DUST 514: Beta Impressions – Things Don’t Look Good

dust0I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the DUST 514 beta and now that the NDA is up, I’d like to share some basic impressions. I won’t go into great detail on many of the intricacies because other people have done already done so and much better than I would be able to. I’d like to get my thoughts out, however, because most of the reports you’re likely to read will be from EVE Online players. I’m not an EVE guy. Nothing against the game, I’ve just heard too much about “EVE offline” and “spreadsheets in space” to really be compelled to dive in, despite its sandbox offerings.  That said, I play a lot of games to stay current for my writing projects and competitive first-person shooters are pretty much a mainstay. And I daresay, EVE players aren’t who CCP is trying to court with DUST. So, with that said, here’s an average gamer’s take.

Let’s start with the whole “who CCP’s trying to court” thing. If it’s EVE players, they’ve lost their minds. To what end? The game is free to play and console limited, so at best they’re only picking up a small subset of that existing playerbase (though any EVE player that comes along is more than welcome for their second fleecing). No, I think they’re after the Every Gamer. DUST514, with it’s console exclusivity and emphasis on fast-paced, twitch gameplay, seems distinctly aimed at expanding their audience beyond what MMOs currently attempt. I mean, think about it. If they hit it out of the park with DUST and get competitive with games like Call of Duty and Halo, they’d go down in history as very rich and groundbreaking businessmen.

dust1Except, DUST isn’t positioned to hit that audience either. So the question is, who exactly is this game for?

Here’s the thing, DUST is a punishing, unforgiving, imbalanced, and overly complex game by design. The longer you play, the more of an edge you have. Even coming into beta, it is extremely difficult to feel competitive. Now, there are things in place to temper that, such as the passive skill-point gain when you’re not playing (DUST Offline?) but let’s be real, that’s a design for failure. It ignores the original problem! New players come to ever will lose the vast majority of the time. They will empty clips into other players at point blank range only to be three-shot killed over and over again. I firmly believe that one of the reasons Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo are popular is because you’re deadly right from the start. In DUST, you need to be lucky and get the jump on someone or hope they’re newer than you are.

But okay, you can use vehicles. That’s something! Yes, you can. And the game will do its best to hide this from you. It may be subjective, but I also feel that vehicles control slugglishly. Still, they’re there and a viable way to earn some XP.

dust2If ever there was a game that could use a tutorial, though, it’s this one. CCP have included lengthy paragraphs of text for the first time you open menus but if they expect the average shooter fan (teenage boys) to actually read through these, they’re crazy. That’s too bad, because I read them and they do help. I predict most players simply will not and will be overwhelmed before they quit. Hopefully to come back another day without too terrible of a taste in their mouth.

And when they do, they’ll have a lot to learn. The economy is actually kind of cool. It has that depth to it. You have to buy and equip gear on your soldier and make sure you have enough stocked up to last you a battle. Money is important. But again, people will be upset to realize that the item they just bought was for a single life, not forever, and not even for a single match. So they go through all that learning only to get another rude awakening in a series of rude awakenings. Harden the F up? Won’t fly here. It will only lead to an incredibly niche game that people forget about until it moves to PC and EVE/normal– er, shooter-MMO players can get their hands on it.

Also, PS3 players don’t give two craps about EVE. I’m sorry, they don’t. I’d wager that most of them wouldn’t even know what it is if you asked them. So this whole “two universes connected!” thing is basically lost on them. And when orbital bombardments start, they’ll probably seem real cool for a second until that nuke drops and kills everybody without their understanding how or why.

SoldierCompFinally, the setting. It’s generic. Space soldiers! I can get behind the sci-fi setting but everything from the soldier’s armor models to the environments has been trod and re-trod over and over again to the point that DUST’s setting becomes almost entirely forgettable. The graphics, too, seem muddy, almost entirely shades of brown, grey, and black, with very little anti-aliasing (jaggies everywhere!) and lots of pop-in. To its credit, in-ship stuff is pretty good but those are pretty much lobbies and waiting areas.

So what do we have? A game connected to an MMO its audience doesn’t care about, with an extremely steep learning curve, that makes players feel underpowered and overwhelmed right off the bat, and with little other than an auction house and skill system to call unique. Again, who is this game for?

I’ve played DUST. It can be fun. I have no doubt there are people who will absolutely love it. I just can’t see how the average PS3 player is going to choose it over any of the other competitive shooters. It, without any malice or ill will toward CCP or its fans, just doesn’t compete.

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