Friday night at about 10pm I was sitting in front of my computer and really feeling the desire to resubscribe to World of Warcraft. My wife and daughter had gone to bed early, it was quiet in the house, the air was cool in something of the usual mid-September tease of the coming of autumn, and I was really in the mood for the sort of easily guided, always something to do, nature of Azeroth. I might have even had enough gold for a WoW Token, though they have gone up quite a bit of late. If I did that I could just jump back into the game.
That is the way it is with WoW. You can log in and just do something. And, more importantly, you can log in a do something yourself. Being able to solo is one of the key attributes of the game… perhaps THE key attribute sustaining its ongoing success. For all the talk of the Blizzard name, the Warcraft setting, the low system requirements, the stylized graphics, I think being able to just log on and potter away on your own might be the biggest thing in retaining its player base.
A lot of us old timers pine for the glory days of early EverQuest, becoming practically fetishistic about the forced grouping and harsh nature of the game. But even at its nadir in the dark days of garrison boredom during the Warlords of Draenor era, WoW was still pulling in an order of magnitude more subscribers than EverQuest did at its absolute peak. And with good reason. Mixed in with all those “good old days” memories of Norrath are the recollections of evenings wasted trying to get something going, not being able to find a group, waiting for a spawn camp to be available, or just traveling across the world to group up with friends only to take so damn long that everybody was done for the night by the time you arrived.
You can even do the traditional group things solo thanks to Dungeon/Raid Finder. Well, solo-ish. You get grouped up, thrown into an instance, and everybody still has to do their job. So there is always something to do, and usually something you can do right away with a limited amount of time.
So when sitting, stuck for a game to play, it isn’t hard to see why WoW springs to mind unbidden.
And, as I sat there pondering Azeroth I did not even consider New Eden.
The problem is that many of the things that make EVE Online challenging, interesting, dynamic, and what not also conspire against it being, for lack of a better word, convenient. World of Warcraft is, most of the time, very convenient. I recall getting to Desolace back in the day being a long run, but even that sort of thing has been smoothed out.
I have said in the past, only half-jokingly, that before you do anything in EVE Online you usually have to do two or three other things first. At least I am past the point where I need to train a skill to do something new on my main. That only took a decade. But even trained up I was a bit stuck. On Friday night my jump clone was still on cool down and I was in a clone with implants in a station so I couldn’t jump, couldn’t swap to a clean clone, and couldn’t self-destruct without wasting some implants.
But that really didn’t matter. While I was in an out-of-the way location, there were no fleets going up and I was just in the mood to “do” something and not travel somewhere on the off chance that maybe I might find something to do. Something besides running anomalies, which I tend to when I don’t really want to “do” anything.
Which brings us back to missions. I could have logged in the Alpha clone alt I used for the last few events in The Agency cycle and run a few missions. Missions are one of those things you can do on demand, at least once you have yourself setup, which leads us back to the whole thing about new players going down the mission path until they are able to run level four missions, at which point they leave the game.
To recap, missions are the closest thing EVE Online has to the theme park, WoW-esque, PvE experience in that they:
There isn’t much else in the game that hits those three buttons. Even mining, the beloved pastime of those doing something in another window, isn’t as reliable as you might assume. Belts get mined out, anomalies take time to respawn, and on a rare day somebody might even try to interfere with you just to see if you’re awake.
Covering those three things seem to me to be something of a baseline to cater to a casual player base. And EVE Online fails on the first one eventually because the progression is only temporary. Once you, as they say, “level up your Raven” and can run level 4 missions safely, there is no more progress to be made. There is no story tying the missions together, there are no other stories to follow. The cold darkness of the space sandbox, where content is random and fleeting is what remains. The occasional highs are offset by long periods of quiet routine.
Which is why EVE Online is never my only game. In the end, I am far far further down the casual spectrum than you might suspect. There are things to do and sometimes I feel inclined to log on and do them. But more often my tales from New Eden start with a mention that a ping went out over Jabber for a fleet op. That is something that works for the space tourist in me. Somebody else has found something interesting and I log in to go along for the ride. I’ll do my part as something of a combat reservist that shows up when called to support the people who find the content.
But as a game that provides content on demand… and those other two things… EVE isn’t very good. As has been said many times over, you need to find your own path in the game, you have to discover what is out there that will keep you engaged. EVE Online pretty much dares you to like it.
It is never going to be a home for casual theme park MMO players.
Anyway, that is the last of my three part exploration of PvE in EVE Online.
I’m still thinking about resubscribing to WoW, though on Friday night I managed to distract myself by picking one of the many unplayed games out of my Steam library to try. I spent a couple of hours with Sniper Elite V2, which I think was a freebie on Steam at some point in the past as part of a promotion.
And Potshot has mentioned Medieval Engineers as a possibility. But it seems likely that there will be more Azeroth in my future.