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The Firing Line: DUST 514 beta impressions

Jef Reahard

I haven't played DUST 514's beta in a while, so I figured that this week's installment of The Firing Line was a good excuse to give it another go. As for first impressions, my initial session some months back wasn't worth writing about (plus there was that pesky NDA thing).

It was also quite a short session that I've basically forgotten, so my intent today is to jot down some proper thoughts about CCP's new EVE-inspired shooter based on a solid evening of uninterrupted playtime.

The Firing Line - DUST 514 beta impressions
First things first: The nebulae and the slow planetary reveal that happens as a gigantic freighter slides toward and under the camera on the loading screen are all pretty slick, particularly in the comfort of my living room on my overcompensating big screen. Jon Hallur's soothing synth score is similarly electric and evident all through the lobby portions of the game.

Character creation was very EVE-esque, at least at first. I dialed up my usual Gallente, selected the Intaki bloodline, and proceeded to pick an initial loadout. EVE's gorgeous and highly customizable avatar creator is conspicuously absent here, so I selected from a handful of pre-made portraits.

The transition from EVE's unending eye-candy to DUST's spartan visuals is jarring even before you get into combat, and while this is entirely the fault of the PlayStation 3 and its inability to match wits with your average gaming PC, it's also CCP's fault for choosing to put this game on a console.

I know, I know, it's old news, and there's no point in complaining about it now, but as I said, the transition is a shock because DUST's textures, lighting, and general wow-factor simply can't compete with that of its older brother.

After my portrait selection, I loaded into a familiar Gallente captain's quarters (I guess technically here it's called mercenary's quarters). There were several appropriately high-tech stations at which I could join an instant battle, search for a battle, change my loadout, or browse the market. Despite the 2007-era visuals, it was neat to see Gallente, Gurista, Angel Cartel, and ORE logos floating around the room's various view screens, and CCP's trademark humor was on display thanks to a panel that read "orbital strike: the only way to be sure," followed closely by "soon (TM)."

I paged through the dauntingly complex loadout screen next. I used to think that CCP would probably have more luck catering to New Eden newbs since ornery EVE vets aren't necessarily known for their twitch skills. I've changed my mind, though, because whoa (in my best Keanu Reeves voice), the learning curve here is considerable even for someone who's used to the company's infamously unintuitive gameplay. To be fair, the UI in DUST's loadout screen is pretty well done; it's just that there are so many fitting options that it's easy to see casual shooter fans getting overwhelmed in a hurry.

In place of an EVE spaceship, your avatar is a humanoid, and your equipment loadout takes the form of your mercenary dropsuit. Like EVE ships, each dropsuit has a powergrid, CPU, and various other settings and fittings that are old hat for internet spaceship pilots. There's even a similar loadout wheel to ease the transition (but again, if you haven't played EVE, be ready to spend a few minutes in your merc quarters getting your bearings before you try to change your loadouts).

This time around I opted not to change my loadout (and for reference, your suit loadout is basically DUST's version of a typical shooter class). I accepted my default Recon fittings, made my way over to the instant battle terminal, and queued up.

The Firing Line - DUST 514 beta impressions
Because this is beta, what I'm about to say might sound a little harsh. Still, first impressions are first impressions, and my first impression is that it took a frickin' eternity to get into an instant battle (along with quite a few disconnects and one console hard freeze, which has never happened in the four-year history of my PS3). When the queue finally filled up, 23 of my fellow mercs and I found ourselves in a giant ready room with a slick-looking 3-D map of the battlefield and a nice view of the planet below (it isn't nearly as impressive in the game as it is in the image above, although the layout is identical).

I did eventually load into a skirmish map, which is DUST's version of traditional control-point gameplay. There were several capture points, and I followed my squadmates around, taking sniper rounds in the head and managing to get off a few shots of my own on rare occasions. The controls and the combat UI are pretty standard console shooter stuff. R1 shoots, clicking the left stick sprints -- you know the drill.

I'm not a huge fan of controller-based shooters, though, so after a few matches, I plugged in a makeshift keyboard and mouse setup and started to enjoy myself a heckuva lot more. I even grabbed a few kills here and there and generally had a pretty decent time. I didn't mess with the market or fittings or the battle finder this time around, nor did I touch on microtransactions and how crucial they are to DUST's play experience. Look for more on all that stuff in a future column.

In the end, my initial impression of the game is that it's a pretty interesting experiment. It's interesting on a hmm-I-wonder-how-this-is-going-to-work-out-for-them level, though, and not necessarily a wow-I-need-to-play-DUST-right-now level. I'm quite curious to see whether CCP can conquer the console and introduce its particular blend of sandboxiness and schadenfreude to a segment of the gaming market that may not be ready for either.

I'm not terribly interested in being there on launch day, though, at least judging by this initial session. It's not a bad game at all, but since I'm on something of a sabbatical from EVE, the motivation to play what is a fairly standard shooter (apart from its market tie-in with EVE) simply isn't that strong, particularly with PlanetSide 2's beta on my hard drive.

And although it's a dead horse at this point, the PS3 exclusive is more of a turn-off than I thought it would be. My consoles are reserved for Madden, NCAA Football, and other games that simply aren't available on my PC. If DUST ever makes its way home, so to speak, then I'll probably be one of the first in line.

The Firing Line - DUST 514 beta impressions
The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing him, and you'll be armed.

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