You’re the developer of Spec Ops: The Line, a third-person shooter with a subversive story that depicts one soldier’s descent into madness. What do you create next? Well, a multiplayer space combat game, of course!
Developer Yager is known for making statements, but while Spec Ops: The Lines’ statement was thematically powerful, Dreadnought appears to have a simpler goal. In the words of game director Peter Holzapfel, regarding the game’s first trailer, “We wanted to make a statement that we are a game about big spaceships, not small spaceships, and we did that I think.” Indeed, Yager did exactly that with the amusing trailer, though its inspirations for Dreadnought came from the serious side of science fiction. Says Holzapfel, “The idea came from… there’s a lot of very well-loved and known movie references and TV show references, like Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Han Solo and so forth. But there’s not that many games about big spaceships. And we wanted to turn into all those into a game that makes them quickly accessible.”
At E3 2014, I sat down with Holzapfel and his colleagues and played through several matches of the upcoming free-to-play action game with other members of the press. What followed was one of the most enjoyable gameplay sessions I had at E3. A few exceptions notwithstanding, most space combat games feature a fairly zippy sense of speed, even when you pilot a larger spacecraft. By contrast, Dreadnought is slow and tactical, feeling more like a naval battle game set on the high seas than a space game like Elite or Starlancer. In the two team deathmatches I played, I first chose a corvette, hoping to rush into battle, take a few powerful shots, and then depart before the giant battleships could mark me as a dangerous target. Even this vessel, the smallest in the fleet available to me, moved with notable heft. The best way to use the corvette was to initiate a quick-jump ability that took me in close, and then to use the same ability to make an escape. When the battle got hot, I was also able to activate a barrel roll of sorts, but my heart did not belong to the corvette. I was not an asset to my team, which was soundly defeated in the first go.
Circumstances took a turn for the better once I decided upon a destroyer, a hulking mass of metal and mounted guns. Most of my special attacks were of the offensive sort–missile volleys and the like. My teammates and I shouted out tactics to each other, focusing on the support vessels capable of repairing friendly dreadnoughts, and keeping our eyes on the corvettes trying to make quick getaways. (After my own failed attempt to stay out of harm’s way, I knew the tricks corvette pilots were hoping to play.) I lit up the screen with the colorful lasers that blasted from my mounted guns. The map we played on wasn’t in outer space, but high up in a planet’s atmosphere; the craggy mountains and plateaus beneath were beautiful to gaze upon, while the man-made facilities provided visual contrast with their sleek lines and industrial details. All the while, vessels from each team slowly danced around each other, aiming their shots carefully and looking out for incoming nuclear strikes.
In between matches, you will upgrade your vessels with various attachments and improvements, making Dreadnought’s closest comparison World of Tanks and its peers. I asked Holzapfel just how deep he expects the customization options to go, but the team has yet to nail down all the specifics, such as exactly how many ship classes the game will launch with, and how many secondary abilities players will get to choose from. Details may be scarce, but the fun was undeniable: Dreadnought is teeming with potential, and I can’t wait to see what Yager shows us next.