Playing free-to-play and losing my ship made me enjoy EVE Online again

A long time ago, back in 2009, I was playing EVE Online and World of Warcraft. I had a lot of free time on my hands back then, and enough time to sit with skill calculators and all the things people joke about when people play EVE Online. Spreadsheets and the like. But none of my friends were playing the game and the corp I was in was all on America time except for one player and well, things got lonely and when a war declaration occurred, I lost interest in dealing with issues one player was creating for our whole corp. I gave up on EVE, despite the joy it gave me that I could fly among the stars in a nice shiny spaceship.

Fast-forward nearly a decade and last week, the itch to go back got the better of me and I hopped back into the capsule. CCP Games has taken so many steps to help new players find their feet (or in my case, work out how to ride the bike again) that they have to be commended for the effort. Career agents that guide you through the various job types. A map system that can highlight nearby events and jobs so that you always have an idea of where to go. A ship browser that explains how the ships are linked and explains the sense of progression through the various pathways and much more all waits to be looked at and tackled. For a while I was honestly scared to leave the safety of the space station, rather looking at where I had left what a decade ago, and what was available to a free vs a paying player.

In my case, only one of my ships was barred to me: a massive mining barge that can make short work of asteroids. Eventually, I ran combat missions on my smallest ship, relearning things and getting back into the groove. For those who don’t know, when you die in EVE, you don’t respawn with all your gear like in most MMOs. That ship is dust, a floating wreck in space. If you are lucky you get your capsule to safety, but sometimes that dies too and you spawn in your medical clone, which might mean a loss in skills learnt and goodbye to any implants you got to improve your stats. Losing a ship is a big thing and you quickly learn to not fly anything you can’t replace.

The transits of two exoplanets can easily be seen here. Notice the two dips being repeated.

Over the last few days, I have been running missions, testing how powerful my ship is and what I can do to improve upon it. I moved up into bigger ships and took on harder missions, and during the quiet times where I was salvaging wrecks before moving on to the next deadspace pocket, I discovered Project Discovery. This is a little game that you can play while waiting for other things to happen in EVE, where you look for subtle changes in the brightness of a star to detect the transit of planets. After a tutorial, you get dumped into looking for these transits, and you earn money and skins for ships as you play. It is a lot of fun and it turns out that the data is from real stars in our universe, not the universe of New Eden. Here I am, doing a little to help scientists find exoplanets among distant stars. It gave me a real kick, and I got a skin for my battlecruiser, win-win!

So, of course, I had to fly in my Harbinger now that it had a nice skin! Compared to the cruiser and frigate I had been using to kill pirates, this big boy could sit in the thick of combat and laugh at enemies. I ramped up and a mission eventually warned me that the enemy would be really tough. Oh well, they weren’t lying. While my ship was handling things fine, the third “room” of the mission obliterated me with swarms of missiles. I flew my capsule back to base, tail between my legs. There was my big ship (not my biggest but I don’t feel it is ready to leave dock just yet!) vaporised. Insurance hardly covered the ship’s loss and most of the components I used on it were many jumps away if I bought them now to replace. So I bought the replacement and have left it in the dock. There was anger, there was sadness… I felt myself go through all the steps linked to the grieving process, each one playing through my mind as to what I did wrong, what I could have done better and the like. It was unreal. Most games give that feeling, if at all, when they end. A great game leaves you with a hole that can’t be filled for a while. This loss left me with a mini-version of that. Now I want to play more to see what else lies in store for me. I am going to learn what I did wrong and try something else for a while. Maybe I will make a bit of cash as an explorer for now, or dig back into mining. Mining was rather peaceful until someone decided my last corporation needed to be ground to dust over and over again.

I would probably never have tried EVE Online again if not for its free-to-play system. I wasn’t ready to pay for a month to see if the game gave me joy again after leaving so long ago in a huff and there is a lot you can do as a free-to-play player, enough to feel like you contribute to a corporation or to make money on your own. But after the feeling of loss when my ship blew up, the desire to improve and try again and a week of chatting to other EVE players while all going about our own little missions, I think New Eden is going to be my home for a while. Anyone looking for a Retriever pilot to join some mining missions? That Harbinger isn’t going to pay for itself just yet.

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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