CCP Games has definitely taken a risk with DUST 514, the studio’s first venture into the world of online shooters. Despite multiplayer modes being an FPS staple, standalone “MMO” shooters are still in their infancy, especially those of the free-to-play variety. Not only that, but with DUST 514 the company is also rubbing shoulders with titans like EA and Activision, as well other fledgling studios bringing their own shooters to market.
That’s the great thing about the MMO genre, though. Where most games are developed, shipped in an essentially complete form and then patched, CCP made it clear from the outset that DUST 514 is an evolving project and one that has already seen a number of substantial updates. It’s incredibly fortunate, especially when you consider how the game was received at launch. With barren maps, wonky shooting, and a tangle of menus, the pre-release build was fairly inaccessible and confusing, even at the best of times.
Things have changed for the better since then, and CCP certainly aren’t looking back. The developer already has a string of new features and fixes in the pipeline, with Uprising 1.5 having launched earlier this week. This update refreshes a number of DUST 514’s systems as well as introducing a new tutorial system and changes to the micro-transaction market.
We recently put some questions to the game’s Creative Director, Atli Mar Sveinsson, who told us that feedback from gamers and the media was integral to DUST 514’s ongoing development. “Most of the reviews we’ve had have been honest about some of its short comings, as well as strengths,” he said. In our own review, we picked up on both. Whilst we praised the game’s ambitious concept and its growing ties with EVE Online, it was hard to overlook some of the confusing systems and fundamental gameplay issues.
“Getting this feedback from the media, and the community has been extremely helpful for us,” Atli explained. “Guided by this feedback we moved into a monthly release cadence earlier this summer – which is a first on console – and have been working hard on addressing core gameplay issues that the game has. We are not done, of course; 1.5 brings with it a host of important fixes, and later in the year we’ll see substantial changes to several systems and mechanics.”
One problem many have experienced with DUST 514 is simply understanding the basics. Creating a loadout and developing your avatar’s numerous professions can be particularly finicky, even for those returning after just a two or three week hiatus.
“For new players we’ve overhauled the NPE (New Player Experience) system into a far more accessible, task based system,” Atli told us. “We are starting small, with three tasks (entering a battle, creating a fitting, developing skills) and will be adding to this system in future releases.”
This new feature should help to alleviate the stress on players and hew away some of the ambiguity surrounding expendable fittings and the dense skill trees. It’s not all aimed as rookie mercs however, Atli also highlighted a new squad finder which can be used to hook up with “like minded individuals.”
When asked about the core shooting gameplay – which has gradually improved, to be fair – he stated that CCP have no plans for “drastic overhauls to the core shooter gameplay”, though a system point rewards have been filtered into the game. He continued, “We have added several new war point rewards including support points for dropship pilots. That will have a big impact on squad play as it ensures that it is lucrative to pilot a dropship and support the infantry on the ground.”
This means that those playing supportive roles, such as these dropship pilots, don’t miss out on XP drops and feel less inclined to become a rank and file foot solider. Vehicle gameplay, though not as part of this patch, will also be seeing a few changes here and there:
“We have been working on a large balancing and improved handling pass of the vehicles. We felt it was not quite done, so we decided to delay it to a later release. The changes are substantial, and the aim is to make them more integral to the gameplay.”
Another sticking point for some is DUST 514’s economy. The game currently adopts a system in which players buy guns and other components used in load-outs. These perish whenever you fall in battle, however, so you constantly need to restock using the game’s generous flow of ISK or real money. These items bought with real money are, by nature, more refined yet still expendable. There was a way around the constant loss of gear, however: by grabbing BPOs (Blueprint Originals) you could buy an infinite stock on a limited range of items. Bizarrely, as part of Uprising 1.5, these have been abolished.
“We are constantly iterating on the market offers,” Atli said, “but the single biggest change was the removal of BPO’s. DUST is a consumption based economy, and the BPO’s are a bit out of sync with that whole thing. There are some still available through PSN packs and such, which is cool since there is a lot of value in getting those, but for the health of the economy, removing most of them was the right thing to do.”
The only other major change in 1.5 is the role of Corporations, CCP’s take on clans/guilds. These outfits operate between both DUST and EVE Online, organising players and amassing funds to fuel their development. It all sounds very exciting but hasn’t really materialised just yet. Though you can join Corporations (and even tax members) the link up wasn’t quite there, but 1.5 is starting laying new foundations.
With upcoming updates, Atli revealed that, “We are working on our first large expansion which includes a huge update to Planetary Conquest, and the resource gameplay between the two games. We will be disclosing more information about this evolution in the near future.” This should allow mercs to capture territory, funnelling resources back into the Corp’s coffers.
Looking ahead to newer hardware, we asked Atli about the PlayStation 4 and whether DUST 514 will be making the next-gen leap. A number of titles, including the superb Blacklight: Retribution, Warframe, War Thunder, and PlanetSide 2 are already queueing at the door but CCP is holding its ground. “Right now we are laser-focused on the PS3. There are more than 80 million of them that are not going away any time soon.”
We would like to extend our thanks to Atli and the team at CCP for taking the time to answer our questions. DUST 514 is now available, exclusively for PS3 on PSN.