Dreadnought Made Me Feel Like Han Solo

All power to shields.


I had the ship in my sights. All it would take was one warp, a quick volley of my broadside guns, and a hasty escape before I made away with a victory. But my enemy had a plan, too--and it was better than mine.

Things can fall apart quickly in Dreadnought, the interstellar naval game from Yager, developer of the acclaimed Spec Ops: The Line, and its partner SixFoot. At PAX Prime, I mistakenly approached Dreadnought like I might a dogfighting simulator, focusing on twitch reflexes and aerial maneuvers. But while this approach can be useful at times, Dreadnought rewards meticulous approaches much more often.

These naval battles unravel like a scene from Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or Firefly. But I chose a corvette, the ship class that grants me more mobility than my hulking peers in cruiser or artillery vessels. This class allowed me to glide through tight groups of ships, weave around enemies, and cruise past opponents before they had a chance to line up their shots. I was Han Solo, if he had managed to die seven times during Star Wars.

The dynamic between different ship classes, and the modifications I placed inside them, is what fuels battles in Dreadnought. There are five classes to choose from, and three variations of each, with perks to modify your playstyle, and officers that push your preferred approach even farther. Dreadnought's customization is the heart of the experience, and while I saw a variety of possibilities during my demo, I wish I had more time to experiment.

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Take my first team deathmatch, for example. I saw that ship from across a vast vacuum filled with asteroids and space debris, and immediately racked my brain for any encounter that might arise. Is that an artillery ship, which would have the range and firepower to drain my shields in a matter of seconds? Is it a dreadnought with a warp drive equipped, which could close the gap instantly? Or is it a corvette like mine, with evasive tactics and enough speed to outrun most of the shots aimed across its bow?

And just like that, a long range cannon answered my questions. It seared through my shields, left a glowing puddle on my hull, and sent me reeling backward. Before I could divert enough power to my thrusters, an enemy cruiser appeared next to me, unleashing its broadside guns from only feet away. I respawned soon thereafter. But if this was Dreadnought's Team Elimination mode, which only grants one life, it would have been over.

The best part is, I learned a lot from each death. I should have diverted energy to my thrusters right away, as artillery cruisers need time to line up their shots. I should have used my warp drive right away. I should have dove downward, out of the ballistic's path. I should have fired a stasis missile across the void, hoping it would strike its target and render it immobile for just a few seconds. Next time, I thought, I'll fly away unscathed.

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Unlike many space combat games, which focus on fighter-to-fighter dogfights, Dreadnought takes its time. It lets things unravel slowly, only to fall apart all at once. It gives you just enough time to make a plan, only to see someone else's trump your own.

Yager is bringing Dreadnought to closed beta early next year. I only played the game for 30 minutes, but I'm still thinking of all the possible combinations of ship classes, officer perks, and unique abilities. There are so many opportunities for emergent gameplay, and I can't wait to see more of them.

Mike Mahardy on Google+

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