Friday, May 31, 2013

Dust 514: the one week evaluation

..It is a really weird feeling, to gaze out of the windows and see the planet hanging there in space. In a few moments, we will be deployed to its surface.. me and the other mercs. We stand here and wait that final minute until deployment, flexing our muscles, or making last minute adjustments to our combat gear. We will walk on that planet, on it. Walk, run, drive.. and we will probably die on it as well. We die a lot! But that's ok: we are Dust mercs and there is always a next clone. You know that song? "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away"? Not so anymore. We don't fade. We clone..

Speaking of experience: Dust 514 is my first real FPS game. I am normally an Eve pilot (and have been since 2008) and while I tried CoD I couldn't get used to it. If Dust were just another FPS I wouldn't have given it much thought, even if it were made by CCP. But the fact that Dust 514 and Eve Online exist in the same virtual universe, on the same monstrous server cluster.. that makes Dust 514 stand out. I've flown past hundreds of Eve planets, often ignoring them but sometimes admiring their beauty. And now that I am given the chance I sure am going to set foot on them!

And so - much to the delight of my son, who's also an Eve pilot, I bought a second hand PS3 and proceeded to load up Dust 514, for free. We (meaning my son and me) have now played Dust for about a week. Here's my first impressions!
  • "Eve Online is hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror". It may not always be true, but the usual Eve pvp pilot will have experienced this some time, especially when they are involved in sovereignty warfare. But in Dust 514, combat is always readily available. With thousands of mercs online there will always be instant missions or mercenary contracts to execute.
  • Gear you buy is just as easily lost in Dust as in Eve! Losses, like in Eve, are permanent. But as a n00b I fight a lot of instant battles in starter gear and I have a lot of fun without having to worry about losing that, as your new clone will always have the same starter gear. I also don't have to worry about loadouts, I just use default starter fits now. Which also means I am not bothered by the microtransactions side of Dust.
  • Apart from the loss of gear aspect, a kill in Dust doesn't mean much. You certainly can't put it on a killboard. Kills are just stats.
  • Instant battles are usually uncoordinated, spontaneous fights. No leadership, no organized squads, no strategy: everyone just dives right in. This kind of Dust can easily be played solo, but I figure it gets boring over time. For me, as an FPS n00b, it's great fun and a nice learning ground. I think the execution of regular merc contracts requires more coordination, communication and effort.
  • In line with the previous bullet: in instant battles, there's almost no usage of chat channels, voice chat, Skype or anything like that.

  •  The fights take place on fairly large maps. They are diverse, with lots of variation: gullies, buildings, containers, obstacles of all kind everywhere. I don't feel I've played the same map twice, but that's probably just me. I do love exploring the landscape, but unfortunately that tends to get me killed pretty soon..
  • The hacking is nice. Sneak your way to an enemy object, proceed to hack it, and score war points.
  • I have a hard time scoring straight kills. Aiming, firing: I'm getting better at it. But it sometimes feels like I'm emptying clip after clip of ammo, all in vain: the other guy just keeps standing there! When he fires a shot at me, however.. I die. In similar situations my son does score the kill, and gets to walk away in one piece. The difference: FPS experience. I don't have it, he does.
  • Dust has lots of interesting and diverse weapon systems, from handguns to rifles to tanks and large, immobile railgun installations. Car sized vehicles (LAVs) are used to kill mercs too. My son had a blast shooting such vehicles using a large cannon: BOOM! Car gone. Heh.
  • Speaking of LAVs, I think those are overpowered a bit, because they are way too maneuverable. They turn on a dime, while any real vehicle would need more time and space to turn.
  • I've been in battles that had Eve orbital bombardments, but they weren't the 'carpet bombing', shock and awe, match ending events I thought they would be. Which is probably good.

