Retribution has been a largely well-received patch to EVE Online. I use the term "patch" deliberately as there hasn't really been any significant content added to constitute describing Retribution as an expansion. I'm not alone in this thinking - even CCP Soundwave described it as a "patch" on air during the New Eden Open.
But this is no bad thing. This third patch in a series of broad fixes over the last eighteen months has seen EVE Online's core gameplay and usability receive a lot of polish that was desperately needed in a game designed well over a decade ago. I've been particularly pleased with the introduction of the tracking camera, something I've long lobbied for here on Freebooted (see Fanfest Flashback: The Spectacle of Combat [April 2011], BB30: Director Mode [Nov 2011] So Beautiful, I Can't See It [May 2012]). It has received a lot of positive feedback too, so I can only hope that we might see more camera functionality and a suite of tools as described in those posts sometime in the future.
Bounty Hunting system has seen a lot of folk getting upset on the forums, but this was predictable as people unaccustomed to the threat of PvP start looking fearfully to the skies as the targets on their heads grow. It looks to be an entertaining and emergent system which seems to be working as intended. It's certainly amusing. The revised Crimewatch system is neat and clear, although the soon to be fixed lack of persistence on the safety feature is a nuisance.
After a development period spanning almost a year, the Unified Inventory has finally achieved the degree of usability and flexibility to equal the system it replaced. I still feel it was a shame that some bad choices were made in its delivery and implementation, but we're through the worst of it now, so let's leave that one alone. Other areas of the UI have benefited from a facelift.
The revised soundscape adds a magnificent layer of immersive depth into New Eden, with a host of ambient noises and new effects to be heard. The dynamic music-scape heard in null-sec is fantastic - hugely atmospheric. I hope there are plans to introduce more regionalised personality to the soundtrack. There does seem to be a lack of bass in some of the new weapon sounds, making them sound weaker than before, which is a bit of a shame. The removal of the Jukebox has been a controversial decision, but CCP TorfiFrans did give reasons for this in a recent Devblog (see the section entitled "If thy jukebox offends thee, hack it off").
Time for Drones v2.0?
AI changes to NPCs. Now less predictable, with some of the far more challenging Sleeper AI being implemented, NPC "rats" across New Eden have apparently taken to massacring players' drones. I've not yet had the opportunity to investigate this phenomenon, but anything that refreshes the tired mission system that CCP have no intention of improving upon sounds good to me.
Reports of the degree of anti-drone violence are varied, with primarily solo mission runners feeling the pinch. Many are complaining that the new AI behaviours have made drone boats non-viable as mission ships, whilst others are claiming that players simply need to adapt.
It may simply be those who can no longer sleepwalk through missions using drones as a passive DPS system who are being the most vocal, however this does throw light on an area of EVE's antiquated gameplay and UI that desperately needs some love. Improvements elsewhere in EVE are increasingly making drone-based gameplay the most prominent ugly sister. It would be great to see the following tweaks:
- Improved Interface - With increasing need to micro-manage drones in time-critical combat situations, an intuitive means of doing so is desperately needed. The present drone interface - a right-click dropdown menu buried within a clunky drone management window - is awful. It would be great to see a clear and simple, button-driven panel allowing the organisation and command of flights on drones. A number of solutions spring to mind, all of which would be better than the existing system. See the below mock-up by Ruato (made in 2006!) for an example. [Edit: it should be noted that the existing keyboard shortcuts are an alternative drone control option, but that is no excuse for a diabolical UI.]
|Circa 2006. The drone interface was considered bad even then!|
- Drone Fozzification - CCP Fozzie has done a great job of rebalancing many of the ships in EVE. Have drones been slated for review? Or are they considered to be fine as they are? Certain drone types remain as unused as many of the pre-tiericide frigates and cruisers, so I suspect there may be some work for He Who Juggles the Numbers.
- V3 the Drones - These poor little fellas have long been overlooked for some visual love. First and foremost - give them engine trails, it'd look fantastic as they whizzed around and it'd mean that they'd exist as more than just a HUD "x" when viewed from a distance. Also, give them a redesign so they don't look so ridiculous when they fire sideways from their fixed forward-facing weapons.
- Revised AI and In-Depth Drone Gameplay - If we've got to micromanage them, make it fun - perhaps making drone-based gameplay more involved. If the launch-and-forget days of mission farming are over, why not give the player a little more control over the behaviour of his drones. Beyond the passive/aggressive settings, why not allow the player to define more specific behaviours, from target priorities to range thresholds and tactics. Perhaps flights of drones could have a command drone within them to provide boosts, or maybe bonuses could be given for using particular formations (speed improvement for 'chevron' formation, accuracy boost for 'sphere', damage for 'cluster', etc.)
With no sign of CCP relenting on their singular focus on spaceships (they have now quietly and completely abandoned all work on avatar gameplay - read the final paragraph of CCP Unifex's October forum post), and will presumably press on with their programme of refinement and polish. Surely drones have to be on the to-do list somewhere.
[I've copypasta'd the drone-related portion of this article into the EVE-O Features & Ideas Discussion. Please take the time to go show your support for drone revisions by following this link to the thread and upvoting/commenting.]