The free to play model is slowly but surely sweeping through the gaming world. What started with MMOs and mobile games is now starting to gain a foothold on consoles, and its prime exponent looks set to be Dust 514, CCP’s huge multiplayer shooter set in the EVE Online Universe.

It seems oddly fitting that a game whose battles range across a whole planet is looking to bring about such a seismic shift in how we pay for games and from the closed beta glimpse we’ve had, it certainly doesn’t look like CCP are skimping on features.

Dust 514 has grand ambitions, mixing together the FPS and the MMO, linking events in one game with events in another, and allowing player corporations control over a variety of intrinsic gameplay elements. They’re all worthy ideas, and they promise to create an intriguing, deep background for the battles you’re going to be fighting. But are console gamers really ready for that sort of investment, and can CCP build a combat framework strong enough that people will keep coming back for more?

It’s fair to say that the fights in the game are large. Breathtakingly so sometimes. There’s an intricate class selection system that lets you build a character who specialises in one of four disciplines – the rocket launcher toting heavy, the sniping scout, the triage dispensing medic and the Jack-of-all-trades infantryman – as you start out with but scant equipment, a purse full of coins, and no real idea what’s going on.

Each of your characters has a customisable dropsuit, a collection of weapons and selection of buffs to select from before being hurled into the fray. Most of the items and guns you have are limited to a certain number of uses and, once they’re gone, you’ll have to spend some cash to buy new ones. That’s where the free-to-play model comes in; you’ll earn cash through playing or, if you’re in a rush for extra firepower, you can always flash your credit card.

Communication forms an integral part of your arsenal too, as does staying close enough to other soldiers that your complimentary skills can help each other out. Sometimes, especially when you’re lower level, you do feel a little anonymous, a disposable grunt rather than an integral cog. The balancing needs a little work, with higher level players able to shrug off concentrated attacks far too easily.

All that said the scope of Dust 514 is stunning. The map we had to play was all about defending or attacking the control points of a massive orbital cannon, while high above the battlefield an enormous spaceship hovered ominously, ready to land once its drop teams had secured a landing site.

CCP need to find the right balance between the lore of EVE Online and the pick up and play nature of a freemium game. In this early build the menus feel a little overwhelming, an oddly staid precursor to the chaos and carnage awaiting beyond. If they can manage that and keep the epic maps focused then Dust 514 could turn into something very special indeed.

For: PS3
Developer: CCP Games
Publisher: CCP Games
When? Q3/Q4 2012