Dual Universe is one of the most anticipated space MMORPGs in development right now. With a new subscription model coming in August and boasting a bevy of options in the way that you can build and interact with the world, Novaquark was kind enough to bring us in to watch a full-scale PvP space-battle unfold, and answer a few questions along the way. Will Dual Universe’s PvP scratch that space battle itch? Our PvP demo impressions may just answer that.
Earlier this month, Novaquark’s CEO Jean-Christophe Baille and game designer Baptiste Agati walked a number of gaming journalists through a hands-off demo of Dual Universe’s PvP. In the prelude to the PvP battle starting, they showed us some of the basic features they have implemented in the way players can both interact with the world, and how they build their ships. For those unfamiliar with Dual Universe, it is a continuous single-shard first-person fully modifiable space simulation sandbox. If that isn’t a mouthful of a game description, I don’t know what is. What does that mean though? Dual Universe will only have a single shard, so millions of players would potentially be together at the same time, in a world where everything you do could impact the other players around you. You can choose to terraform, or build massive structures. The aim is to have no end to the possibilities presented to the player in Dual Universe.
As the hands-off demo progressed, we were shown several different ship styles and 4 different weapon types. Each weapon type had a purpose, meaning that some ships that wanted to focus on one particular style of damage may choose to outfit their starfighter with a particular weapon set for a specified purpose, while larger destroyers might opt to outfit their ship with several different styles of weaponry. Each weapon has their own benefits and detractors, for example the missile launcher does high damage at close range, but has an extensive reload period, so planning your ships weapon system strategy is key.
We also saw several different kinds of ships, some of which were just, enormous. We were told that some of the ships we saw, the larger ones specifically, could take days or even weeks with a dedicated team of players to build. As ships can be built to pretty much whatever specifications a team of players chooses, there is no denying that Dual Universe will have a massive appeal to players looking to make their mark both as a ship builder, and even crafting designs that they can later sell to other players.
Another cool feature that we saw in full display is the damage system. In many MMOs and games in general, the damage done to you or your opponent is not really seen. In Dual Universe you have many different armor types that react differently to the types of weapons used on them. Each material has its own resistances, and some are weak to some weapons more than others. Dual Universe utilizes actual voxel damage so the damage you do to a ship, can and will be seen, and in the case of a defending opponent, it will need to be repaired if you want to stay in the fight. Because of the way damage is done, critical systems can be taken offline during a battle, or perhaps even be targeted in a way meant to cripple other players ships. For example, just to setup a weapon system you need a gunner module which is connected to several other systems like an ammunition storage, or radar, or any number of other types of weapons. If one of those things goes down, you may need to repair it up to a certain point before you can continue battling.
Building ships is definitely going to be one of the biggest draws to Dual Universe, and Novaquark has put together a kind of ship analysis feature to help players craft ships in meaningful ways. This tool will help new players learn how to build ships well, while also aiding even experienced players in generating designs that are not only practical but perform well in battle. This is a feature that makes a lot of sense as the developers have signaled that everything from the layout of your weapons to the physical design of your ship could impact how well that ship performs. It also coincides with a talents system, where players can spec their character to increase the capabilities of the ships they build, or as a pilot, increase the damage their weaponry does.
When the battle kicked off, we cut to an enormous ship hastening towards a space station, ready to attack. As the ship began firing, releasing fighters from its docking bays and selecting targets to fire its many, many weapons on, the space station began doing the same with defensive weaponry deploying and smaller ships sent forth to neutralize the attacking fighters. It was a battle that had a lot of complex implications. If the attacking team was able to defeat the defending space station, they could take it over, and similar stakes were set for the team of Space Station guardians, as they could potentially take over a very large and powerful ship.
For a battle that had so much riding on it, with damage pouring in and breaking large chunks off of the space station, the impact of it all felt somewhat anti-climactic. This was primarily due to the combat itself utilizing more of a “set it and forget it” feel. Players who fell in love with EvE Online would likely be familiar with the kind of combat Dual Universe’s space combat utilizes. Once you targeted your opponent, and the canons fired away, it was hard to really gauge what was going on. One instance that stuck in my mind was that of a dog fight that we witnessed as kind of a small skirmish in the greater scheme of the battle at large. After launching one of the smaller ships and finding an opponent, it seemed like the only requisite to continue this battle was to keep the other ship in range.
The battle between the two smaller ships wasn’t a dogfight like I was expecting to see, it felt more as if they were circling the battlefield, and it was hard to tell from my perspective whether the attacking ship was actually doing really well or not. This kind of cascaded through to the larger ship battle as well. I was able to see the canons firing, and when the developers surveyed the damage on both sides, it seemed as though the damage was palpable, but from an external observer’s perspective it didn’t incite as much awe as I expected.
Another interesting point during the battle, is when players were deployed to start fixing the space station or ships that received damage. In battles like the one we witnessed it was clear that this was really a battle that should have been conducted by dozens of players, probably even more than what the developers had available for the PvP demo. Battles like this are obviously a double-edged sword. On the one hand, requiring that a ship be manned by a dozen players or more is what an MMORPG is all about. Getting together with a ton of players for cooperative play that you can’t find anywhere else. On the other, large battles like this always feel like they are out of reach if you don’t have a large dedicated group of players. A ship this size, by itself, is a daunting piece of virtual machinery to behold, and it’s not particularly solo or duo friendly.
The Lasting Impression
Dual Universe left me with a few mixed feelings. It isn’t hard to see how passionate JC and Baptiste are about their game, and it resonates both in how they talk about the game and how player-forward their outlook is on creating a gamer-driven experience. From the talent system and single shard world to the voxel-based crafting systems, as a whole there are a lot of things to look forward to. My major sticking point is in the actual space-combat system. While it did get the job done, with the space station eventually winning the battle and taking over the attacking ship, much of the battle played out as if I were watching an older episode of Star Trek. The implications of a fantastical battle were there, but in comparison to more, faster paced space games, it may not impress too many players on the surface. Luckily, Dual Universe provides much more than just a simplistic space battle system, and I look forward to seeing how the rest of the game fleshes out.