I’ve been lucky enough to gain access to Novaquarks‘ Dual Universe Beta through the use of shadowy connections (PR reps), arcane ministrations (email) and downright subterfuge (asking politely).
It was a game I only became aware of relatively recently, but one that instantly captured my imagination. I’ve therefore been very keen to see if what appeared in my head matched the reality in any way.
So, while a full ‘review’ covering my thoughts of the Beta and where the game is going will be a week or two off still, I have nevertheless reached a point where I think I can start sharing some of my initial thoughts.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first; this game has only just entered Beta so tech issues, bugs and a myriad of other problems are to be expected. Doubly so because of the scope of the game, which will hopefully become clearer in a moment.
So just what is Dual Universe? Well, it’s an open-world, massively multiplayer space sim/crafting game. Think of what would happen if EVE Online had a baby with Space Engineers, though decided to move to Minecraft to raise it. It (currently) hosts one large solar system with several planets and moons, and of course all the hard-to-render emptiness of space in between. The game is open ended and the current scope is to have all the drama and excitement come from player interactions, rather than scripted content (though I believe that’s not been ruled out yet as well). It sounds cool.
The scope is daunting though. Doubly so when you log in for the first time, hopefully having passed the incredibly slooooooooow tutorial, and you realise you’re on your own.
Take my first session. I spawn and a friend of mine who already has the game gives me the location of his base and suggests I set-down roots near him and the rest of his organisation (think, corporation/guild/clan etc). So I hopped in the speeder that was helpfully provided to all newbies and set off.
It took 45 minutes to fly there (seemed I’d spawned at one of the many markets that was not particularly close to his base). That was less than an 8th of the planets circumference and it took 45 mins in this speeder. Slooow-der more like. amirite.
I arrive, place my territorial claim marker (which allows me to manipulate the land in it’s area) and then started to build a home. Except, that’s the abridged version as in that time I had 4 CTD’s, the sever reset once and completely failed to load on 2 occasions. So in reality, you can add 3 hours to what I just described.
This was rather frustrating, but, partly out of professional courtesy and curiosity I kept coming back over the next two weeks to see what I could wring out of the game, and while there are still the occasional crashes and bugs, they are much less prevalent so the overall stability of the game AND the server has increased dramatically. Definite hats off to Novaquark there.
So what have I found then? Well, once you get past the sheer complexity of the game (it’s really worthwhile checking out some YouTube newbie guides), the massive scope and the feeling of ‘oh god what do i do now’ and just get stuck in, then it begins to shine. In my play time so far I’ve built a (rather stylish) home-base. Worked out how the market and mining works. Collaborated with a corporation to get spare ship parts. Built a space shuttle and flown to their moon-base to play with the sliding front-door. I literally piloted a ship, from my base, into orbit, towards the moon (including a mid-stage flip-and-burn) and landed on another planet. no loading, no crashes (heh).
It was while I was drifting through the mid point of my interplanetary trip that it struck me. I can do anything i want in this game. The mechanics exist to allow a wondrous degree of freedom. The game looks stunning and it’s really satisfying to build something complex that works, such as a space ship.
I already have plans that I have no idea how to complete, but i know are possible from seeing other players attempts. This game has serious promise.
The only issue I see is that the sheer freedom and scope of the game requires a level of complexity orders of magnitude above what most games demand. There are more menus than in EVE Online and Football Manager combined (and THEY are glorified spreadsheet simulators), but, I have to say that while none of the systems or menu’s i’ve used so far have been intuitive, they do operate on a logic that once you do understand it’s possible to muddle your way through pretty effectively.
How that balances long-term against the game-play and the final, lofty goals of the game only time (and my expert review) will tell. As it stands I’m keen to start exploring the game more and trying some of the more complicated options that are available. Check back in a week or two for my Verdict on the beta as it is, but fair warning- whatever the outcome; it will be a long one.