In a previous post entitled “The Monster DUST 514 Beta Review”, I wrote at length about the features, shortcomings, and promises of DUST 514 in its initial open beta state. At that time the game was extremely rough and unfinished by “open beta” standards, giving cause for concern that CCP might have been biting off more than it could chew. With this article, I hope to revisit many of the points in my last post, and give an indication of the current released state of DUST 514. If you haven’t already read that previous blog it may not be a bad idea to take a moment and do so. And as before, I apologize for the screenshots having a weird grain to them, that’s the fault of my TV’s phone app screenshot function.
CCP unveiled changes to DUST 514 during its Fanfest this year, showcasing massive improvements to almost every aspect of the game. With this week’s release of the Uprising 1.0 patch, a lot of these anticipated improvements have been applied, and with the game shedding its beta clothes we should finally be able to experience it the way it was meant to be experienced.
To say this is “a patch” is a tremendous understatement. The patch notes for Uprising 1.0 would probably be blank if they pointed out things they didn’t update, so you’re pretty much re-downloading the entire game over again. For me, this process was exacerbated by a patch for my PS3 itself, so I ended up with a painful trifecta of PS3 patch, DUST 514 patch, and DUST 514 content update when the client finally did launch.
This isn’t really CCP’s fault, it’s more of an issue with the PS3 update architecture, however it’s worth noting in case you think you’re going to be playing in five minutes. In the end, they’re able to push out content updates to make changes rather than deal with the onerous console patching process, and that means quick responses to most issues with the game. This is a good thing.
Initial patching aside, one of the things announced at Fanfest — to much applause from the audience — was a faster launch time to actually just get into DUST. I could fold a load of laundry in the time it took for the DUST 514 beta to boot up. With Uprising this time has been cut down to a fraction of what it was before, so you’ll go from the PS3 menu to standing around in your quarters queuing up for battle in no time. My own timing showed that from the moment the ESRB logo shows up on screen to when I was in my quarters took around 1m08s. To say that’s a massive improvement from before is an understatement.
Renovations All Around
Once you get your way past the silly unskippable PlayStation Move instructions (seriously, Sony?), one thing is immediately apparent: attention has been paid to almost every single aspect of DUST 514’s user interface. The basic artwork and layout of all the UI is totally overhauled, and is all much more intuitive.
If you were playing before Uprising, all your skills and fittings will have been removed and you will have a giant pile of money and skill points to apply to your character. Special vanity and officer items are exempt from this, so don’t panic if you’ve dropped some real world cash or won something cool; they will still be there for you after the patch.
Where before there was just a spreadsheet of skills to scroll around in, you now have a skill tree. This tree gives an excellent sense of how your character can be developed that simply want there before. No matter which category of skill you’re looking at, the progression is clear and concise. You can purchase and/or train each skill from the tree, decide immediately how you want to specialize your mercenary and figure out what skills you should be looking at in order to accomplish your goal.
The Neocom itself has had a few changes, mostly centered around usability. The overall design is still the same, but they’ve corrected font sizing so things are less cramped. This also means that you don’t need to be an owl to read the text, and the developers have had to be more smart with organizing their content.
Crisp New Suits
Prior to Uprising, there were four suit types that were evenly spread among the four factions in EVE. This time around, each race has four suit types of their own with special bonus for each race and role (Edit: currently only Amarr has a Heavy dropsuit). The result is a much more balanced set of blank canvases to work with when fitting up your characters.
Racial variants are present for weapons and vehicles as well, so if you’re a die hard fan of a particular faction you can deck yourself out in the appropriate gear. This is awesome in cases such as when you want to do some logistics for your team, but prefer to not dress in Minmatar Duct-Tape Chic to do it.
I’ll take a moment here to tip my hat to the character modelers for DUST: the suits look great. Looking at the different races’ suits with their role variants and other variations, they’ve managed to capture the design language of those races from EVE while having the designs make sense for their intended roles. that’s a real challenge to do, and they pulled it off while making them all look completely badass.
There used to be a map in DUST at one point, but it was removed because well… it was terrible. They didn’t just bring it back, they’ve introduced a spectacular new way to look at the EVE cluster.
