There are a lot of ways that Starfield disappointed players. All the companions are squares, we can agree on that, right? None of them will let you indulge in your criminal side. The promise of ‘space piracy’ ended up being nothing more than some quest scaffolding for running around and harassing some ships. The space exploration was paper-thin; mainly completed through menus, not flying your ship around. Planets are dead, empty, mostly devoid of life or any intrigue. Starfield, for many, is a letdown.
So what alternatives do you have if you want to get out and see the breadth and depth of space? We all know about No Man’s Sky and its (wholly unexpected) redemption arc. We all know about Outer Wilds and its introspective, philosophical melancholia. We all know about Kerbal Space Program and its devotion to mathematical purity. But what about EVE Online? It’s 20 years old, now, and still going strong. And it was always built to represent one of the purest sci-fi fantasies out there.
From the earliest days of EVE, when Hilmar Veigar Pétursson and the kernels of CCP Games set out to create a virtual universe where freedom, consequence, and autonomy where the key focus points, the game has represented one of the most interesting experiments in the gaming world. At Eve Fanfest 23, I have seen actual people get elected into an in-game government, players whoop and holler at spreadsheets, and a literal Space Pope bless a passerby that was nearly in tears at the interaction. This game is serious.
But, back to the Starfield comparison. My biggest disappointment with Bethesda’s newest hit RPG was the way it prevented you from really engaging with any of the darker sides of the human experience: you’re told not to steal too much, it’s drilled into you that indiscriminate murder is counter-productive, all of your companions are holier-than-thou paragons of justice (even the supposed ex-criminal). Pre-release, it was inferred that piracy was a large focus of the game, but in reality a single questline acted as the extent of your evil intent. It’s a far cry from past Bethesda games.
EVE Online goes in the exact opposit direction – especially with its upcoming expansion, the aptly-named Havoc. This expansion is like catnip for the players that feel drawn to the chaotic and criminal element of the MMORPG space sandbox. With Havoc, CCP Games encouraging players to align with the space bandits and bastards that have plagued the systems for decades – the Guristas and Angel Cartel.
Teaming up with these vagabonds means players will be able to wade into large-scale conflicts happening on the frontlines and pick at the carcasses, loot the remains of the fallen from the shores. Pirate players will be able to take advantage of the conflicts in the universe, and scoot off with personal gain. The developers reckon it’s going to cause something of a “three body problem” in the game, as the two warring sides figure out how to deal with pirate incursions. For many developers, a conundrum like this – with no discernable or obvious outcome – would be hell on earth. But for CCP Games… well it’s practically giddy about what this opens up.
And, in adding new content like this, the developer is also expanding the reaches of its cosmic kingdom, too. If you choose to side with the villains of the universe in EVE Online, you will also gain access to, Zarzakh, a new system overseen by some sort of space-demi god called The Deathless. A demo – shown live on-stage at Fanfest – showed a player breaching this system for the first time and exploring its celestial clouds, its punishing gravity, the floating, haunted remains of ancient beacons dotted along its orbital shores.
You don’t get that in Starfield, do you? Seeing this player, proudly sailing through the celestial dust in their custom ship, made me realise that Starfied really didn’t do enough to sell me on the wonders of space. Seeing the crowd, sedate in an awed hush, as this streamer tentatively edged up alongside the new Fulcrum station, uncertain and unsafe, made me realise that Starfield’s jumps aren’t enough: I want to be able to properly glide from system to system, baked in the light of dying stars, immersed. EVE Online has plenty to teach other sci-fi game developers, if they’re willing to listen.
EVE has a daily player base of nearly 200,000 players, and a total playerbase of nearly 10 million. That’s more than the population of Israel, or Switzerland, or Hong Kong, for what it’s worth. That many people can’t be wrong about a game, surely? If you crave the freedom to be whatever kind of player you want, to peacefully trade, mine, and socialise in space, or the ability to grind it out to become an elected space governor that has a meaningful, serious impact in the game you love, you should try EVE. With this new expansion, you can also start to grow your own hive of scum and villany – wherever you want, in the whole galaxy. You never know, it might just fill that Starfield-shaped hole in your life.
EVE Online: Havoc launches for the game on November 14, 2023.
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