Can Eve developer CCP successfully branch out into console shooters? That may depend on how much you like microtransactions.
Announced at Gamescom earlier this year, Dust 514 is something of a departure for CCP, best known for its one and only product, Eve Online. CCP announced that Dust 514 would mix FPS and RTS gameplay and interact directly with Eve, but beyond that all we got were acouple of snazzy screen shots. At this year's annual convention, FanFest, we finally got to see a bit more.
Dust 514 is a team-based first person shooter, being developed by CCP's Shanghai studio, with players cast as members of great mercenary companies, battling other mercs for control of planetary resources on their employer's behalf. Players can define their own roles within the game, so if you want to play an anti-tank medic, then that's fine.
The goal of each Dust match is to eliminate the opposing team and destroy their command post, which takes the form of a huge ship, hovering above the battlefield. This is done by building installations - or weapon emplacements - and taking over structures which allow players to make use of the resources of the level. One player takes the role of commander and for them Dust becomes an RTS, as they view the conflict from above. Players on the ground aren't stuck to trudging miles over the levels however; they can call in vehicles at any time, provided they have accumulated enough war points, which are earned by completing a variety of in-game activities.
While Dust isn't an RPG, and won't have skills per se, there will be what CCP call an "achievement matrix", which will give players a framework of advancement and allow access to more impressive weapons and equipment. CCP says that the world of Dust will be persistent and that the victories and loses of Dust players will shape it. Dustwill tie in with the upcoming EVE expansion Dominion as part of Eve's revamped sovereignty system, and Dust Corporations can be hired by Eve players to take over a planet. Outside of matches, there will also be a social aspect on the Dust War Barges; giant ships in which players can rent apartments, view trophies and chat with other players, a little like PlayStation Home.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Well, yes, as a press-release it sounds amazing, but having seen the game, I must admit to having my doubts. First and foremost it looks like it could be Battlefield 2142's younger, prettier brother, as the gameplay that I saw seems almost identical to that 2142's Titan mode. One thing that Eve Online is known for is the quality of its graphics and Dust continues that trend, but in a much more generic way. In a way the game is a victim of its own setting, because it centers around capturing infrastructure, but the futuristic factory level CCP showed off could have been lifted straight from any of a dozen recent games.
CCP's decision to make Dust a console shooter also seems a strange, as Dust feels like it should be a PC title. The console release presents CCP with certain problems, as console shooter fans are a very different breed to PC MMO fans. The FPS market is pretty stuffed, so unless Dust can make itself stand out in some way - and I'm not sure the persistence is enough - it will very quickly fall by the wayside. CCP will almost certainly add more content later, but the initial release has to be pretty solid.
There's also the difficulty of co-ordinating the players of two different games spread over at least three different platforms; can PS3 players and 360 players fight each other? We simply don't know yet. CCP has assured us that there would be gameplay outside of matches between hired teams, but that rather defeats the entire purpose of the game.
Oh yes, it has micropayments too, and even worse, it has micropayments for weapons - or at least for the schematics to build them - and while the more potent weapons will require players to have advanced up the achievement matrix, it still means that players can buy an in-game advantage for out of game money.
It's unfair though to be too critical of the game at this stage, as it's still in a pre-alpha stage and will likely change a lot before its release. Personally, I want this game to prove all my doubts wrong, because CCP has a philosophy towards game design that I like, but I'd be lying if I said I was sure.