Dual Universe: The (BETA) Verdict
I’ve been playing the Dual Universe Beta, by Novaquark studios and I’ve reached a point where I think I can comfortably give you my verdict on the game as you’ll likely find it, were you to jump in now.
My initial work-in-progress thoughts on the Beta can be found here.
So then….. what DO I think?
Your mileage is going to vary folks.
I think that’s the overriding impression I get from the game. This impression, such as it is, was actually quite difficult to come by as I’ve yo-yo’d from loving the game, to being bored by it on an almost hourly basis.
It’s a game with tremendous scope, but one that bogs you down in the minutiae.
It’s incredibly well-though out, but with an obtuse and un-intuitive setup.
It’s a blank canvas where the stars are quite literally the limit, but also at times, feels aimless and empty.
Where though, does that leave us.
Well, to start off with the game is remarkably stable for something so complex and large. The intricacy of the systems for which Dual Universe is built on is something to behold, and the fact they (for the most part) just work speaks to some very clever programming and some very clear design ideas. This game has the appearance of something that was designed from the ground-up with a very clear vision, and this shines through the game’s design in everything from it’s graphics to the way the interfaces work.
Granted the logic behind some of the systems, for me at least, was highly un-intuitive and I struggled to just dive in and play the game without having things explained to me (often on Youtube due to the lamentably bad tutorials). But once they were and I’d realised how I was supposed to be thinking it all made sense. At least for whatever aspect it was I was struggling with at the time.
The clearest example of this I can think of is how knowing how to do one aspect, such as mining will not enable you to be able to do something else, such as manufacturing. Now, this may seem an odd thing to say but it’s like each aspect is a separate game within a whole, rather than something that melds together under the same logic. You’d imagine some approaches/systems would share the same structure. Granted, this may be 100% me, and your mileage may vary here, but it did stand out for me.
Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with these systems as I’ve said; they’re all exceptionally well designed and implemented. I do wonder though whether at times the adherence to the design ‘ideal’ that has clearly reaped huge benefits in the core of the game has been left unchecked in others.
For example, buying stuff in the market. The market itself is pretty well designed- again, un-intuitive until you learn the ropes, but then you’re away and all is fine. Except, once I’ve bought something I then have to go to another screen to move it from the market container to MY container before it’s in my inventory. I mentioned this in my preview, but it really stands out. I mean, having to do this does makes sense, it’s logical (once you’re aware of it) but it doesn’t add anything to the game. This extra step adds a level of interaction that just isn’t needed. In fact, by the 3rd or 4th time you’ve made it back to your base only to realise your purchases are still in the market container it becomes more than just an irritation and something you’ll start to loathe.
The skill tree is also exceptionally involved and complex. If you’ve played EVE online you’ll immediately be at home here. You queue your skills to train and they level up even when you’re offline. Each aspect in the game has several (if not more) skills associated with it, and if you want to become proficient in certain areas you are going to have to plan your skill tree accordingly. It will not be possible to train everything, it’s that complex. This is not necessarily a bad thing though and although initially off putting, I’ve settled into it and I’m now just getting on with it.
As for the main aspects in the game, these include aspects such as Mining, industry, building, trade and military/combat. Combat isn’t anything I’ve dipped my toes into yet, but I’ve had a decent amount of time on all the others.
Mining is boring. Like really boring. Again, the mechanics are cool- a scanner to find the rough location so you can dig down to the approximate level for your ore of choice. A second scanner to identify the exact location, and then another tool to dig and extract the ore. But again, 3 tools to do one job (4 if you count the flattening tool), Is this needed? Does it add anything? Sure, thematically it makes sense, it’s logical and works, but it doesn’t bring any extra value. It’s more complexity for complexities sense.
Alternatively you can harvest surface rocks that are everywhere, but each is small, each is randomly located and forces you to trudge over the surface for ages trying to find the ones you need. Again, it makes sense, its logical but… really? Your mileage is really going to vary here.
Industry is another aspect that is exceptionally complex, but is actually one of the systems where this makes sense. I think I could happily lose myself for days in this alone- building complex webs of interconnected manufacturing and synthesis platforms to churn out components that I can use and/or sell. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this but it’s one of the mechanics that fills me with the most excitement. The potential for truly massive manufacturing chains here is simply mind-boggling and for the most part, they’re totally automated- so add the raw materials in one end, get a space engine out of the other. Brilliant stuff.
Another main aspect in the game is flying. In atmosphere it’s fairly weak. The mechanics are there but they don’t quite work as one would expect. Now, a degree of this may be down to just what it is I’m flying, but still. It is remarkably difficult to land where you want to and there’s a huge amount of drift at play here. I get the sense that the atmospheric flight system is just a reworked version of the space one which obviously isn’t perfect, but it works, just about. The volumetric clouds though are joyous.
The space flight-system though is very well done. It’s showing full-Newtonian physics and traversing the gap between moons, flipping half way for a deceleration burn and then ensuring your trajectory is correct never gets old. It’s like a first-person Kerbal Space Program, only you built the ship voxel by voxel. Getting the perfect entry trajectory for either landing or orbit is fantastic and Dual Universe nails the feel here. Space combat is going to be a very interesting thing once it’s fully implemented.