The new map presents the user with a top-down, flattened, minimalist view of the regions of EVE. This is perfect for console users to be able to pan around and explore the cluster, seeing where conflicts are situated and for what reason. Filters are available to highlight systems which are embroiled in Faction Warfare or Corporation based conflicts.
Selecting a single region zooms in to show the constellations present within.
Continuing into a constellation displays all the systems within that constellation.
Finally, selecting a specific system twirls out an abstract view of the celestials present there.
Selecting any planet that is capable of supporting ground-based combat shows the districts present there and what state of conflict each is at. Along the way, you’re told if there are any active conflicts occurring in those areas, and can join them in progress after choosing what side to go with.
It’s all really slick, and for DUST players who may not be familiar with the layout of EVE it’s a cool way for them to get familiar with it. I’m sure there’s plenty of folks playing EVE Online that wouldn’t mind the ingame map to include a similarly slick style of interface.
Joining The Fight
It’s at this point that Uprising starts to really show its most impressive stuff. The general feel of combat in DUST 514’s beta was one of the major gripes I had with the game, and I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case.
Finding a match to join hasn’t changed much, other than having the option to drop in to one in progress via the map. The usual three categories of matches are present, however there are now three match types instead of just the previous two: Skirmish, Ambush, and Ambush OMS (Off Map Support). The latter variant is new to the game, and is basically identical to the Ambush type with one key difference. Periodically, resources such as supply depots and turrets are dropped in for either side to capture and use against the others.
The user interface improvements are apparent almost immediately. The extremely basic, clunky deployment screen has been replaced with a much more intuitive version. You don’t see your full list of fittings unless you want to change it, you can see match statistics and observe the map. It’s faster, cleaner, tells you what you need to know without being a sluggish mess.
When your boots hit the ground one thing’s apparent: CCP has been hard at work on making combat feel right.
If one were to compare this to the first day of beta release, I’m almost entirely confident that all the things you can equip and fire at someone have had significant tweaks for balance and use. Guns have distinct feels to even same-class weapons, grenades aren’t the mini-nukes they first originally were (thankfully CCP patched those a little while into beta), and the vehicles no longer feel like your neighbor’s DualShock just accidentally synced with your console somehow.
I found there was less of the “getting killed by the uber gun of the week” effect that was present prior to the weapon tweaking, and grenade spam is almost non-existent. Even with basic starter gear I was still relatively effective in combat, and moving up into higher tiers of gear helped, but didn’t guarantee I’d be steamrolling the other team. This is exactly what it needs to be like.
I still find that team support in random matches is rare, there’s not a lot of people who bother to revive you and there’s little incentive to go after someone else, since they tend to just respawn rather than wait. For a team-based shooter, this is still an issue, however I’m almost 100% positive that joining a player corporation and working with them in matches will resolve this issue. It’s really just the random player matches where it’s every man for himself.
The great part is that the previous respawn snore fest has been cut down to a much shorter wait. Instead of nodding off for 20 seconds to respawn, your downtime will be probably more like five or six seconds, occasionally longer. Shorter respawns mean less downtime, and that means more time spent on the ground taking place in the battle. The result is a game that’s more enjoyable to play.
Controls have also been tuned significantly, and the result is a much more mature feel to the game. I still have a general disliking for the PS3’s controller for this kind of shooter, however CCP has done the best job they could have done so far with it. There’s still the mouse and keyboard option, but truthfully the majority of players aren’t going to go that route. At least they’ve done their best to manage the DualShock’s horrid deadzone, and that’s no small feat. There are coming enhancements to this that have been discussed by the developers to help aid aiming more, beyond just simplistic aim assist models. As a PC gamer, nothing makes me want to vomit more than aim assists, however on the console this is a necessary evil that can offset many issues with controller accuracy.
At the end of every match, a new statistics reporting screen tells you how you did. Beyond just a simple leaderboard for the match, you’re treated to all sorts of statistics about you performance. Some similar statistics screens are presented after each death as well, which is actually quite handy. Just like EVE Online, knowing how you died benefits you later when you’re trying to avoid it. CCP has already stated they have any statistics you can imagine, and that community suggestions will drive how these screens evolve.