  • The skill tree is absolutely amazing. So much more intuitive than Eve Online's skill system! You can instantly see how skills relate, what you need to train to achieve a certain goal. I hope we get something similar in Eve too, one day.
  • You get skillpoints in two ways: passive sp and combat sp. The latter are obviously earned by doing combat: each fight results in a certain amount of sp that will be added to the mercenary character you used for that fight. This means you can accrue sp on each of your three mercenary characters. Passive skillpoints are automatically accrued to one of them, and you can select (up front) which character will receive them. 
  • In Eve you have to select a skill first, and once you apply the skill queue changes, you will begin earning sp - but on that specific skill only.  Once the skill is fully trained and your queue is empty.. no more skillpoints for your Eve pilot. Dust works exactly the other way around: your selected character always accrues passive skillpoints, 24x7. Once you have enough points for a certain skill, you apply them to that skill to the desired level. Very useful, and no need to worry about skill queues going empty when there's an extended downtime or when you're away on holiday.

  • When I'm in my Mercenary quarters, wouldn't it be natural for me to take off my body armour? I don't expect US marines to be fully battle dressed all the time either..
  • Easier way to see my own 'all time' stats (haven't found that yet)
  • I would love the ability to explore maps without combat.
  • Can't wait to see what Dust 514 combat looks like on lava planets, ice planets..
  • More kills for me :-)

I like Dust, even though - and perhaps because? - I am not a typical FPS gamer. That means that getting the hang of this particular FPS requires some learning. But I can play Dust for 15 minutes and do something useful or meaningful, while Eve Online requires gaming sessions of considerable more length if you want some excitement. I like the concept, I like the combat.. Dust is a keep, for me.
If you have access to a PS3, give it a try! For some extended footage of Dust in action: there's plenty on

(edited for clarity, June 1st)

Friday, May 24, 2013

No lowsec for me

Sometimes, when I’m tired or not in the mood for nullsec shenanigans, I’ll break out my highsec mining alt and have her scoop some ores for a few hours. Usually one of my other (low sp) alts guards her in a battlecruiser; I’d rather defend myself than be an easy ganking victim. But I have to admit that mining in itself remains dull, and so I warped the guard alt to a very easy anom to relieve the boredom. And, well, what do you know, I got an escalation out of it! a lowsec system. Hmm.. I once promised myself never to set foot in lowsec ever again, unless it was to move through to null. That was back in 2009 after some bad experiences. I tried to run some missions in lowsec back then, and I did not like it at all: it was very difficult to do pve there, when everyone else in the neighbourhood just wants to kill you. When you prepare yourself for a specific pve adversary, you’re usually not well equipped to deal with pvp at the same time.. and the risk/reward ratio of the pve involved just wasn’t good enough to justify the hassle.

‘But, hey, it’s four years later, lets give it another try!’I thought. So I got myself a cruiser, fitted it for the rats I was going to face, and set off. You probably can guess how this ended, right? Even though I used dscan every minute or so, I found myself pointed and scrammed when I was about to finish the first room. The Falcon that locked me dampened me effectively, meaning I had no way to inflict any damage at all. The Loki that warped in shortly after, brought the dps to finish me off, including my pod.

I’ve gone over the details of what happened a couple of times in my head, and I can’t figure out what I did wrong. I checked the system out in eve-kill and dotlan, beforehand. It was quiet there; I was aware of who was in local; I never saw probes on dscan (even though checking only thirty seconds or so before being pointed) and once the falcon had me there was no way I could get out anymore.

Again, the problem is, if you’re a casual pve pilot and you get a mission or escalation to lowsec you’re always at a disadvantage. A local pirate will know the surroundings, he probably has ships and supplies nearby (in this case, in the local station) and while you’re pve fitted, he’s pvp fit and out to get you. It’s not really a match, is it? So unless you bring friends - multiple - doing pve in lowsec is, in my experience, an exercise in frustration. Now if the rewards were any good, it might still be worth it, but shooting red crosses in nullsec is much more profitable and much less risky. For this particular anom I could earn a few million, which is hardly enough to justify asking a few friends along, is it? The isk/hour ratio just doesn’t justify that. 

As far as I can see, lowsec is broken from a pve point of view and my pledge to avoid it at all cost has been renewed. No lowsec pve for me ever again, unless CCP significantly revamps the area.