The deluge of space sim sandboxes continues with Dual Universe. Making its public alpha debut this week, NovaQuark's single-server MMO looks like a blend of Space Engineers and Star Citizen. Players are free to alter its voxel-based worlds, construct their own buildings, and even modify the underlying systems with custom scripting. The next generation of Minecraft-likes, perhaps? The final version isn't due until the second half of 2020, but early adopters and Kickstarter backers can jump in and take it for a (very early) spin on Thursday, December 6th. Below, an alpha trailer.
It's still early days for Dual Universe, so players jumping in this week will only have one day (initially) to poke around its systems, but the foundation should be there. According to NovaQuark's launch road-map, there's basic harvesting and mining in this version, crafting for building and ship components, and the systems for assembling, saving and sharing creations. It won't be until the first half of 2019 that any kind of larger economy is in place, and the basics of PvP combat will be implemented in the latter half of the year. PvE isn't on the cards - this is a social sandbox game.
This first round of alpha testing is mostly geared towards early Kickstarter backers and those with money to burn. Access to Alpha 1 costs a not-insignificant €120, going down to a significantly more reasonable €60 for access to the second wave of alpha tests due early next year. I can't deny that the game looks impressive (though those dark, sleek sci-fi spacesuits make everyone look far more menacing than they should), but I'm curious to see how it holds up to real server stress and players actively trying to break it.
Plans are for Dual Universe to remain an entirely sandbox game, with combat being exclusively PvP, at least initially. I wonder whether it would be possible to write basic AI for units using the scripting language, but that's a question that likely won't be answered until next year at the earliest. Others games have tried to go the blocky build-em-up MMO route before, such as Boundless, but I gather that one never really caught on. Building and sharing a hand-crafted world sounds great on paper, but it's still mostly theoretical. I'm eager to hear how this first alpha run shakes out.