The creators of EVE Online unveil the mysterious Project Nova as a new team-based shooter by the developers of TimeSplitters.
Hearing the stories about EVE Online makes it sound like the most exciting, dynamic video game ever made. Its enormous space battles are the stuff of legends, and Guinness records, with thousands of players fighting in conflicts that dwarf anything Hollywood has ever been able to visualise. But the massively multiplayer online game was never an action game and for years now most players no longer even control their spaceships directly but play it as a more strategic level game.
Even before that happened creator CCP Games began trying to creating spin-off action games, including space combat simulator Valkyrie and VR shooter Gunjack. The first, and most famous, though was 2013 PlayStation 3 exclusive Dust 514. Although EVE Online is solely a PC game, the idea behind Dust 514 was that it still took place in the EVE Online universe – with political and military changes in the MMO affecting the console-only shooter.
As fascinating as that sounds it didnt really affect the day-to-day gameplay, which despite some interesting real-time strategy elements and deep customisation suffered from mediocre mechanics, sub-par graphics, and a lot of bugs. The game was shut down in 2016, but the same year CCP announced its replacement as Project Nova – and weve played it and spoken to the designers.
The main takeaway for me [from Dust 514] was that the FPS itself was sub-par, game director Snorri Árnason told us. Sub-par, not in vision or grandeur, but the actual moment-to-moment gameplay. Plus, the performance was not good enough. Ive been playing FPSes all my life and thats the thing that I wanted to fix the most, because if that works flawlessly then thats the foundation to build the rest off. If the foundation is shaky then all of the complaints always come back to that point.
Other takeaways were the enormous difficulty curve that we shared with EVE, basically because we copied too many designs rather than adapt them to the FPS. Customisation is a fantastic thing that we want to continue but its something that we want to help ease people into.
We wanted to make sure the gameplay is fun purely on its own, and not something thats too complicated when you first start. If its fun to shoot a grunt every time thats a lesson we take away from the greats – Destiny on the PlayStation did that perfectly. Its fun to shoot walls, almost. If you get that right then everything else follows.
One of the interesting things about Project Nova is that it doesnt sweep Dust 514 under the carpet. Its essentially a direct sequel and openly refers to elements of its lore as part of its plot. This involves you playing an elite soldier whose mind is saved in a computer mainframe and downloaded to a new body every time youre killed, effectively making you immortal. Your role in the game universe is to attack and defend capital ships in space, with the main enemies at the moment being the Borg-esque Sansha – the most technologically advanced group in the EVE Online universe.
The pre-alpha demo we played had only one map, with two more being worked on at the moment. Project Nova (itll presumably get a proper name at some point) will have both competitive and co-operative play modes but the first one to be ready is a PvE mode called Onslaught, that works very much like Conquest. In other words, you have three (randomly placed) control points you have to control and defend against continued waves of Sansha attackers.
Although even if you win you then have to survive long enough to escape via your spacecraft as a last wave of enemies swamp the map. Thats a concept that seems obviously borrowed from Titanfall, while the PvP mode, called Hijack, sounds like its influenced by Counter-Strike, with an attacker vs. defender set-up that will be revealed once the game is ready to go into early access.
We sat down and had a long discussion about whether we want Project Nova to be a twitch-based shooter or if we want this to be more of a thinking mans shooter, says lead game designer Kevin Clarke. Something where its a little bit slower-paced and you have to think a little bit more about what youre doing, you have to apply strategies and actually work together as a team. We wanted to make it less about twitch reactions and more about pre-planning and thinking before diving in.
But we also just want people to get into the game and play. No massive learning curve, no tutorials. As they play the game they will unlock more and more. Weve always had a philosophy of having opt-in complexity, which means for the more casual player everythings there: theyve got a dropsuit with all the weapons, loadouts, and equipment they need and they can just go in there and play.
But if youre someone that really wants to specialise then were gonna give people the ability to customise their dropsuits, manufacture their own equipment, take part in trading – all those options will be on the table but theyre not essential for you to succeed.
Clarke describes the game as starting out as a hero shooter, for new players, but transition into a class-based game as you begin to customise your character. There were only three choices in the demo though: a standard assault type, sniper, and grenade launcher-equipped heavy. Each also has their own unique equipment (the assaults Overwatch style healing ability is very useful) but one of the main appeals, as in Dust 514, is customisation, which naturally we didnt get to see anything of in just a couple of goes.
Instead, the focus of the demo was on the gameplay itself, which is immediately more engaging than Dust 514. Thats no accident either, as CCP has called in British studio Sumo Digital to help ensure the gunplay can stand toe-to-toe with the genres best. On the face of it Sumo have little direct shooter experience, being best known for the likes of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, but their Nottingham studio employs many veterans from Free Radical Design, who worked on classics such as TimeSplitters and even GoldenEye 007.
As youd expect with that pedigree the controls are silky smooth and a pleasure to use, even if the guns themselves arent quite as distinctive as the best of Destiny or Call Of Duty. Hopefully that will come later though as the game is nowhere close to having a release date, not even for early access, and with the basics in place CCP is now just busy filling the game with content.
Were particularly keen to see how the strategy elements evolve as each control point has a nearby weapons node where you can build a fixed emplacement of some kind. In the demo it was always just a turret but eventually this will depend on the loadout you go into the game with and will include options like extra spawn points.
Despite being a PC-only game Project Nova is not connected to EVE Online in any direct way, CCP having learnt their lesson with Dust 514. The idea is to connect them up eventually, but thats years away, and the current emphasis is on ensuring a good game and not wasting time on gimmicks. Although as with all the EVE Online spin-offs we do worry that the games bleak art direction, where almost everything is slate grey and bright colour seems to have been outlawed, is more off-putting to non-fans than CCP seem to realise.
When Dust came out a lot of the EVE players really wanted it to be on PC, rather than on console, says Clarke. Because there is a lot of downtime when youre playing EVE, that you really just want to flick to another window and spend 20 minutes doing something while youre waiting for whatever to happen. So to make this in the EVE universe is perfect for the fans, and this is what they asked for.
Were sure the vast majority of initial players will be existing fans, but while they may be the initial target audience there is plenty of potential for the game to grow an appeal beyond that. And perhaps even expand the audience for EVE Online itself, as everything eventually becomes one connected universe.
Publisher: CCP Games
Developer: CCP Games and Sumo Digital
Release Date: TBA