These days first person shooters generally come in two flavours - Space and Military. If you’re lucky, you might get a blend of the two. Firmly straddling both genres is Dust 514, a free-to-play shooter that depicts space warfare on an epic scale. Before you collectively doze off, Dust 514 actually does something different by intertwining with complex MMO EVE Online. It’s certainly ambitious, but does Dust 514 actually succeed?

Set a whopping 21,000 years in the future, the EVE universe depicts a future in which a natural wormhole has led to the discovery of an unexplored galaxy known as New Eden. Taking place within the same ever expanding universe of Eve Online, Dust 514 takes a detour from the spaceship based action of its forbearer to focus on the infantry battles being fought upon the planet surfaces. Taking the role of elite mercenaries aligned to different factions, players are thrust into frantic battles with up to 32 players, all fighting for domination across the planets of New Eden.

Relying heavily on tight team-play and squad based mechanics, Dust 514’s actual gameplay most closely resembles the squad based action of EA’s Battlefield series. Landing upon various different maps based upon the planets of EVE Online, the different modes of Dust 514 will be as familiar to first person shooter junkies as spawn kills and lag. Skirmish and Domination offer Battlefield style fights of control over several hackable cannons, while Ambush offers straight up team deathmatch without the trimmings. Most excitingly, players can form and join corporations in which you’ll accept contracts from EVE players which dramatically affect the universe of both games.

Whilst you’ll spend much of your time waging war on the battlefield, it’s the NeoCom system that makes Dust 514 drastically unique to other shooters. Before each match you’ll be confined to your personal quarters, where many complicated menus need to be conquered in order to emerge victorious. While players start off with basic equipment and default loadouts, you’ll need to master the skill tress and sprawling menus of the NeoCom to gain better weapons and new abilities. Skill points and ISK currency are rare commodities in Dust 514, and spending time learning how to upgrade your soldier is as important as the combat itself.

The NeoCom gives Dust 514 a welcome depth unseen in most shooters, but the free-to-play nature of the game also raises some issues. With item upgrades and skills costing hefty points, players can improve more quickly by spending real cash in the market. Whilst developer CCP have affirmed that those who spend oodles of cash won’t get an unfair advantage, it’s hard not to be concerned with the sheer amount of players running amok with skill boosting augmentations. Unfortunately, those who aren’t coming into Dust with the intent of parting with their cash will need to put many hours in before they can survive encounters with better equipped players.  

As a free to play title that’s endured a lengthy beta, certain technical issues and bugs should be forgiven. Unfortunately, we still feel distinctly underwhelmed by the inconsistent visuals of Dust 514. Maps are impressively large and filled with looming dystopian landmarks and J.J Abrams worthy lens flair, but they ultimately lack distinction and personality. Sadly this isn’t helped any further by the extremely muddy textures and frequent graphical bugs. Perhaps most crucially, the fluidity which can make or break a shooter is distinctly lacking, and Dust 514 often feels clunky and unintuitive when it comes to engaging in combat.  

If you’re looking for a tactical shooter which requires a passion for complex menu navigation as well as combat, Dust 514 may impress. Sadly its core gameplay is far from perfect, leaving the unique elements looking like fancy wrapping paper on an underwhelming gift. Dust 514 will continue to evolve, and it deserves to be applauded for its ambition, but it has some way to go before it lives up to the legacy of EVE Online.

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  • Developer: CCP Games
    Publisher: CCP Games
    Release Date: 14/5/13