It takes place in the EVE Online universe, but CCP Games’ DUST 514 — now out of its open beta — seems very different from it on the surface. EVE Online is a space MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) for Windows PC and Mac; DUST 514 is a first-person shooter on the PlayStation 3. EVE Online requires an upfront purchase and monthly subscription; DUST 514 is free to download and free to play. And while EVE Online’s about spaceships, DUST 514 has you play space marines, dropping planetside to contest buildings and cities.
For all that the games are superficially different, though, they’re surprisingly similar in terms of how they play. Whether that’s good or bad depends on how you feel about one of the most brutal MMOs ever.
What’s the game like?
DUST 514 is essentially a massively-multiplayer online first-person shooter. You have up to three characters, who — like EVE spaceship pilots — can die over and over again in combat and come back to life via cloning. Your equipment is lost when you die, though, so you have to keep buying more with either in-game rewards or in-person money. You start with an unlimited supply of weak “militia” gear, though, which helps new players to learn the ropes.
What’s changed since the beta?
If you played the DUST 514 beta, you’ll be pleased to note that a lot of things have been improved. A screen now pops up to say exactly who killed you, what weapon they used at what range, and how much armor and shields they had remaining. Instead of just saying a triage unit is “nearby,” it tells you the range to the closest friendly player who can revive you, and lets you make the call of whether or not to respawn. And the skill system has gotten a complete overhaul, which lets you see the skill tree from overhead and easily see which skills lead to the ones that you want.
You’ll be seeing a lot of those three innovations, because — as a new player — you’re going to die a lot. And in order to keep from dying, you can’t just rely on improving your gameplay skills and getting automatic level-ups. You have to plan your skill progression way in advance, setting goals to reach before you can use the kinds of equipment that other players killed you with. Unless, of course, you spend out-of-game money, since “aurum” equipment can be used at lower skill levels, letting rich players bypass skill requirements.
Like EVE Online, DUST 514 is set up to reward “hardcore” players who put a lot of time, money, and energy into it. Since it takes place in the same galaxy — and its gameplay results have bearing on EVE intrigues — you may try to play the game casually, but you’ll end up running into the people for whom “internet spaceships” are “serious business.” Which largely means that you’ll serve as practice fodder for them.
There’s no single-player, no co-op mode against computer-controlled characters, and no plot beyond EVE Online players competing to be the biggest and best-equipped jerks. If that sounds like your idea of fun, then go ahead and give it a try. Just don’t get tempted into spending your money to try to make the game less frustrating — play something else that you actually like, instead.