Even the planetary conquest portion of DUST that could be considered its most MMO-esque element has been abstracted into a series of instanced and scheduled 24v24 battles. DUST's main rival during development was the PC-based PlanetSide 2, and had the two games released on the same platform, I'm sure that rivalry would still be in the media spotlight. I've been playing PlanetSide 2 for just a few days, and I can already see elements that would make it a far better fit for the EVE universe than the current version of DUST. So what could DUST learn from its non-console-only counterpart?
In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at how PlanetSide 2 handles issues of persistence, planetary conquest, and vehicle spawning, and why I think DUST 514 should be borrowing a few tricks from its game design.
Faction Warfare as a persistent battle
When I gave DUST 514 a go recently, one of the things that most disappointed me was the lack of battlefield persistence. Taking part in Faction Warfare currently involves queuing in a lobby until enough people sign up and then playing a short match that's essentially Titan mode from Battlefield 2142. There's no real lasting impact for those who take part, and on the EVE side things are no better. Capturing a faction warfare district has only an indirect effect on the territorial conflict, increasing the number of loyalty points EVE pilots get for capturing sites in that solar system.
PlanetSide 2 does a far better job of territorial warfare, setting its battles on three large persistent continents divided into a match patch of districts. Hundreds of players battle around the clock to capture enemy districts in a never-ending war that sees territory switch hands more often than a dollar bill at a strip club. Battles naturally occur on the borders between the factions, with one side falling back from lost control points and the other advancing on to the next district after a successful capture. If EVE Online had just one planet at a time set up like this as a focal point for faction warfare, we could have a perpetual conflict with the same casual drop-in as a lobby but incredible battlefield persistence.
Planetary Conquest is a weak feature
Planetary Conquest was originally imagined as the ground assault portion of an active war over a solar system, but owning districts on a planet currently has very little effect on EVE Online. In fact, only a handful of planets in the NPC-owned Molden Heath region are currently available for conquering. Attacking an enemy district is a slow and drawn-out process, with every match being scheduled at least 24 hours in advance and at a time pre-selected by the defender. EVE Online uses a similar reinforced mechanic to ensure that the defender always has a chance to show up and so that you don't wake up one morning to find that all your stuff is gone.
Waiting at least a day to fight a 48-player match over a dot on a map doesn't sound particularly exciting to me, and I'm the guy who used to make his ISK in EVE making and selling actual spreadsheets. This could be vastly improved by taking another leaf from PlanetSide 2's book and having territorial wars take place on a large persistent map divided into control points. Some of the control points would be marked as reinforced and remain uncapturable until the selected reinforcement window, but the attacker could take over several control points and install his own structures to aid in the attack.
Before the official start of the battle at the reinforcement window, both sides could engage in small scuffles to take over or defend those hostile structures. The pressure would then be on the attacker to commit to vigilantly watch the battlefield around the clock rather than on the defender.
Resources for equipment
One of the main complaints people have with DUST 514 is that the expense of losing vehicles and prototype dropsuits arguably makes the game pay-to-win. While that may not be entirely accurate, it's true that rich players can afford to waste their ISK spawning tanks and running full prototype loadouts. Vehicles are much more commonplace in PlanetSide 2 as they're spawned using resources that are handed out like candy. Each control point in PlanetSide 2 generates a certain type of resource, providing access to air vehicles, tanks and beefed up infantry mech suits.
DUST 514 could be adapted to employ a similar system, adding strategic value to certain control points or pieces of capturable infrastructure by giving each one the ability to spawn free items of a particular type during the battle. Being in control of a factory building might let you deploy free light tanks; a cloning facility might make prototype suits free of charge. Losing these important strategic points during the battle would then effectively increase the cost of spawning those items, but a rich corp wouldn't have a massive advantage from the outset.
CCP has made it clear that it plans to continue development for the next decade, but I can't shake the feeling that PlanetSide 2 already has most of the gameplay that DUST needs. The link with the EVE universe is still DUST's main selling point and most easily exploited resource, and yet very little has actually been done with it apart from a few passive bonuses.
What worries me most is that the marketing rhetoric used to sell DUST still pretends that it's the game the media got hyped about at E3 2011: the one in which console gamers can nuke capital ships from the ground and decide the fate of nations. The trailers show a PvE mode that didn't make it to release, and they talk about taking part in interstellar wars even though the planets of nullsec still aren't open for business.
The game's official FAQ even includes the claim that "a single victory could prove the crushing blow to a galactic empire of thousands of EVE Online gamers," a statement so far from the truth that it may soon become required reading at Harvard Law. I'd love to give CCP the benefit of the doubt on this one and say that DUST will be worth it a few years or a decade from now, but PlanetSide 2 is here today, and it's on PC.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.