Dust is one of the most visually-impressive action games I’ve ever seen. And it’s made by mostly one dude. But the roots didn’t go deep enough to warrant a lasting relationship.
There might be something wrong with a combat system when you want to skip past all the enemies.
Dust needs more tension in the combat department
As far as I can tell, Dust is about combo farming. Not batting an eyelash, it was easy to end up with a 150-hit combo on common enemies. More difficult were the achievements and quest for getting the coveted “C-C-C-Combo breaker” 1000-hit combo. The problem is that the gist of enemies register higher in “annoying” than “challenging-at-all.” There’s no risk to most encounters. It’s just you juggling enemies.
Sure you can flip the difficulty up to Hardcore and just deal with punishing damage whenever you’re hit. But that only gives incentive to juggling and combo farming further. With how often I have foes in the air, I never feel like I have enough chance to learn timing or enemy tells, especially when the enemies swarm.
Boss battles degenerate into potion spamming. And by the time they show up, I haven’t been taught how to respond to attacks yet. Again, it turns into combo farming when I get a hit in.
Kudos to Humble Hearts for including parrying and a complex combo/juggle system. The whirling blade mechanic flows in a way that I’ve never seen in any other game. It keeps the juggles flowing. But this is turn-on stuff, not long-term relationship stuff. While getting a good combo rolling challenges players, I can’t help but feel like the core risk of combat has been sucked out.
When traversal includes combat, some level of that combat should be rewarding enough to keep playing. In terms of overarching mechanics, that’s present: items and cash drop from enemies to give incentive to fight. But again, if this is an action game, I want more tension in my conflict: not near-endless-juggling challenges.
I get the impression that Dean Dodrill achieved every goal that he had for Dust. It casts players into a rich world with colorful characters that looks beautiful all the time, especially when Dust is swinging blades. It has polish and consistency across systems that’s uncommon in indie games. But I wish the combat had enough tension to keep me hooked.