General game information
Game name: Dual Universe
Release date: August 27, 2020 (Open Beta)
Price: US$6.99 per month (subscription)
Store page: Official website
Genre: Sci-fi sandbox MMO
Open Beta trailer:
MMOs have come a long way since World of Warcraft took over the genre by storm, inspiring countless companies to try and make the eventual WoW-killer (which never came). They’ve come so far along in fact, that we are now getting a good number of sandbox titles that seem to be doing what Ultima Online was doing back at the very beginning of the genre. One of these games is the subject of today’s preview, as I’ve had almost a month’s worth of time with Dual Universe, a mesmerizing creation that takes a lot of cues from different genres and mixes them into a rough but incredibly promising sci-fi sandbox.
The basic premise of Dual Universe is that everything you see can be built by players (and it was probably built by players, considering that there is a sizable amount of people that have been enjoying the game way before I got in, testing the Alpha builds and creating all sorts of things). And when I say everything, I do mean everything. Spaceships? Player-built. Space stations? You betcha. Mining colonies? Why not? Brutalist-looking factories? A lot more than you might think. Even the tutorial (which is excellent, and takes the time to explain a lot of concepts without feeling too overbearing) seems to have created with input from Alpha testers.
The first thing you should do when starting the game (well, the third thing, since the tutorial is pretty much mandatory, and there is a “surrogate system” that I’d recommend for getting your bearings on certain activities) is get yourself a territory unit and scout a good area to claim, so people can’t destroy your stuff when you log off (unless you are in the Sanctuary moon or a safe zone). This is important, because if you aren’t in a safe zone (or Sanctuary moon) other players can claim the territory you parked at, and then get your stuff quite easily, possibly ruining a few hours of work on your side.
Of course, in order to build all the stuff you’ll find in this universe, people need the right tools, and a way to obtain resources. Developers Novaquark were all too happy to oblige, and the game world is made up of voxels, providing the perfect sandbox for players to express themselves in. In a way, it can be compared to Minecraft, though in Dual Universe‘s case, those voxels have physical properties that set the rules for the kind of things we can do with them. This means that we won’t see too many weird floating things held together with duct tape, and that anything we construct in the world will require a certain degree of planning, if we intend for it to last (and believe me, you do).
So, resource extraction? Have you ever played one of these factory building games like Factorio or Satisfactory? If you haven’t, then don’t be discouraged by this mention, as this is not a mandatory requirement for would-be Dual Universe adventurers. You can get resources with your own hands (well, provided you equip and use the appropriate tools), but you will get far better results if you scope out a place and create a mining outpost. The whole system is relatively straightforward (and actually quite entertaining, compared to the classic “hit things until resources come out of them” featured in first person survival titles). Players can scan for resources, and then dig them up (in some cases, they are buried pretty deep below the surface), and then it’s a matter of choosing what to do with them. If you plan on staying with Dual Universe for a while, a factory complex is far from the worst idea you could have, though be warned that things aren’t as automated as they seem, and some supervision will go a long way towards ensuring your mining outpost works as intended and doesn’t suddenly decide to get stuck because the wrong thing went into the wrong place.
Once we have those resources, it’s time to turn them into useful stuff, like hovercrafts that enable us to traverse terrain in a fraction of the time we’d take on foot (though they require fuel to operate), or even your very own starship. The construction system is straightforward, and we can save our creations as blueprints, which is pretty nice. As expected from a title that prides itself on community created content, anything we make can be customized at will, though we’ll need to pay attention to basic aerodynamics and materials and don’t go overboard with ship designs unless we wish to get a sort of flying rock that won’t do us any good when it’s time to leave the starting planet and go find our fortune in one of the moons, for instance. Oh, and speaking of spaceflight, always check your fuel load before taking off, you don’t want to end up like I did, let me tell you that.
All this building, resource extracting and claiming talk is nice, but what about skill trees and ability systems? After all, this is an MMO, right? Glad you asked, because there is a skill system (talents) where players can allocate points and train on different specializations. I’d advice against trying to be a jack of all trades (though the option exists and seems to be viable) since from my experience it’s best to focus on a single area at first, and then expand to others should we need to. There’s always the option to join an organization (which would be like a clan) so others can complement your playstyle and get you stuff you can’t currently make, for instance.
So far, I’ve been mostly positive regarding my impressions on the game, but, even though I’d love to be able to give it a glowing recommendation, it currently suffers from a number of issues that I feel must be addressed before it can be adopted by a wider audience. For starters, there are login queues and server instability problems that haven’t been solved since the start of the Open Beta (I’m assuming this stems from the game being more popular than expected, which is a good thing, but the end result can be very annoying nonetheless). Then there’s also the issue of performance, as the game never runs as I’d expect it to run, considering its rough looks, even though I’m playing it on a machine that meets the recommended system requirements (Ryzen 5 3600, 32GB RAM, NVME SSD, 2060 Super). The only other game where I’ve experienced similar troubles is Star Citizen, and in both cases, the server seems to be the culprit, as no matter what I do on my end, performance is still lower than expected. This is not to say that the game is unplayable, but it will often drop below 60fps while at the same time looking like a last generation title in certain areas. I’ve also experienced plenty of crashes (even during the tutorial section).
Regarding the server issues, I’d like to add that since I’m physically based in South America, my experience might not be the same as that of an European or someone from the US, so YMMV there. This is also a title designed to house thousands of players all in the same server, so I’m inclined to cut it some slack there as well, though I hope that things will improve down the line, otherwise I can see this kind of stuff becoming a real problem once the Beta period ends.
The other big thing that I’d like to address is that currently there’s no PvE combat of any sort, so if you are the fighting type, you will have to go the PvP route, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. This is of course more of a personal complaint, as there are plenty of people who enjoy PvP, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a big missed opportunity. Thankfully, you can be an explorer or a crafter and never engage in combat, so there is an option for those who don’t care much about fighting. Trading is a viable career as well, which is something that will be quite familiar to space truckers from a different space focused title, as the economy is entirely player-managed.
Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic for the future of Dual Universe. Novaquark is aiming very high, and from my time with the game, they don’t always hit that mark, but the game they are making is unique enough to make me want to drop in and check my mining outpost from time to time, even if I’m not actively playing it as my main time killer. This is definitely the kind of game that some people can play for years on end, owing to its focus on creativity and exploration.