As I put down my controller to write about my experiences in the last two weeks of the DUST 514 closed Beta participation, I’m left with numerous lingering questions, and a sense of excitement about something I thought was a pipe dream and would never really occur.
True cross platform gaming.
When I first entered the beta, I knew nothing of the EVE online world, other than the tales of dirty dealings and criminality that hit the headlines of the gaming news. Pieces about players conducting corporate espionage by joining a corporation, only to, months or years later, destroy it from the inside once they were trusted enough. Ponzi Schemes and Insider trading all fascinated me with the lengths to which players will go for their own profit or that of their corporation.
The fact that CCP’s own terms and conditions state “A scam is the act of obtaining goods from other players through misinformation, confusion, pressure or by taking advantage of basic trust. Players enter into business dealings with others at their own risk and are strongly urged to exercise good judgment and common sense when trading.” indicates that they are fully aware of the possibility and leave it up to the players to make their own moral choices, rather than CCP dictate or regulate the system for them. It is by definition, the embodiment of true sandbox gaming.
That being said, these things and a lack of an appropriate PC were enough to keep me at a safe distance, merely observing from the outside and never building up the courage to foray into what seemed like a masterclass in masochism.
Then CCP announced DUST 514 and my inner geek wept a tear of joy.
The concept behind the game is simple. For those who are not aware, Dust 514 is a free MMOFPS exclusively on the PS3. Set in New Eden, the galaxy created in EVE Online, you play as a mercenary who has been outfitted with an implant, similar to those of the EVE Online Pilots, capable of the instant transfer of consciousness to a clone body upon death without the use of a Pilot capsule. This, in essence, has made you an immortal soldier of fortune fighting for money or your corporation of choice.
Corporation conflicts over land or resources on planets become the battlefields of your eternal soldier. Through you and the other affectionately named “Dust-Bunnies”, corporations attempt to wrest control or hold these planets or even entire solar systems against their rival corporation’s DUST soldiers. The key difference is this game is not driven by a story of CCP’s making, but that of the players in EVE online who wage an eternal war for dominance in the New Eden Galaxy. It is they, who will dictate the battles to be fought and the resources to be obtained.
Much like PC MMO Planetside, In DUST 514 the areas captured by your forces are then marked as owned by the corporation who’s contract you took. Your next fight might take you to one of the other 700+ solar systems in the Galaxy, or the corporation’s new stronghold may come under attack and you may be hired back to defend that which you have just taken.
There is no playing the same map over and over, there is only the contract, and once that’s complete, where you will get your next pay check.
At first glance, this looks like your atypical shooter. Once you have chosen your race, bloodline and specialty you are dropped into your mercenary quarters, which is identical in its layout to the captains quarters from EVE. From here, or via the Neocom (Start button), you can access the starmap to check and join ongoing conflicts, access the fitting room for customising your load-outs or vehicles, or even purchase new assets to improve your performance for your future battles.
If you want, at this point you can jump straight into the fray via the star maps, by selecting a mercenary contract (or corporation contract on full release) and then picking one of your initial four militia, or permanent sets.
Once on the ground, the combat mechanics are positioned somewhere between the well known triple A titles of the current generation, in that it has a delicate balance between run and gun and tactical group combat. Hindered slightly by the limitations of the Unreal engine, movement is nowhere near as fluid as the movement seen using Frostbite 2. That said, the character movement is well refined and doesn’t feel unresponsive at any point.
Enemies thankfully don’t act as bullet sponges, with an accurate burst of concentrated fire dwindling their shields and health in seconds, or a clear head-shot bringing them down to near death or killing them outright.
Current game-types available in the Beta are Skirmish (capture and hold control points) which sees you take control of gun emplacements to shoot down the enemy MCC (Mobile Command Centre) before your enemy destroys yours, and Ambush, a standard team deathmatch. Both match types stand up to close scrutiny as when played each felt balanced, and no one character class or player is truly indestructible.
The full release will have more modes, such as conquest and survival which have both been confirmed as available modes, but with no concrete date given.
Visually, the game is very polished. The maps, although mostly browns and greys, are detailed and expansive with futuristic towers and plants dotting the field of battle. The character models also show a high degree of detail, and although there does appear to be an infrequent clipping of the characters and the playing field, this should hopefully be smoothed out and refined once the full product is released.
Your initial four militia sets are what is to be expected of any FPS game. The Enforcer is your standard frontline class, Scout is your recon/commando class, Shock is your heavy weapons and anti-armour class, and finally Logistics are your engineer and medic class. These classes are then influenced by the speciality you selected when creating your character.
Choosing an Arbiter tailors your skills towards sniper rifles and focuses on shield modules, the Enforcer is predisposed to utilising assault rifles, nanohives and anti-vehicle grenades while the Sentinel begins with a Swarm Rocket Launcher and armour module specialities.
Its safe to say that CCP have not tried to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the combat mechanics of the first person shooter genre. Where CCP really shine, is in what they have under the chassis.
