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EVE's biggest-ever expansion detailed

March 2009, Tech 3, modular ships, more.

On the last day of the EVE Online Fanfest, developer CCP has unveiled the biggest-ever expansion for the space MMO, which will be released on March 10 next year (not in the summer, as was originally stated).

The unnamed expansion will introduce "Tech 3" modular ship designs, branching epic mission arcs, further improvements to the new player experience, and exploration of uncharted space through unstable wormholes.

In a drive to find new players, the expansion will also ship in a boxed copy of EVE, with all previous expansion content. The box will be published by Atari, whose chief David Gardner appeared in a video message hailing the deal.

Senior producer Torfi Frans Olafsson said the update would be "the biggest expansion in EVE as of today", with a larger team working on it than the game has seen in its lifespan.

The focus of the expansion will be "true exploration", with players using new skills and modules to travel through wormholes into all-new, unconnected space. There they will find unique stellar phenomena and the resources and artefacts that will lead to the third level of technology in the game universe, Tech 3 - the first such update since Tech 2 was introduced back in 2004.

The star feature of Tech 3 will be modular, customisable ships. Instead of providing each faction with one or two new ships each, CCP will provide each with a template that comes in five sections, with five options in each. That's a total of 25 possible basic ships for each faction, with many more thousands of smaller modifications possible (7776 permutations possible, to be exact). This announcement was received rapturously by the Fanfest audience.

Epic, branching mission arcs will provide hierarchies of missions, organised in trees, that will provide a varying experience depending on success or failure. These missions will cover the storyline introducing the wormholes to the universe.

Additionally, the new player experience will be made more accessible. It will take less time to get a new character flying in space, with more of the character creation process spread over the first few days in the game (although Olafsson also promised that creating alts would still be as streamlined as experienced players expect).

Earlier in the week, it was also hinted that a major graphics upgrade would be coming in this timeframe.

The March expansion will be the next update after Quantum Rise, which launches this coming Tuesday. All EVE expansions are free of charge to subscribers.