The free-to-play payment style for games has been immensely popular lately. Tribes: Ascend and League of Legends are two PC games that I have played consistently for sometime and I have even dropped real dollars in their virtual market places. The trick to making this model work is that the consumer should want to spend money. I’ve bought silly skins or weapon upgrades, not because I needed them to fully enjoy my game, but because they would add something to it that I would want to get out of it personally. Now CCP Games has made a free-to-play FPS for the PS3 called Dust 514. By connecting this new title to their much larger world of Eve Online, and attempting to create an FPS/MMO experience, CCP hopes to bring its own free-to-play experience to the PS3.
Sony has already tried the free-to-play route with DCU Online and Free Realms. While neither game is terrible, they suffer from enough issues both in concept and execution that they haven’t exactly started a splash in the market. The risk/reward from a publishing standpoint of a free-to-play game is pretty straight forward – by not charging a player upfront, one must find ways to charge the player after they start playing. Now, as I mentioned before, games like Tribes: Ascend and League of Legends work within this model well as you don’t actually have to put down real money to enjoy the game, just in order to enhance and tailor it to your own style. Dust 514 does not strictly follow this credo however and this is one its downfalls.
Before we get right to where Dust 514 fails as a free-to-play, let’s first talk about the core game itself. The game offers a pretty standard FPS in a sci-fi setting. While it has an attachment to the Eve Online universe – both in story and design – it really never comes across. While maybe the intention is to get gamers into the other side of CCP’s universe , Dust 514 certainly won’t do that. After setting up your character’s basics, you are greeted by menus…lots of menus. Not just any sort of menus mind you, no, but the dreaded tutorial menu. It’s bad enough when a game loads you upfront by forcing you to perform every possible action in the game before you actually get going, but even worse is when that info is just displayed as massive blocks of text. There is simply no reasonable way to learn the finer points of the game by using this method.
By the time you’ve actually finished creating a loadout for your character (again, unreasonably frustrating), you soon realize why exactly this game fails as a free-to-play. Outside of anything you started with, purchased items have a lifespan. That’s right, if you bought a set of powerful grenades or a powerful rifle, your time with it is numbered. Every time you die, a counter lowers. When the counter reaches 0, you will need to spend more money just to access an item you’ve already bought. While not quite as terrible, the same idea applies to skills and skill points. While much like other free-to-play shooters, some points earned after a round are simply based on your time in-game and others are based on performance. The difference in Dust 514 is that you never quite earn a decent amount no matter how well you or your team is doing. The game also points out how many points you could have earned had you spent the money to buy boosts to earn points faster. Thanks CCP, you’re like a rich kid saying that we could get better grades if we bought a tutor.
So despite hiding the most relevant weapons and skills behind pay walls, Dust 514 does indeed still offer a F2P online shooter with the standard deathmatch and team variations. While the controls and function of the basic game are decent, it just keeps teasing you with disappearing weapons and a slow climb to the top of the skill tree. The graphics are actually pretty decent and the music works really well with the sci-fi FPS setting. Surprisingly, if you just took this game as a multi-player shooter with basic functionality, it would work well. I could have seen this sort of thing getting the greenlight on Steam and selling for around $12. What took me out of the experience was the constant reminder to spend money. Many gamers still have a hard time justifying spending real money on virtual goods, but I think we can all agree that it is ridiculous to spend real money on virtual goods that will quickly disappear and require further payment.
The reason why games like League of Legends, Tribes: Ascend, and even Team Fortress and Planetside 2, work so well is that they don’t actually force you to pay in order to get the full experience out of the game, only to make it even better. There are many in the LoL community who are more than content to play the free weekly character rotation, and Tribes: Ascend can work great if you just want to pick up and play. CCP Game’s Dust 514 might be integrated into the Eve Online universe, but that doesn’t mean it should be given any time on your PS3. Dust 514 earns 2 out of 5 stars. Though the basic run and gun gameplay can be fun, the game’s poor execution as well as a complete failure of the F2P model drags it down to something only hardcore Eve Online fans should even have a passing interest in.