Dust: the shape of things to come?

Oh CCP, how could you break my heart by having a huge announcement yesterday and not mentioning Vampire even once?

*sob*

But the company that has gained a reputation for out of the box thinking about MMOs may be about to score another winner. Dust is going to be a sci-fi themed planetside FPS, set in the EVE universe, running on consoles, and there will be some kind of interface with EVE Online. Battles fought in Dust will affect the geopolitical landscape in EVE. EVE corps will be able to hire squads of mercenaries in Dust to stake corporate claims on planets — in effect they’ll be supporting player driven quests. And still, the FPS console fans will be playing their FPS console game and the world of spreadsheet-craft MMO fans will be playing their MMO. At least that’s the theory.

Now I find this to be a really exciting concept. I’m not interested in FPS but that’s not the point here. The idea of creating a new aspect to an MMO and implementing it as a fully featured new game on a different platform but letting the two games interface is answering questions that I didn’t even knew I had. Most of all, it’s easy to understand the vision. It’s ambitious, but it is easy to see how this expands the game for the MMO players (adding a whole new feature of managing mercs) as well as for the FPS (having battles tie in to a persistent universe and possibly being paid in game for the privilege).

Pete@Dragonchasers has a perfectly formed rant at a comment I made, which was that this kind of vision made games like Aion and Champions Online look like tired retreads. This is not to say that they might not be great games — I played the Aion beta and liked it a lot. I’m not currently in the mindset for that kind of PvP but I certainly enjoyed similar setups in other games I’ve played, and I have no qualms about saying that if you’re looking for a gorgeous WoW-esque game with a PvP focus, give it a shot. CO simply disappoints me because I don’t think that the levelling/ questing game design really suits superheroes and I was hoping to see a bit more vision in the design (I especially think it’s important for superheroes to be tied in deeply to the city where they live) — but there’s no reason for it not to be a perfectly fun game. Although I am puzzled that I haven’t read many beta reports where people were getting more excited about it, there’s usually a bit more buzz than this.

However, I disagree with his point that MMOs are set in stone and that it’s a bad thing to get excited about new innovations and bored by unimaginitive implementations. Questing was not a bedrock of MMOs until WoW came out. Nor was instancing. Stats and Stat-based actions don’t seem to be a huge part of MMOs like CoH and EVE. Auction houses also don’t have a long history in the genre.

So no. The core of an MMO is playing a character in a large persistent world with lots of other players in it. The rest is negotiable and if it changes then it can get better. But is it fair to complain that a game is too like WoW? Or not similar enough? It certainly is, as long as you give your reasoning.

MMOs are large complex beasts. Only the individual player knows exactly which parts of the cocktail really attracted her to the genre. Is it the huge world? The immersion? The instances? One particular character class? Socialising? The lore? The gameplay? Raids? The UI? So she will cheer when new games build on the parts she likes, and exude meh when they focus on parts which may be cool but aren’t so crucial to her particular game.

For me, Aion mimics some parts of WoW very well, but it misses the expansiveness of the game world. In other words, it actually fails to mimic one of the things I really like about the game. And I dispute Pete’s claim that this indicates burnout. I know I’m not burned out on MMOs, because I’m really enjoying EQ2 at the moment. But EQ2 does feature a very large and expansive gameworld and gameplay that is similar to WoW in some ways and different in others.

I love the huge smorgasbord element of MMOs. And I love games that really feel massive, and immersive, and social. So the idea of being able to play a pilot and charter groups of mercenaries to dominate planets, and know that actual battles are being fought on the ground somewhere to determine the results of those conflicts … that just hits all my buttons even though I don’t even play EVE. Whereas pretty graphics and a nice questline are just pretty graphics and a nice questline.

I’m sure I’ll jump into Aion sometime (I do need to be in the mood for an open PvP game because I find them more intense) and if my husband and his friends fancy CO I’ll probably try that too. But damn if Dust isn’t the one I’m excited about.