The open beta for Dust 514 is live now, but is it worth the space on your PS3's hard drive? As this is a beta, most of it needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but given they are already giving you the ability to spend money on it with micro-transactions… lets go wild with our thoughts, shall we?

The First Person Shooter Massively Multiplayer Online game has been a bit of an elusive creature to nail down. Twitch reflexes are a staple of the FPS genre, and doesn't tend mix well with the lag inherent in most MMOs. How do they overcome this? By not being an MMO in the sense that most players would think. From the website's FAQ:

"DUST 514 takes place in the massive, persistent EVE Universe, which has been thriving for nearly ten years, contains hundreds of thousands of EVE Online players, and spans thousands of solar systems and individual planets. A major war in the EVE Universe could involve thousands of players at once. DUST 514 can support 24v24 matches in a single battle in a single district on a single planet, and there can be multiple battles on a planet happening simultaneously, impacting each other in real time. The scale of DUST 514 is unprecedented."

You're still going into individual matches rather than the massive persistent worlds one sees in World of Warcraft that we typically associate with MMOs. You'll still end up queuing up in lobbies or hot dropping into a hectic match out of nowhere. They're cute lobbies though, reminding clone mercenaries that public suicide is not allowed. While not as impressive as Planetside 2's large scale battle numbers, Dust's 24v24 dwarfs the average round of Call of Duty, and additionally I've  experienced less lag in these large battles than in some smaller games. Let's hope that keeps up in the full release.

It is however a much heavier game than the average shooter fan may like. Dust 514 is front loaded with a lot of text and tutorials to flesh out its complex progression system. I'd expect nothing less from a tie in game to the infamously complicated EVE Online, but it can get overwhelming. While you can drop into the fight right away without experimenting and customizing, you'd be putting yourself at a severe disadvantage.

For example: I started up a sniper given my penchant for precision. I discovered there was an excessive amount of sway. Leveling up in "Sniper Rifle Operation" lessened the sway, but other snipers were outdoing me. I took note of system feedback messages, noted their gun types, and in the market found they were using more advanced models. I bought a few for myself given my skill was high enough to use them and… couldn't even equip them because my Dropsuit didn't have enough "PG/CPU" (er, think encumbrance limit) to even carry the thing. Having spent all my skill points on making my sniper rifle not sway like I'm having a seizure, I couldn't level up in "Dropsuit Command," nor take levels in one of the specific branches of drop suit types right away, and was stuck with sub-par equipment for sometime. Also, you lose your equipment each time you die as your "cloned" body is lost to the battle field when your mind is moved to a new one, so don't forget to buy your equipment in lots.

That got convoluted fast, didn't it? The fact that not everything is enabled yet and whole sections of the Marketplace are empty of stock just reinforces the thought that this game is going to be dense.

The leveling system itself though is something I surprisingly find I can respect. Personally, I tend to hate levels in competitive games of this sort as it tends to stunt growth, creating the impression that if you didn't get in on the ground floor then you'll just be the newb that'll never catch up, which ends up chasing away new players. By creating a skill for almost everything (each weapon, drop suit type, upgrades, etc), and by making the max level of those skills relatively low, a person could within a reasonable amount of time create a character that matches their play style perfectly and stand toe to toe with veterans at least as far as levels and equipment go. Outside practice and skill, the main advantage of being a veteran is that by continuing to level beyond your comfort zone abilities, you become more flexible. You can save equipment load out configurations before deploying, and each time you die pick a new one for the situation. You may be best with an assault rifle, but when the enemy rolls out a tank, you may be grateful that you can respawn with a "Swarm-Launcher," and be thankful you ground out the levels to have the skills to use it well.

As the new girl on the PlayStation 3 block (due to last Black Friday), I carry a bit of baggage from other consoles and other shooters. Aiming and firing with L1 and R1 takes some getting used to rather than the "triggers" L2 and R2. The hardest thing to get used to though is that every single match I've played has been dead silent. We all may have heard the stories of loud mouth trolls on Xbox live, but even I will put up with a troll if it's calling targets. The most frustrating aspect of the team play is how much strategy is involved that you can't communicate about with pick up groups. Playing in the objective based "Skirmish" mode, I often found myself shouting at deaf ears; you can't hack that objective if you leave the "Clone Reanimation Unit" in enemy hands right behind you because they'll just respawn right behind you before you finish. The smartest thing Microsoft ever did for fostering an online community on Xbox Live was include a headset in the box, but this also means that a team of friends investing in PS3 microphones could likely dominate Dust 514 pretty tidily. I'll be keeping an eye on this Beta for more game types, expansions to the market place, and will cross my fingers for more player customization of your avatar or quarters.

Gameplay is fairly standard for a current generation shooter otherwise. Aim, fire, grenades, sprinting, melee, etc… it's all there. If you're looking for more FPS action, it's free, and you'll likely feel right at home once you get used to the progression system. The graphics are gorgeously stylized (if somewhat gray) and maps are sure to just keep coming given the massive number of planets in the Eve Online universe. I do hope that they find a way to encourage smooth communication between Dust and Eve players though. The importance of these massive player run corporate entities wasn't really felt off the bat; I've yet to experience one of the "Orbital Bombardments" the FAQ is so excited about. Perhaps more corporate branding, making it obvious in game who you're attacking or defending? I'd also love to read player written pitches as to why you as a gun toting mercenary should work for them. Perhaps too much to ask for as the shooting would likely start before I even finished reading, but one can hope, right? All in all, this player just wishes it wasn't a PS3 exclusive so I could drag in more friends to spray some bullets with me and scratch our heads together while trying to find the best skill point investments.

You can check out Dust 514 on their main website and on your PlayStation 3 now.

This article was originally posted on Newbcast Gaming. Like my work? See it first on Newbcast!