“This is a marathon, not a sprint.” That might as well be the motto of CCP Games from what I’ve seen in my time at EVE Fanfest 2023. The term has come up in a documentary about the development of prize pig, EVE Online, in presentations about all the other projects the studio is working on, and – most commonly – when referring to the rollout of the newly-announced EVE Vanguard.
EVE Vanguard, per Snorri Árnason (game director at CCP), is “an age-old dream CCP has been wanting to realise.” The developer tried to do this with Dust 514, the sort-of MMOFPS PS3 game that CCP and Sony worked together on, way back in 2013. But that shut down less than three years later, citing low player counts. Since then, Project Nova and Project Legion were concocted to fill this EVE-sized, FPS-shaped hole. Neither released.
So, Vanguard. Árnason enthuses that this is CCP’s chance to finally “create a meaningful FPS experience” in the EVE universe. And from what I’ve seen so far, well, I think it has a chance to succeed. The first thing that’ll strike you about it are those absurd visuals. It’s not all smoke and mirrors, this; I saw it run, in real-time, as an actual game. It looks that good. Unreal Engine 5.2 does a lot of heavy lifting, and seeing Vanguard in action makes me even more excited about the future of the engine.
The game will also be connected to EVE Online “from day one”, per Árnason. After all, “if it’s not connected, there’s no reason to do it”. The basic premise is that you, as a Vanguard, will be given tasks from the capsuleers (EVE Online players) and asked to retrieve and extract loot from downed ships. It’ll be PvPvE, meaning you’ll fight off NPCs and other humans, all hungry and driven by their desire for space credits, glory, or maybe just chaos. This is EVE, after all. And “EVE players love to blow shit up,” per Árnason.
The key message is that CCP wants to integrate a human experience into the spaceship opera of EVE Online. As ships fall like whale carcasses onto the surface of planets, players come like carrion to strip them of their assets (it’s all very Icelandic). You can form fragile alliances with the players that deploy alongside you, and then shoot them in the back just before you extract, if that’s your thing. Or you can (try to) lone wolf it from the off, and be a right little space bastard to gain that infamy. “Like every experience in EVE, it’s better when you’re playing with real people,” Árnason notes. “We want to form emergent social connections, as well as gameplay ones.”
Speaking of gameplay, that’s what got its hooks in me the most. I’ve not played (yet), but the hands-off footage I’ve seen ticks all the shooter boxes. It’s intuitive, readable, and visceral. It adheres to all the shooter fundamentals. You know when to reload your gun, you know when you’re under fire, you know when you’re facing NPCs or human enemies. You know where to go, thanks to that lovely lighting and visual language that runs concurrently with the main EVE Online experience. The gunfire looks, sounds, feels gorgeous.
The actual gameplay is still something of a concept, and CCP promises to mould development around the players as they test the alphas and betas and whatever comes after. The developer is announcing this early (it’s not got a release date, yet) because it wants to fold the players in at this stage and build the experience around them. Which is precisely what the main EVE game has been doing for 20 years now.
Vanguard is a strong foundation, basically. Until I get my hands on it, I can’t say whether or not it feels good, but the fundamentals are all there. And I agree with the messaging; it isn’t just another generic shooter in an EVE skin, the devs have thought about (and are implementing) features that rhyme with the larger EVE universe.
CCP Games is calling Vanguard a ‘module’ – though you can play it standalone, and without any prior knowledge of EVE, the game is going to have the most value for people that are at least a little au fait with the universe. The coolest element I heard in the presentation was the (eventual) promise that Vanguards on the ground will be able to locate, raid, and pilfer from ships that have gone down in the main EVE Online experience. So if a buddy of yours gets Shanghai’d by pirates, you can go and help retrieve at least a little of their booty. It’s something I’ve fantasised about in, say, Destiny. But EVE is the first game with the scope (and resources) to pull it off.
I am not an EVE player, but I am – as the devs like to say – ‘EVE curious’. So for me, Vanguard looks like a nice way in; an understandable, parseable way for more action-oriented gamers to dip their toes into this living, breathing universe. I am tempted to pick Vanguard up; the world, the art direction, the gunplay and those incredible Unreal Engine 5 graphics have sold me on it. It’s a proof-of-concept right now, but it looks good. It’s a marathon not a sprint, after all.
Your first chance to play EVE Vanguard will be via a ‘publicly-playable mass test’ in December 2023. Players will be able to drop into EVE Vanguard’s gameplay experience directly from the EVE Online launcher on PC. You can learn more at the link.
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