Publisher: CCP Games
Developer: CCP Games
As intriguing as Eve Online always sounds when some unique event or player created bit of friction occurs it’s certainly not a game that I’ve been able to enjoy. I’ve made a handful of attempts at jumping in, but never really had the patience or commitment to fully understand it. I certainly get why it’s so well loved among the fan base, there certainly isn’t another space sim out there that really touches it in scope. But it definitely isn’t the game for me.
With that said, Dust 514, set in the Eve Online universe and created by Eve Online developers CCP Games, is something that I’ve genuinely enjoyed so far. I say so far because I’m hardly at a point where I feel comfortable with the thought that I know it inside and out. It’s a remarkably dense experience, especially compared to typical FPS competitors like Halo and Call of Duty. Dust 514 certainly takes a lot of mechanics further than most shooters, offering up a large number of customization options for character building, via one of the most in-depth skill systems you’re likely to see in a first person shooter.
The core game is available for free via PSN on the Playstation 3. It adopts the MMO free-to-play model, where you can jump in and play the same experience as everyone else without spending a dime. But if you want, there are packs and in-game currency available that will allow you to purchase gear and experience boosters in various quantities. The majority of the equipment can be purchased with in-game currency called ISK, but using the alternate real-money bought variation will fast track you to certain weapons, or blueprints that provide inexhaustible resources.
Every character created in Dust 514 can be outfitted with dropsuits, which function sort of like class slots in comparison to other games. This dropsuit comes with a number of modules for equipment, allowing for one primary weapon, one secondary, grenades, and a handful of optional equipment that can boost things like shields and armor. Each dropsuit also has a certain number of points available to outfit gear with, restricting players from potentially overpowered combinations.
One of the more unique features in Dust 514, tied into that equipment, is the fact that you’ll lose it when you die. And with this being an online FPS, there’s a good chance you’ll die quite a bit. While that might sound terrifying, the cost associated with gear isn’t so high that it becomes unreasonable. It just gives some neat risk vs. reward scenarios that you’ll rarely see in other shooters. But that’s also dependent on how invested you are in the world, as I’ve seen plenty of players pretty content to just run around in basic gear without any desire to upgrade past the paltry Militia grade you begin with.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, I think it’s pretty good, but if I’m going to sit down and compare it to other modern FPS titles on PS3 it could certainly use some refinement. It can often be a little buggy, with some odd collision detection issues and spawning problems, neither of which are too surprising considering the scope. It’s certainly a far better experience than it was months ago, boosted by the recent Uprising patch that hit before launch. But it has also had some server issues recently, with a DDoS attack that impacted the game and knocked it offline for about a day.
Dust 514 boils down to a handful of modes, \which are further divided up into three distinct tabs from the hub Battle Finder menu. The most prevalent mode when I was playing was Skirmish, available by the initial tab on the Battle Finder. This is a two team mode, with each team vying for control over various control points on a large map. When controlling these locations you’ll be able to bombard an enemy command vessel, winning by actually destroying the ship suspended in the atmosphere. Other modes include Ambush and Ambush OMS, essentially timed team deathmatch but with a limit on the number of player respawns as well. Finally Planetary Conquest battles are more unique, and more important to the overall game in how it relates to Eve Online, provided you have interest in the corporation mechanic.Corporations act as guilds within the game, and can be created by other players. You can take on contracts against other corporations, and battle it out for control over entire planets and the accompanying resources.
Dust 514 also has some significant problems. The biggest offender here is that the tutorial is severely lacking. When you first enter the game, you’ll get some text descriptions that’ll guide you through your menu options in the starting hub. This is where you’ll spend skill points, purchase gear from the marketplace, outfit your dropsuits, and look for matches to play. The tutorial covers the basics, but there are a lot of things that are vaguely explained. And the way the text is presented is about as dry and boring as a tutorial can get. Hitting new players with wall after wall of text before they get to do something fun doesn’t really instill excitement in most.
Key mechanics, like joining a corporation and what that means for the game as a whole are glossed over at best. And the skill system, another unique and important part of the game to understand, isn’t given enough attention. There’s not enough emphasis placed on how skills relate to gear, especially since earning skill points feels like a slow and arduous process. Also, understanding exactly what differentiates all the class and race types, gear specific to both, and what gear fits what class is difficult to understand up front. I have no issues with a game attempting to do something more complex, and certainly don’t want to have my hand held forcefully through everything, but Dust 514 barely attempts to be accessible for newcomers.
If you’re willing to seek it out, there are a lot of online resources available, both official and unofficial. These certainly helped me grasp a lot more than anything in the game actually did. The digital manual is also well worth reading through, explaining basic functions like why it pays to group in a squad to call down orbital strikes, and that you can even call in orbital strikes to begin with. But again, with modern games we’ve come to expect that core mechanics and features are going to be unveiled as we progress, and Dust 514 doesn’t handle that well.
With that said, Dust 514 has given me a taste of what a large-scale MMO shooter could be, and some hope for the overall experience to improve moving forward. CCP has certainly shown that they have a willingness, tenacity, and desire to listen to fans via Eve Online, so hopefully that continues with Dust 514. Is it a little rough around the edges right now? You bet. But with a virtually non-existent entry cost and some solid foundation to back it up, Dust 514 is worth checking out.