CCP’s upcoming space dogfighting game, EVE:Valkyrie will be one of the games that launches with Oculus’s Rift VR HMD later this year (preordered Rifts include a copy.) If you’ve been paying attention to the development progress of the Rift headset, then you’ve likely encountered EVE:Valkyrie on some level already.
A Bit Of History
CCP was one of the first developers to back the Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign, and it quickly put together the EVR tech demo using EVE Online assets. The company first showed the demo to fans at Eve Fanfest in April of 2013, and by August, the EVE: Valkyrie announcement trailer was released.
Over the course of the past two and a half years, CCP has shown the game in various stages of progress, but always more or less the same demo; a single player experience fighting against AI enemies that ends when you inevitably meet an untimely death.
EVE:Valkyrie was originally slated for release in 2014, but with the Oculus Rift unreleased, CCP kept working on the game. During EVE Fanfest 2014, CCP showed a pre-alpha build of the game that showed a close representation of what EVE:Valkyrie has since evolved into, but it was the version shown at EVE Fanfest 2015 that really got people excited. This is also when CCP first opened up signups for the pre-alpha multiplayer test, though the company allowed only a select few in.
In the fall of 2015, CCP announced that it was opening up the alpha test signups, but it didn’t say when people would be invited in. Slowly over the last couple months, the company has invited a select bunch of people to play the game, but this week it launched the actual alpha test and sent invites to much larger group of players. CCP told us that anyone with a system that meets the requirements, and that owns an Oculus Rift DK2, should get access to the game.
CCP is running the alpha test on North American and European servers 24/7 for the duration of the test period. The released build is limited to the multiplayer aspect of the game, with the exception of the first training mission. CCP left this in so that you can accustom yourself with flying and shooting before jumping in to a live match, but the main reason for the alpha is to stress test the servers and hash out any bugs while playing against other people.
Inside The Game
When you first fire up EVE:Valkyrie, you’ll find yourself inside a very different kind of landing screen. It’s a perfect match for a VR game, and it shows that CCP has really been thinking about VR intelligently. If you look down, you’ll notice that even in the menu, you are positioned in your avatar. The pilot character is sitting down, going through options on a tablet that appear as holograms in 3D in front of you.
To access an item, you look directly at it, which is the natural thing to do anyway, and a dialog box will pop up displaying an A button symbol. Press the button, and you’ll be transported to the new screen. All of the items appear in 3D space -- nothing is on a 2D plane. You’ll see 3D representations of the ship you select floating in front of you. The menu options float in space in front of the ship hologram.
On the main menu screen, you’ll find the basic buttons, such as Close, found by looking down to the left, and Settings, which is down to the right. Pilot stats and Hangar are located between Close and Settings. Starting in the upper left side and leading to the right, you’ll find Training, Squad, Chronicles, Combat, and Quartermaster. That may seem like a lot of menu options, but there really aren’t that many things to change.
In the Settings menu, you can change the graphics options from Low, Medium, High, and Epic. My test system, an Intel Core i5 4570k with 8 GB of DDR3-1600 RAM and an EVGA GeForce GTX 970 SC (which basically matches Oculus’s minimum specifications for a Rift), auto-detected the Epic preset. There are no advanced settings to change, so we don’t know what graphics options change between presets, but it would appear the game can run on lesser hardware.
The Pilot page shows the lifetime stats of your profile. Here you can see what your XP level is, how many kills, deaths, and assists you’ve achieved, and your average kill to death, as well as win-to-loss ratios. The page also lists how many battles you’ve had, how many of those were won, and how many were lost, and even the number of hours you’ve played the game.
The Squad menu is where you set up a party of friends to play with. You can only invite friends to be part of your squad, though. The Quartermaster menu doesn’t have a lot in it right now. Three options inside it simply say “Coming Soon.” The only one that works is the Customize Fleet section. Here you can apply skins and decals to your ships. It takes silver credits to buy customizations, which are earned by playing matches.
The Chronicles menu is where you’ll find the single player mission in the final game, but in the alpha test none of these missions are active. There are five missions listed, which appear to be the same maps as the online game: Shipyard, Necropolis, Forge, Cathedral and Convoy.
The Hangar menu is where you will find your available ships. When you first start the game you are given a ship, the Wraith. This ship’s stats are: Firepower, 25; Shield, 110; Armor, 225; Speed, 200. The rest of the ships are locked to new players. You have to earn XP points to unlock better options. Once you’ve earned 18,000 XP, you’ll unlock the Dominator and the Heavy Tree. The Accord and Support Tree unlock at 52,000 XP, Assuage is available at 110,000 XP, and the final ship, the Aegis, unlocks at 173,000 XP.
During the alpha test, the first two ships can be unlocked, but the rest aren’t available. I haven’t yet earned 18,000 XP, so I don’t know what the stats of them are. Those details are hidden until you earn the ship.
