When you download PS3’s exclusive free-to-play space shooter, you are onto something that can be cunningly addictive and awesome to be a part of. I’ve been in the beta since E3 2012 and have followed the game very closely since then. However, many gamers are unaware of just how deep and badass this rabbit hole is.
DUST 514 isn’t some superficial and meaningless military shooter; it’s a pioneering endeavour of programming, technology and consumer communication that has already created something unlike you’ve ever seen in gaming. You’re doing yourself a huge injustice if you judge the game without understanding what it’s REALLY about and why it is unique in the industry. In this review I’ll be looking at what DUST 514 is, and then examining its current state at launch.
DUST is an intergalactic shooter on console that is set in the universe of the spaceship MMO game EVE Online on PC. EVE is a universe of 7000 solar systems which has evolved over 10 years to become a thriving digital industrial community in space that is 500,000 subscribers strong. The combination of DUST 514 and EVE Online creates EVE Universe; an IP that heads bravely into many uncharted territories.
There have been games that have allowed PC and console gamers to play together, but in these cases both are playing the same game; they were just cross platform. DUST 514 is a military FPS game on console that includes deep role customisation and gameplay mechanics not found in any other shooting game; EVE Online is the 10 year spaceship MMO game on PC that provides the lore and context for it. Two totally different game types, two different systems, one IP– that’s why The EVE Universe is truly a cross genre and cross platform innovation.
One of the most impressive technological feats is the super server the games run on. Normally, MMOs might have a server for the US, the EU and Asia, dividing the players into different regions. Within those regions the players are further separated into different servers or instances. Even though millions might be playing the same game, they are often disconnected from each other. CCP does things differently. Tranquility is a single shard super server based in London that provides ONE single instance universe for all EVE players to exist in. There is no other shard, no other server–everyone plays with everyone and no one is separated or segregated. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, DUST 514 players also exist in that single shard server.
What this means is that CCP can start building the most advanced gaming ecosystem ever devised, allowing unprecedented interaction between the two games which are wrapped around the same rich and deep lore. On a very basic level, DUST 514 and EVE Online players can chat, voice chat and send e-mails freely. They can also form corporations (clans) and form alliances.
On a more visceral level, there is the awesome Orbital Bombardment feature. When console players meet certain conditions in battle, they are able to request a tactical strike from an EVE pilot in the contested planet’s orbit which is delivered from the PC, through Tranquility and into the console gamer’s match in real time. At the moment, only the basic tactical strikes are in game, but when I talked to EVE Designer Kristoffer Touborg in January, he talked of the planet scorching possibilities of the future.
The development of the link between these two games is slow and steady. EVE Online is 10 years old and has an extremely intricate society that has emerged within it. It is very important to CCP that the introduction of DUST 514 into EVE Online is careful and meaningful so that the experience of its PC gamers is not disrupted.
The ability for players on both platforms to form this connection is most relevant in the new Planetary Conquest mode, but we will cover that later.
DUST 514 is a game that has a long roadmap ahead of it. CCP clearly stated its content plan for the next five years or so during the Advancing the Core presentation and the CCP Presents! Keynote at this year’s EVE FanFest. DUST gamers will have the same persistent soldier they created upon entry as time goes on and the game gets bigger and deeper. CCP will be releasing three or four free major updates a year, adding new features, game modes, weapon/vehicle/armour/equipment variations, new class roles and vehicles types plus much more. It sees DUST 514 as a “game-as-a-service”. The idea is that if you continually better your ‘service’, you will retain existing customers while having an ever more appealing experience to entice and ensnare new users with.
In other military shooter games you level up your fixed classes and when the next iteration of the game comes out–you get to pay €60 and start from scratch. In five years’ time such a gamer will have five different buffed up soldiers across five titles and spent upward of €250. Conversely, a DUST gamer will have a highly trained badass who is proficient in a bigger degree of battlefield disciplines and is a persistent avatar of the mercenary’s ‘career’.
Another distinguishing feature is the market. In DUST 514 you don’t live in a magical faery land where little pixies make weapons and equipment that appear out of thin air for you to use in battle. As a mercenary you have to buy the equipment you take into battle using the rewards given in previous confrontations. The armour you wear, the modules that customise and buff it, the weapons you wield and the vehicles you call in to battle are all assets that you have to buy from the game’s market. When you die in battle, and you don’t get revived by a logistics class player, you lose whatever you have on you. Same goes for your buggies, tanks and dropships; if they get wasted, you have one less in your inventory.
At first this may seem like a jarring and awkward concept, but soon you get introduced to a new game dynamic unlike any other in the genre–resource management. Suddenly confrontations become a lot more exciting and intense because death doesn’t just put another point into your end of match stats, it puts a dent in your wallet. You simply don’t get this in other shooters because you are not personally responsible for your own armament.
