Everything has a context. Be it small or big. We've been fighting in wars in countless shooters, for different kinds of narrative reasons (not always that interesting), and even in the middle of intense fire fights, there has always been a macro perspective. In Dust 514 the big picture is huge. CCP Games upcoming shooter is linked to its space MMO Eve Online, where mighty alliances can give orders to huge fights from their safe (more or less) spaceships, which hurls you, the Dust 514 mercenary, to the dirty work on the surface of a planet at war.
The idea of bringing two platforms, PC and PS3, together like this is of course exciting, and is something that has intrigued players since the announcement of this free-to-play game a few years back. During the yearly nerd-nirvana known as Eve Fanfest in Reykyavik, CCP shows me a playable version of Dust 514. I place myself in front of a Playstation 3 and get ready for war.
Before hell breaks loose I get a few seconds on board a spaceship orbiting the planet DSSEZ. After a countdown the match starts and I throw myself into battle; a quick Team Deathmatch against seven other players. On the planet's sandy surface, desert surrounds a military base that's the epicentre of the conflict.
At first glance, Dust 514 is not a pretty game. It's not a final version, and that shows: the resolution looks like something from the previous generation, and both enemies and the surroundings are just plain boring. Hopefully there will be a lot of polish before release.
A decent number of basic classes are available, and they are familiar. You've got the classic Assault soldier, a sniper class and two heavy classes with even heavier weapons, effective against either vehicles or infantry. There's also a Shock Trooper, who carries a bloody dangerous super-gun that unleashes half a dozen of missiles on everyone unfortunate enough to stand in your way. This is the first class I try out, and initally it is extremely effective. Other members of the gaming press get slaughtered by my super soldier, but when the opposing team locates me and gets closer, my slow gun becomes useless. A few rounds of automatic fire and a shot from a sniper turns my screen black and I get to choose spawn point again.
CCP keeps pointing out how many and varied the possibilites of developing our characters are. Sure, the main classes are similar to the ones in for instance Battlefield 3, but in true Eve spirit the possibilities are deeper than that. The more you play, the more add-ons appear. A regular Grunt starts with a standard dropsuit, an assault rifle and grenades. In time, he or she will unlock regenerating shields, a Scrambler Pistol, a shotgun and so on. The skill trees have many branches and we are encouraged to try different strategies and find our play style. Snipers can unlock different kinds of scanners, and the anti-armour class will get even more resiliant armours after a few hours.
A lot of different clases also means a lot of different ways of teamwork. "It's not all about you", as CCP puts it, and an example of this is how two players can neutralise a dropship together. The skills "web generator" and "force gun" from two separate soldiers are a perfect match, and together they turn the threat from above to dust.
When my Team Deathmatch is over, I get rewarded with ISK, the currency used in Eve Online, and the cash can be used for purchases. Dust 514 is free to play, and micro transactions are going to fund the whole operation. These transactions are not meant to make wealthy players undefeatable, and will instead be cosmetic upgrades for your character.
My time with Dust 514's multiplayer is quite short, but the first impression is that this game is similar to many others in the genre. But that's before the big picture shows its face. See, the interesting thing with Dust 514 is the connection to Eve Online, and how the missions are handed out by the big boys playing the PC MMO. On a screen the size of a planet, CCP shows a battle with both PC and PS3 players. Things are looking bleak for the home team on the ground, but after calling out for assistance from a Eve Online player, things change. A huge battleship get into orbit and devastating artillery rounds rain from above. The match is turned around, and a platform border has just been crossed, bringing PC and Playstation 3 players together with a bang.
There is nothing wrong with the idea and level of ambition. The question is how strong the seamless of the concept will be, how the server stability will be and how the more casual Dust 514 players will be recieved by the Eve community, a very dedicated (and sometimes conservative) group of gamers. In the best scenario, Dust 514 will be a unique action experience in a unique universe. In worst cases a unambitous sense of action deja vu.