Imagine a game that combines the mechanics of the Elite series and the vast expanse of the X series. Now, add a little freelancer and forget all about the leveling system in any other MMO.
You start with a small ship and a little cash, a few basic skills that you choose when you build you character and some standard attributes (perception, willpower, memory, charisma and intelligence).
You fly missions, or mine asteroids/gas clouds/ice fields, or go hunting NPC pirates. You trade from system to system, ambush other players to steal their cargo, buy and sell on the auction (contracts is the in game word). You can hunt real players that have bounties on them or you can manufacture an sell on the market. you can explore and make new friends...or enemies as and when you like. You can create you own corporation or join an established one. You can be nice....or not, it is up to you.
You do not level on this game, what you do is learn new skills that you buy off the market. It takes REALTIME to learn these skills, from just a few minutes, to several weeks for the high level skills. You can pilot a powerful battleship within a week or two...but you will also need to train to use decient weapons with it too.
4 main factions, over 50 different ships, hundreds of weapons, thousands of loadout options for each and a million ways to die.
3 areas of space to explore, 1.0 - 0.5 (high sec) space is relatively safe, only NPC's to worry about, 0.4 - 0.1 (low sec) very dangerous as you not only have to worry about higher level NPC's but real players can shoot you to bits without worrying about the protection from the navy you get in high sec. 0.0 (no sec) is where the fun starts, you can build stations and defences, manufacturing and dozens of other structures. Fleet battles consisting of hundreds of ships take place here...you will die lots here, but you will also have loads of fun.
You don't pilot the ship directly, you target and use a simple menu system to achieve your goal.
Think of this as more a strategy/management/space/survival game.
In brief, a very deep game, slow paced but very very addictive. rewarding when you are in control, but frustraiting when you are at the mercy of a player pirate. Best advice is don't shoot the other guy unless you can afford to replace you ship.