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Dust 514 – first-look

EVE Online is serious business for a serious number of players so devs CCP are treating Dust’s place in their universe with care. Every war fought on Dust’s battlefields will impact on the EVE universe, affecting trade, politics, and warfare throughout the space-based PC MMO.

With this power placed in the hands of console gamers, CCP are doing their best to keep the riffraff out. The first few months with the game will largely be spent in battles against AI or in skirmishes which have no effect on EVE’s universe of New Eden. Later, players will form alliances and will be hired by corporations and individuals operating in EVE Online, temporarily paid to seize control of a rival faction’s cities or military structures.

Each battlefield clocks in at around five kilometres with servers supporting a ‘significant’ number of players. Missions begin on board your faction’s War Barge overlooking the planet to be assaulted and detailing your commander’s load-out for the mission. Commanders provide shape and order to the battle – each faction’s leader remains on board the Mobile Command Centre, a sky fortress which hovers high above the battlefield. While grunts and squad leaders engage at ground level, commanders issue orders, deploy vehicles, and place waypoints, while positioning and re-positioning the MCC to keep it safe and effective.

The ultimate objective on any map is to bring down the enemy base, and battles escalate as ground forces seize objectives, earn command points, and raise the stakes. Ground assault troops will be able to lower the carrier’s shields and strike at its other defensive countermeasures to leave it open for attack, but still careful manoeuvring can keep your home base safe a little longer. Even as the game reaches its climax there’s still reason to fight on and assault the enemy’s outposts – attacking their artillery to buy your carrier a few more seconds; just long enough to take down the enemy’s own base.

Instead of a gradual crawl up an arbitrary Achievement tree as a reward, every win or loss in Dust means something to someone who has a personal stake in the EVE universe. You’ll have their gratitude; better still, you’ll have their money – to be spent on new guns and equipment.

Dust is experiment layered upon experiment. It’s a large-scale shooter from a first-time shooter dev which affects the balance of power in a game console-only gamers will never even play. It’s a tactical game without classes, only stacks of equipment and complex customisable weapons to choose from. It’s a test of how willing shooter players are to invest in a system of microtransactions to incur advantages in-game.

Toughest of all, it’s a multiplayer shooter without a real campaign element. Every time any developer tries that trick on a console, they fall on their face. Shadowrun,Quake Wars, Section 8 – all solid multiplayer shooters built without real campaigns, each failing harder than the last. Only Battlefield 1943, at bargain price, has landed on its feet. With those handicaps and the fickle console community behind the wheel, it’s not enough for Dust to be the cleverest shooter of the generation; it’ll have to be the best shooter too.

It’s unfortunately not enough for Dust to look and play as well as it should. As a pure multiplayer game, without tens of thousands of players on day one there might as well be no game at all. Picking the stupefying name of ‘Dust 514’ probably wasn’t a good start.

Dec 3, 2009