Landing was a bit rough. Descending into the atmosphere of Haven, my landing craft hurtled towards the planet's surface, carrying with it everything I was going to need to start a new life among the stars. I braked as best I could, but my lander still ended up damaged when it graced the planet's surface.
Dual Universe's opening moments are meant put you squarely in the space explorer fantasy, the last vestiges of humanity set in the very distant future after Earth's final demise. You take the role of a settler on the Ark which sends you into space to start humanity's next chapter anew among the stars.
As a result, Dual Universe is a sandbox, giving players the tools needed to forge their own path how they see fit. Do you want to become an intrepid miner and titan of industry, establishing yourself as humanity's next Rockefeller or Vanderbilt? Or do you want a quiet life, content to farm materials, sip coffee on the balcony and watch the sunrise on your planet? You can do anything you want, in theory.
This was hammered home in those opening moments as my lander hurtled towards the planet's surface. Looking out from above the planet, the fullness of space around me and the planet below me, the sense of scale was awe-inspiring.
Watching the horizon form in front of me was a little less awe-inspiring than I had hoped, however. As the gloom of space gave way to the atmosphere, I was a little let down by the visuals themselves. Dual Universe doesn't have a ton of tweakable graphics options, let alone no options to affect the overall quality of the textures, asset quality, mesh quality, and more. As such, the presentation is a bit...lacking.
Textures look flat and unremarkable on first glance, and this is doubly so on the terrain in front of me as I land in what I was hoping would be a lush plain in the northern hemisphere of Haven. Instead it's a hilly grassland that sees aggressive LOD pop in to the point where it's outrageously distracting, especially on my hovercraft speeder.
Don't get me wrong - I don't think it's bad. I just wish it was more. I want to be sucked into the world around me from those first moments, and instead, I was a bit let down by the drab wilderness and muted textures around me. Another space exploration title where you can edit the world around you, No Man's Sky, has issues of its own with texture work, but it's made up by myriad colors, a vibrant world, and more. Hopefully this first impression doesn't last, and as I explore more those scenes open up to me.
After landing, the tutorial walked me through the various basics of life in Dual Universe. Thankfully, while there are a ton of elements that remind me of survival MMOs, there isn't any need to hunt for food, water or fuel for my suit to keep me alive. There is enough resource hunting as it is, so it's nice that I needn't worry about those. At the outset each player gets a choice of the type of starting building you want, as well as a choice in hovercraft. I went with the Roman-style Villa and the Formula 1 inspired hovercraft, as they looked the best, both of which looked even better once they were set up.
I appreciate that Dual Universe sets you up this way too. The MMO is insanely complicated as it is and learning the basics are made easier knowing that I had a place to stow items and my vehicle without having to worry about establishing those ahead of time.
Each player is given a plot of land also on one of the starter planets in the safe zone of Dual Universe's solar system. To me, it's a bit of a misnomer to call your game Dual Universe when the play area is relegated to a rather large solar system. With other sci-fi MMOs on the market, such as EVE Online and Elite Dangerous, it feels decidedly small by comparison. Hopefully, with time, this is expanded on with more solar systems and star clusters added to explore.
Dual Universe gives you to basic tools you're going to need to get started as well, from the voxel editing tool that lets you build anything you want (within reason and within the constraints of DU's convoluted and confusing building system - more on that in a future review in progress). You can build towering houses, luxurious villas, and more - provided you have the skill and materials to make it happen.
Dual Universe also uses a real-time skill system, meaning you're acquiring talent points whether you're online or not. Unlike titles that also do this like, EVE Online, if you have enough points accrued you can just buy the skill you need rather than waiting to train it - assuming you have all the prerequisites unlocked.
However, the talent system is extremely granular, locking you out of doing basic things like make a small container or being able to flick a switch because it's one size too large. Some things you should just be able to do instead of locking them behind progression.
As a result, this makes progressing in both crafting and the MMO proper feel stagnant, even just two days into launch. I feel as though I'm already at a time-gated wall, waiting to have the skill points necessary to do something basic, such as refine one of the various mineable materials to make building voxels.
This also flies in the face of the idea that you can specialize in certain expertise, such as becoming a wide-ranging trader, fighter pilot, and so on. Because of how Dual Universe is set up, you're effectively going to have to be a jack of all trades, dipping your feet into each of the major talent disciplines just to get off the starter planet and into the rest of the system. You've got to learn how to mine and craft to build your spaceship, but you need to spend time developing the talents to make the necessary components to do so. Sure, you can wait to just buy a ship when you have the money, but this means you'll be spending your time mining rocks or waiting on your mining harvesters to do the jobs for you.
While other sci-fi MMOs let you take to the stars almost immediately, one of the major draws of the genre, it feels like I'll be stuck in my little plot of land, alone, for the foreseeable future. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, after a while it starts to get boring mining the same rocks over and over again, or jumping into my speeder to traverse the same terrain for twenty or thirty minutes just to make a trip to one of the planetary markets on Haven.
I feel like there is a lot to unpack here with Dual Universe, and I am eager to do so. I want to take off from the planet with my own ship, built with my own hands. I want to explore the stars, join an organization and take part in some PvP to get a feel for the combat in Dual Universe. It just feels like it's going to take a while with the layers upon layers of systems weighing things down.
I should pause and say that if this sounds like I'm not enjoying myself so far, that's not the case. I am enjoying the grind, the solitude among the stars, and learning new things about this game. I love survival crafting loops like Dual Universe's and am willing to pour hours into them to build and overcome the game world. I have found myself longing to log into my plot of land on Haven just to check on my mining units, flatten some more land, and generally plan out my next moves. As more and more complexities are added on, I can't wait to unpack them. Heck, I just added wings to my starting hovercraft and have made my market trips all the more enjoyable (and faster).
As it stands now, I'll be working on an addition to my villa using voxel materials I harvested from my lander, as well as a building starter package bought at the market. We'll have more in the coming days about building mechanics, flight and much more.