There’s no doubt that Dual Universe is an ambitious concept, and I felt their chances of success were at best modest even as I backed them at a significant level during their Kickstarter campaign. Inspired and somewhat shaped by projects like Elite Dangerous and Space Engineers, the developers targetted a more holistic survival-builder, but the challenges were significant.
Promising a seamless multi-planet experience where players would operate on the ground, in atmosphere, and in space, Dual Universe effectively defined a sandbox nirvana. Clearly, this is the sort of game that would appeal to me, so I backed them. Even as I looked at their design goals and realistically didn’t feel they had much of a chance at being completely successful, I was still glad to back the attempt. Just by trying, whether they succeed or fail, my thought at the time was that this team would push the industry forward.
To my surprise, they’ve succeeded far beyond any expectations. That’s not to say that there aren’t some issues to be addressed, but this team does not appear to have failed on the major design challenges that I had initially expected them to deal with. They faced each problem along the way and navigated their way through it before taking on the next. That’s not to say the game is perfect and that there aren’t some issues to be noted.
We’re still talking about a small studio and they’re not claiming to have a release candidate yet. I can’t hold them to that standard, but I can take a look at where they’re at now and re-evaluate how likely they are to succeed. There’s also enough in the game now to have a good idea of who might be interested in checking the game out immediately or who’d be better off waiting, as well as a few current issues that might help folks decide whether they’re in the now or later group.
Distances in the game are massive, which came into play as I trekked around the planet to join my friends at their base. I did get to enjoy a few sunsets during the trip, though.
A Wonderful Slog
One of my big gripes about many modern games is that they just make progress way to easy. Everything is handed to you and all the player has to do is login and practically watch the game play itself. I typically get little satisfaction out of those games because there’s just no effort in them.
I guess that’s a little weird to say, wanting effort in games, but it comes from a long-held and often-reinforced belief that good things are never easy, nor are easy things ever of value. I enjoy complex games and I like to… I guess work at my games, though that’s probably not the right term. Some people like games that challenge their dexterity, others like to be challenged by their strength or endurance. Many games challenge our eye-hand coordination and some even challenge our attention to detail or our memories.
I like games that challenge my problem-solving skills, and I especially like it when those games also give me a freedom to be a little creative. Thus, you can clearly tell that the survival-builder genre is going to be directly in my sweet spot. If there’s a strategic element to it, or at least one that I can sort of create for myself, then you’ve got something that gets my immediate buy-in.
Dual Universe hits that in spades, which is both good and bad. Some players who might want a more casual experience are going to be mighty frustrated playing this game. It is slow, and you need to go in knowing that much like life, this game will be long periods of preparation and crafting with sporadic periods of PvP-based excitement.
Crafting is time-based, and so is training skills. That means everything in the game takes some amount of real time, and success and failure is often going to be defined by how efficient you are with that time and understanding multiple interrelated complex processes. In other words, if you’re a fan of industry games like Factorio or Satisfactory, you seriously need to check this game out.
Like both of those games, Dual Universe starts out throttled through crafting as the player has to craft all the initial components of their industrial infrastructure. You build an assembly belt, then use that to build a larger one, which then is used to build a yet larger one and a number of additional systems, all of which are then used to create the components needed to build the next phase in the industrial loop.
Component-based manufacturing means that older systems always remain relevant to more complex operations.
It’s a textbook automation game, but it’s all driven through player exploration, resource collection, and a strong PvP-centric model. This is a game that pushes players to consume resources only found on other planets. Getting those resources means the travel/collection/transport to acquire them in the first place and the interdiction of players taking resources from territory that you and your friends have staked out for yourselves.
Yes, resources respawn over time, but they’re in higher demand than they’re in supply and that, my friends, creates conflict. As I’ve said before, the best content is always player-created and Dual Universe is the sort of game that I think will drive player-conflict in all the right ways. Time being the limiting resource means that much of that conflict engine stems from a style of gameplay that some players may find boring, though.
If you’re not the sort to really be excited about the long industrial game, you need to spend a little more time watching videos and reading about the game before you jump on the bandwagon. You might find yourself frustrated at how much time you spend standing around waiting for items to be crafted. Worse, because the game isn’t that optimized yet, your initial experience will be even more aggravating.
It’s beta and there are some other concerns, as well. Latency from either networking, processing, or video rendering (I’m not completely sure which) is a plague on new players. All of the new player experience, while well scripted and relatively well executed, takes place in populated areas of the game, and that just plays hell with your framerates. It’s incredibly frustrating to move or build with that terrible choppiness.
