The game starts with an animated cutscene of the game's main antagonist, The Kid, cheating in a game of cards against the Stranger, the player's character. After stabbing the cheating Kid in the hand, the Stranger rushes out into the night and arrives at the small desert town of Diamondback.
The Stranger may have bested The Kid, but he had paid dearly for the privilege. He had no gun, no friends, and only a few dollars in his pocket. If he wanted to live longer than tomorrow, he'd have to find these things. Was he desperate? Let's be charitable; The Stranger, WAS, when we first met him, crow bait! Granted, Diamondback may not have looked like much either, still, we had everything he needed to survive!
The player is left at the entrance to Diamondback and begins to encounter the denizens as he explores. Over the course of the game the player saves the town from arsonists, is appointed sheriff, engages in quick draw duels, solves puzzles, and travels to the strange Underworld.
There are 4 possible endings.
The entire game takes place in and around the fictional town of Diamondback, New Mexico in 1882. Nearly all the buildings, homes, and outdoor locations in the town are explorable.
Gameplay follows a traditional point-and-click system common to adventure games of the time such as Myst. Gameplay is mostly linear, though the player has the option of which order he wants to complete quests or the way he wants to complete a quest - for example, on the first night in Diamondback, the player can complete a quest to spend the night for free at the Mayor's house, or he can pay to stay at the local hotel. The game world exists of pre-rendered static environments with interactive objects and animated characters overlaid on the environments. Movement around the game world is accomplished by moving the mouse cursor to the edges of the screen and clicking to move in the desired direction. Players explore the game world with the mouse cursor to roll over interactive objects, doorways, and characters. Gunplay is also integrated into Dust where the mouse cursor becomes a crosshair and the player moves the cursor over targets to shoot. There are multiple mini-games and puzzles in Dust including Black Jack, Poker, Slot Machines, and shooting ranges.
Dust makes use of extensive semi-motion-video provided by live actors. Frequent photographs are shown in sync with audio to create the illusion of live full-motion-video. Over 35 actors comprise the comprehensive conversation system in the game. Players choose from several branching topics of conversation that was considered quite extensive at the time. The conversation system is critical to the advancement of the story as well as completion of quests.
The Stranger - the protagonist and the player the character plays as
The Kid - the main antagonist
Buick Riviera - a French traveler and resident con man in Diamondback
Help - a character in the game that provides tips and hints if the player gets stuck on a certain puzzle
Leroy - town drunk
Oona Canute - owner/manager of the Diamondback bar, the Harddrive Saloon
Sophie Delacasino - local performer/singer