Despite the presence in EVE of innumerable guides, the ready availability of helpful players and corporations, and the ease-of-use supplied by an interface designed around a keyboard and mouse, learning how to fit your ship and train your character effectively in EVE can be a difficult task. DUST 514, though an enjoyable and very promising game, has none of these advantages. Even in EVE, many wealthy and long-time players never learn: the killboards have seen enough billion-ISK atrocities with T1 mismatched guns to shake one's belief in our self-classification as sentient.
This article will cover what you need to know in order to hit the ground running (and gunning) in DUST, with the assumption that you just started playing, or are considering starting to play. If you are already a regular DUST player and have a good grip on everything I discuss here, check back for later articles in this series which will broach more advanced topics.
No Attributes, No Queues, No Problems
The skill system in DUST is very heavily influenced by EVE. The various skills enable you to use certain dropsuits (loadouts for your character), vehicles, weapons and modules, and improve the efficacy or lower the requirements of the affected equipment. Just like in EVE, skills are given multipliers, arranged into categories (Mechanics, Electronics, and Weaponry, for instance) and placed within chains of prerequisites and co-dependencies. DUST has a staggering 102 skills: significantly less than EVE, but more than enough to keep you busy training for a very, very long time.
There are, however, very significant differences between the two systems which necessitate a completely different approach to training your character in DUST. First and foremost is the manner in which skill points (SP) are earned. In DUST, like in EVE, SP are earned passively over time -- however, unlike in EVE, this passive accrual is not the primary source of SP. SP are largely earned as a result of your performance in battle: each kill, resupply, hack, revive, repair and assist you make contributes to how much SP you earn at the end of a fight. Typical results range from 2,000 to 4,000 SP per battle. There is currently a hardcap currently in place on your daily "active" (i.e. in battle) SP accrual, but this system is being changed imminently to a weekly limit with a softer cap. The second major difference in the skill system is very interesting and liberating for an EVE player. SP in DUST are placed into a pool which can be saved and later used on any skill at will: there is no skill queue. This means that you can change your mind about your planned progress midway without "wasting" as much time/SP on unneeded skills.
Taken together, these contrasts make training in DUST a substantially different endeavor. Rather than settling in for the better part of Battlecruisers V, you actively earn and then save a majority of your SP. This opens up the risk that you will be constantly be sidetracked rather than training that one high-level or high-multiplier skill, but allows you to play at your own pace and feel an active part of your progression.
Of additional note are the "boosters" available for purchase with AUR. This is Aurum, DUST's real-money currency, which carries the same name as the real-money currency in EVE but is actually useful and purchasable in a various increments from roughly $5 USD up to hundreds. They replace the implant and attribute systems in EVE as the means to increase the rate of SP accrual. These represent the primary reason to spend real money on DUST: "active" boosters, available in 1-day (2,000 AUR), 2-day (3,500 AUR) and 7-day (7,000 AUR), and "passive" boosters which are only available in a seven-day variety (7,000 AUR). The active boosters give you an approximate 50% increase to amount of SP earned per battle, bringing your average haul from roughly 2000-4000 to 3000-6000 SP. The passive option just increases passive growth by a flat 50%, making sleep feel that much more productive.
An exclusive 30-day active booster is available with the DUST "Mercenary Pack." The Pack, which retails for $20 USD, contains that value of AUR (40,000), some forgettable exclusive items and this very valuable booster. I recommend purchasing it. That AUR will go a long way, and 30 days of active boosting alone is worth the lion's share of the price.
When you make a character in DUST, you begin with 500,000 SP. Depending on what you choose for your mercenary's specialty during character creation, you will have a different arrangement of training in related skills, in addition to the remaining free skill points to place in other skills. For instance, if you choose "Enforcer", your character will receive automatic training in the use of assault rifles, nanohives (ammo dispensers), grenades and the scrambler pistol (a semi-automatic, eight-shot pistol). An "Arbiter", on the other hand, receives training in sniper rifles and shield boosting. These decisions matter less than you might think and, to an extent, so do skills: virtually every module in DUST has a "militia" equivalent which, while less effective, are perfectly serviceable and lethal in the hands of an experienced FPS player. People top matches with default/militia loadouts all the time -- player skill outweighs character skills and equipment.
This leads to a question: "Why should I train dropsuit skills at all if I can just use free (or almost free) militia equivalents of the items? Shouldn't I just train into tanks and melt everyone?" The answer is "well, tanks are awesome, but hold on a minute". Dropsuits in DUST have fitting slots and powergrid(PG)/CPU limits just like ships in EVE. While militia items work, even training a single level of the applicable skill(s) will get you improvements in efficacy (larger clip sizes for weapons, for example). More importantly, the "basic"/skill level I versions of modules and weapons require 50% less fitting room compared to their militia counterpats.
All non-vehicle items on the market in DUST have four tiers: Militia, Basic, Enhanced, and Complex. After Militia, these are made available at I, III, and V of the prerequisite skill, respectively. Each post-Militia tier lends significant increases in effectiveness at the expense of more ISK and more PG/CPU. These advantages quickly add up: high-level shield tanking, for instance, easily gives a flat 33% increase to shield HP while increasing the rate of recovery by 50% or more. Even smaller increments make a difference when you find yourself at the end of a gunfight with a dead opponent and 6 hp left. This analogues very well with EVE: incremental advantages add up quickly across an entire fit and across a character's skill sheet.
In our next installment, we will examine the selection of modules, the mechanics of crafting particular fits for various playstyles and how to go about building your character for them. For now, however, you have what you need to start experimenting and figuring out how you want to play the game.