Dust 514 E3 Report: Improving On Imperfection
If there’s one word to describe Dust 514, it’s “flawed.” The console-based MMO shooter from EVE Online creator CCP has potential – thanks to the depth of its character customization and inherent connection to EVE Online – but it left open beta in a rather ignoble state. Weapon handling is awkward, there are plenty of performance issues, it doesn’t look very good, and the gear balance is heavily weighted towards the high end. CCP made it very clear during my interview with them at E3, though, that the poor reception at launch will not deter them. Dust 514 is in for the long haul, just like EVE.
Dust 514 is a free-to-play first-person shooter for the PS3 set in the EVE universe. All matches take place on the same shard as EVE Online, and there are things players can do in each game to interact with each other (such as orbital bombardments). It plays much like a sci-fi version of Battlefield, with an emphasis on combined arms combat and the capturing of points to drain enemies tickets (or, in Dust’s case, the enemy’s dropship shields). There is an overarching metagame revolving around capturing and controlling planetary “districts,” although this is restricted only to temperate planets in a specific region at the moment. Dust has got a slick art style and the basic mechanics are fine, but the granular details need some work before it can hope to compete with more polished shooters.
The first thing that CCP made absolutely clear is that Dust 514 has come a long way, even if it has a long way to go yet. The visuals have been drastically improved and optimized over previous iterations of the engine, and balance is slowly reaching an equilibrium between time investment and strength gained. Menus and load times have been reworked to give players faster entrance into the game, and loading across the board is much smoother than it was sixth months ago.
This is important to note, because Dust 514 was even worse back in open beta and at launch than it is now. Framerate problems and network issues were common and aggravating. Higher-level characters stomped all over lower-level players effortlessly. There was no metagame to speak of to keep players coming back; all prospective Dust 514 fans had was the endless grind for ISK and skill points. This isn’t to say Dust doesn’t still have problems: Prototype gear and the skill point advantage is still present – despite matchmaking and balancing efforts evening it out a bit – there are plenty of visual and mechanical bugs still floating around, and the community features (especially the EVE Online connection) are not as robust as they could be. Despite these problems, though, Dust 514 is in a better state now. When asked to recommend it, the answer now is a “maybe” instead of a “no way.”
To turn Dust from a “maybe” to a “absolutely,” CCP shared their timeline for Dust’s improvement. They talked about granular changes, mostly, but these changes are ones that need to be made if Dust 514 is to survive.