Legend of Galactic
Things change as one gets older, and I’m no exception. As I’ve aged from a fresh-faced, idealistic young nerd into a jaded, wrinkly older nerd, my preferences and tastes have also changed, with one major exception: my love of space combat. Few things get me to nerd out like the thought of huge ships, slugging it out against the backdrop of space. Beams,missiles and the occasional bullet crossing the blackness beyond to thud against armor or fizzle against shields.
For me, a childhood spent in the heyday of space-shooters like Wing Commander, Freespace, and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter conditioned a Pavlovian response so strong that I even mark Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare as one of my favorites of the CoD franchise because it has decent space combat in it.
That in mind, Dreadnought looks like it’s aimed straight at my heart, because it’s all about the ship combat in Yager’s new space brawler. Can this “Giant Spaceship Hero Shooter” carve a docking berth in player’s hearts?
Dreadnought (PC, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Yager Interactive
Publisher: Grey Box Studios
Released: December 5, 2017 (PS4), Open Beta (PC)
MSRP: Free to play, premium currency packs starting at $4.99
Like the instantly appealing teaser trailer that heralded its arrival, Dreadnought makes a good first impression by focusing on a somewhat underappreciated aspect of ship combat: dueling capital ships. Whereas most games of the space shooter’s halcyon days focused on fighter-based combat, Dreadnought‘s playable craft begin by dwarfing the X-Wings and Vipers of the sci-fi world. It doesn’t sound like much, but the ability to directly control a big ship in a game without having that game be a strategy title is a lot. Best of all, Yager have also managed to approximate the “feel” of that style of combat as well.
Key to the presentation is the game’s sense of speed, or rather, the lack of it. Even when driving the nimblest corvette-class ships, any given match in Dreadnought unfolds at a stately, deliberate pace. These ships are massive blocks of weapons, armor, and engines, and behave accordingly, requiring players to think a few moves ahead whenever making decisions in combat. In the bulkier craft, like the titular dreadnoughts, a wrong turn can mean the difference between a kill and a trip to the respawn menu.
Mind, this isn’t to say that Dreadnought is necessarily “realistic”, seeing as there’s no such thing as space combat at this time, but the point is that the game effectively evokes the fictional conventions that have informed how folks tend to think of space combat. It’s more Battlestar Galactica or Gundam than The Expanse, so players should expect a more pop-sci-fi approach to the proceedings. Those awaiting the next Independence War, or even a space combat game with a narrative campaign, will have to keep waiting.
Yager also puts on a good fireworks display. The ship models in Dreadnought are varied and complex, each ship bristling with animated turrets, beam emitters, and other flashy weapons capable of putting on an impressive light show. Fights, particularly between the larger ships, look like a constant stream of tracer projectiles intersected by missile volleys, anti-missile lasers, and the occasional nuclear torpedo explosion. One particularly joyful animation is when one launches a flight of missiles, as multiple launch doors swing open on your ship’s hull to discharge their payload. The one downside is the fact that all these effects make the game a bit hard to read. Despite being released for PS4 first, Dreadnought‘s UI scaling appears rooted in the PC beta, meaning text is very difficult to read even from a few feet away.
Underlying the spectacle is a multiplayer combat system most evocative of Wargaming’s World of Tanks. Every ship is divided and specialized along class lines. Agile Corvettes move fast and can typically conduct a short-distance warp jump, allowing them to maneuver into enemy blind-spots and hunt down vulnerable ships. One such ship is the Artillery Cruiser, which is basically a really big gun strapped to an engine. The “snipers” of Dreadnought‘s team dynamic, Artillery Cruisers hang back, hiding behind cloaking devices and picking off powerful targets at range. Those powerful targets are usually the Destroyers, which are all-around medium-range brawlers, and the heavily armored Dreadnoughts, which can crush practically anything they can catch up with. Supporting the effort is the Tactical Cruiser, which wields repair beams, EMP devices, and other exotic powers to defend the team or hamper enemies.
The similarities to World of Tanks also continues with Dreadnought‘s progression and upgrade system. Ship models are divided into matchmaking “tiers” based on power, and upgrading to a new-tier ship model typically requires purchasing all the available upgrades for a ship on the previous tier. These upgrades are purchased with credits and unlocked with experience, both of which are awarded by playing matches. Only a few hours of play are needed to push into the mid-tiers, but escalating upgrade requirements ensure that it’ll take a while before one unlocks everything.
This being a free-to-play game, one can’t help but wonder what real money can buy a well-funded Dreadnought player. The answer is, honestly, not that much. The game sells packs of credits via the PlayStation Store, and those credits can be used to purchase “hero ships”. Hero ships are customized variants of existing ship models, and bring unique powers and performance profiles to the team in exchange for a locked suite of abilities. For example, one hero Tactical Cruiser trades its ability to heal teammates consistently for a damage-dealing main weapon. As such, unlocking a hero ship is more about enabling an exotic playstyle or breaking a certain classes’ “rules” than it is about buying an advantage.
Customization options for the regular ships can be purchased for credits, ranging from simple decals to elaborately sculpted hull ornaments. Outside of paint jobs, though, the camera angles and distances involved in play usually mean that one won’t see the cosmetic changes (unless at ramming range). Lastly, multipliers for experience and credit gain can be purchased to mitigate the grind somewhat. Given that the grind at upper tiers can be considerable, this is probably where money is most wisely spent, but so far, it doesn’t look like well-heeled players can buy their way to victory at this time.
The available play modes also emphasize PVP clashes, and are usually based on Team Deathmatch. Onslaught mode adds a MOBA-like twist, spawning AI-controlled ships that are worth varying amounts of victory points. The PS4 also hosts an exclusive PVE mode, Havoc, which pits teams of three players against waves of AI hostiles. The modes are enjoyable enough, though load times can be rather long on my base-model PS4.
A more concerning issue is the same one endemic to most multiplayer games not backed by a major publisher: Empty servers. Though finding matches was not a problem, I only encountered a fully-populated session about 20% of the time, with one or more players on either side replaced by a bot. Perhaps this was due to my timezone, but the lack of players has me somewhat worried. If nothing else, its status as a free-to-play title means that just checking the servers costs an interested player nothing but time.
Dreadnought is off to a good start. Whether Yager’s pretty, engaging space battler has long-term legs will depend on how it grows the ship roster, and on how many people, overall, are willing to commit.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Dreadnought reviewed by Josh Tolentino
Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score: The destructoid reviews guide