We sat in on every panel, presentation, and round-table discussion, to get the most information on DUST 514 from EVE Fanfest 2012.
Up until a week ago, my fundamental understanding of DUST 514, CCP Games' F2P PS3-exclusive EVE-tied MMOFPS, was shaky at best. A lot of information had been posted via dev blogs and news items and I vaguely comprehended some of the game's underlying mechanics but, without any hands-on experience, it was difficult to visualize any of these systems on a practical level. Thus, from the moment I set foot in Reykjavik, Iceland, to attend EVE Fanfest 2012, one of my main missions was to rectify my ignorance by not only getting some solid hands-on time with DUST 514, but to also attend every presentation, every keynote address and every roundtable discussion that I could get my hands on. The end result of this is that I have a lot of information and a lot more excitement to share on this upcoming title. Allow me to fill you in.
Building The Perfect Soldier
"We have a lot of skills," explained DUST 514 Executive Producer Brandon Laurino as he toggled through dozens upon dozens of skill specializations, including weapon proficiencies, vehicle proficiencies, squad leadership specializations, module specializations and beyond. In fact, DUST 514 soldiers will have so many skills to choose from that Brandon noted it would take up to seven years - shorter with active play - to learn them all.
DUST 514 will employ a skill progression system similar to EVE Online but, instead of actively setting skills to train for a set period of time, DUST soldiers will passively accrue skill points throughout their existence, with players being able to spend those points as they see fit. Actively playing the game will also reward skill points, although no hard numbers have been released regarding either passive or active skill point accrual. There will, however, be a hard cap on hoarding unspent skill points, so players will need to be diligent in investing to avoid losing points to overflow. In the roundtable discussions, Brandon also revealed that players will be able to purchase upgraded clones, in the microtransaction store, to increase their "unspent point cap," so if you're going on a long vacation and don't want to cap out on points too early (thereby wasting all that time), there's an option available for that.
Ultimately, the team's goal with DUST 514 was to give players the ability to create their dropsuit (basically your class loadout) from scratch. Have you always wanted to offload all that armor for a fast-moving, RPG-wielding scout? In DUST 514, it's a simple matter of finding the right proficiencies and getting the skill points to pursue your dreams. Some of the other skill specialization examples given from the Class and Vehicle presentation included things like specializing in personal shield boosters, ammo distribution devices, mobile spawn beacons, AoE shield rechargers, enemy scanning devices, vehicle energy draining weapons, one-use speed boosters and even personal cloaking devices.
For bigger matches, further specializations will come into play, including the opportunity for players to specialize into "squad leader" skills or special recon skills to assist Commanders as they assess and formulate battle plans in large-scale battles. For example, there are plans to implement a fog of war for larger battles where Commanders will need to rely on scouts for advanced information, and scouts will need to specialize in various "levels" of scouting, which affect what sort of information they can quickly communicate while in the field.
Your Armory and Garage
During the DUST 514 keynote speech, Brandon Laurino made the sly remark that their vehicles were "deeper than most characters in other games," and he's not lying. Similar to dropsuits, vehicles in DUST 514 can be customized in virtually any way a player wants, including the ability to equip shield boosters, CPU enhancers, bolt damage modifiers, missile launchers, damage control units, remote armor repairers and beyond. Each turret on a vehicle can be individually customized for a variety of tasks, so expect a lot of diversity among vehicles, even if they share the same base model.
Regarding weaponry, dropsuit, and module depth, the plan is to have three tiers of gear: standard, advanced, and prototype, with a significant number of side-specializations available, like Forge Guns that have higher ammo reserves while losing the ability to hold charged shots for extended periods of time. There are also plans to bring a significant amount of character customization into the game (naturally, considering its microtransaction-based F2P revenue model), including customizable scopes, armor dye kits and - they are considering this one - customizable visors.
Getting access to these more advanced items and vehicles will require players to jump into the persistent world nature of the game, as they will be unlockable via special craftable recipes, with materials gained from controlling districts in the persistent EVE Universe. There are also plans to implement "Agent Missions," where players will engage in PvE fights against rogue drones, with crafting loot dropping from those endeavors. Brandon noted that, while the team ultimately wants to have a completely player-run economy, they obviously won't be able to do that at launch, so they'll be starting with NPCs that supply equipment, and then CCP plans to "move from there."
The Persistent World
Perhaps the most compelling and interesting part of DUST 514 will be the level of interaction it maintains with EVE Online's persistent world. Orbital bombardments aside (I'll get to those in a moment), CCP is being very careful with how it is combining its worlds. In terms of long-term visions, it seems as though the end goal will be to bridge the two worlds via its unified currency system (ISK), along with a symbiotic free market, where key settlements in EVE Online will need to be taken with the help of DUST mercenaries in order to gain access to valuable EVE / DUST crafting materials and supplies. At best, CCP hopes to let ISK flow freely between the two games, but given the sheer amount of ISK possessed by some corporations in EVE, Brandon acknowledged that they may have to impose some form of conversion rate (although he admits it's a rather inelegant solution).
Currently, CCP is warily dialing that level of interactivity up and down as it continues to take in player feedback. It all sounds incredible on paper - cross-game markets and DUST troops fighting on the PlayStation 3 for EVE corporations in a different game - but the consequences could be disastrous if these developments are rushed. Even now, CCP is working hard with the EVE Community to establish the best way to link the two economies. Creating a robust contract system and supporting meaningful relationships between EVE and DUST players are two large hurdles for CCP to overcome in the coming months.