Every once in a while, a piece of art or entertainment hits me so hard that I’m inclined to studiously follow its creator’s work, and to investigate their backlog and keep an eye on any upcoming projects. Yager Development stuck so many landings with the poignant Spec Ops: The Line that they earned my instantaneous fandom. I never had a lick of interest in the Dead Island series until they were attached to the sequel, and then I abandoned all curiosity when they were later dropped. Their name carries a lot of power for me.
Their work prior to Spec Ops, however, consists only of a couple of flight combat games that weren’t particularly well received, but their newfound success (critically, at least) with narrative-driven military shooters doesn’t seem to have pulled them from their comfort zone. Their latest title is Dreadnought, another combat-driven flight shooter, this time centered on piloting massive capital ships
Based on my time with the beta, Yager certainly seems to understand the inherent coolness of controlling dreadnoughts, and how this setup differentiates their new game from titles like Elite: Dangerous that focus on nimble single-pilot fighters. Dreadnought is so slow that it feels less like we’re directly piloting these cruisers and more like we’re issuing commands — which is the point. Even the quickest classes are bulky and difficult to maneuver, and as of right now, the reticle speed can’t even be adjusted. It’s not a reflex-centric game; it’s about planning.
This is most immediately evident in the ability to boost power, shields, or defense. Only one can be used at any time, and all three draw from the same universal energy source. So thanks to Yager we now know what it’s like to sit in a captain’s seat and say, “Divert power to shields!” but it also means that any maneuver is a risk, since it cripples remaining strategies until energy recharges. It may seem like a good idea to strengthen shields in a heated firefight, but if the enemy punches through them regardless, I’m suddenly a sitting duck with no exit strategy. Dreadnought is the rare combat-centric multiplayer game that’s in no way twitch-based, and instead rewards careful, considered planning.
Yager also has a keen eye towards the size of battle. Today’s most prominent space simulators (like No Man’s Sky and the aforementioned Elite: Dangerous) put a major emphasis on jaw-dropping scope, and while there’s a time and place for that, there’s also pleasure in seeing space combat scaled down to simple five-on-five arena matches. Dreadnought doesn’t claim to be ambitious, just to do one particular thing well. Similarly, the controls and interface feel polished and sensible. I was able to leave the game for long stretches and easily jump back in without having to reorient myself.
I’ll also note that the ship designs are wonderful and that Yager promises a wide array of them, with loads of options when it comes to customization: missiles, cloaks, defensive systems and so forth. The idea of roaming space in an enormous, personalized capital ship has always appealed to me, and it was one of the few joys in last year’s largely underwhelming Rebel Galaxy. I’d love to see the idea fleshed out, and from what I’ve played of Dreadnought, its visuals and controls absolutely nail the feeling of cruising around in one of these massive vessels. It’s mighty.
The trouble, at least right now, is that it’s disappointingly short on variety. The beta currently only hosts two modes: deathmatch and elimination, both of which essentially offer the same experience with different stakes. What hurts is that there’s very little emphasis on team play. The five classes can heavily vary in terms of maneuvering and survivability, but it’s difficult to distinguish what teammates are doing and what role everyone is ultimately playing. In all of the matches I played, the winning team wound up being the one with the highest number of players who were skilled at doing their own thing.
I suppose that’s what betas are for, though, and the important takeaway from Dreadnought is that it’s got potential based on the terrific visual style and near-flawless handling of the ships. With more modes, more maps and a higher leaning on teamwork, this could be excellent. The full game is scheduled to drop later this year and will be free-to-play, so it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.