What is it?
It's a MMORPG set in space. Space, here, is the galazy cluster known as 'New Eden'. There is over 5000 seperate solar systems, all of which you can visit, if you so wish. These systems are linked via stargates, so from system A you can go to system B and C, but to reach D, you have to go through B, or the long way around through C, E and F. More on that later. The game is on a constant world server (23 hours a day, 1 hour or so a day for downtime) and has about 20,000 on at any one time.
In EvE, you start by rolling a character from one of 4 races, then the starting attributes are chosen via a 'profession'. the attributes (Intelligence, perception, willpower and charisma) will have an effect on how quickly you learn new skills. Skills are aquired through the reading of 'skillbooks' which one purchases. Once a skill is being learnt, a timer clicks down until that skill is complete. This timer is effected by your points in the two attributes it requires, so some character classes learn some skills quicker than others. A skill will give you the ability to use a piece of equipment, or if you level that skill up, use it better (fly faster for example). Attributes can be improved by 'learning skills' (one point up per level) or implants (stuff you stick in your head). Skill training is continuous and doesn't stop when you log off.
For example, I have a character that has a skill that allows me to sell things at a distance (I don't have to physically be in the station to sell item X). Without this skill trained, it is only in that station, level 1 is a different space station in the same system, level 2 is 1 jumpo away, level 3 is 10, level 4 is 20 jumps and level 5 is regionwide - subs please check). Accumulation of skills is a good thing as it allows you to shoot quicker, move faster, last longer, build more efficiently to give a few examples.
These systems have a 'security rating' from 1.0 to 0.0. 1.0 to 0.5 means that if you are attacked, or attack someone in those systems, the local police force will arrive and destroy the agressor's space ship. in 0.4 to 0.1 you can attack people without the intervention of the police force, however, do it near a stargate or a space station and the sentry guns will fire on you, anywhere else and it is fine.
Systems have a differening number of space stations, asteroid belts, complexes (Places where NPC's have set up a base and you can go shooting them).
What do I do?
Anything you want.
Miners use mining lasers to extract ore from asteroids in the cargo holds of their ships. This ore can then be refined into raw materials for construction of ships or modules for their use or to be sold on the market.
Industrialist buy raw materials off the miners and use these to construct ships and modules for their own use or for sale to the general [population.
Trader buy and sell goods either from the NPC or player characters. The discovery of trade routes has made this a very profitable operation, buying goods at one rpice and transporting them 15 jumps away to sell at double that price. The important thing to remember is that the market is player driven. Anything can be bought and sold, at any price. Trade routes often run from one region to another, does a trader take a short cut through unpoliced space to maximise cash over time, or the safer but twice as long route around?
Mission runners take orders from NPC agents, be it 'bring X number of object Y from A to B, or 'go kill NPC pirates here'. These misisons provide a steady income and give rewards in special shiny toys.
Fighting characters will either escort their corp mates when mining or running goods from A to B, protecting them and their profits, out of the goodness of their hearts or for a fee.
Pirates will attack without provocation in an attempt to remove the worldy goods of others for their own ends.
Also, some people scam other players out of high end ships and cash through a series of actions.
The prime rule is to trust no one, not everyone is your friend, and allegiences can change quickly.
Players can join corporations, which are the equivalent of guilds. A corporation is a group of people with a common playstyle or goal. Often, these will include pure idustrialists to provide ships at cost price for those fighting to protect the miners supplying them with raw goods and traders to increase the corporation's bank balance. A corporation can join other corporations in an alliance, which can grow to be many hundreds of people strong and strike forth and claim space for their own.
Corporations and alliances can declare war on each other. This means that thye pay a bribe to the police that allows them to attack, without reprimand, the other corporation or alliance. These are often bourne out of a genuine greivance, for example, to drive a corporation out of an area ensuring the spoils for themselves or something smaller (X attacked Y, X was rude to Y). These wars can take place anywhere and when at war, extra special care must be taken.
What can I fly?
There are many ships, from the super fast and sleek interceptor class frigates to the great lumbering battleships and titans that are fielded in huge powerpoint slideshows of battles. in between, there are Cruisers (offering a decent return in bang for buck), Cloakable stealth ships, massive freighters for moving huge volumes of goods about and smaller, but no less cavernous transport ships. In the game, providing one has the skills, any ship can be flown. All ships have differing bonuses (depending on the level of ship trained). One, for example goes x% faster base speed per level trained, so a character at level 5 will be going considerably quicker than one with a level one.
The aim of the game can be anything you wish it to be, it's a sandbox. Some people choose to build great empires on the outer reaches of space, with their own outposts and staking claims to whole regions. Others seek to remove the assets of others for their own use. Traders ply the most profitiable routes, making billions on a single run.
The good points is that is an immersive universe and there is a lot going on. You can never not try something new or set yourself a new goal. Player interaction is encouraged andcan be quite exciting. The thrill of combat is something that I haven't experienced in any other game, my heart rate shot up and my hands were shaking as I tried to shoot the person shooting at me. The sense of loss is real. once a ship explodes, it is gone forever and represents a real in game cash loss. Brains will triumph over brawn in the most part, a new player can destory the dreams and ambitions of an older player in the short term and, as time goes by, over the long term.
The bad: It can be laggy as shit, there are stil a fair few bugs in it. Being in a corporation that you are not enjoying can be a pain in the arse. The lag in fleet fights (100+ vs 100+). The sense of loss. The sense of unfairness as you poke your nose into unpoliced space and get oyur face shot off. your first encounter with player pirates. It's also an MMO, so there is a fair amount of ISK (in game currency) sellers spamming up the chat channels and there are tossers about.
Verdict: It's a flawed work of awesome.