The next EVE Online expansion is the 18th such free update the space MMORPG business and entrepreneurship simulator will receive, and it's all about consequences. Specifically, the consequences of law-breaking, player-murdering, bounty-hunting and CONCORD-riling. Titled Retribution, the winter update will overhaul EVE's near-decade old bounty system, rework criminal activity, introduce new ships, update old ones, begin the integration of DUST and EVE and generally spruce everything else up. Here's how it will "go down", as a criminal might say. Yeah that's right, I've seen Road Wars.
Chief among the changes coming in Retribution is an overhaul of how in-game bounties work. The current system is basic enough: players place bounties on the heads of pilots who've sufficiently irked them, the most valuable bounties are posted in the bounty office for all to see, and the most notorious pilot gets his or her face plastered over space billboards, becoming a huge target for any would-be bounty hunters.
That bounty system is flawed, however, in that any pilot with a hefty bounty can hop into a cheap, expendable ship, have a friend or colleague blast him out of the sky before splitting the resulting payout two ways. Retribution shakes this up by splitting the payout between all pilots who participated in the kill, as well as only paying out a portion of the total bounty, based on the cost of the pilot's ship and equipment. Bounties, in this manner, will be reduced incrementally, keeping pressure on players who've accrued a lot of hate. Bounties can also be placed against corporations and alliances, with players in that corporation paying out a portion of the corp's bounty on death.
The Bounty Office window itself has been updated (among other changes, it now highlights and celebrates bounty hunters as much as bounty havers). Pilots with bounties will now be highlighted in your HUD, with the amount they're worth hanging over them like a tempting ISK-pinata. If you're not ready to tackle them however, there's also a button to report their location to other players. Bounty hunters will now be able to track their targets by following a string of last-known-location reports from vigilant pilots, leading bountied players to steer clear of populated areas.
This should, CCP firmly believe, eradicate fraudulent bounty claims, while in turn making bounties a more meaningful threat and a more serious consequence of crossing another player. It should make infamy more than just a means of self-promotion too. Most of the highest bounties in EVE were set purely to artificially bump that player to the top of the Bounty Office board, and so onto every billboard in the game.
Meanwhile, Crimewatch is soon to be gutted and rebuilt. Crimewatch is EVE's way of pointing you out as a ne'er-do-well to other players, painting a target on your back whenever you commit a space-crime and marking you as freely killable. CCP admit that in its current form Crimewatch is obtuse and confusing for new players, leaving them unclear as to exactly when they're fair game, when AI police forces will attack and even when it's safe to log off.
Retribution's improved Crimewatch will clarify these situations, introducing three new UI icons to explain three different states: a yellow exclamation mark signifies that it's unsafe to quit the game (as an opportunistic player might attack your lifeless, logged off avatar), a yellow skull lets you know that you're open to attack from other players, while a red skull is a warning that AI police will attack you on sight. Helpfully, each of these icons has an explicit countdown timer. You'll know when you're in danger, for how long, and when to breathe a sigh of relief.
For some technical science reason, CCP redesigning Crimewatch in this way will have the welcome side-effect of reducing server lag. No idea why, but that's good news.
Retribution will also take steps to help new players understand when they're about to break the rules in the first place. Your ship's weapon systems now have a UI safety lock that works in three stages. At its highest setting, this safety lock will prevent you from doing anything that would count as a misdemeanour: stealing from other players, opening fire in a high-security area, things like that. At its mid-stage setting, pilots will be able to carry out some actions, while warning dialogue boxes will appear for potentially dangerous or illegal ones. And when switched off completely, you'll have full access to your faculties regardless of your criminal intent, with no hand-holding, finger-wagging dialogue boxes to speak of.
Coupled with the more helpful Crimewatch, the new weapon safeties will act as helpful stabilisers for terminally confused new players, ensuring they don't veer from the path of righteousness - at least not accidentally.
After those changes, Retribution becomes less about consequence and more about wonderful miscellany. Factional Warfare is set to receive a number of improvements to NPC AI, better benefits and payout tweaks. More ships are being upgraded to the latest shader standards. Frigates, Destroyers and Cruisers are being overhauled to make less popular ships more useful. Four new destroyers are being added — the first ships able to launch orbital strikes against DUST 514 planets — as well as what CCP describe as a 'ninja mining ship', a new mining frigate capable of operating efficiently in nullsec space. All of this is being developed with help from EVE's Council of Stellar Management, the player-run committee of representatives.
Retribution is also, of course, one of the first big steps in drawing PS3 shooter DUST closer to EVE Online. CCP are hoping to join the two at the hip, rather than at the shoelaces. "There are two main goals for CCP in the near future," CCP's Ned Coker told us. "One is obviously to launch DUST, but the other, perhaps even more importantly, if you'll pardon my language, is to not fuck up EVE Online. Those are our goals and they're going pretty well."
Retribution starts dishing out its new brand of justice on December 4. Here's the bit of the internet it lives on.