Since DUST514 is a whole new kind of beast — which is immediately apparent when you log in — I thought I’d take a new approach to writing about it. Even though I felt more prepared than your average shooter fan, I knew within the first 20 minutes that it was going to take me a while to learn. So to chronicle my journey, I’ve decided that interval based reporting is fitting. Bear in mind that all of these experiences are from a beta client.
Battle Report #1 – Entering the game, the first three matches
I wasn’t wrong when I said DUST isn’t a get in and go shooter — at least to start. There is no question in my mind that this game will overwhelm newcomers. Character creation is pretty basic for an MMO. You choose your race and, like EVE, your sub-group under that (forgive me, I’m not an EVE player so the exact terminology they use escapes me). I went Gallente because they’re democratic but I’m not sure what impact this really has; the game doesn’t make it clear at all. After that you choose your name, preferred combat class, and are spawned into your Merc Quarters (MQ).
At this point the tutorial begins which, at the moment, consists of text boxes to explain each sub-menu. And there are a LOT of sub-menus. Think of everything you can access, modify, peruse in EVE broken into a tab system and you’ll get an idea. Each one comes with a 1-4 paragraph explanation. While this works, it’s certainly less than optimal, takes a long time to get through, and doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining the intricacies of many systems. For example, you can set up your character with a customized dropsuit that determines everything about your character (weapons, HP, regen speed, etc). Classes are really just starting points. What they don’t make clear is that to take advantage of that system, you must first train your 2 million or so Skill Points before visiting the market to buy a new drop suit as well as the modifications you would like to set into each fitting. Another thing that’s explained but not really made clear is that much of what you can buy on the market is one-time or limited use. Each death counts as a use, not a match, so my first custom class was immediately broken (“invalid”) a few seconds after spawning with it.
Yes, yes, but how does it play?
Playing the first few matches was frustrating. Not unusual for a new shooter. Not knowing the maps is an immediate disadvantage but learning how to actually play was what made it a struggle. The game doesn’t go out of its way to explain itself once you’re out of the MQ. For example, players have the ability to call in both land and air vehicles but the only way to see this is in a loading screen diagram with every other button. Having played other shooters, my immediate thought was that you would have to earn those call-ins somehow but I guess that’s not the case. Consequently, very few vehicles were being spawned despite their being readily available and quite powerful. There are also some quirks to the control system, such radial menus being controlled with the right stick instead of the left.
All of that aside, what made me take a break was balance. The game is incredibly punishing to new players, more so than any shooter I’ve played, and this is essentially due to the lack of explanation. I was routinely killed within a three shots by players so far across the map they could barely be seen; non-snipers. On at least two occasions I emptied an entire clip into an enemy only to drop their health by 50% and be killed within several return shots. I felt like I was dying quick. In contrast, other new players — who you can tell by their default armor — also died quick when I shot them. This tells me that there is something these other players are doing different, have accomplished or fitted or trained, and I want to know what. If I can attain what they’re doing, even if it means dying a lot, then I’m okay with it. Without any explanation, it feels broken and defeating.
If it sounds like I’m unhappy with the game, don’t worry. Like I mentioned before, it’s not unusual to get a little frustrated when you’re learning something new and are essentially a sheep amongst wolves. The trick is to learn how to compete with those wolves and be the most badass sheep you can be.
I don’t want to talk too much about how the game ran technically. It wouldn’t be fair and will likely improve. I will say this, though, lag was a problem as was graphical pop-in. But hey, beta and all.
I’ve only played a few matches and there’s a long way to go before I’m good enough to really compete. I really feel that once I learn the game’s systems better, figure out what it is I’m missing that these other players have, that I’ll do much better. Like I mentioned in my post earlier today, there is an incredible amount of depth in this game; more than I imagined there would be. Once I learn it all, I could see myself really enjoying DUST. At the moment, however, my concerns on that depth and steep learning curve scaring people off seem valid. There is no way DUST will ever, ever compete with other AAA shooters until it learns how to explain itself better. There are just too many other options to ask so much patience of your new player.