It takes balls to announce a new space shooter MMO in the same year as Bungie's Destiny is due to appear, but if there's one thing that EVE Online developer CCP has never been short on, it's ambition.
A couple of years ago at its annual fan gathering in Iceland, CCP announced DUST 514: a PS3 free-to-play shooter set within the EVE universe, where console players on the ground could be shooting at each other while EVE Online players up in their spaceships sent down orbital strikes as support.
The two games were supposed to be tightly integrated with each other, with interdependent economies, players, alliances and more, but it didn't really work out that way. This year, CCP announced Project Legion – a second try at that same idea of making an EVE shooter, only this time it's on PC, where all the developer's fans are.
One of the best things about CCP is that when you ask one of its employees a question, you get a real answer rather than a media-trained robot response. When I asked monetisation director Julien Dulioust whether Project Legion was essentially trying to do what DUST failed to do, the answer was "Yes, pretty much." CCP is still going to be supporting DUST for at least another few years, but most of the people working at the Shanghai studio that created it are now working on Legion, taking forward what's been learned from DUST's successes and failures.
And it hasn't been a total failure. Julien tells me DUST still has 100,000 active players every day. But it still wasn't what CCP really envisioned for an EVE universe shooter. The Shangai team is now under the leadership of a new director, Jean-Charles Gaudechon. "We want to take what makes EVE such a successful game and use it for Legion," says Julien. "We're talking about a sandbox MMO FPS – so more than just a lobby shooter. It has to be like a full MMO experience, with big progression, player driven economy, PvE and PvP."
The concept of an FPS inhabiting the same universe as an established and fascinating MMO would be more impressive if we hadn't heard something very similar before when DUST was announced. And frankly, when CCP demos an early version of Project Legion in front of a Fanfest audience, it looks an awful lot like DUST with a graphical upgrade. The rather sterile art style remains, with gigantic maps that inevitably seem very empty in these early stages. CCP is reusing most of the thousands of different guns, vehicles and pieces of equipment that it built already for DUST, so the familiarity is strong.
What makes this different from DUST conceptually is not just the retreat to CCP's hardcore PC fan base, but the idea that there's lots to do outside of shooting each other in the face in arranged battles, like getting together with friends and heading down to a planet together to scavenge for loot. While you're down there, you might meet a group of other players and find yourself in an impromptu battle. EVE Online relies on emergent gameplay, which was never really a factor in DUST. CCP clearly intends it to be a central principle of Project Legion.
It's not in evidence now, not at this early stage, but that's the intention. "We're going from a lobby shooter where you jump into a battle, shoot at each other and you're out, to something a lot more social – there will be tonnes of things to do in a much bigger world. The PvE part is going to be the most interesting part for us, being able to group with your friends and give you the tools to create your own metagame within that game," says Julien.
Perhaps sensibly, CCP isn't talking up the integration with the EVE Online universe too much this time around. DUST did integrate with EVE, but never all that meaningfully; sure, you could call down an orbital strike from an EVE player in orbit around the planet you were fighting on, but if there was no player there, the orbital strike would arrive anyway. Project Legion will be more closely integrated with EVE, encouraging players to trade resources across the two games.
Frankly, though, I'm not tremendously excited by the idea of gathering and trading resources (is anyone?). DUST's central problem wasn't that the EVE integration wasn't what it could be, it was that it became a rather sterile shooter with a massively overcomplicated interface that relied too heavily on the impenetrable lore of a decade-old spaceship MMO. If Project Legion is really going to compete with Destiny or Planetside 2, it has to be more exciting.
CCP hopes to get people playing this super-early version Project Legion in weeks, rather than months, shaping the game around people's feedback. That's how this developer does things, and though its games can seem pretty much impenetrable from the outside, they have probably the most involved and passionate community in all of video games, and serving that community's desires has been an extremely successful strategy for CCP so far. I'm just wondering whether Project Legion will have much to offer the rest of us.
Keza MacDonald is Kotaku UK's Editor and cherishes memories of Rogue Squadron on the GameCube. Follow her on Twitter, if you're into that.
CCP's PR agency paid for our journalist's travel and accommodation at EVE Fanfest 2014.