Building though is a mixed bag. The basics are relatively easy to master (again once you’re past the ‘logic reset’ you’ll need to use it) and the complexity of what you and others can build is staggering. Just flying around the market you’ll be shown ships and buildings of incredible design that’ll make you want to figure out just how they did it. Similarly, learning how to make something that doesn’t just look like a box is a milestone in of it’s self. Now, the precision and skill required to make more complicated shapes is something that’s still beyond me, and I can see player-made ‘template’ libraries already being shared, so I’m yet to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing yet, but it’s certainly impressive.
The other thing that’s impressive is the player economy and bartering system. Like someone’s ship? Pay them (or if you’re lucky just ask them) for a blueprint and then you’ll be able to build the same thing once you have all the components at the click of a button. It’s a great system and once the larger organisations get going it will allow them to quickly standardise their fleets/industry/buildings. The scope here is huge. it also makes supply chains and industry incredibly important- when (not if, but when) the big organisation wars kick off, supply lines are actually going to matter. It’s cool. It’s ambitious. It’s daunting.
Seriously though, it is quite a daunting game. It seems to have been built with player specialisation in mind. The skill tree certainly reinforces that. The big orgs are going to want people specialising in mining, some in industry, others in combat, building hauling etc etc. The modifiers and bonuses the skills give players in these areas is really going to make a difference on the grander-scale. For the single-player though? I’m not as convinced.
Sure you can become a hot-shot pilot. But not until you’ve mined the resources necessary to afford the parts to build your ship.
Ok, so what about industry? Yup, you’re going to have to mine there too, at least at first.
Building? get digging.
You get the idea. There is an initial ‘curve’ where you’ll have no choice but to mine and dabble in (at least the basics of) industry before you can start trying something else. Given mining is boring, and industry is PROPER complex, that may become a barrier for a lot of players. It nearly was for me.
As the idea is to have a player-based economy and a dynamically-driven universe this perhaps makes sense- but if we look at the closet analogous game; EVE Online- It has missions and ‘rats’ (npc enemies) to farm, so that if you want to go the combat route? go ahead jump right in. Want to do industry? Sure, take this to that system. Mining? Well, yeah it’s boring there too- but at least it’s a choice. There are multiple routes there and you don’t have to spend any time doing something you don’t want to (besides the tutorials) before you can jump in. Dual Universe is missing this aspect currently (Beta remember) but it could be something that ultimately hurts the game if it’s not addressed.
On the flip-side, you’ll get back what you put into this game. Join an org, leave the starting planet, pool your resources and all of a sudden everything opens up. It’s still not quite as straightforward as I’d like, but hell- it’s still a Beta, so there’s plenty of scope here. The foundations are mostly solid.
Mostly. There are technical issues and bugs. The biggest concern from a technical point of view is the draw-distance loading. In busy areas for example (particularly the newbie ‘safe’ areas where the vast majority of new players spend their first 10-50 hours) the lag and terrain loading can be very slow. I’ve literally landed a ship after a short flight, only for the ground not to load and for me to be pushed 200m underground in my ship. It was surprisingly enjoyable digging myself out, but that’s beside the point.
Another example was when approaching a market by air only for the game turned into a power-point presentation. The screen froze, I heard an explosion and I spawned back at my base. On returning to the scene of the crime I found the wreckage of my (very expensive) ship on the other side of the mountain that I’d been trying to land near. The ship had clearly gone through in the lag spike and been destroyed. I was not amused.
But again, Beta. These things happen. I just hope given their scope and ambition that this is addressed and that scaling the game isn’t undermined, given this is something that is not sustainable as the game gets more players. I have to say things have improved dramatically during my time in the Beta, but I do worry that this may be a fundamental design issue rather than an optimisation one, but only time will tell.
So, just what are my final thoughts?
It’s tempting just to say ‘your mileage may vary’ again and then run giggling into the sunset. But, I’m not (improbably) going to do that. I think if you’ve got a goal and you can join a like-minded org then you’ll get a lot out of this game. Prepare for the initial game to be a bit of a slog, at least until the tutorials are fixed and whatever early-game content they’re planning is implemented, but once you’re at least partially self-sufficient there’s a lot here to enjoy.
If though, you’re viewing this as a solo or casual game, then I’m not sure I can recommend it for you. You genuinely will get out of this game what you put in but, if you’re not able to put in the necessary grind to get self-sufficient (and that took me over 10 hours) then you’re going to have a hard time finding the motivation to keep going. I fear that the sheer complexity of the game and the dull start will offer quite a barrier to a lot of players. The subscription payment model too is going to have an impact here, as had I not been playing a review copy (and were paying for it instead) I’m not sure I’d have kept going after the first month- I just wasn’t enjoying it enough.
As ever though, you need to take a Beta review in the context of what it is- opinions on an incomplete game, but currently that’s where I stand.
So, If you’ve got lots of time and want to play as part of an org, go for it. If you can only log on once or twice a week and prefer to play alone, then for now at least, I’d pass.
The Verdict (Beta) – On Target
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.