Anyway, those agent missions now deliver you into larger and longer story mission arcs than ever before - the epic missions, as they are known. EVE's mission designers obviously now have a good grasp on what works and what doesn't, and the drama in the missions is better-timed than we've seen previously. Missions also push you into the arms of other players: getting people to help you out is becoming essential, rather than optional, which is crucial when you look at the big picture of EVE.
It really doesn't matter how good these missions are, they will amount to nought if you don't get involved with other players. This is a game about human interaction, and everything else is a sideshow. It still feels as if the player corporations aren't quite shoved in your face enough, and you have to take that brave leap into working with other players yourself. Despite plenty of systems to bring new players into the fold - and recruitment systems for player corps - it remains confusing, and a little bit scary. EVE never really explains itself to you.
Of course, real players offer the kind of knowledge that still isn't delivered to you by the game, like how to fit your ship properly. It seems odd that CCP would spend so much time creating a new ship-fitting system, while still giving you few clues as to how to fit a ship without looking like a complete numpty. Getting advice from forums and from other players is the only sure-fire way to know what actually works, and what actually fits and - ultimately - what skills you're going to need to train to fly your ships in a way that is really useful to your performance long-term. There are some clues in the new fitting screen, however, such as the inclusion of effective hit-points, or EHP, which is the true measure of how much punishment a ship can take, and a long-term oversight on the old fitting screen.
Ultimately, the new player experience reminds an old player - like me - what a huge journey EVE offers. But it also reminds me how tedious the early steps can be: there's not a great deal of excitement in those early missions, and until you're cracking open huge missions with half a dozen friends, the game definitely lacks pace. Perhaps what is all the more challenging is the leap into what is actually most satisfying about the game: hard competition with other players, either in industry, or in combat. If you are able to keep that goal in mind, then the tricky grind of the first few months will be far easier to digest.
I've been subjected to so much evangelism and scaremongering - sometimes in the same breath - from players of EVE Online that when I finally approached the game itself this week, I did so with a mixture of awe and fear. Colleagues, friends, and the players and developers I met at last year's fascinating FanFest event, had lectured me at length on the depth, breadth, economics, politics, and sheer life-sucking involvement of this most massive of massively multiplayer games; had told me that it makes World of Warcraft look like a pick-up-and-play arcade game.
I almost wrote a will and said tearful goodbyes before booting up. I felt sure I was going to be either baffled and put off, or never seen again, obsessed with plumbing its Byzantine depths. In the end, neither happened.
Before getting stuck into the game itself, it's worth noting that, of all the MMOs I've played, EVE was by far the easiest to install and set up. I obtained it via a relatively modest and quick download from the CCP website, patched it simply and swiftly during the server downtime on launch day, and jumped straight into the stable, smooth-running, good-looking game client on a PC of only middling power without having to tweak a single setting. Anyone who plays a lot of MMOs will tell you that this never happens. Not even WOW works this well. In pure technical terms, it turns out that EVE is actually the friendliest MMO out there.