EVE Online's free-to-play program is going to get a lot more generous

EVE Online's free-to-play program, which gives non-subscribing players access to a limited set of skills and ships, is about to get a lot more generous. In December, Alpha Clones (free-to-play players) will have access to a greatly expanded set of ships and weapons. 

"We want to bring Alphas a little closer to their Omega [subscribed players] counterparts in terms of strength," said Steven 'CCP Rise' Clark at Eve Vegas 2017 today.

First of all, Alpha Clones will have access to power Tech 2 variants of small and medium weapons. These Tech 2 variants are a necessity for many fleets as they dish out substantially more damage and can fire special ammo that gives players more options on the battlefield.

But those new guns are eclipsed by the fact that Alpha Clones will soon be able to pilot battlecruisers and battleships—the backbone of just about any EVE Online fleet. Battlecruisers and battleships are significantly beefier vessels than the smaller cruisers and frigates that Alpha Clones currently have access to.

In addition, Alpha Clones can now choose to train skills related to any empire, where previously they were locked into flying ships from just one. This also means that Alpha Clones will have access to powerful hybrid ships, like deadly Machariel battleships, that require a mix of two empires' related skills in order to fly.

In the current iteration of Alpha Clones, players can train up to just shy of 5 million skill points. The expansion of the program will increase that total to just over 20 million—effectively quadrupling the size of EVE's free-to-play experience. That's still a drop in the bucket for subscribing EVE players (many of whom will have hundreds of thousands of skill points). While Alpha Clones can access battleships, for example, they still can't fly the specialized tech 2 versions of each class of ship which offer dramatically different experiences like stealth bombers, covert ops, or heavy-assault cruisers. 

There's a catch, though. In order to access the full total of 20 million, Alpha players will have to either purchase skillpoints or a subscription (both of which can be purchased with real or in-game currency). The good news is that once these new skills are trained, they remain unlocked forever. So a new free-to-play player doesn't have to continue to subscribe once they reach 20 million skillpoints. Likewise, returning players who might have already trained these skills can access them without paying anything.

EVE's skill system is based on specializing into niches. So while Alpha players won't be able to train into every available ship without paying or grinding, they can still invest their skill points wisely and learn to fly some of the more powerful ships in the game.