It looked a bit too console-oriented for me, so I started to walk on past the Dreadnought booth, but with some time to kill before my next interview, I decided to check it out. Boy am I glad I did. Of all the games I saw at PAX South, this is the game I think folks need to be watching out for. It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but I had so much fun playing the game that it was ridiculous.
Developed by YAGER and published by Grey Box, Dreadnought will be a five verses five online multiplayer shootout with big ships. It seems to blend elements from World of Tanks and Battlefield into a new style of game that is bound to be a hit because of its wonderfully detailed graphics and intense gameplay.
There are several classes of ships with unique properties. Each class will have a main weapon or ability that’s central to its defining role on the battlefield. Beyond that, you can leverage the shipyard between matches to modify your airship in numerous ways. Make yourself distinct on the battlefield by adding bits of modular flair, or customize your weapons by replacing your projectile turrets with missile mounts. Thrusters can be upgraded for more maneuverability, better shields added, or you can throw in a few fighters.
Talking with the developers, and I also found out that there’ll be something like a reputation system and persistent crew with skills that get better over time. I didn’t hear exactly how the crew skills would work, but I’m guessing something very similar to WoT. Personal reputation is supposed to unlock new perks and powers over time, so there should be a solid sense of progression in the game.
Graphically, I think the game is right up there with some of the best. The look and feel of explosions and the effects of the thrusters pushing these massive ships into new trajectories really looked exquisite. As I fired my port thrusters to push around a rock outcropping during my play session, I was really struck by how well the team managed to portray that sense of lumbering movement you’d expect with ships of this size. I was supposed to be in one of the larger ships in the game and it should have a ton of inertia, so I was really pleased having it react as I expected. There’s a reason the term “coming about” has so much implied weight behind it. I think this is a case where art team and design team really collaborated well to create a graphical story and enriched it deeply with solid programming of the physics.
I was also very impressed how well the weapons were done in the game. My ship had a row of missile batteries down the forward part of the spine. Locking on and firing those missiles was an amazing thing to watch. As the bow disappeared in a fiery bank of smoke and missile exhaust, I was again very aware of how well done the sense of scale was. Behind it all was the wicked-looking laser-fire from one of my team mates sparking off enemy shields. I could have taken a screenshot and it would easily have made a desktop background. Being able to get that in normal game play, should tell you something about how great this game is visually.
There’s a complexity to the game, as well. Each ship has all the customizations and the crew skill mentioned earlier, but they also each have a set of four customizable special abilities. Changing abilities can completely redefine the role of any given ship, so you can’t just spot a hull type and automatically know what you need to worry about with them. There’s also some tactical flexibility in switching power from weapons to shields or engines, and back.
Add in to all that the fact that there are five total ship classes, and each class has multiple ships. It doesn’t take long to realize that one of the critical aspects of this game will be working with friends to find an optimal balance in a given five-ship team. Contributing to that collaborative idea, there is also supposed to be some sort of meta-game for clans to participate in, but no word on what that actually looks like yet.
Space combat is a hard thing to do. Space combat with large ships is an insanely hard thing to do. It’s so difficult to balance the sluggish feel of capital ships without making it boring that very few even attempt it. When you slow the ships down enough to make them feel heavy and give them a sense of scale, it can often slow the pace of a game down and ruin the fun. I’m not sure what the secret is to making capital ship combat fun, but these guys have figured it out and applied it to deadly effect.
I didn’t expect to go to PAX and find team which managed to make a game that makes all that fun, provides for some serious customization, and does it all with such fantastically appealing visuals. I’m really glad I stopped into that booth to give the game a try. Out of all the games I saw at PAX South, I predict Dreadnoght will be the breakout game of the year. It may even be one of those defining games that creates a new genre, and I’m really excited to see what else they can do with it.