the less important modules first to gauge the community's reactions before overhauling more important modules like weapons and repairers.
It may seem to be an irrational feature to get excited over, but I'm really looking forward to the recently announced experimental notification feature coming in Oceanus. This opt-in feature will put a Facebook-style notification list in the bottom right of your screen to puts all of the game's important messages to you in one place. You'll be able to select from a list of things you'd like to be notified about, from skill training completing to insurance on your ship expiring or bounty payouts on a player you've just killed. The game will even keep a history log of all the selected events in case you miss the popup. The system should be pretty intuitive to anyone who's used Facebook, and CCP hopes it will be useful in letting new players know what's going on around them and highlighting their pitfalls and achievements.
Features on the horizon
One of the advantages of the new release schedule is that developers are happy to talk about features much earlier with the caveat that they might not be in the next release. One such feature scheduled for a release at some point after Oceanus is a full overhaul of tech 2 Invention and tech 3 Reverse Engineering. Data interfaces will finally be removed from the game, and we'll hopefully soon be able to schedule more than one invention run per job so we can set several day long research cycles. The cost of failing to invent a blueprint might be cushioned by getting a percentage of the datacores used in the job back, and jobs could succeed spectacularly and produce higher quality blueprints.
In a recent devblog, CCP teased us with details on a planned change to split up the EVE ship textures into multiple files and combine them at runtime. This would ordinarily be a very dry technical topic, but at the bottom of the devblog was an amazing screenshot of 70 different possible texture variations of the Amarr newbie ship. The new Space Object Factory code may be the first step toward getting fully customisable paint jobs for any ship. If CCP allowed corporations or alliances to pay PLEX to buy or rent a particular paint combination for their entire organisation, we could soon see entire fleets of colour-coordinated ships with a single signature style and their corp logos emblazoned on the side.
Oceanus may not have any major game-changing features for most of us, but it's shaping up to be a solid iteration on the game. We'll get new cloaking and wormhole graphics, a very interesting new notification system, and the first wave of a huge module rebalancing effort. Players who enjoy banging their heads against brick walls will enjoy the new tougher burner missions, and the game is now getting native French localisation. We've also got some major balance changes for PvP, with the interceptors and interdictors being rebalanced and cynosural fields now generating a minimum of 25km outside a starbase's force field.
Though it may be too early to tell if the new release schedule is having a net positive effect on play time, the steady stream of new things to do and market speculation on upcoming patches have certainly got me playing more recently. What I'm most looking forward to now is seeing how the module rebalance plays out when it's fully developed and whether we'll finally get the ability to apply custom paint jobs to our ships.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the bi-weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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