Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hot Tub Active - A Review of Incarna

I've had a day now to play around with the new Captain's Quarters, and I'm very impressed with it overall. True, no real game play has been added (yet), but I think CQ is something that EVE has needed all along. Immediately upon loading CQ for the first time, I was impressed with the stunning visual style and look of my character's apartment. This is going to add a whole new level of immersion to the game, and not just for new players.

I like how you always have the option to use the new CQ interfaces or the old ones we're all familiar with. I enjoy walking down to my ship to undock, but I'm glad I don't have to do it every time if I don't want to. I can undock from anywhere, instantly, just like before.

First, I'll highlight some of the things that have been added to the game that I really like. I already mentioned the amazing graphics of CQ. I can't wait to see the rest of the station! I think the mirror is especially cool. 

The new agent finder in the CQ is awesome! Until now I've been forced to use out-of-game sites to find agents, or I sometimes got by with the in-game agent info. The new tool is much better than either of those methods. I can sort my agents by level, empire, corporation, etc., and, most importantly, I don't have to leave the game to do it. This is definitely a step in the right direction. If CCP is going to increase the immersion factor of EVE (which I think they are, and it's a great idea), then they've got to give us in-game tools to do everything we need to do on a regular basis. Every time you have to tab out of the game, immersion takes a hit.

I really like how Aura talks to you now when you open certain interfaces for the first time in your CQ. This will be great for new players. I'd much rather have someone tell me what I need to know than have to read a wall of text. I would like to see a more obvious way to turn the voice on or off for each menu, though. Some I don't want to hear, and others I'd like to hear again.

Outside of the CQ, I like that the tractor beams have an actual visible turret now. I'm assuming the salvagers do too, although I haven't seen those yet.

As great as Incarna is so far, there is some room for improvement. For one thing, the new icons for tractors and salvagers are horrible. They're hard to see (need to be brightened or something), and they look too much alike. I was salvaging with a noctis, and it got a little confusing. Before the icons for tractors and salvagers were distinct, even different colors. Now they're almost identical. This isn't a huge deal, but anytime you make little changes to a game like this, they should improve the game. If they don't, or they make it worse, the changes shouldn't be made. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I imagine CCP will enhance the visuals of the icons so they're easier to see, but I really hope they change one or both of them so they're easier to distinguish.

My only other real complaint is there's some bug in the game now where every time I try to load my in-game browser, it crashes the EVE client. This is really annoying because I use staticmapper and other sites in the browser. I hope CCP fixes this soon. The patch notes today seemed promising, but the bug is still there.

I would also really like to see some animations for docking and undocking in the stations. When I dock, I want to see my ship pulled into station and parked, and I want to see my pod extracted and my character dumped out. Obviously this would be an animation you could skip, but it would be really cool to see. 

If you haven't seen the CQ yet, you see your pod opened up near where your ship is docked. When we undock, I want to see an animation of my character getting in the pod, the pod being inserted in the ship, and the ship launching. Again, you could skip this if you didn't want to see it, but it really needs to be there.

This isn't a criticism of Incarna, really, because I imagine CCP will include these animations eventually. But right now, the experience of docking and undocking is rather lacking. Notice how "the way things have always been" now seems deficient in the face of the new interface? I think Incarna could keep CCP busy for a long time just addressing all these issues that will come up now.

Finally, I want to see some variety in the stations. All my CQ's look the same. They should vary, not only between the different races, but among the different stations of each race. I know it's a lot to ask, but each new expansion from here on out, I'd like to see new, unique station environments added.

In conclusion, I like what I'm seeing so far. There's a lot to be "iterated" yet, but what's there is solid. My first impression was, "Wow, this is awesome!" My second impression was, "Okay, cool, but this is it? Where's the rest?" After further reflection, I think CCP got it right. Better to give us a few new features that are solid than try to do too much and it doesn't work. That said, I'm really looking forward to future expansions and patches.

It's nice that my Captain's Quarters has a place for me to bunk down, but where's my hot tub? Seems after long hours stuck in a capsule, a long soak in a hot tub would be just the thing. 

Fly smart.