As an example; I have three different logistic dropsuit variations. The most basic one costs me 7,000 ISK, the second 25,000 ISK and the third (and best) costs 120,000 ISK. Whether you win or lose in the match, you still get an ISK and Skill Point (SP) reward and on average you earn 200,000-350,000 ISK depending on how you perform. However, if I die once in my 120K dropsuit fitting I have effectively cut ½-⅓ off my profit depending on what I end up earning.
It works both ways too; when you use your missile swarm launcher to destroy a tank, smile knowing you just wiped well over 1,000,000 ISK from your opponent’s assets making profitability for that match a distant dream for him.
You will also see some items in the market that aren’t purchasable with ISK. They can only be bought with AUR, the currency that can be bought from the PSN store. Despite uninformed claims, this does NOT constitute a pay-to-win element to DUST 514. AUR items simply let you have access to weapons one level above your current proficiency level. That means that if I train assault rifles to level 3 (Advanced), I could get access to the level 5 Prototype version without having to invest further SP. With these items you are sacrificing real money for the convenience of using gear one tier up from your current level. There is no AUR bought God weapon that gives you powning powers–everything that you buy with real money has an ISK equivalent, you just have to train to use it.
DUST 514 features the typical four roles of today’s shooters; heavy, assault, support and scout for you to spec into. However, you might decide to put all of your skills into being a tank or dropship pilot and that’s the awesome thing–no matter which road you go down you are given a multitude of choices. Infantry or vehicle? Armor tank or shield tank? Do you want to be quick but weak, slow but strong or somewhere in between? With the exception of the Heavy Machine Gun and the Forge Gun which are exclusive to Large frame dropsuits, any weapon can be learned by anyone.
The scout isn’t just boxed into the sniper rifle and SMGs, he can wield an assault rifle, shotgun or any other of the light and side-arm weapons range. Any class can learn to use any of the various equipment items like revive tool, armor repair and spawn points. Through dropsuit fitting, you can customise your merc to offset your dropsuit size’s inherent weaknesses, further augment its strengths or enhance things like weapon damage, hack speed or scan profile dampening among other things. It is a very in-depth and robust system that is destined to expand as new combat mechanics enter the fray.
Skill progression is fueled by Skill Points which are earned in two ways. Active SP is earned from playing matches and earning War Points for doing certain actions in game like killing, hacking and healing (check our article on how to earn SP). The second method is passive SP which you accrue automatically even if you’re not playing. The amount of SP you can earn a week can be increased with boosters that are bought with AUR.
These customised and specialised soldiers are essentially mercenaries for hire in the EVE universe. They can form corporations, which in turn can form alliances with other corporations. Corps are run by CEOs who can appoint Directors that have the ability to kick members, accept applications and give out money from the shared wallet. Going lone wolf in this shooter is not a good idea as matches really shine when played with a group of people with mics. If you choose to go into battle alone, DUST 514 is a very harsh and unforgiving game.
The experience of being in a corp was elevated recently when CCP abolished the Universal Voice Transmitter. Prior to this, you could only voice chat once you had formed a squad in the lobby unless you bought a UVT from the market. Now you are free to speak in corp chat, squad chat or in private channels which can be freely created. EVE gamers are also able to talk with console gamers if they are part of the same corporation or in the same chat channel. Having voice in the main corp channel is an awesome addition and makes matchmaking a lot easier and promotes conversation amongst the members.
Once in a corp, there are several game types to partake in. Instant battles come in four flavours; Ambush and Ambush OMS are team deathmatch with the OMS variant dropping random installations into the mix mid battle. Skirmish is objective based where the goal is to hold 3-5 NULL cannons which fire upon your enemies Mobile Command Center until it’s destroyed. Domination mixes Skirmish and Ambush by having just one NULL cannon to fight over, often leading to concentrated clone smashing action.
In Faction Warfare, mercs choose to either fight in Caldari vs Gallente or Amarr vs Minmatar Skirmish matches. These four races all have their own lore and philosophy and many gamers align themselves depending on their own beliefs. The outcomes of these battles affects how easy it is for EVE players to get sovereignty of the contested region for their faction.
Finally, Planetary Conquest allows corporations to fight for territory in New Eden. In the Molden Heath region of New Eden, there are planets with varying amounts of districts on them. When these districts are under your control, they start to create clones. Clones are what DUST 514 is all about, they are the vessels that hold the immortal minds of New Eden’s soldiers and are used in all game modes. In PC mode however, the clones are used to wage battles on other districts and planets in Skirmish matches. Excess clones that exceed that district’s cap are automatically sold and the funds go to the corporation wallet. There are three different surface infrastructures that you can set up on owned districts which enhance clone production rates,raise the cap or make transporting them less risky. Unlike instant battles, there is no NPC fired orbital bombardments, so having an EVE contingent is essential for corps to have as they go into matches.
