Eve has only one shard, which means everyone plays in the same world; the population is not spread out over separate "servers" as is the norm for MMOGs. Despite this, the Eve universe is incredibly huge, with over 5000 explored star systems. The 3D map of this world is quite amazing in itself.
If you've heard anything about Eve, you've heard that the graphics are terrific. Even before improvements that came with Exodus, the game undeniably looked superb. The detail in the ships and space stations is spectacular. The planets, solar systems, and starscapes are extremely convincing and beautifully lit. It's no surprise that Eve has won several awards in this department.
The interface is a little clumsy at first, but once you get used to it you find that most operations are easily accomplished through a drop-down menu system.
Understandably, the physics seem to have gone missing; you don't appear to be affected by the gravitational pull of planets, and you also warp right through them when they're in your way. It's also unfortunate that there aren't really any strategically significant obstacles in Eve space. The battlefield is so uniform that Star Gates naturally become the focal point of a lot of the action.
Your Ship is Your Castle
One prominent difference between Eve and most other MMORPGs is that your ship is really more important than your character. You do have a customizable portrait and some stats, but what counts are the ships under your command. While you can have more than one ship, only one may be active at a time. There are an impressive variety of ships in the game, and each can be decked out with an equally impressive variety of weapons and equipment.
The Exodus expansion has made it possible for players to build their own space stations and win control over parts of the galaxy. Deadspace Complexes have also been added, giving players a place to engage in large scale battles with NPCs.
One unusual thing about Eve is that it uses a time-based skill system. Unlike most RPGs, where you gain experience by performing various tasks, Eve skills are trained in real time. Training continues even when you're not logged on. As you would expect, early skills can be trained quickly, but more advanced skills can take weeks to train.
The upside of this system is that people progress through the game at a similar rate that doesn't rely strictly on how much time they spend playing. On the other hand, if you do decide to put in a lot of game time, you may well find yourself with all the money you need for a better ship long before you have the requisite skill points to fly it. It also means that you can't catch up to players who have been in the game longer than yourself simply by playing more.
A Big Universe
Solar systems in Eve are connected with a lattice of Star Gates. Traveling between Star Gates is more or less instant, while warping around solar systems takes a little longer. The good news is that you don't have to navigate manually, you can select a destination many Gates away and put your ship on autopilot. The bad news is that if you have 30 or 40 jumps to make, it'll take the better part an hour and it can get pretty dull.
Each solar system has a security rating which gives you some idea how risky it is to travel through them. It ranges from 1.0 space at the safe end of the spectrum to 0.0 space, which has no NPC protection. Low security space can certainly add excitement (and sometimes frustration) to otherwise mundane trade missions.
On top of the missions handed out by NPCs, players can create missions for each other, which is a great feature. These missions can involve anything from transporting goods to bounty hunting.
Death is not without weighty consequences in Eve, but buying insurance will go a long way toward protecting your investment. When your ship is destroyed you end up chugging through space in an escape pod. If your pod gets destroyed, you are cloned at a base. As long as you keep your clone up to date you can avoid large skill penalties.
Of course, the biggest, baddest ships don't come cheap, so commerce plays a central role in Eve. Almost everything in the game is player-made, and there is an elaborate free market system driven by supply and demand in the many regions of the universe. The economy relies on minerals mined from asteroids, which are ultimately crafted by players into items and ships. One could easily spend hours pouring over the market window alone, researching profitable trade routes and making deals.