All the hypotheticals will come to nothing if the shooting doesn’t captivate
ust 514 was a shooter both nourished and suffocated by its link to the cutthroat cosmos of Eve Online. Launched in 2013 and shuttered three years later, it tantalised with the prospect of two genres working in tandem within one universe – Dust players fighting across Eve’s own planets for the glory of Eve’s own corporations, while starship captains shelled them from orbit. Sadly, its dreary gunplay paled before the richness of player drama offered by the long-running MMO. While it’s starting from stronger foundations, Dust’s successor Project Nova already looks like it might end up the same way.
CCP has, in fairness, learned a lot from the first game’s fate. The shooting still lacks charisma but is a definite step up, closer in terms of pace, handling and map dimensions to Halo than Dust, with a streamlined class system in place of the previous game’s opaque loadout management. While hardly novel, the guns and abilities lend themselves to some passable teamplay strategies: a sniper using her active camo and hover jets to flank a horde, for example, while comrades pop healing auras and build turrets on preset pads near the objective. Nova’s aesthetic is just as gloomy and unloveable as Dust’s, but the fact that scraps now unfold on starship hulls rather than planets at least makes for some spectacular backdrops, with frigates circling over the carnage like angry seabirds.
All this reflects the studio’s belated realisation that an Eve shooter can’t trade on its Eve elements alone – a realisation that saw it enlisting Sumo Digital’s new Nottingham studio, made up of Crytek veterans, to develop Nova’s core, while moving the old Dust team back to CCP’s Reykjavik offices to strengthen ties to the MMO. “It has to be fun to kill someone, over and over again,” game director Snorri Árnason tells us. “It can’t rely on other mechanics that are not part of the game to keep it sustainable.” A worthy agenda indeed, but Nova doesn’t strike us yet as a game that can excel on its own merits, and other developer remarks suggest a lack of confidence in the underpinnings. Árnason observes that Nova’s team-based wave survival mode Onslaught might “mirror” the role of asteroid-mining in Eve Online – that is, something that is “inherently not really fun”, but a relaxing way of grinding out resources. Game director
Steven Clark, meanwhile, comments a little tellingly that CCP’s fans have been hankering for “something they could pick up and play for 15 minutes while they’re waiting for something to happen in Eve”. Is Nova an experience in itself, then, or just a way for fans to fill time?
The upshot is that the game’s most intriguing element is once again its connection to the MMO that spawned it, which CCP is reluctant to discuss at the time of writing: the developer’s hope is to sell players on Nova’s shooting, then slowly introduce the Eve meta-layer in line with community feedback. The key word, though, is “asymmetrical”. Events in each game do not transfer across directly and in realtime, but pass through a ‘translation layer’ which gives CCP more control over the effects; this also avoids the problem of each game’s networking features (such as voice chat) being dependent on the other, which means that CCP won’t
have to take Nova offline whenever it performs a major update on Eve.
Árnason gives the example of an attack on a starbase in Eve triggering a clash across the station’s surface in Nova, the outcome of which feeds back into the MMO. “The Eve owner might get a message that says, ‘Your Citadel was sabotaged, your reinforcement timer is now minus two.’ That would scare a lot of Eve players, because the whole game is about making sure you’re defending on your reinforcement timers.” The MMO’s unique ‘time dilation’ feature makes tethering its engagements to those of Nova difficult, however. For the most part, Árnason feels the best way to achieve symbiosis between games is via their economies: a Nova player might harvest black oil, for instance, to flog to Eve players via an auction house.
All these hypotheticals will come to nothing, however, if the shooting doesn’t captivate. The concept of an FPS fighting its corner within an MMO is still arresting, and
Nova is very much a game that aims to set wrongs right: CCP’s caution about speculating beyond the fundamentals is probably the correct tack to take. But a project with a long tail still needs to make a good first impression, and where Dust felt like it might make history,
Nova seems like history on repeat.
Nova runs on Unreal Engine 4 with a performance target of 60 frames per second. Many character and enemy concepts return from Dust 514, but each has been totally rebuilt
The game’s default sidearm is a beefy handcannon that shoots explosive rounds, good for the odd multikill. It’ll blow you up too if you fire at point-blank range
ABOVE The AI’s switching between objectives and player-killing can be exciting, but enemies too often behave like creeps in MOBAs – you rarely feel like you’re having a one-on-one fight.MAIN Among the tougher enemies is this mantisclawed elite, which can teleport short distances while rushing you. Fortunately, you’re endowed with a powerful melee attack.RIGHT CCP has Eve- sized ambitions for Nova’s economy and social aspects – think in-game corporations, espionage elements and custom starbases – but these may take years