The real catch is whether this all improves the overall combat experience. All of the updates from beta have significantly improved things, and its worth at least a revisit if you totally disliked the original combat concept of DUST. The controls are definitely improved, though still not up to PC mouse and keyboard level. I feel that they are close enough to other console FPS games that the issues will work themselves out over time via tweaking by CCP. As you play it more and get used to the fact that you are effectively in a spacesuit on the ground, you start to understand why movement feels stiff.
So overall I have to say yes, combat has definitely been improved and is far more enjoyable than before. You’re rewarded when you spend some time to learn the nuances, but not penalized severely if you can only play casually. I just wish there was more incentive to team play with random groups, especially in the objective based modes. Its not all perfect, but it all feels considerably less clunky and amateur and more like a shooter you want to spend time with.
DUST 514 looks like a totally different game compared to its beta. UI improvements aside, the graphics engine looks like it’s been completely overhauled. Even standing around in your quarters, there’s a lot more detail on the environment and your character models.
The match environments…. oh wow. Beta DUST looks like amateur hour by comparison. The environments here now actually have a lighting model, allowing the artists to give each map unique character. Couple that with vastly improved textures across the board, more detailed ground and building geometry, and foliage… well, this is now something that’s competitive with other popular console shooters. Everything is crisp and clear, as if Uprising came with a new set of contact lenses for everyone.
The change reminds of EVE Online’s Trinity expansion, when considerable work was done to improve the visual quality of the game’s ships and stations. CCP made an interesting statement at the time, that finally their original vision for the EVE universe could be realized with the detail and art they always wanted to be present. I think a similar transformation has happened here as they pushed their way out of beta, whereby the game now really nails the intended vision of immersion in the world of EVE.
Overall the visual side really impressed, especially when you get all the improvements coming together. Watching the new orbital strike effect hit in the direction of sunrise, with sun rays burning through the impact of the strike with its dust and debris particles was awesome.
With a massive increase in graphics fidelity like this, one would think that the crummy framerate present in the beta would be even worse here. In fact the opposite is true, with what appears to be a slightly better framerate. Mind you we’re not talking 60 fps here, and I’d be surprised if 30 fps is achieved solidly, but it’s impressive with all things the engine is now doing. Most importantly, the framerate appears to be much more consistent than before, maintaining a solid rate without dipping into flipbook territory. I can only expect they will improve this going forward as they continue to tweak and evolve the game.
The audio side is a different beast as well. One of my major gripes was how horrid the beta sounded, from the basic audio of the UI to the totally hilarious combat noises. I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case. Assault rifles no longer sound like they were made by AirSoft, with solid use of bass to really give you the feeling that you’re firing a gun from the future. Grenades pack the appropriate audio punch as well. I caught part of a flux grenade detonation and thought my home theater slipped into some weird sound diagnostic.
The music no longer consists of placeholder tracks, with new music unique to DUST that is more befitting of a game where you drop from the sky in suits and shoot people with enormous space rifles. There’s some great incidental stuff that plays in the loading screens and deployment menus, and it all works well to set the mood for the player.
In a way I find it difficult to call Uprising an improvement, when to me this is what the game should have been released to the public as in the first place. This is truly the first impression DUST needed to give to consumers, and I honestly worry that people put off by the first beta release won’t come back to retry this when they should definitely reconsider their opinion of it.
Fresh coat of awesome paint aside, Uprising represents something much more: the result of a developer actually listening to consumer input, and paying attention to the things their players are saying. Almost every single major gripe I’ve read online has had some service paid to it in Uprising, and that’s no coincidence. CCP is not the kind of developer to toss a game out and not support it for the long haul, and their experiences with the EVE Online community have taught them hard lessons about keeping a finger on its pulse.
It’s going to get harder and harder to compare this to other games on the market, simply because nobody’s doing anything quite so ambitious. Going forward, CCP is planning a lot of new and interesting additions to the game such as cooperative PVE content against rogue drones, resource gathering through district capturing, and even more compelling war economy linkages to EVE Online. All of this puts them in a genre of their own that goes beyond just simply being a good free-to-play shooter.
In my last DUST 514 blog I stated: “I have very little faith the game can and will be brought to a state that it needs to be in order to worth a long term investment of your time.” Well, apparently a little faith goes a long way.