A few months ago, CCP Games finally opened up access to their EVE Online tie-in FPS, DUST 514, to a large audience. The closed beta was made up of both gamers who received an invite and anyone who purchased the Mercenary Pack on the PlayStation Store. We spent dozens of hours over the course of the beta exploring New Eden on foot for the first time, and we were mostly pleased with the results.

Before being thrown in to the galaxy-spanning war, new players are given the opportunity to customize their mercenary. After designing their characters, players are then deposited into their own personal Merc Quarters, an instanced room only accessible by its owner. Inside the Merc Quarters, players have control of their avatar from a third-person perspective. Within the room, there are several machines to interact with: the Battle Finder, Character Sheet, Dropsuit Fitting, Vehicle Fitting, and Marketplace. All of this is also accessible from a menu for those in a hurry.

Aesthetically, the menus are nearly identical to EVE. For those who may have been worried that the complexity and fine-tuning of the sci-fi MMO had been lost in the translation to a mass market shooter, fret no more. Between the countless items in the Marketplace to the fitting of both characters and vehicles, players can spend as much time tinkering outside of matches as they can firing rounds on the battlefield.

DUST 514 Closed Beta Preview 1

Players gather in the War Room before actually entering the battle. All of the same options are available here, but the room is much larger, harboring social interaction between future combatants. The most impressive feature of the War Room is the Star Map, a fully explorable, graphical representation of the entire EVE universe. Every region, every solar system, and every single planet can be selected and examined. It is quite a sight to behold. Until DUST 514‘s full release, it is also the only indicator of the unthinkable scope that is the EVE universe.

Another neat feature of the War Room are the jumbotrons stationed at the ends of the room, updating the score in real time with every player on each team listed. Once the countdown timer expires, players waiting in the War Room are dropped on to the battlefield. Two basic modes are available – Ambush and Skirmish. Ambush serves as the prototypical team deathmatch mode. Two teams start with a certain amount of clones (lives), and the first to be depleted loses the match.

DUST 514 Closed Beta Preview 2

Skirmish is a more dynamic and tactical mode. In Skirmish, Attackers converge on an outpost held by the Defenders, destroying relays and capturing consoles. The goal of the Defenders is to keep their stations up and running so that the artillery controlled by those consoles can continue blasting the slowly approaching space ship of the opposing team.

At the start of every match, and after each subsequent death, players can choose one of four classes to reenter the battle with: Heavy, Assault, Logistics, and the Scout. Each class is rather self-explanatory, functioning nearly identically to other similar shooters on the market. The infantry combat feels a little stilted compared to a more polished shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3. The recoil is slightly off, aiming from a distance is clunky, and the melee button occasionally appeared to have no effect, but it must be taken into account that this is a beta.

That said, hacking an outpost while the team defends the perimeter is as tense and exciting as any other online shooter, and the rapid deployment vehicles can turn the tide of any firefight. Once CCP nails down the mechanics, DUST 514 could compete with any other triple-A FPS on store shelves.

DUST 514 Closed Beta Preview 3

More than anything else, the potential of DUST 514 is more exciting than the obviously limited amount of content made available for the closed beta. Looking at the Star Map will give even the most jaded FPS players chills when they realize that each and every planet will serve as a separate battleground. Depending on which corporation or alliance has control of those regions, the map will contain different infrastructure. That means thousands of maps, all with their own unique setting. That doesn’t mean however that the maps will be good and it’s evident from the beta that the spaced apart buildings and environments are seemingly random with structures only serving as obstacles.

In Dust 514, it’s all about the metagame. Between the limitless customization for fitting both dropsuits and vehicles, along with the universe full of diverse battlefields, it is hard not to get excited for what CCP is bringing to the table. Plus, it’s free-to-play. All it takes to jump in is a download – everything else is optional.

DUST 514 will be coming exclusively to the PS3 later this year.

Follow me on Twitter @JacobSiegal.