The Role of Duct Tape in Space

Last month, EVE Online went free to play.  Well, honestly, it’s more like it went into a Freemium model-on the one hand, you have the Omega Clones, which are basically the folks who have been playing EVE prior to the change-some with subscription fees, some with the use of PLEX pilot licenses, which are basically 1 month subs that can be purchased as an in-game item and sold on the market for usually heaps of ISK, the in-game currency.  The other hand holds the Alpha Clones, who have a number of substantial limitations on them-but the counterbalance is that they don’t have to pay a dime.

In many ways, not so different than Star Wars: The Old Republic.

But of course, EVE is a much different game than SWTOR.  Folks unfamiliar with the game might be surprised to learn that your avatar isn’t so much the body you craft when you create the character, but rather, the ship that character flies.  There is only one server (unless you’re in China, where you have a separate one), which means your character will never escape the reputation he builds-probably.  And despite the fact that all star systems have a security rating that impacts the ability to get away with murder, other players can and will blow your ship up if they can get away with it.  In a very real way, EVE is about knowing who to trust.

And about following the old maxim there, “Never fly what you can’t afford to lose”.  Which really should be rewritten to say “Never fly what you can’t afford to easily replace”.

Despite this, the game’s been popular enough to last for longer than I’ve been playing MMOs.  And with the new Alpha Clone release, I decided to reopen an old account I’d quietly created during a fit of insanity when the devs at CCP had a two for one account sale sort of thing.  I killed the existing characters there-I hadn’t really done much with them, and they didn’t even have enough ISK to bother preserving-and made a brand spanking new one.  While I could’ve gone back to my primary account, I didn’t really want to revisit the old characters as they would be shells of what they could fly, due to the Alpha restrictions.

You talkin' 'bout me?

You talkin’ ’bout me?

I chose to mess with a new faction.  The characters on my old account had been Gallente, and I felt that I’d done that to death during my previous sting in New Eden, the setting of the game.  Instead, I decided to go with the Minmatar.  The reputation of this faction is basically “ships put together with duct tape and scrap metal”, and my sense of humor demanded that I go that route.

So, let’s talk about restrictions.  Firstly, an Alpha is limited to-with two notable exceptions-ships of their own faction.  So my character is limited to flying Minmatar ships; he can’t even train the skills to learn to fly a Gallente ship, or a pirate faction ship.  The exceptions are the ORE Venture (which is a frigate-level dedicated mining ship) and the Gnosis battlecruiser, which was apparently given out to all active players at the 10th anniversary of the game; I’m not entirely sure if it was one to an account, or one to each character on the account, but based on what I’d seen during my previous run, I’m guessing the former.  As you may guess from this comment, I wasn’t active at the anniversary, so no Gnosis for me.  That said, I’d probably never fly it; one-of-a-kind in a game like EVE is just asking for heartbreak.

Speaking of training skills, many skills are either limited to how far you can train, or to being trainable at all.  At this time, the highest class of ship that can be trained for is the cruisers, which is basically two steps up from the frigates.  (Destroyers are the tier between.)  No battlecruisers, battleships, or capital ships for Alphas.  Alphas may also fly the lowest class of industrial ship, so they can at least haul modest amount (like say, a couple frigates) from one system to another.  The higher tiers of mining vessel are not available-and that’s to the relief of a lot of pilots, who already have issues with bot-controlled mining fleets.  The skill limits also include the upper reaches of specialization skills, so Alphas are not likely to be the biggest crafters, nor the best explorers, nor the best trade lords.

All of that said, it is possible to live in the margins.  You may not be the best explorer, but you can still explore sites and find modest riches there.  You may not be the best miner, but you can still get at asteroids and refine out minerals to use or sell.  You may not rule a mercantile empire, but you can still trade on the margins and make a modest profit.  And while you may not fly the ships that dwarf cities, you can still make a difference in a fight-either in corporations and alliances in their wars, or simply running missions for Agents in stations.

In simpler terms, an Alpha Clone state allows you to experience the breadth of EVE, but not necessarily the depth.  You have the capability of doing a lot of things, but not become a master of any of those things.

The other little limitation is training time.  Skills are not learned by doing, as it was in the pre-NGE days of Star Wars Galaxies, nor are they granted by leveling experience points.  Rather, they are learned by time.  You start out with a fairly good amount of skills-enough to allow you to do the basics and not embarrass yourself first thing out-and you either improve skills by training a new level of skill, in which there are five per skill, although the Alpha limits may reduce just how far you can train, even as far as only the first level of that skill; or you gain new skills by purchasing/acquiring a skill book which can allow you to start training that skill.  Again, Alpha limits apply-many skills just aren’t going to be allowable.  The big limit is the actual time taken.  While Omega Clones can train “twice as fast”, the reality is that the Omegas aren’t training any faster or slower than they’d been-it’s the Alphas who are training at half-speed.  (Use of the Neocom app on my phone helped confirm this.)  That’d probably be a bigger deal if Alphas could train more skills that require months to get to.

There’s also a hint that the training queue has changed, too.  Back in the day, you could only put skills in the training queue that started within 24 hours, but stuff I’ve seen seems to imply that this limit has been altered for Omegas; I haven’t read up carefully on that, so I’m not sure where things stand there, but for Alphas, it’s pretty much as I remembered, so it didn’t bother me.

That’s the big picture.  Now I’m focusing in on the smaller one.  I haven’t had the time to do whole heaps in EVE-the Knights of the Eternal Throne in SWTOR has occupied me a bit, and I still need to get to finishing the Delta Rising arc in Star Trek Online.  But I’ve managed to find some time to run the introductory Agent missions for industry, military, mining, production, and exploration.  Those missions are well worth doing, simply for the money and the free equipment-including a number of frigates and a couple of industrials-and a destroyer at the tail end of the advanced military.  I’ve managed to fit out a Thrasher destroyer, although I’m still working on a build for it-it’s not an ideal fit-and managed to scrape enough together to pick up a mobile tractor unit, which makes salvaging the ships I blow up in missions a lot easier.  Travel time’s a pain-although it’s mitigated a lot by use of micro-warp drives, which apparently can now be used in mission areas; back in the day, I had to fall back on afterburners.  Afterburners still have a place in EVE, since the MWDs tend to increase your targeting signature dramatically-and if you’re a small ship that expects to survive based on size and speed, you do NOT want to be easier to target!

Cruisers are a way off for me-I think I’ll want to get my standings high enough to start doing the level 2 missions first, which will hopefully allow a bit more earnings.  That is, if my ship can handle the abuse.  The level 4 missions are out of reach for Alphas, I think-those require use of battleships or really, REALLY well-fit cruisers or battlecruisers.  But I’m hopeful that I can at least get to the point where farming level 2’s are feasible.  The best part of being an Alpha is that you don’t need billions to do what you want to do.  If you’re happy flying smaller ships, it’s not hard to earn enough to make sure you can afford to lose those ships on a regular basis.  And, after all, that’s the name of the game.

This looks like a nice place.  Shame I'm gonna blow it up.

This looks like a nice place. Shame I’m gonna blow it up.

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