Your first foray into EVE: Valkyrie—the EVE universe-set shooter previously known as EVR—will feel extraordinary. As we discussed in our preview late last year, it offers a starfighter piloting experience that you'll never have had before in a videogame. When I recently sampled Valkyrie with the latest HD Oculus dev kit, launching my ship was almost exactly like being in a viper speeding down the tunnels of Battlestar Galactica (you know, the Olmos version). If you've ever been a fan of popular space operas, Valkyrie amalgamates what feel like familiar cinematic set pieces under the umbrella of EVE iconography. I'm also pretty sure I dribbled slightly during the demo.
I've sampled some simple dogfighting in two levels, one occupied by players and the other by AI. In the former, I was in the same arena as our online editor Tom Senior—who, in real life, was sat next to me on the GDC show floor with another headset on. He blew me up with missiles halfway through our five-minute match, while I utterly failed to destroy him or anyone else. At least I could lean in to my cockpit and tilt my head, one of the additions to the Oculus DK2 that builds on the feeling of being inside a spacecraft. Tom had a great time, mainly because I died. I'm trying not to read too much into that.
I had got the hang of Valkyrie by my second, more extensive, hands-on session, and aiming the Rift with my eyes while controlling the keyboard and mouse felt completely natural. Taking out three enemy ships this time, I had a bit more breathing space to learn the ship's controls, and a slightly more colourful map (pictured in this preview) with a stargate floating in the distance. Space battles in EVE: Valkyrie aren't a match in complexity for X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter—at least not yet—but they're instantly satisfying to control, and the Rift amplifies the drama of the conflict.
It's interesting to consider how these basic combat systems, elevated by the Rift's capabilities, will be turned into a multiplayer shooter that people will want to play for hundreds of hours. This is still functionally a tech demo, but even so it has made significant progress over the previous iterations. There are now different playable ships and a working UI that gives you a strong sense of what's happening in the surrounding space.
“Since that build at Gamescom 2013, part of what you're seeing here is us taking the prototype of EVR and making it more and more of a game, and adding more systems to the game,” says CCP's CMO David Reid. “So what you're seeing in this build is that you have multiple ships, whereas in the original prototype and even as recently as our CES build, everyone was in [the same] ship, whereas now we're doing a kind of rock, paper and scissors mechanic with different kinds of ships. Some are slower and take more punishment, others are faster and do more damage but don't take as many shots to be killed—that is one of those changes.”
There's a plan in place for modes, both conventional to multiplayer shooters and also EVE-appropriate. “This is more akin to an FPS in many ways, so we're looking at modes like team deathmatch, king of the kill, CTF, things like that being added to the game,” says Reid. “Similarly we've done some experimenting with escort missions. A Super Capital is floating slowly, and there's a group of valkyrie fighters defending it and another group trying to take it down. Those kind of things are the stuff you'll see.”
Weaving in the economy of EVE and allowing some kind of ship customisation is part of CCP's plan, too. That could easily lock players in beyond the novelty of just being in the spacecraft. “You'll also end up eventually, of course, seeing the right hooks into the EVE universe in economy standard and such. EVE has been raging for ten years as an engine of harvest, build and destroy, and progressing along the way. We're looking at putting that into Valkyrie as one of the next steps.”
Since the same team also worked on the apathetically received EVE spin-off Dust 514 on PlayStation 3, I ask Reid if working on that multiplayer shooter has made CCP conscious about what they're launching with in terms of content for Valkyrie.
“Absolutely... again, I think we've been very transparent, we're very proud of a lot of what has gone well in Dust, we recognise a lot of things that have not gone well. And some of those things do boil down to issues of accessibility, and in particular, making those first few moments delightful to a gamer who is used to a particular genre.”
Dust is linked to EVE in a way that might have been prohibitive to a console audience not familiar with its backdrop (it was also rubbish)—CCP is talking to different gamers this time. “With Valkyrie, we're taking the opposite approach, particularly because it's virtual reality. We're very focused on making that experience awesome first, and then we'll start adding in the connective tissue to the EVE universe.” To put it another way, if you're not necessarily an EVE fan but have ever enjoyed the experience of blowing shit up in space, Valkyrie is being made for you.
I honestly think that it has to be directed this way to succeed—Valkyrie should be as relevant to shooter fans as it is to EVE players, and CCP seems to get that. “None of that [connective tissue] matters to the gamer if this first core experience isn't something they enjoy,” says Reid. For the EVE fans out there, it's simply a case of waiting for those familiar elements to drop in down the line—it's to everyone's benefit that they get the space combat right first.
Valkyrie is clearly far from finalised as a full game in this form, but CCP's commitment to building systems around such an effective VR experience is encouraging. They already had a great tech demo, one that will probably make early Rift adopters out of space shooter fans, along with Frontier's equally breathtaking Elite Dangerous. CCP nailed the experience of sitting in a fighter cockpit—now I can see how they plan to keep me there.