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Massively's DUST 514 launch impressions

Jef Reahard

Playing EVE on my couch is bizarre. I know, technically it's called DUST 514, but let's be serious. DUST is basically the beginnings of a massive EVE Online expansion if you subscribe to the notion that EVE is a virtual world as opposed to merely a strategy game featuring internet spaceships and internet drama.

I've played EVE in some strange places prior to this. In an airport terminal, for example. On my toilet, even (yes, nature occasionally calls in the middle of a fleet fight and thank God for laptops). But DUST marks the first -- OK, technically the second -- time I've ever played in New Eden with a controller.

DUST 514 - Shotgun blast
DUST 514 -- that's five-one-four and not five-fourteen -- is a PlayStation 3-exclusive first-person shooter set in EVE's sprawling sci-fi future. It features EVE lore, EVE terminology, EVE's newbie unfriendly morass of skills, fittings, weapons, and equipment, and even EVE's corporations and their celestial pod pilot masters. Perhaps most importantly, it features EVE's server cluster, so the aforementioned pod jocks can share chat channels with ground-bound DUST bunnies and occasionally offer real-time assistance via one of CCP's much-hyped orbital strikes.

I'm not sure that DUST qualifies as an MMOFPS. I'd err on the side of no, not really because I've come to realize that games other than PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2, and World War II Online Battleground Europe have no business using the MMOFPS moniker. DUST eschews the vast open world designs and thousand-player battles inherent in those three titles for small team instancing. It is persistent, though, and there's territory control and of course the long-term plan to merge DUST into EVE's deliciously complex 10-year-old economy.

DUST 514 - Ground troops
The problem at launch is that this grand idea isn't very apparent. You've probably read a lot of stuff in the gaming press about DUST's planetary conquest system and how awesome the connection to EVE Online is, but the vast majority of the game journos telling you these things are likely doing so after sitting in on presentations scripted to glossy perfection by CCP and its hired PR guns.

It's one thing to take notes during a conference call, watch a live Fanfest presentation, or play DUST on a demo machine while a producer offers you drinks and fibs about how much he enjoys your writing. It's quite another to play it for several hours on a couple of newbie accounts in the comfort of your own home. Yes, technically you can make a corp, conquer districts, and over the long haul, set yourself up as the sultan of some backwater planet at the ass-end of space. I'm betting that very few DUST players will ever experience this, though, just as very few EVE players lead alliances or pull off the legendary scams that periodically make the press go gaga for life in New Eden's scoundrel-driven sandbox.

Don't get me wrong; I love the idea of DUST just as I love the idea of EVE. The actual gameplay isn't particularly compelling, though. It's adequate in most respects, but there's nothing here that you haven't done in a thousand other shooters. And while the EVE player in me smiled at the Tranquility server name and the live player counter on the login screen, that was pretty much the highlight of my DUST 514 launch day experience.

DUST 514 - Ground and air vehicles
I spent several hours queuing for random battles and acting as cannon fodder for players who are either much better than I am or have much better gear (probably both). DUST's skill system, though simplified in a recent patch, still reminds me of Tolkien's Silmarillion. There are thousands upon thousands of names, and most of them sound really cool, but I have no idea why they matter or in many cases even what they do.

To be fair to CCP, this is merely a launch-day impression piece based on six hours of gameplay, and it appears that the company has made a game that rivals EVE in complexity and is therefore well-positioned to match it in longevity. That said, I couldn't bring myself to spend a bunch of time on the forums researching dropsuit loadouts or watching YouTube videos to figure everything out. If you do those things, you'll likely enjoy yourself more than I did, but DUST as it stands simply isn't interesting enough to merit that kind of commitment, at least for me and at least for now.

So I queued for a bunch of merc matches and a newbie mode called Instant Battle Academy, earned a bunch of skill points (you can also designate a main character to earn offline points, just as in EVE), and died a lot. Along the way, I had fun hacking and commandeering vehicles as well as peeking up and seeing the ominous bulk of the EVE-style MCC ships squatting over the battlefield and looking altogether menacing and badass. Dropping out of them is pretty spiffy, too.

DUST 514 - Desert at dusk
I also made what I guess is a decent amount of ISK. Insofar as currency and economics, you can't send ISK back and forth between EVE and DUST. You can't manufacture items with your EVE avatar and make use of them on your DUST merc. And even if you could, DUST's 2007-era presentation (which is nowhere near the gorgeous screens accompanying this article) and the sheer inconvenience of the whole enterprise may keep all but the most die-hard CCP fans from giving it a serious go. And by inconvenience, I'm talking mostly about my personal gaming setup that relegates my consoles to the living room and my gaming PCs to my office.

Chatting on a controller is of course a joke, and so there goes a good bit of the MMO social experience as well as any opportunity to ask questions. Yes, I'm aware that it's a shooter, but as I mentioned, it's also a shooter with a lot of extraneous skill point-, fitting-, and gear-related baggage, so you will want to ask questions unless you fancy sucking forever.

Yeah, you can plug in a mouse and a keyboard, and I did so after I dragged a desk into my living room and temporarily set it up in front of my TV. Unfortunately in DUST's current build, keyboard/mouse support is an afterthought. There's no cursor for navigating menus, so I had to use the directional keys. In terms of gameplay proper, you can't invert your aim axis using the mouse and keyboard (though strangely, you can on the controller).

This is a gamebreaker, personally, because 15 years of flying real-world aircraft has taught me that pushing the stick away moves the nose away and pulling the stick into my lap brings the nose back. Pro shooter players and the aviation-ignorant probably couldn't care less, but I found it incredibly off-putting and it ultimately forced me to use the PS3 controller and make lots of frowny faces.

DUST 514 - Laser rifle
Avatar movement is quite mushy in the current build, and aiming with the controller is an exercise in frustration. I did see some improvement toward the end of my six hours, but I can't honestly use the word fun to describe the experience.

That said, DUST is a competent release-day MMO; my personal gripes should be taken as nothing more or less than personal gripes. The game works, for the most part, but as with all other MMOs in the history of ever, it's releasing because it has to and not because it's ready for prime time. If you're already invested in the world of New Eden, or you're a muggle who's always been curious about EVE's cutthroat politics and empire-building potential, you'd do well to download DUST and give it some time to marinate.

The free-to-play price is certainly right, and given CCP's track record, I fully expect it to pick up steam as it picks up polish, patches, and more of the functionality that you see in its awesome trailers. And yeah, an eventual PC client couldn't hurt either.

DUST 514 - Chain gunner
  • Deep skill system with plenty of build customization
  • Huge gear roster with satisfying sci-fi weapons and vehicles
  • Stable release client, minimal queue times
  • Handy, informative fitting tutorials
  • Future potential tied to EVE Online
  • Dated presentation/visuals
  • Sloppy, imprecise shooter controls
  • Inadequate keyboard/mouse support
  • Future potential tied to EVE Online
Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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