How easy is it to get into EVE Online in 2021?

There are some multiplayer games out there that fill gamers with a worrisome, nagging dread. Those behemoths that millions of people have been play for years, and that the very idea of starting right now seems destined for immediate failure. If you haven’t been playing League of Legends since year one, taken part in every Destiny raid, or ranked in every season of Overwatch, there’s a feeling that you shouldn’t even bother trying. That’s the category that EVE: Online fell into for me.

I’ve always known about EVE Online. Modern gamers are in fact born with an innate sense of EVE Online’s existence. It’s that game about spaceships, where you can take your spaceship and join up with everyone else’s spaceship to do *something*, all the while giant conglomerates wage occasional wars in which hundreds of thousands of real world dollars are blown to smithereens. That is where the innate knowledge, unfortunately, washes up on a distant planet’s shore, left to eddy in a tranquil sci-fi backwater along with Battle of the Planets and Wing Commander’s FMV. It is a game so epic in scale that somewhere along the way I’ve got lost trying to understand it.

So it was with fearful interest that I was given the opportunity to hop into EVE Online – some 18 years since its inception – and be led by the hand through its opening moments by Páll Grétar Bjarnason. This is a man who lives and breathes EVE Online, and in his dulcet Icelandic tones I was shown the way in.

Which Empire should I choose?

The first step you’re going to take is to choose which Empire you’re going to explore. The general feeling is that it doesn’t make too much difference to your overall experience in EVE Online, unless you’re going to take the role-playing side of things very seriously, but it’s worth noting that they do each offers different ship designs; if you’re searching for something in particular to start out with it’s worth checking out each empire’s roster. Ultimately you’ll be able to pilot ships from all of the races, and travel anywhere, so don’t worry that you’re going to be limited by your early choices.

Here’s a run down of the different factions:

The Caldari’s outlook is that wealth and power only come if you’re loyal to the Corporation. A corporate dictatorship, they’re ruthless and efficient, while their ships can use a wide variety of missiles for offence. Besides that, they have access to hybrid turrets and shield tank, but thanks to their love of missiles they can be at a disadvantage against enemies equipped with faster laser-based weaponry, or electromagnetic damage.

Gallente sound like the goodest of good guys, and that starts with their commitment to democracy and liberty. In essence, they’re the Starfleet of EVE Online, committed to bringing people together and working towards making the galaxy a better place. They also use drones and close-range weaponry that utilises their advanced technology, and they excel at sensor dampening. Their weakness lies in the vulnerability of their drones, and you’re going to need to invest in a lot of skills. Their sworn enemy is the Caldari.

Minmatar were formerly enslaved by the neighbouring Amarr Empire, and those experiences have led them to become an extremely resilient people (and one that rightfully hates the Amarr). Their ships are fast and nimble, and utilise old-school tech like artillery and autocannons to take down their foes. Their downside is the reduced armour those ships boast, and, much like Gallente, you’re going to need to focus on your skills.

The Amarr Empire are ostensibly the bad guys. They enslaved the Minmatar, amongst many other races, and their empire extends across the largest region of space. That said, its citizens seem to be able to put any ethical quandaries aside, and thanks to their expansive military their ships are particularly adept with lasers and drones. They’re also the most heavily armoured, though their ships are, in return, the slowest.

Once you’re over that hand-wringing decision – which is literally the first screen you see – you can move onto character creation. As everyone knows, this is where you will probably spend the next couple of hours, and nobody will not blame you for this. What you do need to consider is how seriously you’re going to take role-playing. Are you the sort to post in-character communiques on the EVE reddit or do you just want to look cool?

Learning the ropes (and the menus)

After that you’re into the game’s tutorial, and EVE does an excellent job of not overwhelming you straight away. No, it waits to ladle a heaping of menus and systems onto your lap, and broadly it does so in a way that feels manageable. It’s worth saying that EVE Online is still pretty menu-heavy, and if you’re not into reading this might be one game that’s just not for you.

The tutorial is led by the sassy AI Aura, whose playful dialogue sets an engaging tone for new players to latch onto. Beyond just moving your ship around, you’ll soon find out how to scan objects, select targets and blow stuff up. EVE Online takes the opportunity to showcase just how good it looks here, and it strikes a balance between realism and a spot of visual eye-candy. Páll let me know various improvements that have been made to the game’s visual identity, and if you’re a returning player you might find that some things look very different to what you remember. As a newcomer I was just able to revel in a sci-fi universe that doesn’t feel overwrought.

Now, as you’d expect with a game that relies on menu interactions, there’s a lot of pointing and clicking to do in EVE Online. Again, you will have to judge whether that sounds like something you’re going to be interested in. On the whole, this isn’t going to be a gung-ho, rollicking action-adventure, but an atmospheric delve into a genuinely interactive online society. The audio work helps a lot with that, and if you’re a fan of the atonal sounds of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Vangelis’ iconic Blade Runner soundtrack you’re going to find a lot to like here. Personally, I absolutely love the aesthetic and the audio design, and I think it’s a huge strength for the game.

Living the Corpo life

One of the best ways to get into EVE Online is to join a player corporation, and thankfully the game has a solution to any possible maladies such as a ‘lack of friends’ or the dreaded ‘dearth of popularity’ by onboarding you into the wider world through an in-built corporation. The Deep Stellar Coalition Enterprises corporation is there to ease you into interacting with the more serious EVE players, and they’ll even help you out. Once you’re through the opening section they’ll send you an invite to join. It’s a vital step out into the world of EVE – especially if you’re heading in solo – so make sure you don’t ignore this option.

As you settle in there’s a lot to consider – do you want to focus on combat or trade? – but thankfully the tutorial is set to nudge you in the right direction, or more specifically to the right part of the menu. The Agency – which you can find towards the top of your Neocon menu on the left of your screen – will similarly provide you with a batch of things to do, and it’s the most efficient way to really start working your way into the game.

As with a host of massively multiplayer online games, EVE Online has an array of special events happening throughout the year too. At the moment it’s ‘The Hunt’ an Easter-inspired event that has you hunting down mysterious capsules that give you access to special event sites, as well as giving you a batch of different rewards and discounts. They’re a nice and focussed activity to get involved in, so if you’re set to head into the stars, bear them in mind if you want a nice boost to your activities.

Just the beginning…

It’s fair to say that I’ve barely scratched the surface here, but as a starting point there’s something clear about EVE Online; it’s a unique, involving experience, and if you have a love for high-concept sci-fi, there is an immense universe here waiting for you to explore. Don’t allow yourself to be put off by talk of giant interstellar battles, or the complicated economic interactions between players role-playing their way to the stars. Set out on your own journey, and you’ll likely be inspired, and enthralled, by what you find.

Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.