When I find myself discussing DUST 514, the first word that comes to mind is, unfailingly, ‘ambition’.
The ambition to try something that’s never been done before — to merge two seemingly incompatible genres into one living, thriving universe. EVE Online, a technical, massively multiplayer, space-based economy and skullduggery simulator run entirely by human players on one hand and DUST 514, a console first-person shooter, on the other. The sheer audacity of the endeavor alone is worthy of commendation.
The problem with audacity and ambition, however, is that they each invite a thousand things to come tumbling down.
But let’s put intent to one side for one moment and talk about the current state of the game. DUST 514 is clearly an incredibly complex first-person shooter. From the jump, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the embarrassing amount of systems working in concert with one another. The marketplace, the skill system, and dropsuits — each reeks of the sort of attention to detail and elaborateness that CCP became known for with EVE Online.
In fact, much of it looks nearly identical to EVE Online. The skill progression system, for instance, utilizes the same real-time accumulation as DUST‘s MMO counterpart. Skills points accrue over time, even when you’re not playing the game, and can be used to purchase higher levels of skills for your character. Each skill can be upgraded to a maximum of level five and the more important or higher level the skill, the more points are required to unlock the next level.
The major wrinkle that DUST adds to the mix not present in EVE Online is the ability to actively earn skill points. In this respect, your average multiplayer shooter rules apply as you’ll need to kill enemies, capture control points and support allies to build up points on your own.
You’re definitely going to want to do whatever you can to level up these skills as fast as you can as they’re the only permanent means of progression. In DUST 514 you’re not some endlessly respawning space marine with an infinite arsenal. You’re one out of a million clone soldiers whose consciousness transfers to a new body each time you swallow a bullet. That means that whatever equipment you have on you when that body dies is lost forever and needs to be replaced. This is where isk, the shared EVE/DUST player currency comes in. New weapons as well as equipment like shield rechargers, armor plating and healing items are bought and sold via the game’s online marketplace.
This sense of impermanence brings some of EVE‘s tooth-grinding tension to the shooter — albeit on a much smaller scale. When everyone is afraid of losing their nice, expensive sets of equipment, they’re much more likely to take things slowly. It also makes teamwork and careful deployment of strategy that much more important.
But it’s not too much of a hassle, either. Once you’ve outfitted yourself with an equipment set, or “dropsuit”, that you really like, you can easily repurchase every item in your custom set in bulk or one at a time.
That sort of streamlining is incredibly important in a game that’s so radically deep compared to common console fare. Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, DUST‘s interface is far and away more user friendly even in beta than EVE Online‘s decade old, notoriously atrocious menu system. As complex as the systems layered within DUST may be, user interface tricks like repurchasing whole sets of equipment and automatically comparing item stats to whatever’s equipped when browsing the market keep it from feeling overly complicated. I’d actually love to see some of the lessons CCP has learned in making DUST 514 migrate to their MMO in the future.
If there’s one thing that CCP has proven that they know how to do, it’s making dozens of intricate technical systems work together in harmony. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely convinced that they’ve mastered making fun shooters… yet.
DUST 514 is the developer’s first stab at making a first-person shooter. And it shows.
Weapons lack punch and accuracy, environments are entirely too large and unevenly spaced (and set to get even larger), textures are blurry or downright missing, there’s no easy way to team up with your friends, vehicles are unwieldy and it’s almost impossible to tell if you’re shots are actually making contact with the enemy. As impressive as the game’s inner workings are on their own, they have yet to be surrounded by a game that’s very fun to play. Furthermore, the most interesting and experimental elements — the interaction between DUST and EVE in the form of orbital strikes, mercenary contracts and player run corporations — haven’t been fully implemented yet, making it impossible to determine how effective they will be and what sort of consequences they will have.
Luckily, CCP is aware of most of the game’s issues and is well-known for making constant, radical updates. Seeing as how EVE Online is currently running in its seventeenth free expansion, it’s likely the DUST we have now will likely look radically different than the one we get at release, much less a year from now. At the very least, it’s nice to see a company using a beta to actually improve upon a game rather than just show it off.
I remain tentatively excited about DUST 514, perhaps less tentatively than I was when it was first announced. CCP seem to be making a new kind of console experience that, while still badly in need of time and care, actually works. We’ll see how well it works as the beta develops and the game is finally released later this year.