Like a chess match in space
A very specific connotation pops into your mind when you think about spaceship fighters. Your brain's flooded with thoughts of dogfighting ships zooming around, barrel rolling, and flipping end-over-end to fire unceasing space lasers at equally nimble opponents. That's not what Dreadnought is; not even close, in fact.
Dreadnought -- which is currently only slated for PC -- is a thinker's game, a title for those more adept at thinking two steps ahead rather than those that rely on their twitchy fingers. It's a chess match in space -- a chess match that trades in kings and queens for lumbering, massive ships that actually feel like they have weight to them.
Going into a hands-on session at PAX Prime, I was really only equipped with the information that our own Darren Nakamura outlined in his preview from E3. Turns out that was enough because it looks as if I may have played the same build as him. At the very least, the same five ships were playable (Dreadnought, Corvette, Artillery Cruiser, Tactical Cruiser, and Destroyer), and I only played one map a couple times.
I started off as the Corvette. The developers said this was predictable. New players tend to favor maneuverability and speed over what the other classes have to offer. I zoomed around for a while thinking that Dreadnought was a slow-paced space shooter. Nothing offensively bad, but nothing really special at the same time.
The game didn't really open up until the developers actually showed me how to play. Selecting the Dreadnought (new ships can be chosen anytime after death), I listened and executed as they gave me the step-by-steps to excel. Turns out, Dreadnought's exponentially more satisfying when you play it correctly.
As we picked an unfortunate opponent, I fired a tactical nuke at them, used a warp ability to get alongside them, diverted my energy to offensive abilities, shot my broadside cannons at them, and then spun around to focus my secondary weapon on finishing them off. Suddenly Dreadnought was kind of fast-paced, but only because I was smart about it (or rather, the developers were). I was barely moving, but there was a ton going on, even if the other player likely had no clue what was happening.
The thing is, once you get into this mindset, it's relatively easy to consistently play with this sort of style. Once the game's in the wild and everyone figures out the optimal way to play, it's going to be interesting to see how the elite players separate themselves. Will they adapt and form new strategies? Or, will they simply be quicker and smarter about when and which combat scenarios they get themselves into?
The five-versus-five multiplayer is only one component of Dreadnought, albeit quite a large one. Yager Development told me that it built the game with multiplayer at the forefront of its mind, so it's reasonable to assume that single player will incorporate a lot of those tenets. As it's a free-to-play game, there's going to be some sort of monetization model, but Yager was unwilling to talk about it apart from "it won't be pay-to-win." You could tell that the team was more interested in finally getting the game into players' hands rather than talking business.
And, a lot of players did get to check it out at PAX. From what I saw, the line to demo it looked consistently busy. You have to wonder how many of those people walked away understanding what Dreadnought's aim is, and how many thought it was just a boring, slow game. The truth is, it's anything but the latter, you just have to know what to expect.