So, with the fundamentals of the game done, what is it like now that it has officially launched? Well, it’s a mixed bag. The Uprising build that hit a week before launch was the biggest update of the five builds the game has had. As a whole, Uprising is a solid update that laid a lot of the groundwork for the future direction of the game but it didn’t land without causing some waves.
The boot up time is now an average of 90 seconds which is a far cry from the 4:50 minute boot up time of the previous build. The menus look nicer and generally run smoother. The new character selection screen and character creation mode give the first glimpse of the UI improvements but the new node based skill training progression menu is probably the starkest example. Now in a family tree type arrangement, it’s much nicer to look through and your options for progression are presented much more clearly.
The graphics look great. Textures are more detailed, lighting and environmental effects have improved and the inclusion of godrays looks fantastic. There are many different skybox states too, offering different moods for the levels with night time levels looking particularly atmospheric. The muddy terrain of Chromosome has evolved with the inclusion of grass and small shrubbery on certain planets which help give variety to the levels. Weapons, dropsuits and vehicles also received updated and improved appearance.
The gameplay at the moment generally works but a glance over at the forums shows that there are still a lot of issues in the game despite having launched. Sometimes you get stuck against invisible objects–I’ve had this problem going up stairs. Loading screen crashes and dying voice comms are also a problem for some.
There are also other issues with weapons and equipment not working as intended. For example, the Mass Driver (grenade launcher) has syncing issues and doesn’t hit the target even if you hit the mark. Despite having been ‘fixed’, it still doesn’t work as it should and with the nerf to splash range, it is all but useless. Due to unpopular changes and nerfs across the board, most people just use assault rifles now despite having an exotic range of weapons to choose from.
Using the revive tool is a gamble as you circle your downed comrade, bashing O like a madman while hoping your reticule will find the magic spot to initiate the revive before getting gunned down.
The other disappointing thing about the launch is that it’s simply not complete–unless you play assault or logistics. There is only one of the four planned racial variants of the Large frame dropsuits and two of the four Light frame variants. This puts gamers in an unfair situation where they will be forced into speccing into a dropsuit that they may regret when the rest finally come. I play logistics class so I am lucky, but I wouldn’t be happy if I only had one or two variants to choose from. On the upside, three new weapon types were introduced. The Scrambler Rifle is a shield buster with the ability to fire off quick shots or charge up for an extra kick. The Flaylock pistol is a sidearm weapon which fires small missiles and the Plasma Cannon is a dumb-fire anti-vehicle weapon that can be quipped as a light weapon. Also added were more exotic variants of the game’s various equipment at Prototype level, giving you more variety in how you help your team.
Although these negative points exist, I simply do not care because the positives of DUST far outweigh the negatives. It’s all the little details that were added to the game with Uprising that build upon a promising FPS that’s oozing potential. For example, the ability to recall vehicles means you don’t have to fly your dropship or drive your tank for the whole match–simply hack the vehicle to have it sent back to your assets when you’re done.
The squad size was bumbed up to 6 which allows for a much more dynamic teamwork experience. I love the idea of a dropship pilot taking 5 of his buddies to an objective and having four of them deploy while one hangs back to assist the pilot in aerial firepower support. It also enables more intresting formations for tanks which can house upto 3 mercs while having the other 3 acting as support.
Also added was the Instant Battle Academy Mode which pits new entrants of the game against other fresh recruits so that they aren’t up against vets donning prototype dropsuits and equipment. After a set amount of War Points have been earned, players graduate and are able to partake in matches with everyone else. While experienced players aren’t able to access the academy, they are able to bring beginners into the standard matches.
To conclude, CCP’s first shot at the shooter genre is an awesome and unique FPS game despite the teething problems introduced with Uprising. With CCP’s commendable relationship with the gamers, bugs and issues are more easily identified and thanks to Sony’s flexibility regarding updates and patches for the game, fixes can come a lot quicker than is normal for other retail titles. It’s not just the bug reports that are heard either, there is a section in the official forums dedicated to requests and suggestions from the people who play the game. For those who wish it, they can not only play the game, but play their own part in helping the game improve by being active in the forums and giving their own feedback and suggestions.
If you are tired of the current FPS offerings or are getting burnt out on the annualised military FPS franchises, go download DUST for free from the PSN store today.
Looking for a friendly and ego-free corporation to join? PSU has its own: PSU GHOST SYNDICATE. Our mission is simple, to enjoy the game and to help others find their footing in New Eden by offering advice and a laid back atmosphere to learn the ropes and shoot things in the face. Click below to join!
Alex Locher is PSU’s resident DUST 514 guru, CEO of PSU’s corporation and dedicated diehard Logibro. Follow him on Twitter.