Don't say the 'D' word. Ever since Dust 514's 2013 debut and subsequent flaming out a few years later, a segment of EVE fans have wanted one thing: Dust 2. Well, that and EVE Valkyrie 2. EVE Vanguard is not Dust 2: nooooo. But it is a continuation of that idea, or ideal, and perhaps something of a white whale for developer CCP: a first-person shooter that inhabits the same universe as its unique space MMO. And this time it may be, maybe, different.
At the 15th Fanfest 1,200 EVE fans went wild as CCP announced EVE: Vanguard, a first-person PvPvE shooter that will, apparently, connect to EVE Online in a meaningful way. The name comes from the game's protagonists, with the Vanguard being vat-grown war clones that are sent onto planetary surfaces to scavenge wrecks and shoot other Vanguards.
But don't call it Dust 2, and don't call it a videogame either. You can tell CCP got burned because it is being super-ultra-extra cautious about how it frames Vanguard. This is a "module" of EVE Online that will be accessed through the EVE launcher, specifically a modular FPS experience "for and within EVE", per product manager Scott Davis. It's been developed by CCP's London studio in Unreal Engine 5, will be opening its doors (to EVE players) for a beta test in December 2023, and from day one it will be asynchronously connected to EVE Online via the corruption mechanic being introduced in the Havoc expansion.
The async connection, says CCP, will allow the developer to remain in control of how the two games interact and feels like a product of hard-won experience. I am one of those odd souls who actually quite liked Dust 514, but one of that game's problems was that CCP over-promised when it came to the game's impact on EVE Online, which didn't really exist in a meaningful way. Dust 514 had an EVE flavour but never really felt like an EVE game, and when Davis says Vanguard's "not a generic shooter in an EVE skin" it feels a tiny bit pointed.
Enough preamble. The difference with Vanguard is that it's designed on the core EVE Online principle of "tools not rules", as a sandbox experience where goals can shift, temporary alliances can form, and players have a degree of agency over what they want to do. More directly, it lifts a tonne of mechanics from games as diverse as The Division and Escape from Tarkov, with the basic setup being multiple player teams chasing similar objectives on one enormous map, which itself is dotted with enemy NPCs and objectives.
We were shown a Vanguard mission that, rather bravely, CCP then went on to demonstrate live on-stage during FanFest. A team of three approaches the wreck of a gigantic bowhead ship—and the scale of this thing really is impressive—in search of something called a Nexus Chip. The visual style is going for a degree of realism within the sci-fi setting, with Vanguard's art director Neil Kaminski pointing out they've steered away from conventions such as lens flares and chromatic aberration: as he says, you're supposed to be seeing this through your eyes, not a camera lens.
The team approaches the ship, taking out NPCs on the way, and it's clear that the gunfeel here is leagues ahead of what was achieved with Dust 514. Aiming down the sights has a neat visual effect of highlighting enemies, and each shot punches out of the gun with real heft: enemies also go down quickly, and concentrated fire will wipe out a group of both NPCs and players fast.
The players find the pirates holding the Nexus Chip in the ship's bowels and activate a flashlight, emphasising what a great-looking game this is. The encounter features one member of the team using the ship's wreckage to flank the pirate group and they're all down in a flash, except another player team has already nabbed the objective.
Here's where things get interesting, as Vanguard begins to bring the different player teams together. The player team with the chip hasn't got too far, and in their desire to escape aren't paying enough attention: they're easily ambushed and go down quickly. With the objective secured the team then decide to extract, which is done through a Division-aping mechanic of an extraction beacon that is (a) on a timer and (b) extremely noticeable from across the map.
There's a sequence where the team set up to defend their position, but they've made a rookie error: setting up the beacon on low ground. Soon after, another team appears on the horizon and begins taking potshots. Our doomed heroes return fire but out in the open they're sitting ducks, and all three are soon enough wiped. The demo took 7-8 minutes, and it doesn't feel like there's been any downtime.
That's one round of Vanguard and, while the players could respawn into that map with a new clone, on this occasion they don't. There's also an element of permanence to dying, however, which isn't fully explained: players can apparently pay to have a perfect clone of themselves ready to respawn, or be revived by their teammates, but outside of those fallbacks you can lose stuff permanently. As we're talking about an EVE game, and Vanguard is very EVE-flavoured in all aspects, my guess would be you can buy implants that increase certain abilities but can also be lost and looted by other players.
What is abundantly clear is that CCP really, really wants to make an EVE FPS that works and works alongside EVE in a way that matters. "This is what we always meant to make," says EVE Online director Snorri Arnarson at one point, "it just took this long." The developers multiple times say it's a game for existing EVE players and the "EVE-curious".
The other line, repeated a dozen times throughout the presentation by every CCP talking head, is that Vanguard "is a marathon not a sprint." It will be first playable in December, but with one map (albeit a giant and gorgeous one), a core featureset of faction contracts, what CCP hopes will be emergent sandbox play, and a basic crafting system. The goal is to launch and build over time, with the next phase being industrial contracts (from EVE Online) and, eventually, capsuleer contracts.
The most exciting promise, however, comes with the nature of Vanguard itself. It's about scavenger hunts on and around massive wrecks: this is what the Vanguard clones are all about. EVE Online is (in part) about massive ship battles. CCP reckons that, with its async connection to the MMO, it can eventually reach a stage in Vanguard where these battles are reflected in some way with the wrecks: That is, if a Titan goes down in a given system, you can boot up EVE Vanguard some time afterwards and fight over that ship's wreckage. It's one hell of a promise, and there are all sorts of problems to overcome in terms of asset creation and timing, but "we want to get there", says Davis.