First Impressions: Dust 514
After talking about this F2P title on and off for the most of last year, I decided it was about time to put my conjecture where my mouth is. Err… hands? You know what I mean.
After quite literally dusting off my PlayStation 3, I started the process of downloading the 1.3gb game. To kill some time, I started playing Journey while downloading Dust 514 in the background. I didn’t make it more than five minutes before stopping Journey and doing some research as to how I could take screenshots on the PS3 because damn. An hour later, I stopped looking at $150 video capture cards and finished installing Dust 514. Ten minutes later, I begin updating the game. Forty-five minutes later, Dust 514 finishes downloading and installing a patch larger (!?) than the entire original download.
Now, if it has not already been clear from historical record, let it be noted that I am not much of a console gamer. This was not always the case. In fact, all the way up until the end of the PS2 era, I was a console purist. With the notable exception of Balder’s Gate and the original Deus Ex, I felt like PC RPGs were cheap imitations of the holy JRPG (i.e. Squaresoft), which could do no wrong. In my prior life as a freelance RPG reviewer, I have 60+ “published” RPG reviews attesting to that fact; I even gave Planescape: Torment a below-average score because the combat system was bad.
I’m bringing this up to illustrate the fact that this entire console generation has left me behind until now. Or, rather, I left it behind. Although I was in college during the Halo heyday and thus have experience playing its first three iterations many times in the fraternity house, I never personally owned an XBox. Ergo, my skill at thumbstick shooters is abysmal. Give me a mouse and keyboard and I will shoot your aim-assisted face off any day. Ask my thumbs to do more than spam the Spacebar though, and I’ll have some rehabilitation issues.
Enough preface, let’s dive in.
God damn this game is ugly. This seriously looks like I’m watching a 480p Youtube video of someone playing Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Yes, the Nintendo 64 version. Don’t get me wrong, it looks better than Darkfall, but it also looks like it was drawn entirely in watercolors on a soggy canvas. Or I’m looking at it through goggles filled with river water. My first red flag should have been the 1.3gb download, I suppose, although Skyrim was Skyrim with just 5.8gb. Then again, that was on the PC…
I made Azuriel Inanage a Gallente something something race, a decision based entirely on the look of the face mask. In my defense, the entire race decision seemed somewhat pointless considering everyone is in armor all the time, mercenaries can fight for any race, and you can train every race’s gear. I sat through several tutorial screens which showed me around the basic lobby interface, with its amusing “Would you like to learn more?” Starship Trooper prompts. They start out giving you 500,000 Skill Points and 250,000 ISK and then… basically drops you off at the pool.
Now, I still struggle with the judgment as to whether a game developer deserves a pass for this sort of design. Is it the noble “sink or swim” attitude, or is it “crunch time, we’ll fix it in a patch later” lazyness? I’m personally willing to muddle my way through a considerable amount of bullshit in search for that one kernel of fun, but that’s mainly because I’m a masochist at a minimum it becomes easy blog content. And I am not even really saying that Dust 514’s Skill/etc system is hard. It’s just… opaque. 100% function, 0% form.
You basically cannot spend Skill Points until you pay ISK for a Skill book that unlocks that specific Skill. So to start, I needed to purchase Skill X for Y ISK and then spend Z SP to unlock Rank 1. Some of the skills are “empty,” in that their sole function seems to be to sink ISK/SP by forcing you to rank up just for the privilege to access other skills. Others are more functional, like increasing shields by 2% per rank. The system seems to promote unlocking as many Rank 1-2 skills as possible (these ranks only cost 18k-36k SP), but you are gated pretty hard by ISK, at least at first.
So let’s go get some ISK.
It is worth noting, before I get into the outcome of my first few matches, how this game works. You start out with a few different loadouts with basic gear that you can always equip no matter what. Every other thing in the game, from weapons to side-arms to grenades to the very dropsuit you wear is a consumable resource. Meaning, each time you die and respawn, you lose everything you were wearing. Did you just buy some uber-gun but get ambushed at the spawn point? It’s gone now.
I suppose this is designed to evoke a feeling of risk and gravity as a counter-point to the more standard suicidal FPS inclinations. I wouldn’t say that I am completely risk-adverse per se, but I absolutely hate the feeling that I would have been better off not playing at all. Losing WoW Arena games back when hitting 1800 represented a huge leap in combat effectiveness, for example, felt brutal; there was no worse feeling than starting at 1780 Rating and then losing six games in a row. Dust 514 evokes that same feeling, as not only can you lose a bunch of purchased gear right away, but that gear also represents ISK you could have spent buying Skill books instead.
As it turns out though, those ISK concerns may be moot.
My first match was pretty bad, entirely due to my aiming like… well, like I was holding a gun using just my thumbs. It was a “Skirmish” map, which breaks down as a pretty standard cap and control game. At the end of the match, it turns out I received ~150,000 ISK for losing. Based on my experience thus far, the payout seems to be mainly based on time spent; the difference between a win and a loss seems to be around 50k ISK. Also, you can end up receiving “salvage” in the form of guns/equipment. I am still technically in the “battle academy,” aka the kiddie pool, but I would be surprised if you end up earning less out in the game proper.
Given how much ISK you get either way, any consumable equipment concerns are severely diminished. Even a top-tier assault rifle only costs ~11,000 ISK. There was not a full match in which I died more than 8 times, so I would still have turned a profit despite losing all those guns. Plus, presumably a better weapon would mean dying less in the first place. The value of a whole suit loadout is probably more substantial, but quibbling over the 700 ISK mid-tier guns suddenly seems silly. If this is the paradigm though, why bother with all the ISK nonsense to begin with?
Ah, right. Free-to-play.
Instead of purchasing items individually, you can buy blueprints which give you an infinite supply of them. These blueprints, assuming they don’t drop as salvage, can only be bought via Aurum, the RMT currency. Now, Dust 514 is probably cheaper in the scheme of things compared to, I don’t know, Planetside 2. But in this particular case, the game mechanics themselves feel a bit more insidious. Granted, it could just be my bias showing through, especially given how Dust 514 lets you preview the weapons or effectively “buy them” for significantly less than the Planetside 2 equivalent.
Honestly, I just don’t like consumable anything, even if I have more than I would ever need. I’m the guy still hesitating to use the stockpile of Elixirs while fighting the final boss. It makes no rational sense, but there it is. Ergo, I’m leery of CCP having my number, so to speak, when it comes to these blueprints. I’m not actually going to buy any, but I will feel bad all the same.
Anyway, those are my Day 1 impressions of Dust 514. Like always, I will stick with the game for a bit longer just to ensure that I give it as fair a time as is possible under the circumstances.