Over three years ago, Dust 514 featured on the cover of Edge alongside the promising title “When worlds collide.” The premise seemed straightforward enough: Dust would be a firstperson shooter that took place in Eve’s universe, but not as some separate spin-off, instead forming a realtime part of CCP’s Machiavellian sandbox.
It’s a thrilling concept, one that evokes thoughts of console-based FPS players scrabbling for territory while starship pilots hover miles above them, with the actions in one plane having consequences in an entirely different game. Realising such ambition, however, has taken time. Even Dust’s lengthy closed beta didn’t establish a connection between the two games. But now, as Dust 514 enters open beta, worlds are finally colliding.
We’re visiting CCP’s Reykjavik HQ so that we might get blown to smithereens by the cross-game orbital bombardment feature for the first time. From the perspective of PS3-based players, orbital bombardments work much like a killstreak reward in other FPSes, although there’s a hint in their strictly rationed usage that something more significant is occurring. Only squad leaders can request orbital bombardments, and even they can only do so when enough victory points (which are doled out for fulfilling objectives) have been accrued.
CCP has rigged our demonstration so that both teams start with a bountiful supply of victory points, though the sides still act out a straightforward battle scene. One team of battle-ready clones has captured a control point in what is essentially a Domination gametype, which is playing out on a dust-blown, desert-like map dressed with the spires of an industrial complex.
As the other team moves into attack the entrenched soldiers, the defending squad’s leader opens up a chat window using the PlayStation’s familiar virtual keyboard. He types two words – barely two, in fact, just “need OB” – and they appear instantaneously on a nearby Eve player’s screen. It should feel more momentous, really, this realtime communication between participants in two different games, but the execution is seamless to the point that we instantly take it for granted, with the Dust player’s SOS simply appearing unobtrusively alongside the other chatter on the Eve pilot’s display.
This desperate plea from one platform to another, across a divide measured in light years, framerates and texture resolution, doesn’t go unanswered. The Eve player fires up his vessel and speeds through the system, eventually arriving in orbit around the planet where the defending squad awaits aid. We can even see the battle as a series of flashes lighting up one of the continents, although it’s mostly smoke and mirrors at this stage. If Eve offers events on a galactic scale and Dust on a more personal level, then the gap between the two – which could be filled with aerial combat, orbital reinforcements and ground-to-space retreats – remains as yet tantalisingly unfilled. In another update perhaps; today is about how a PC-based Eve player can ruin a Dust player’s day.
Some coordination is needed between the gamers now, as the pilot readies his ship and the soldier signals where he wants the strike to land. The target is a fairly open spot on the edge of an industrial facility that’s swarming with enemies. The leader gives the order. The pilot fires. A series of bluish-white lights bursts towards the surface of the planet.
There’s a small delay before those blue dots hit the earth, except they’re not dots at all from a Dust player’s point of view. The bombardment that hits the battlefield is large enough to take out a whole squad when correctly aimed, and this bombardment has been aimed very precisely indeed – a roll call of kills appearing on the Eve player’s screen. It’s easy to see how such a display of power could turn the tide of battle. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine how having an armour-plated, laser-firing guardian angel overhead could decide it, perhaps in turn drawing in other ships to contest such an advantage.
For now, orbital bombardments are the destructive point of connection between Dust and Eve, but the two games will increasingly blend over time, with Eve’s virtual economy slowly annexing Dust’s own. This could have huge implications. Currently, some of Dust’s upgrades and equipment are transient in nature, meaning they can be consumed or destroyed, which could prove galling to players if they were bought with real money. However, meshing the two games’ economies raises the possibility that Eve’s corporations – massive player alliances with a vested interest in controlling planets – could pour virtual cash into Dust’s armies. This in turn sets up genuine potential for proxy wars and for smaller battles to be turned into crucial flashpoints in galaxy-wide conflicts. And the majority of corporations have had players in Dust’s beta, ensuring a running start for the shooter.
CCP may well be glad of this existing incentive for Eve’s players to populate Dust’s servers, because the game itself is otherwise unexceptional. It only takes a glance at Dust’s expansive marketplace, with its endless lists of weapons, skills, augmentations and upgrades, to realise that loadout tweaking and class building (or ‘fitting’, as it’s described in a piece of borrowed Eve jargon) will be a significant component of the final game, but during our demo all we have the chance to explore is its merits as a shooter.
And it’s a serviceable one, although sadly for CCP, PlanetSide 2 has outflanked its game by offering a similar sci-fi flavoured forever-war on a technically lesser but certainly more appreciable scale. There’s no USP or novel mechanic for Dust to hang its guns on, either, just solid shooting in functional locales.
But that may not even matter. Because Dust’s true potential lies not in the game itself, but in the vast universe beyond it, where the most minor skirmish can take on system-wide import. And beyond that, it lies on the message boards and in the chat rooms where Eve’s infamous alliances are broken and formed. Dust, whether Eve’s playerbase decides to welcome its inclusion or not, is now a part of their infamous player-authored, universe-spanning dramas.