Figuring It All Out
You’ll want to start off with the training mission before jumping into battle. I had the chance to try a new build of the single player demo at CES this year, but even I felt like I should brush up on my flight skills. The training mission has you fly through a series of hoops (anyone remember Pilot Wings 64?) to hone your maneuvering skills. Once you’ve flown through the hoops, there are a few enemies to practice your aim on.
Navigating a space ship in VR is pretty easy if you are used to playing games in first person. It’s really a natural step further into the immersion of the experience. To fly, you use the joysticks on an Xbox controller. The left stick controls the direction your ship's nose is pointing, and the right stick will roll it. The A button is warp drive, the shoulder buttons will aid with turning quickly, and the d-pad releases drones in one of the two game modes.
Shooting your cannons is done with the right trigger, and your left trigger controls the homing missiles. This is where your head really comes into play. You need to look directly at your target and follow it as you hold the trigger down. This engages the target lock. If you don’t keep your gaze on the enemy ship, the missiles won’t lock on, so you do have to actively look around the canopy of your ship to play the game effectively.
Looking around freely actually makes it easier to navigate. If you really were a fighter pilot, then you’d be looking all around anyway. That’s one of the reasons a real jet canopy has such wide open views. Being able to look where your opponent just darted off to is a major advantage for a game like this.
After getting acquainted with the Wraith, I left the training zone and entered the Combat menu. Here you can access the squad menu again, and a new option, Launch Tubes. The Launch Tubes didn’t do much when I looked at them, but I suspect it will come in handy when you have several ships unlocked. To me, it appears this is to be used as a loadout setup. There are four tubes to fill, but with only one ship, it doesn’t do much good.
There is a timer on the right that will be counting down if you aren't inside one of the two menus in the screen. You don’t have any control over when it will launch, and it often starts seconds after getting into this screen. When the timer hits zero, the battle will start. The game goes black, and the sound stops completely at this point. It takes my computer three or four seconds to load the next screen. I actually thought it crashed the first time I did this, but it will eventually load into the match.
In the new room you will find yourself sitting in, you’ll see other player’s avatars around you in a round room. On either side of you, you’ll see a hovering list of the players from each team. Directly in front of you will be the ship selection options. If you have more than one ship, you can cycle through them from here. After a short timer counts down, the screen will fade away, and when it comes back, you’ll be sitting in the cockpit waiting to be fired out of the launch tube. A few seconds later you’ll be in live combat.
Round One: FIGHT!
Playing online against other players is very similar to the single player experience I was shown earlier this month. Real players are a little bit tougher to handle, but the essence of the game is the same. In both situations, I found the experience to be exhilarating, and the action gets intense very quickly.
It takes some time to get used to the dogfighting experience. Expect to die several times before you get your first kill, but when you do, oh boy, the satisfaction! I’ve played 10 matches and logged a little over an hour in the game, so far, and I’m only just now starting to get the hang of things. This is definitely a game you can pick up and have some fun very quickly, but it will take many hours to become a master.
The game reminds me a lot of Unreal Tournament the way it plays. You and a team fight in a fast-paced death match scenario against a competing team. When you die, which you undoubtedly will do many times, you respawn a few seconds later and join the fight again.
There are two different scenarios, but both of them are very similar. You will either be playing straight death match, where you just need to kill the enemy as much as possible. Each team has a finite number of “clones” for respawn, and when they are depleted, the other team wins. The second scenario incorporates capturing key landmarks from the other team. Rather than simply getting more kills, the winning team has to capture items and fend off the enemy.
For each match, you will earn XP points. For a kill, you’ll get 100 points, and an assist earns you 50 points. I’ve never successfully captured anything, so I’m not sure how many points you get for capturing enemy property. Most matches end with players earning less than 1,000 points, many earning far less. It takes some effort to unlock those first two ships at 18,000 XP. I can't imagine how long it would take to unlock the Aegis.
You also earn silver credits for playing matches. These credits come from the salvage that you collect while fighting. Any time any enemy ship is destroyed, fragments of “salvage” are left behind, and you earn silver for all the debris you collect. It’s not hard to earn a few thousand silver in a single match.
EVE:Valkyrie is turning out to be every bit the game I have been hoping it would be. To me, this is the perfect expression of what a VR game should be. There are few other scenarios that fit as perfectly in VR as a space combat game. The ability to look freely around your cockpit and fly around in a full 360-degree spherical battle arena is something that you just can’t get without virtual reality.
The game isn’t complete yet, but it’s clear that CCP is in the final stages of development. This will be a popular title, and not just because early adopters are getting the game for free. If you have a Rift on order, you should be excited for this game.
I look forward to spending time with the final build of EVE:Valkyrie while using the retail version of the Rift. For my test purposes, I only had access to a DK2, and now that I’ve tried the final product (the CV1), it’s really hard to go back.