When originally announced back in 2009, it was hard not to get excited for DUST 514. After all, developer CCP Games is responsible for one of the most unique and enthralling experiences available in our medium: EVE Online. It may not brag the same number of players as, say, World of Warcraft (which is seeing a steady decline), but EVE’s fan-base is undoubtedly one of the most raw and dedicated in existence.
Characterised by player-run economies, anecdotes of space exploration and corporative subterfuge, if CCP were able to instil just a fragment of the EVE Online experience into a more accessible package it would be a guaranteed winner, right? Sadly it seems like it was not to be, at least not for now.
DUST 514 is best described as a conventional online shooter encased in an unfamiliar shell. When on the battlefield with weapon in-hand even the greenest of shooter fans will immediately connect, if not through experience then by instinct. However, after peeling back the game’s first few layers DUST 514 starts to show its true colours, revealing itself as a demanding, bare-bones shooter tangled in a web of complexity.
Players’ first few steps into the EVE Online universe are already laden with confusion and general lack of guidance. After creating your own character using the game’s limited customisation options, DUST 514 throws you in at the deep end with only a cluster of mini instruction manuals to find your way around.
In truth, it’s remarkably easy to get stuck in; all you really need to do is press start and join a matchmaking queue. However, to get the most out of CCP’s sophisticated shooter and understand exactly what it’s trying to achieve, players need to dig much deeper.
One of the first intricacies you will stumble upon is DUST 514’s skill system, which is near-identical to the system adopted by EVE Online. Available in dozens of varieties, skills govern a player’s proficiency in a number of elements, from assault rifle clip sizes to the maximum number of recruits you can enlist in a corporation.
Inorganic and player-controlled, skills allow you to tune your battle persona accordingly, but there’s a twist. To unlock a skill you must first buy a manual using in-game credit. From there you will need to spend 514’s equivalent to experience points firstly on core skills and then more specific ones.
For example, to cut the dispersion of assault rifle fire you will first need to upgrade your weapon core skill, then buy a manual for light weapons, then upgrade that skill, then buy a manual for assault rifles, upgrade, buy another manual, and upgrade once more.
- Offers a unique approach to the first person shooter.
- Slick menus and consistent design influences.
- Has come leaps and bounds since early beta.
- Needlessly complex at times.
- Tries to copy too much from EVE Online.
- Maps are barren and poorly designed in places.
- Connection to EVE Online feels almost non-existent.
- Only two game modes.
- Little incentive (or means) to work as a team.
- No trophies.
Still with us? Good, because it only gets more complicated. Once you’ve mapped your skills accordingly, you’ll need to assemble and stock your Dropsuits, using a variety of weapons, modules, and field equipment.
Dropsuits are essentially 514’s loadouts, but come with a slight free-to-play twist. You see, aside from the default “Militia” branded gear, everything else comes with a price-tag and in limited supply. The reason for this is that every time a player dies they will lose all the items in their Dropsuit, regardless of whether they had been dominating the match or were spawn-killed in a matter of seconds by a rogue enemy player. Even items which have been brought with Aurum (real cash) instead of ISK will disintegrate upon death.
Whenever you descend into the field of battle it’s like rolling dice. Will that expensive shotgun and armour plating bag me an awesome kill-streak or will I get wiped out before my feet even touch the ground? Some players may call this a travesty but, for others, the risk factor may add a certain allure.
Either way, there’s no denying that DUST 514 is demands a lot from its players and requires constant thought and attention both in and out of fire fights. The best way to describe it would be a “career shooter”.
There’s no satisfaction in logging in, slaughtering a few clones, and walking away for a few days. No, to get any sense of reward you need approach the game tactically, working out how much ISK you need to stock certain Dropsuits and how long it will take to get enough SP for that next skill level.
Even if you’re willing to jump through all the hoops, there are still other obstacles to overcome, the biggest of which is gameplay. Drawing inspiration from the Battlefield franchise as well as more nimble shooters such as Call of Duty, DUST 514 plays moderately well but adds nothing of its own. Much like the game’s cluster of oversized maps, everything feels barren and featureless. Ultimately, with the gameplay failing to hold up its end of bargain, the amount of time put into preparing for each match becomes hard to justify and this is where many players will lose patience.
Mind you, compared to what DUST 514 used to be during its early days in beta, the current version is a massive improvement. Menus were even more cluttered and complicated than they are now and gameplay felt sluggish and unresponsive; instead of iron sights many guns were fitted with full-screen scopes which made aiming almost impossible.
In a way, looking back at what DUST 514 once was makes it easy to be optimistic about the game’s future. Over the past year, CCP has managed to amend many of the game most egregious flaws but there is still a way to go. Luckily the Icelandic studio doesn’t have a reputation for releasing its products and leaving them to fend in the wild. DUST 514 is a continual project for the developer and even though it hasn’t had the strongest of launches it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.