When CCP first revealed DUST 514, I was more than a little excited. As much as I love MMORPGs, first-person shooters will always be my second love. The idea of one even remotely like EVE Online was music to my ears. For years, shooters have moved closer to the persistence of MMOs, so why shouldn't CCP, legendary in that space, be the ones to make it happen? I had faith and today I am sorely let down. DUST is the result of over-ambition and, I believe, a touch of arrogance that console players would simply accept what they were offering. In short, it's just not very good. Today, I'm here to talk about DUST's fundamental problems and why even a move to PC may not be enough.
To understand DUST 514, you really have to understand EVE, and that has always been an issue: DUST has trouble standing on its own two legs. Ever since it was announced, the interconnectedness with that ever-growing MMO was held up as a beacon for why PS3 gamers should sign on. Not gameplay, which should have been clue number one, but the ability to take contracts from space pilots. We were sold on the idea that our actions would have consequences; that finally, a game would bridge the gap between consoles and PCs and prove that it could be done.
All of that is true, but to the PS3 player, almost none of it matters.
Fundamental Problem #1: CCP assumes that PS3 players know and care about EVE Online. Most of them don't. Even those that know what EVE is have probably never played it and are likely more intrigued at the concept over the reality. That was 99% of the gaming press before DUST launched, most of which have now come to the conclusion that the game isn't very good. It functions in all of the ways CCP said it would, sure, but stood up against its competition, DUST crumbles. Being connected to EVE, more a news headline than real game to the console crowd, doesn't change that.
At its core, DUST is a run of the mill shooter. You aim down the sights and try to hit other players. Sometimes you hack objectives and secure territory. Other times you call down land and air vehicles. None of this is even slightly new and the vehicle play is only tangentially exciting.
Fundamental Problem #2: The gameplay just isn't very good. It has come a long way since beta, make no mistake, but that's not saying much. Movement is sluggish. Game modes are uninspired. The level design is passable but visually, they're washed out, generic, and early-generation at best (screenshots can be deceiving). Maybe that's because space is, well, space, and being terribly creative isn't much of an issue in EVE. The reasons don't much matter. What does is that battlegrounds are functional but even more forgettable.
Over everything else, DUST just isn't much fun. Weapons lack punch and tend to feel like overpowered pea shooters. Even if you manage to hit somebody, you probably won't kill them. Which brings me to...
Fundamental Problem #3: DUST is intentionally unbalanced and incredibly punishing. The longer you play and the more you pay, the more powerful you are. A newcomer is at such an incredible disadvantage that they can expect to die over, and over, and over again before becoming even moderately useful. And I'm not talking a few matches here. DUST uses the same skill point system as EVE where better weapons, armor, and proficiencies are gated behind time, ISK, and, in this case, wins. Players that have been around longer always have the advantage over those that haven't.
On top of that, the gear you buy from the marketplace disappears when you die. So that ISK you scraped together after your tour in the meat grinder? Whatever you bought will be gone almost immediately unless you bought in multiples.
This is the kind of thing that flies in MMOs but not in shooters. It doesn't matter if you're free-to-play or not, there needs to be some semblance of balance to make your game worth playing. This is where I think CCP's ego got in the way. Ask any major shooter developer (such as, say, the guys behind Halo) and they will tell you that players need to be deadly from the start. CCP believes in the “toughen the f**k up” mantra, but why should any self-respecting player give them the time of day when there are so many better, more fun options available?
When I can empty an entire clip into an enemy only to have them kill me with two shots... that's a problem, even when playing with a squad.
Fundamental Problem #4: DUST 514 doesn't feel like an MMO. For all of the hits it has taken to be an MMO, there is almost no pay off. Contracts from corporations are so passive that I would bet a lot of players don't even know they exist. Communication is almost non-existent. And the promise of fighting through the planets of EVE is a sham. They are stages, like every other shooter (except that there are too few of them), and the battles aren't anything resembling massive. Orbital bombardments are pretty neat, though.
Fundamental Problem #5: It's pay-to-win. I was conflicted when considering this point. Is it pay-to-win when the company only sells boosters and skill-limited gear? In a normal MMO, I would say no, but here the answer is yes. DUST 514 is about competition and actual winning. Allowing players to accrue skill points faster than their peers gives them a definite advantage over those who don't. Once the buyer has the required skill, they can outright buy great weapons and loadouts for real money.
Balance doesn't matter to CCP. What else can you conclude? DUST 514 is a pay more, play more, do more kind of game. Free-to-play or not, there were better ways to go about this and they ignored them.
Fundamental Problem #6: It's a PS3 exclusive. In fairness, they probably got a boatload of money to make it that way. I don't doubt that DUST will make its way to PC at some point and maybe there, with its MMO base, it will do alright. Until then, however, the players most likely to enjoy the game will be watching from the sidelines as CCP pioneers forward without them. But hey, you can buy a PS3, right? And then that $99.99 elite DUST pack so you can “blaze into battle” with you skill gains “supercharged.” And then you can still get mashed into the ground for daring to try.
I don't like being negative. Regular readers probably recognize that I'm a silver linings kind of guy, so let me end with this: at least they're trying. CCP, flawed or not, is pioneering. They are introducing a whole new audience of gamers to the world of massively multiplayer games and for that I applaud them. They are also, in a very real sense, paving the way for the Battlefields and Call of Dutys of the future to make the jump into real persistence. Their execution could be better, and there's no way I can recommend you play the game with even a slightly better option, but I hope they right they ship. DUST could be a game worth playing, and I believe CCP can do it if only they're willing to eat a little crow.
Christopher Coke / Chris has played MMORPGs since the days of MUDs and shooters since DOOM. It's with a heavy heart he dislikes DUST but crosses his fingers for a better set of patches and updates. Until then, Battlefield 3 and Planetside 2 await.