Dreadnought preview: It's like World of Tanks and Battlestar Galactica had a baby

heavy corvette sneak up

"Everyone always wants to be the fast ships at first. And then they die." These are the dour words of the developer watching over my shoulder as I played Dreadnought, a spaceship combat game, last week. He was right. I died almost immediately, picked out of the sky by a much larger ship as I battered ineffectively against its armor.

Here's the easiest way to describe Dreadnought—the way it was described to me, and presumably the way it was described to everyone at PAX, and it's the first thing you think of when you play the game. Remember that scene in Battlestar Galactica where the ship warps in the atmosphere? Yeah, of course you do unless you didn't watch Battlestar Galactica in which case who are you?

Dreadnought is that scene.

heavy support laser attack

A heavy support vehicle attacking a light dreadnought.

It's a spaceship combat game, as I said, but not in the way you're probably thinking. This isn't Elite: Dangerous or Star Citizen or Enemy Starfighter. In fact, it's not even really a game about dogfighting, which is pretty anathema to the last twenty or so years of space game design.

Instead think of Dreadnought like a tank game with three dimensions of movement, like World of Tanks except with spaceships in the starring role. All of the key ideas of a tank game—positioning, for instance—are important here as you glide around obstacles and try to hide until the last possible moment. The PAX map even took place in a planet's atmosphere, making it feel like massive floating tanks (though there are space maps planned for the final release).

akula dreadnought

A titular dreadnought.

There were five ships in the demo I played, ranging from a small sniper/recon ship to the titular Dreadnought, which is your Imperial Star Destroyer/Battlestar size monster of a ship. Each ship is a bundle of compromises, with small ships being more maneuverable but also frail, while larger ships move at a snail's crawl but soak up lots of damage. You can think of the ships as different "classes" from a shooter, considering one is effectively a medic, one is equipped as I mentioned with a long-range weapon, et cetera.

Plus the Dreadnought can warp short distances and it makes a big whoompf noise right before it materializes/starts kicking space-ass and is all around one of the most satisfying moves to pull off in recent history. Oh, and it shoots nukes.

nuke launch

Nuclear missle away! 

But even the smallest ship has a hefty sense of weight that says "I'm a hundred tons of metal" more than "I'm meant for zipping around the galaxy." I'm sure a more experienced player can pull off some complex maneuvers with the smaller ships, but this is not a twitchy dogfighter. It's a tactical game that relies heavily on teamwork.

I had a lot of fun with the round I played at PAX, once I got used to the slow pace. I'm definitely more interested in the space maps (which the developers tell me will feature asteroid fields and ship graveyards) than the in-atmosphere settings, though the backdrop did make for some of those incredible Battlestar Galactica-esque moments.

And hey, the game is going to be free-to-play upon release so there's really nothing stopping you from checking it out. If there's anything good to be said about free-to-play, it's that the barrier to entry is incredibly low regardless of whether the game turns out impressive.

Space. Nukes. Warping. Millions of fictional people dying in massive planetary battles. Trillions of dollars worth of damage per second. Yeah, that's Dreadnought.

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