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PAX South: Dreadnought, Take Two

Jason Winter Posted:
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At last year's PAX South, I got my first taste of Dreadnought, Greybox and Yager Studios' upcoming free-to-play spaceship arena battler. It was an enjoyable play session, and I was looking forward to more, but things have been pretty silent since then. The game's still not available to a wide audience, so I wasn't sure what to expect this year during my press demo. I thought I'd see pretty much the same, but I was pleasantly surprised by what had been added since my first look last January.

At its core, the game is still the same. There are five classes of ships – dreadnought, destroyer, corvette, artillery cruiser, and tactical cruiser – each filling a different role. Team Deathmatch is the mode du jour right now, though team elimination “one-and-done” battles are also in the works. Also, it's really pretty.

And that was about the extent of what I learned about Dreadnought last year. I was handed a decked-out ship and went to war, faring reasonably well, though I still fought the controls a bit.

The extra year of development has done the game good. Now, within each of the five classes of ships, there are options for light, medium, and heavy versions of those ships, with their own tweaks to the ship's capabilities, and I got a better look at the customization options – which may have been there last year, but I glossed over in my attempt to just figure out how to not die and be reasonably effective at making the other guy die. You'll equip a primary and secondary weapon, which you can swap between at the push of a button, and there are four additional systems, bound to the 1-4 keys. 1-2 are for offense, 3  for defense, and 4 for movement. There are also four passive abilities you can mix and match to your heart's content, as well as officers that offer additional perks.

And here's the good news, free-to-play fans: All of these options are purchasable only with in-game currency; real money will only go toward cosmetic effects.

So how long will it take you to get fully kitted out? That's still up in the air, though you won't be gimped right out of the gate. You'll start off by choosing one of five “mentor” ships, one for each class, each with a full, but not customizable, loadout. When you've built up enough currency, you can get your own ship and trick it out to your heart's content. I asked about how matchmaking would work and was told it was “in flux,” but it wasn't likely to be an exact tiered system like in World of Tanks and other similar games.

Speaking of Wargaming's titles, I've been playing a lot of World of Warships lately, and Dreadnought reminded me of that, albeit with a few more options and, of course, three-dimensional combat. The additional abilities add an almost MMORPG/hotkey-like feel to things, and you can still assign auxiliary power to weapons, shields, or engines, giving you a quick boost in a tight spot. That was the one control issue that bothered me the most, as it was tied to the middle mouse button and then required me to move my mouse in one of three directions. It wasn't until after my matches this year that I learned you could accomplish the same thing with the F1, F2, and F3 buttons. That's a great improvement over having to mess with my mouse when I'm trying to maneuver.

My Warshipping experience came in handy, too, during the two matches we press-types had against impossible odds – namely, a team of playtesters, whom I was told, “play this all the time.” In my first match, I chose an artillery cruiser, the sniper of the team, and was generally able to find a nice spot to scope out my long-range kills. When someone got too close, I could use my point-defense lasers to take out their rockets and get away with a speed boost. I scored eight kills and we won the first match by exactly one kill and a 100-95 score.

In my second match, I decided to take a tactical cruiser, the support/healer class of ship, which I'd tried last year but had not quite got the hang of. It went better this time, as I was better able to utilize my special abilities to stay latched onto the biggest allied ship I could find, keeping him topped out while he did the heavy lifting – the equivalent of the Team Fortress 2 medic/heavy dynamic. My main weapon damaged foes or healed allies, without requiring any kind of swapping, while my blink warp movement skill let me teleport ahead a short distance to get out of trouble or closer to a friendly. Despite getting zero kills – hey, I was support! – we won yet again, by a 100-95 margin.

Both matches were exciting and tense, and I felt like a... well, I wouldn't say “pro,” so let's go with “capable veteran”... in just my brief time with the game. That's rare for me in this type of game, and I don't know if it speaks more toward that Warships experience bleeding over or toward the game being easier to handle and understand than it was last year. Either way, I'm looking really forward to my next chance to play.

Dreadnought's still in alpha, but the dev team plans on letting a wider audience into the game before too much time has elapsed in 2016. If it sounds good to you, you can sign up for beta on the Dreadnought site right now and await your chance to control the skies.


Jason Winter