I get it. I finally understand why people play World of Tanks.
That's not to disparage World of Tanks as a game. I'm sure it's pretty awesome, I just don't get it. Why would I want to play Team Fortress 2 in slow, ugly tanks? I have no affinity for tanks. Rolling around in a IS-6, a Panther, or Sherman doesn't don't anything for me. Once you lose the framework, slower third-person combat just isn't enticing enough.
With Dreadnought, I finally get it.
Dreadnought is the latest game from Yager, best-known as the developer of Spec Ops: The Line. If that's all you know the studio by, you might not understand why they're making Dreadnought.
"The first game Yager did was a sci-fi game, also called Yager," said Yager technical director Eckhard Duken. "It was more of a dogfighting game. Since then, the founder who worked on the first game have held onto the idea of another sci-fi game. This idea with the big battleships was always within our minds. We're all sci-fi nerds. Having such a big powerful ship is cool. We tried to bring that together and we're kinda proud of what we came up with."
Third-person shooting is still the core of the game, but instead of an extensive story campaign, Dreadnought is focused on 5v5 competitive multiplayer action. Players take on role of mercenary ship captains in the far future. They're fighting over... something. Much like Brawlhalla, the reason for the fighting unclear, but let's move onto the real point.
Dreadnought features five different classes that players pick from every time they warp into battle or return from death. The first is the eponymous Dreadnought, the game's tank that's big on size and durability, but low on speed. The heavy assault ship is the Destroyer, with powerful chain cannons and a plasma ram to punish other ships directly. Then there's the Covette, the Defiant-style attacker; it's on the smaller side, but it packs a punch and can cloak to get behind enemy lines. The Artillery Cruiser is the game's sniper, meant to hurt capital ships from a distance. Finally, there's the Tactical Cruiser, which is the game's support ship, repairing fellow flotilla members in combat.
Within those five ships there's variation, but none of that was on the PAX South show floor. Instead, I had my choice of the five basic starting ships in each of those classes. Every ship has a few weapons available and a few additional abilities providing options within combat. In the description above, the plasma ram and cloak are abilities, as an example.
I sat down at a station in the Dreadnought booth at PAX South and was lucky to end up on the right side. Emblazoned on a sticker above my monitor was the name "Jean-Luc", a reference to Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The rest of my teammates had names like Reynolds, Janeway, and Solo; good company to be in. (No Sisko?)
My first run was around an outpost trapped in an icy wasteland. I picked the Artillery Cruiser because I'm a bit of a coward; I felt it was best to stay back and support my teammates. (And it reminded me of a Zentradi battleship from Robotech/Macross.) My support was short-lived of course, because I decided to take the high ground. No cover means one dead ship.
The handling of the ships is slow, with a great deal of drift. You have to know where you're going before you go there. If you're heading out to attack, sailing upwards out of cover to punish your foes with fire from above also means everyone can see you. If you make the wrong move, you're not getting out of there quickly unless you're in the tiny Corvette. I split most of my game time between that ship class and the Artillery Cruiser, which made a lot more sense once I realized proper cover is key.
"The verticality wasn't easy for us," said Duken. "Every level design involves routes, cover, and whatnot. It took a while. We have different themes that we want to have on our maps. [At PAX South] we have a glacier level and a space level. The space one was actually easier to build. You have asteroids floating everywhere and it's easier to make cover on all levels, but on a planetary surface is hard. so we try to design our levels so that people want to stay lower, but it's possible to go up and have a better view."
Cover was in greater supply in the Dry Dock level, which is a ship-building refinery in space. I felt that level was far superior, because you retain the option to exit cover from above or below, which definitely offers more choices for attack and defense. Those options also include the ability to re-route power to speed, offense, and defense temporarily; giving you an extra kick in certain situations.
The most important thing is the slow movement makes the ships feel like huge capital ships sailing through space. Once you add abilities like cloaking or in-combat warp, it feels like you're captaining one of your favorite sci-fi ships. You feel like you could pull all those great maneuvers you've seen in Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Serenity. Sliding across floating metal in your cloaked ship, only to drop cloak and unload hellfire from behind your target.
What about progression within the game? It's tied to a number of different features. Each player has their captain avatar and all basic level progression is tied to that. Beyond that, the various ships in your fleet all have their own progression levels. There's also crew members you can equip that shift your ship in different areas. These crew members make sense within the game's fiction; a Weapons Officer can be added to increase the damage or accuracy of your weapons, for example.
Dreadnought is intended to be free-to-play like World of Tanks, but Yager does want players to be competitive from the get-go.
"We want to have a very horizontal progression. The ship you get when you start the game; you should be able to be competitive. We try to have variation instead of different levels of ships," said Duken. "We want to have all content that affects gameplay be able to be unlocked via gameplay. There will be customization that only applies to the visuals. Figureheads, details, and paint jobs."
If you're not big into multiplayer, Yager is also working on a single-player campaign to add greater depth to the universe it's building. The studio is working with Warhammer 40K and Guardians of the Galaxy writer Dan Abnett to tell a solid, ongoing tale.
"There will also be a single-player component; we're aiming to release that in an episodic format," explained Duken. "We'll have the first episode with the release of the multiplayer part. We've spent a lot of time and effort on creating the background of the universe; we're working together with Dan Abnett. We want to give the player more depth. The single-player is a thing we'll release on a continuous basis. The multiplayer, it's there and you can play it and we'll support it with new content."
Dreadnought is the game I didn't even know I wanted. I've spent most of the days since PAX wondering when I could play it again. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until Summer 2015 for that to happen.