Whether it's the ocean or deep reaches of space, everyone loves a good naval battle scene. Broadside cannons launch across large distances to bombard opposing vessels, scattering crew and debris alike. Coupled with large explosions and even more massive ships, the entire thing makes for great Hollywood scenes. In the case of Dreadnought from development team Yager, the team behind the critically praised Spec Ops: The Line, it has the makings of an intense multiplayer game.
Ready To Launch
At the core of the game are various ships. There are five classes available, ranging from the fast and agile Corvette class of ships to the vulnerable, yet accurate artillery cruiser, and then finally, the dominating and powerful Dreadnoughts. Depending on your style of play, there should be a class available to get you quickly acclimated to gameplay.
But before heading into battle, it's possible to spend a significant amount of time in the hangar, customizing the ships. Various modules can be changed cosmetically, such as the engines and the overall skin, but other changes affect ship performance. This includes the main, secondary and special abilities. For example, you can stick with a Dreadnought's default broadside cannons, making it a destructive vanguard ship, or you can give it an even smaller hangar on the side from which you can launch smaller ships to attack on your behalf.
A jammer can be installed to disrupt enemy electronics, or it can be switched with a nuclear missile to add a little more punch to the attack. Overall, there are a total of four slots for abilities, which seems very little, but the number of options available allows for a wide array of mixing and matching specialties for your preferred gameplay style.
After spending a few minutes customizing my own ship, I played a few multiplayer rounds alongside the game's director, Peter Holzapfel, where I discovered another mechanic: the command wheel. By pressing a key, I brought up a wheel that had three options: activating shields, put all power to weapons, or put all power to engines. These simple commands can be activated at any time, and considering the fast-paced nature of combat, using the right one can turn the tide of battle or save you from impending doom. Initially, there were more commands to chose from, but Holzapfel said that it got to a point where it felt a little too much like micromanagement. Narrowing it down to three commands made it easier on the player to focus on the fighting rather than spending time reading the many commands on the wheel.
The controls are easy to learn. The WASD keys are for turning as well as accelerating and decelerating, while the Shift and Spacebar control descent and ascent, respectively. The four abilities chosen during the shipbuilding process translate to the 1-4 keys, with a cooldown after using each one. There are also two main weapons available with the left mouse button. Using the Q key can switch between the two weapons, while the right mouse button allows you to zoom in on a target.
The first mode I played was team deathmatch. My Dreadnought was a powerful ship equipped with cannons and a large array of lasers and missiles. Its weak spot was its massive size and slow speed, making me an easy target to smaller ships. With the help of other players, which I found out later was a portion of Yager's QA team, I helped take down two medium-sized ships. Unfortunately, I was flanked by an enemy Dreadnought that caught me off guard and proceeded to tear my ship to bits.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Corvette, a small and fast vehicle, but without enough firepower to take down a ship on its own. It only came with gun turrets and missiles, but its abilities allowed it to perform an Immelman turn to evade gunfire, as well as a warp drive, which I could use to escape or get behind an enemy. Eventually, I was able to deliver the killing blow against a tactical cruiser, the game's support class, with some help from a sniping ship, the artillery cruiser class.
We then tried another game mode called Team Elimination. In this game, I only had one life with my chosen ship. If I died, I would return to the game in a small fighter ship, which could only shoot out of its gun turrets. It was smaller and less powerful than a Corvette, but it meant that I didn't have to sit back and spectate the entire match. I could still contribute in some small way, but I would need assistance from the remaining ships in order to effectively eliminate the opposition.
At first, I tried out the artillery cruiser, which took on the role of sniper. Its Siege Mode ability restricted movement but made its weapons stronger. Couple that with its stealth capabilities, and it can pick off targets from a distance. Unfortunately, another artillery cruiser found me first and took me out in the early moments of the game. It took some time to get back into the action flying around with a small fighter, but I eventually found the ship that destroyed me, pinged it to alert my allies, and then helped take it down.
A Unique Take
Both matches were quick, taking 15 minutes at the most, but there was so much action in it that it felt quicker than that. The amount of explosions and blaring alarms combined to make a chaotic cacophony, and it made the game more exciting. The entire thing felt confusing at first, but once you're able to figure out how to best use the ship's abilities, it becomes an intense game of working together to isolate ships and bring them down.
Unfortunately, it might take a while before you can play the game, as it is still in its pre-alpha stages. Holzapfel told me that there's still more work needed on the game's back-end systems, as well as the matchmaking algorithms to make each round fair and enjoyable. For the lucky few who played it at PAX Prime, it's a great taste of what's to come from the ship-based combat game. Not only does it look spectacular, but each round is packed with so much action that it can keep players coming back for multiple helpings.
Interested players can sign up now for the closed beta, scheduled for early 2016.