E3 2011: Dust 514

By Jeff Mattas, Jun 10, 2011 4:45pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: Dust 514 is a an incredibly ambitious massively-multiplayer shooter, tied directly to EVE Online, the internationally acclaimed space-faring sandbox MMO. Whereas EVE Online allows players to choose one role from a variety of specific professions and strategically participate in a persistent universe that accommodates up to 360,000 simultaneous players (and is PC-only), Dust 514 is a PlayStation 3-exclusive title (not coming to PC) that will allow console players to form factions and take part in battles orchestrated by EVE Online players, with events in each game being instantly reflected in the other.

THE DEMO: In a closed-door meeting at E3, developer CCP gave an overview of EVE Online's evolution, teased a bit of the June 21-due (free) expansion called Incarna, and explained how Dust 514 will blend entirely new gameplay into EVE Online's persistent universe.

It was also revealed that events in each game will inform the other in real time, and PS3 gamers playing Dust 514 will be able to communicate directly with PC gamers playing EVE Online. In a nutshell, despite providing completely different types of gameplay on two completely different platforms--space-based strategy and action in EVE Online, and planet-based combat in Dust 514--both games take place in the same universe, at the same time.

DETAILS: To provide some context for Dust 514, the behind closed-door presentation began with an example of EVE Online's emergent, player-driven gameplay. A "pretty-old" map of EVE Online's solar system was shown (it's huge), showing each of the game's numerous Alliances ("super-groups" of allied players, around 1000-5000 players, each) and their controlled territories. It was explained that a relatively weak Alliance called Stain (comprised primarily of Nordic and French gamers), kept attacking a much more powerful Alliance (primarily Russians), despite repeated defeats. It was only after the Russian alliance dispatched spies that they discovered that the Stain Alliance was being funded by a third Alliance (of American players). Upon discovering this, the Russians blocked the trade route between the two conspiring factions. It's these same types of player-created (and driven) objectives that will inform the action in Dust 514, albeit on a planetary level.

Prior to diving into more information about Dust 514, developer CCP also showed off some footage from the June 21-due expansion for EVE Online, called Incarna. The core enhancement provided by the free expansion gives players full-body avatars that allow players to explore space stations (as part of the "Captain's Quarters"). A "New New Player Experience" feature also promises to help teach new pilots more effectively, and all of the game's more than six-hundred turrets are receiving cosmetic enhancements.

Not long ago, EVE Online received an expansion that allowed players to interact with and build upon planets within the galaxy. As it turns out, this was a very important step in making Dust 514 possible.

A brief explanation was given about how players could conquer planets and build infrastructure (in EVE Online). Following the sandbox design ethos, the in-game objectives in both EVE Online and Dust 514 are determined by the players themselves. However, Dust 514 will also include a "High Security Space" for new players that features matchmaking functionality to help teach players the ropes. One player (in EVE Online) might build several sets of structures (like mines or cloning facilities) and defenses on a planet. Another faction might hire a group of mercenaries to conquer the planet, but it's up to them to decide which structures to attack and secure. Capturing a cloning facility on an enemy planet, for example, will enable that faction to more easily create and deploy troops to the front lines. Mercenary corporations formed with friends in both Dust 514 and EVE Online can be enlisted to carry out planet-side portion of the missions, which are played out in sessions of Dust 514 that will accommodate between thirty and forty players at a time, and last an average of twenty minutes.

Some examples were also shown of how Dust 514 will let players customize their character and choose whether to be a specialized pilot (vehicles are also customizable), logistics specialist, or heavily armored infantry. Equipment, weapons, vehicles, armor, and more can be purchased via the EVE Online's primary or secondary (player-driven) market.

Dust 514 aims to add another layer of depth to the (already incredibly deep) universe of EVE Online. Both games compliment each other like two sides of the same coin, with the EVE Online players focused on interstellar control, and Dust 514 players focused on capturing land, riches, and resources by engaging in planet-side firefights.

It will be interesting to see how the PlayStation 3 community reacts to a massively-multiplayer shooter that's directly tethered to such an intricate MMO. Nothing quite like it has been done before, but it seems like CCP's careful and incremental approach to expand the EVE Online universe to a home console via Dust 514 could be a real boon for gamers who want to participate in battles whose outcomes have overarching impact on a huge, persistent galaxy.

Dust 514 is headed exclusively to PlayStation 3 in the Summer of 2012.

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