Luckily, I’m in a clan that had already been playing the beta for a few weeks and had established a base on the other side or the planet from the starting area. They’d even moved on to mining resources on other planets, and rebasing to where they’d setup operations immediately after the completing the tutorial massively enhanced my experience.
Humorously, I ran into a situation where my limited inventory was slowing me down, but building the container that’d help alleviate the problem required space in my inventory. I discovered a handy trick, which is to start production on several linked systems to free the inventory, get the new container going, and then cancel production on the other systems to get your resources back.
A Plethora of Sociability
I do tend to be a loner in games, but social interaction drives conflict. As I’ve noted, conflict equals content, and that’s awesome when the conflict is emergent rather than scripted. Some will be frustrated by the industrial slog, but one way to help alleviate it is to join in with a group of other players and pool resources. Remember, time is the limiting resource, so pooling together directly increases a team’s ability to be effective in the game.
Several advances in the game are locked behind the deployment of several manufacturing systems that have to be created in parallel. Once installed and available, everyone can take advantage of them, but one player can only harvest so many resources at a given rate. Teaming up means each player can work on crafting the components needed for a specific piece of equipment, making a greater array of time-saving tools available to the other players as each is completed.
Working together like this isn’t completely overpowered because there’s a limitation on available resources, but there is still be very significant force multiplication to be found through teamwork. I like this in general, but I was especially excited by how the developers treat social affiliation in Dual Universe.
Excitingly, Dual Universe has taken a bold step in a very unique direction with respect to player affiliations, and I’m super excited to see how that shakes out over time. Players can join multiple organizations and exist at some level through all of them. This allows players to belong to a specific guild or clan while also potentially belonging to several merchant or industrial co-opts. This effectively creates layers to social interactions that wouldn’t exist in other games and which I believe over time will lead to a wonderful mix of conflicting obligations and allegiances, and through that to even more dynamic conflict.
So, while players are basically forced into some sort of social affiliation through the nature of the game, Dual Universe manages to turn even that into an innovative experience with unexpected depth. With the complexity of the industrial and crafting component of the game, that equally complicated social system drives a wonderfully complex economy. The haphazard mix of those diverse systems opens too many edge cases for there to ever be game “balance.” This is a situation in which players will constantly be unbalancing the game in one direction while another group of players figures out a way to bend the game back in their favor. Imbalanced is another word for opportunity, and that’s a word that is very dear to my heart.
I joined my colleagues on the other side of the planet. The desert is surprisingly rich in basic resources.
We yet again thus come to that wonderful point in the article where I tell you that you’ll both love and hate this game, and that you should both buy and pass on it. Doing all that at one time is a feat of no mean skill, let me tell you. Now, behold my linguistical gymnastics.
This is a fantastic game that I am personally enjoying the heck out of and would easily recommend to a number of my friends. If you’re a fan of building an industrial base and automating production, you’ll find this to be as fun or even more fun than those other titles with similar gameplay loops. It will be necessary to slog through the poor performance of starting areas as you go through the tutorial, but you’ll find a much better experience once you move away from that starting area and to a less populated part of the planet (or even just to another planet if you can get a ride).
The game is still relatively early in development and while a lack of optimization will eventually be addressed to some degree, it is a major pain now. If I hadn’t had friends to tell me that it was much better at their base, I would have likely quit the game before figuring out how much I was going to enjoy it. Also, the early industrial process is introduced, but takes a little bit of time to really get the hang of and truly appreciate. I don’t think that younger gamers are going to enjoy it as much, and depending on your personal situation, the time factor may be more or less of a problem for you.
For those who really enjoy sandbox games and industrial automation, I think there’s enough here to recommend serious and immediate consideration. If you are less inclined towards those sorts of games, you might move a little more slowly. I especially think the PvP (though, I have not experienced it directly yet) will be really frustrating until the game is better optimized, or at least for the tactical portion of PvP.
Either way, Dual Universe has blitzed right past any of my low expectations and has turned into a very interesting game that I suspect will have modest impact in the industry. Specifically, their social system is very intriguing and I’m almost as excited to see who steals the idea and what they do with it as I am to see what happens in Dual Universe. I know, it’s a bit of a nerd position, but that’s what I am and I get the distinct impression that it’s also who the game was built to attract.