The 411 on DUST 514 from E3 2012

We were able to take CCP's upcoming console shooter, DUST 514, for a spin at E3 2012. Did we enjoy the ride? Read on!

We noted earlier in the week in our hands-on preview of Planetside 2 that we’re seeing a lot of shooters entering the massively multiplayer space this year. Another top contender in the same rapidly expanding subgenre-within-a-subgenre is DUST 514, the PS3 exclusive that will eventually have direct in-game links to CCP’s flagship title, EVE Online.

Fittingly, our appointment to check out DUST at E3 occurred in meeting room 514. Shambling into the normally boring white space that had been transformed into as broodingly ominous a chamber as is possible, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the entirety of my appointment would be hands-on with the game.

DUST 514 E3 Screenshot

After taking a few moments to introduce myself to some of the core interface screens, I quickly hit a point where it became clear that I needn’t bother obsessing over the options for too long. Not due to lack of interest mind you, but rather because the entire interface closely replicates the original EVE components. The fitting screen follows the exact same logic, as does the skill training area, and just about every other category I flipped my way through.

Navigating the menus is actually a lot easier than I anticipated as well which caused me to breathe a giant sigh of relief. Call it what you will, but perhaps one of biggest reasons why I begrudgingly play games with any depth whatsoever on a console is that you end up spending more time playing the menu system than the game itself. Thankfully, the process in DUST felt not only intuitive and familiar, but it got me wondering if EVE couldn’t be ported to consoles at some point, but that’s another thing to ponder for another day.

DUST 514 E3 Screenshot

After learning a bit about how CCP plans to progressively integrate more cross-game connectivity over time, we also discussed how they anticipate it will take far less time for the AI marketplace to give way to the kind of fully player driven market found in EVE. For example, I asked if obtaining more advanced skill books would require travel to various planets across the galaxy map, and while that won’t necessarily happen right away it is a very real possibility once the player-driven economy is established as the norm.

From the sound of things, however, the initial selling point of having a direct, live connection to the EVE shard is more of a future goal rather than a launch day feature. The reason wasn’t really expanded on all that much, but it does mean that DUST will be launching as a very cool free-to-play console shooter, but it may be a while before it transitions into something larger.

DUST 514 E3 Screenshot

After getting my fill of poking around the in-game menus and getting a feel for how my character was fitted, I eventually dove into the first available match. Or more accurately, I was placed in a virtual lobby where I could make any last minute adjustments to my character, or check out what kind of gear my teammates were sporting before the match began roughly a minute later.

The game type we were playing was a progressive point capture with an escort / defense component. As the attacker you job as to disable 3 weapon placements to prevent them from destroying the vessel flying overhead as part of the infantry ground support. Defenders have to keep all 3 points active as best they can in hopes of destroying the vessel before it reaches its destination.

Note that I’m calling the teams offense and defense here, but as you can likely tell based on the descriptions of objectives, the lines tend to blur quite a bit in terms of which team is really which. As a game type it’s one that I really enjoy perhaps even more than your more stereotypical 3 point capture / conquest mode such as the primary game type in Guild Wars 2’s structured PvP and tournament play.

DUST 514 E3 Screenshot

It’s not so much that the objectives really change in DUST for the game type, but more so the overarching goal and win conditions that seem to matter most. Fighting directly on points to capture or hold them can create some interesting push-and-pull combat situations, but in DUST a flip requires interaction with an object which makes capping a more challenging proposition, and defending a giant game of “Can’t Touch This!”

Speaking of Hammer Time…

Back in-game there are a few things that instantly stood out for me in terms of the core shooter gameplay.

First and foremost is that the control and action in DUST feels like there’s actual weight to both characters and weapons. What that really means is that it’s a slightly slower paced shooter than the norm - for better or worse – depending on how your character is outfitted. At times my character’s movement felt a bit sluggish, as did panning the camera around to get a better view of my surroundings.

DUST 514 E3 Screenshot

For now I’m going to chalk that partially up to being a console shooter, and my natural bias towards PC being the only real platform worth playing shooters on. (Sorry Gears of Halo: Modern Bulletstorm fans – you can keep your mile-wide hit boxes and I’ll stick with actual skill-based shooters, thank you very much.)

Another thing that was a bit wonky to me was that it was a bit confusing at first to figure out friend from foe. While directional (and map) markers will point you towards objectives and their current status, I continually found myself shooting at friendlies for lack of really being able to tell the difference. A huge part of shooters a combination of recognizable gear profiles – which DUST has in spades – but it doesn’t really help much If you can’t distinguish teams based on very obvious visual ques.

DUST 514 E3 Screenshot

Those things in mind, I did enjoy the gameplay overall, even if I was ultimately more intrigued by how I could augment my character than the actual shooter gameplay. I also tend to enjoy some shooter game modes much more than others, and that can play a large role in my overall enjoyment of a given game. DUST 514 is definitely pushing in the right direction, and there’s still plenty of time for CCP to polish and tighten things up before the game becomes available for download.

In the meantime, it will also be interesting to see what other game modes will be available, and how important it will be for players to carefully consider exactly what they want to take into battle with them. For example, cheap starter fittings will never be lost upon death, but more advanced units can and will be lost, just like when your ship gets destroyed in EVE.

This gives players a lot to consider, and will add a layer of depth to characters that’s usually only an upward progression of gear unlocks in most shooters.

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