Dust 514 was supposed to be revolutionary, a first-person symbiote entangled in both the EVE Online universe and the machinations of its player-run Corporations. It was supposed to bridge genres, to make players from entirely disparate games interact in a way like never before. And it worked. 'Opening fire from a PC-based MMORPG onto a battle in progress in a PlayStation 3-based first person shooter' was and still is an trick unique to Dust 514.
But the problem was this was just one trick.
The game launched. The reviews came. Some saw it in the same light that CCP Games did, declaring it 'ground-breaking' and 'innovative', the 'most-indepth FPS game out there'. Others made references to its name ("Dry", sister site Eurogamer grumbled as she appended a 5/10 to Dust 514's name) while leveling criticism against its microtransaction-heavy grind, bland game modes, infestation of menus and a litany of other sins. By the time the press finally tapered off, the Internet was left shrugging. Dust 514 was okay, it seemed. Not phenomenal, not hideous. Just okay.
Fast forward five months. Barely anyone outside of its dedicated communities is still talking about the game. Occasionally, word about a new expansion or update will emerge only to be quickly subsumed by the next big thing. In the radio silence that inevitably follows every launch, what has happened to CCP Games' foray into first-person shooters?
"Dust is actually slowly getting better, " Redditor Oh-bee remarks. "The biggest mistake CCP has made so far is 'launching' this game with a horrible build. The negative inertia of dozens of bad headlines is the biggest problem with Dust right now."
SerpentineLogic adds. "Ask us in another two months. Unlike other games that are released then almost abandoned, Dust started bare bones and improves each month."
The general consensus about Dust 514's negative publicity is a familiar one: people think other people have been missing the point. Whether it is because of the pressure of an upcoming deadline or an unwillingness to navigate the shooter's rocky introduction, too many, it seems, have not invested enough to get to the meat of the game. Like its progenitor EVE Online, Dust 514's heart is built out of its people.
"The game is a squad based shooter, and yet I still haven't seen a single review from any well known outlets that even mention spending any time in an actual squad with mics. It's like reviewing WoW by trying to do a raid by yourself, it's missing the entire goddamn point. Maybe a better example would be trying to play multiplayer ARMA or SOCOM by yourself, without any tutorial. 95% of the players who stick around do so because they got into a corporation relatively quickly, and now play in proper squads." Director Baal Roo of Subdreddit, a 500-men strong Corporation affiliated with the Test Alliance and the Honey Badger Coalition.
"Is it as terrible as certain people claim it to be?" Redditor hsamuel82 asks. "Absolutely not. I feel that the game caters to a certain crowd and a lot of the negativity that this game is receiving is coming from CoD fan boys who don't like it because it's not CoD. The game does have some issues that are being worked on but overall it's a really fun experience."
They add. "The biggest thing that you need to do is get into a squad, be social, join a player owned corporation, and utilize tactics to win matches. You can spend months going into matches solo and then you go into a match with one organized squad and it's a complete game changer."
Or be obsessed with self-improvement. More than one 'Dustie' professed to a fascination with the torrent of available fittings. "Basically it's tinkerers paradise. It's about filling your role in the squad (hello scanners and revivers) vs your role on the battlefield (hello hacking ghosts) -- it's all about squad WP anyway. If you're bored with shooting people in the face, then you can branch out and fill other roles quite nicely, which gives you a reason to tinker more. Hell, some of us spend more time in fitting room than in battles." Redditor spoitter quipped.
It also helps that CCP Games is so gung-ho about improving Dust 514. The forums thrum with activity. Developers are constantly fielding questions, assuaging concerns and engaging in discussion. Over e-mail, Creative Director Atli Sveinsson confirmed this would continue to be a thing
"We are very committed to the monthly iterations for the remainder of the year, but early next year we should start seeing more of these remaining features - " Player trading, increased sandbox elements, and a greater flow resources between the two games are all variables that Sveinsson is hoping to introduce. "- come online. It is of course unknown territory, even to us, to link the games this heavily on the economic and resources front, but it's something that we cannot wait to explore with our players. We will have more information on what is coming up at EVE Vegas later in October."
In spite of DUST 514's problematic birth, Creative Director Atli Mar Sveinsson says he wouldn't have it any other way.
"DUST is a complex software project, and after developing the game and its tech for a few years, we had to get it out to more people to get feedback. Of course, there were (and still are) mechanics that were not up to the standard we or the community wanted, and I think you can agree with us on that, but waiting was not an option. It has been fantastic for us to get the game out there, in the hands of both media and players. The team is using this feedback to focus on addressing the most critical issues with the game. Some examples of these iterations can be seen in the work that the team has done on the aim assist systems, progression tuning, equipment and module mechanics, and even map layouts."
He is more than candid about Dust 514's wildly differing scores. "The core shooter experience (which accounts for most of the negative scores) was not tight enough, and that's something which we have been addressing aggressively in the last few months with our monthly iterations of the game."
The efforts aren't going unappreciated. One Redditor compared the rapid-fire updates to 'getting a new Call of Duty every month'. More cautious individuals, such as TheRaggedQueen, are warily optimistic.
"While the game still suffers from a number of problems, seeing CCP quickly and efficiently at least attempt to solve each of them (though in some cases, they're simply putting band-aids over gashes) shows that they care about making Dust a contender in the FPS market, and given their work with EvE, I'm reasonably confident that they will succeed. It...just might take a while."
The players themselves have been taking an active role in the game's betterment by following in their intergalactic brethren footsteps. Not too long ago, a web of coalitions and corporations banded together in a bid to upstage EoN, a sprawling guild of mercenaries that ruled over more than three fourth of the game. They failed. But the leaders from those involved were pleased. In a recent interview, Subdreddit director and HAV specialist NINJAPIRATEROBOTZOMBIE (NPRZ) explained the reason behind the revolt.
"It's all about getting the community together to play Dust 514. It's not about getting ISK or districts for Subdreddit or any other corporations. Many of us complain and QQ in the forums about PC, but we all share part of the blame."
NPRZ continued. "So far, EoN has managed to win most fights and defend their districts. The coalition's corporations are seeing the number of online players double and triple, however. Many are getting valued experience playing at a level higher than they are used to by joining in on these PC fights. Lots of friendships are being made between players and corporations that would otherwise not have been possible. Eve-side support has also been present throughout the war-the war is keeping the two communities connected. There have been a lot of positive gains for both the coalition, and the Dust 514 community as a whole."
But is this budding enthusiasm universal? Not quite. Marc Scaurus, like many others, doesn't appear to be buying into the ideal. The Managing Editor at The Mittani (Ed's note: Scaurus also works for Sony Online Entertainment which produces Planetside 2.) , a gaming website built on the reputation of one of the most notorious EVE capsuleers in history, Scaurus says that there was 'no real grand invasion.'
"The two attempts to overthrow [EoN] were essentially from the rest of the Dust community that cares about such things, and fizzled out"
Much of the problem with DUST 514, according to Scaurus, is simply the fact that there is no meaningful link between the DUST 514 and EVE Online economies, a problematic situation given the business-like undertones of the latter. He doesn't think it's possible for CCP Games to grow DUST 514 the same way they have developed EVE Online either. The numbers are certainly telling. Scaurus said that the amount of Dust 514's concurrent players tops out at 3000, a paltry figure compared to EVE Online.
It's still up in the air as to whether Dust 514's proponents or naysayers are right. In a recent, slightly confusing interview with Eurogamer, CEO Hilmar Petursson explained that the company is intent on eating their vegetables rather than having dessert. Regardless of what the future may hold, one thing's clear. CCP Games has yet to give up and neither has its most diehard fans.