Some of you may have noticed above, that I referred to the four standard militia builds as permanent sets. This is because alongside each of these four prebuilt classes, which can be modified as you see fit, you can create your own unique classes, and this is where CCP have really done something special.
For each of these unique builds, there are two central dynamics that must be taken into account. Skills and Assets. The skill tree on DUST is identical to EVE’s refined skill pathing. Skill currency, SP (skill points), are earned in real time just like in EVE, but you can also earn more points through combat experience. These can be used on your known skills to increase their level, thus giving a bonus to that desired trait, such as a 5% increase in hip-fire accuracy, or a three second reduction in tower hacking times. Unknown skills have to be purchased as skill books at a great cost, before you can begin to train and specialise and as such these can take a long time to develop.
CCP have confirmed, that to learn all skills in all skill trees could take up to 7 years of real time which, in its own right, forces you to specialise your character to a given role. Skills also allow you to equip more complicated and powerful weaponry, mods and armour.
As such, someone focusing on being a recon class, will be able to equip a more powerful sniper rifle and recon suit, than someone whose specialisation lies in anti-armour or assault and vice versa. With this in mind, the massive choice involved in character skills allows you to become a unique soldier in the DUST universe, catering specifically to your play-style.
This brings us on to Assets. DUST migrates its parent games take on risk vs. reward and scales it down to the battlefield.
In EVE, if your Frigate is destroyed, you will be reborn in your clone, with the wreck of your ship and cargo left in deep space. In DUST 514, the world is not so forgiving. If killed, your weapons, modules and armour are gone, lost in the heat of battle.
I made the mistake of spending several thousand ISK on new armour, assault rifle, pistol, modules and nanohive (nanohives are droppable kits which create an AOE refilling point to recharge armour and ammo). I proceeded to kill several enemies before being taken down myself. On returning to the spawn screen I was treated to an “Invalid Fitting” error (yes, I should have read the manual). I then continued the game regardless, kitted in the default indestructible militia gear. Thankfully, ISK rewards for contracts are quite plentiful and I easily had enough to kit myself out with 25 of each of my now missing items for the following round, and also netted me some armour and a bundle of five SMG’s from the salvage gathered in that round.
This is a free to play game, but micro transactions are also included, taking the form of Aurum, which can be purchased from the PSN Store. Initial concerns about the model being “pay to win” have been quashed when CCP confirmed that it did not give you access to items that could not be achieved through in game ISK purchases.
A single spawn equates to one of each equipped items in a dropsuit loadout and every death depletes those reserves by one. As such, using your custom builds to run and gun becomes a costly and painful exercise, encouraging you to play more as a team to complete objectives or eliminate the enemy.
These same rules of attrition apply to vehicles also. Unlike Battlefield 3, where vehicles are set to consistent spawn points when destroyed, all vehicles and customisation are bought in bulk from the store and modified in your fitting menu, just like a dropsuit loadout. You can then call in vehicle drops during battles when suitable. This adds a greater depth of strategy to the game, as timing the allocation of a heavy or light armoured vehicle or even a dropship can quickly turn the tide of any battle.
These vehicles are obviously more costly to lose and as such caution must be taken deploying these expensive machines, rather than running headlong into battle without understanding the inherent risks involved.
With the obvious frustration of running out of assets mid fight, CCP have confirmed that restocking assets on the fly during a match will be made available for the full release.
Two classes dropsuit supplies remain conspicuously absent from the current Beta build. The Command and the Pilot. It will be interesting to see how much interaction the Pilot class will have in DUST, and what interaction can be achieved between the two games, given all EVE players are classified as Pilots.
Rumblings from the CCP camp, indicate that the Command profile will include squad leader, who will be able to confer buffs onto his team. Alongside which he will also be able to co-ordinate directly with the command players in the EVE online universe as well as his squad, as the voice system being used for DUST 514 is the same Vivox platform currently supporting the EVE online community. This ability to strategise between players in DUST on the PS3 to EVE online on the PC, allows for some masterstrokes of interaction between the platforms.
With this communication available, players in DUST can call in orbital strikes, initiated by PC gamers controlling ships in orbit over the battlefield, and EVE ships can be targeted with orbital artillery emplacements in the DUST battlefield.
Furthermore, confirmed marketplace interaction with a persistent economy has been touted, with objects in DUST being able to be sold in EVE markets and vice versa.
This first person shooter, with cross platform integration, and a customisation level to embarrass the most ardent RPG, could be something truly spectacular. All we can do now is wait with baited breath.
This brings us full circle to my final thoughts and questions.
How long before there are player crafted modules, weapons, armour and possibly even vehicles available to purchase in DUST?
This is purely speculation at this point as no-one in CCP has as yet confirmed if this will be the case, but with the economy of EVE being largely player created vehicles and items, then surely it is only a matter of time?
If the integration of actions taken in either platform can affect the other, how much further down that rabbit hole are CCP willing and able to go?
With so much integration already visible between the two games , it begs the final question.
If DUST 514 is a success, what could be next in cross platform gaming?