The Alpha and the Omega

Eve Online has opened its doors to thousands of new players by removing the subscription barrier and going free to play.

Looking into the avatar customisation mirror in Eve Online

Eve Online has ascended. With the launch of the Ascension expansion, the game introduces a new free to play option in the form of “clone states”, as well as a revamped new player experience with a story-focused and fully voiced tutorial.

I first tried out Eve Online back in 2013 and have resubscribed a few times over the last couple of years, when I’ve felt the urge to try to make some progress on my character. With the subscription no longer required, I’ve jumped back in to the game to check out the changes.

Send in the clones

The biggest change to Eve Online is the free to play mode. You no longer need to purchase the game – the client can be downloaded for free – and you no longer need to pay a subscription fee for your account to be considered active.

This is explained through in-game lore as having “clone states”. Players who are accessing the game for free will be in the new default “alpha” clone state. Alphas are limited to having a set of pre-defined skills they can learn, which enable them to train up to cruiser level ships. Alpha clones are restricted to using tech 1 items and can only fly ships designed by their own faction.

Alphas are free to go anywhere in the Eve universe, join corporations and are also able to participate in faction warfare, where frigate and cruiser pilots can be valuable assets on the battlefield. Alphas can also participate in the other various activities in Eve Online, such as mining and industry, albeit in a restricted form by not having access to advanced skills. They also can’t access planetary interaction at all.

You can unlock the “omega” clone state by subscribing to the game, or by applying a PLEX (pilot licence extension earnable with in-game currency) to your account. Omega clones have full access to everything Eve Online has to offer, have no limits on the skills they can train, have unlimited length skill training queues and train at double the speed of alpha clones.

If an omega player’s subscription lapses, they will revert to alpha clone state. Any skills, ships or items they possess that are omega-only will not disappear, but they’ll be locked out and unavailable until they regain an omega state.

Inception

Another new feature of the Ascension expansion is the new player experience, codenamed “Inception”, by the game developers. This features a totally redesigned tutorial, featuring fully voiced new characters who act as your mentor through a story-based origin story for your character. Aura, your ship’s AI also has a brand new, softer and more friendly voice and personality. She guides players through the finer details of the tutorial by highlighting where to click on the UI and explaining how things work, such as moving your camera around or locking on to a target.

The new inception tutorial is only available to brand new accounts, created after the Ascension launch. Existing old accounts won’t have access to the new tutorial, even if they create a new character. I hope they change this, so that in the future I can experience the new story tutorials for myself, at least on new characters.

From what I’ve seen after watching someone stream it, the new tutorial is a vast improvement on the previous introduction to the game. But there are still a few things that could be improved in what it can teach new players about how things work, game concepts and the complex UI.

A Navitas Gallente frigate in Eve Online

Ascending

The launch of Ascension seems to have gone smoothly. The game went down on Tuesday 15 November 2016 for the deployment of the expansion and was back up again in under two hours. I logged in to check it out and didn’t notice any issues. Beforehand, people were worried that the servers would be overloaded with new players or that there would be unforseen bugs that could break the game. That didn’t seem to happen.

Along with clone states and the new tutorial, a few other tweaks have been made, such as fancy new ship explosion graphics effects and a newly redesigned character information screen.

The new character sheet features a large, live 3D closeup of your character’s face, along with a new layout and presentation for your skills and training queue. Now that I’ve played with it for a while, I think it is an improvement from what they had before. It nicely presents your skills to you, showing what level they are trained to and what is exclusive for omega clones.

The developers have also launched an official mobile app for the game, Eve Portal, which allows you to check on what your character is training, which ship they are currently in and location, as well as read in-game mail. The functionality is quite basic at the moment, but I hope more capabilities will be added in the future. Until then, I’ll be sticking with the third-party designed Neocom app I’ve been using, which allows me to monitor the status of my planetary interaction colonies, among other things.

Revelations

I have two accounts for Eve Online. My main character is in the Gallente Federation and focuses mainly on industrial activities and planetary interaction. When I purchased the Steam version of the game, that automatically generated a whole new account and thus my alt character in the Amarr Empire was born.

Deianira Galactrix of the Amarr Empire in Eve Online

I decided to give Ascension a first try on my alt character, as she was the one that had a few basic skills and was still pretty much a newbie. My ship, an Amarr destroyer was still in the hangar and ready to fly and so was all the tech 1 loot I’d accumulated from killing pirates. Some items had a new “omega only” symbol on them, such as faction restricted stuff my character couldn’t use, but that didn’t bother me too much, as I was only going to sell it anyway.

Checking out the character sheet, I saw what was available to alpha clones and could see that there were a lot of skills I still needed to train to become what would be an “optimal” alpha player.

My ship could also use some upgrades – I don’t know if it was because I was now missing some engineering skills, but my ship’s power grid couldn’t handle running everything fitted any more. I had a few basic industrial skills trained, so I bought a cheap blueprint and manufactured a rig to increase my ship’s power grid, enabling me to turn on more equipment at the same time.

Next, I decided to log into my main account and see what being an alpha clone would be like on a more advanced, previously subscribed character. The difference was a lot more noticeable. He had many more locked out skills that were trained but inaccessible during an alpha state.

Walking to the captain's quarters aboard a space station in Eve Online

My main character had focused on training advanced industrial and science skills to manufacture stuff and do research. These were now unavailable as an alpha. Worse still, I had invested a lot of skill points in planetary management, and had several colonies and goods stored in them. I was dismayed to see planetary interaction was not within the alpha skill set at all.

I thought that maybe I could adapt and do some of the basics, such as mining in my Venture class mining frigate. It was painfully unsatisfying, as I couldn’t use mining drones, and I had a much more effective Retriever class mining barge in my hangar, but was unable to fly it because mining barges are not part of the alpha skills.

Earlier this year when I had subscribed to Eve for a month, I had spent the time gathering materials and training in the skills needed to build and fly a Myrmidon class battle cruiser for running level 3 security missions. My heart sank as I realised that I couldn’t fly battle cruisers due to alpha restrictions.

I am the alpha and the omega

I’m really excited to be back in Eve Online, as I feel there’s so much more depth to it that can be experienced if I can make some more progress and learn more about what the game has to offer, but isn’t visible on the surface – for example how to research and create tech 2 gear, what Thera is and how to get there and building a citadel.

While I could be satisfied on my newbie alt as an alpha clone, I found that I couldn’t stand being in an alpha clone state on my main character. I had tasted the fruit of knowledge, and knew what I was missing out on.

So I’ve decided to reactivate my subscription and become an omega. My goal now is to try to make as much ISK as I can during the month. If I can earn enough to buy a PLEX, perhaps that will mean I can both play for free and have the benefits of omega clone state at the same time.

If it doesn’t work out, at least I will still be free to log into Eve Online at any time, even without an active subscription, and admire my battle cruiser in my hangar.

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