I don’t like shooters, usually. I’m never good at them, so I don’t play them.

I don’t like competitive multiplayer, usually. I’m never good enough, so I don’t play it.

However, some spiritual force suddenly took control of my mind. Unexpectedly compelled, I piled onto the shuttle destined for the free-to-play Dust 514 open beta. What follows is a surface-level logbook of this ignorant idiot’s thoughts after an hour inside unfamiliar territory.

[For a more traditional telling of impressions toward Dust 514, cast your eyes across Nick's original preview written last fall.]

Before Combat

Even an open beta is technically still an incomplete game (or a cop-out approach to erasing any would-be valid criticism toward a title  — Take your pick). That said, realize the developers of Dust 514 may totally scrap every detail I dislike or admire from this brief experience.To simplify with an overused idiom, absorb whatever I say with a grain of salt sprinkled in. We clear? Good; let’s get moving.

The premise of Dust 514 is fascinating. With a direct tie-in to EVE Online (a game so complex it deserves a separate section at the bookstore to explain its intricacies), this free-to-play shooter should be automatically awesome at the base level. Every galaxy-shifting story that emanates out of that universe once every few months or so is enough of a spectacle to rival even the most beloved sci-fi film epics (like the instance Logan mentioned in Episode 8 of our podcast, here). Not having the time nor patience to settle within EVE proper, I chose the poor man’s option. If the great wars are so awe-inspiring from my previously detached, secondhand perspective, imagine how thrilling these events could become knowing I had a hand in the eventual outcome. Too good too ignore? Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

I could dig into the nitty-gritty, describing Dropsuits and the encompassing backstory about the discovery of memory transfers that make for soldiers that never forget and always improve. I could, but Nick (and thousands of others living through the written word on the Internet) did a bang-up job outlining the core mechanics in his past piece. Fly away to read it if you wish, for we are going to war.

The First Match

Nobody is supposed to judge a book by its cover, but immediate visual impressions of Dust 514 sure are a turn-off. “Sterile” may be a perfect word to summarize this world, although “bland” is an adequate alternative. The issue isn’t with the graphical fidelity or performances hitches, either, but in the actual art direction. Imagine every stereotypical, chromed-out, dull, futuristic, space-age landscape you’ve ever seen while glancing at a made-for-TV movie on Syfy at three in the morning. Think that, yet with all personality removed. Not good, so how is the game?

Considering the sales pitch for Dust 514 emphasized your place as part of an ongoing war effort with every battle having a long-lasting impact, my first match really didn’t feel any different from a typical online multiplayer first-person shooter affair. I received no sense that my deeds were doing anything relevant in the big picture for some eye in the sky that commanded my troops to attack Generic Space Team With Red Markers. This wasn’t a bad or broken experience per se, just an empty one. Let’s have another.

Dust is different. Apparently. But how different?

Round 2

More of the same; sentiments haven’t changed. To speak of a good sign, spawning is incredibly quick with barely a break in the action. Specific spawn points, though, can be quite … peculiar. And not Cool Creepy Edge-of-your-Seat peculiar like an engaging thriller at the cinema. No, peculiar as in that my initial spawn into match #2 dropped me directly in front of an enemy. Him now staring at my recently-materialized back, I was bloodied and dying in somewhere around 1.5 seconds. This happenstance could have been an isolated issue as the edges are rounded out throughout the beta updates, but it was annoying nonetheless. Third time’s the charm?

Third Time Isn’t The Charm

Was my character’s backstory intended to connect with the actual gameplay? If so, I’m not seeing it. Paragraphs of lore explained my history as a member of a tribe that broke free from a long history of slavery. Now with an impassioned hatred toward our captors from the past, I was ready to raise hell … only I never knew where to take my reign. Instead, I seem to be just some guy among many. Given the Spar- … Dropsuit armor exterior, I don’t even look different from everyone else. Individuality doesn’t exist. Perhaps it helps to have a companion simultaneously playing EVE Online alongside your shoot-happy escapades. Without that friend, I’m having trouble identifying what I’m fighting for.

Aftermath

As I’ve been painting with a brush of pure negativity, I’d like to present a counter-point of clarity. With Dust 514 promising so much, insisting that it sets itself apart from every other Medal of Dutyfield 3 that gets the kids crazy, my mindset was set to recognize a revolution. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. Rather, I found a by-the-books shooter with an idea more intriguing than the actual game. It’s not that it isn’t fun, only that superior options in this flooded genre exist all around us. Then again, those choices ask for a $60 deposit at the onset to display the most exciting prospect that Dust 514 presents: Free-to-play, and free-to-play on a console at that. Dust 514 proves that such a structure can function effectively away from high-performance PCs. If nothing else, this is an ambitious-though-underwhelming first step into a free-to-play future. And that’s something I can support.