Written by Scott Butterworth
Conceptually, I'm completely on board with Dreadnought , the new free-to-play flight combat game from Spec Ops: The Line developer Yager Development. Rather than focus on small, disposable fighter vessels—the X-Wings and TIE Fighters of the world—Dreadnought places you at the helm of truly massive space-faring behemoths with apocalyptic firepower. In essence, it's intended to cater to everyone's inner space captain fantasy, that little voice inside us that's always longed to shout “Shields up!” to an adept, attentive crew hanging on our every command. On paper, that sounds amazing.
In practice, however, I found the pacing a little strange. All five ships available during my hands-on time proved about as maneuverable as dump trucks, including the smallest, lightest vessel of the bunch. That makes sense thematically, but I ended up spending most rounds gradually drifting around the battlefield while trying desperately to properly point my ship towards my enemies. And once I'd successfully maneuvered into position, there wasn't much for me to do besides maintain a steady stream of gunfire at my target—not exactly the most exciting or engaging combat system, especially if you're the guy who's unable to get out of the way of that gunfire.
To be fair, Dreadnought seems to offer much greater depth beyond what I experienced during my brief hands-on time. For example, the finished game promises to offer more nuanced control over your ship. At the moment, you can only choose to allocate more power to your guns, engines, or shields on the fly, but this tactical control may eventually extend to individual crew members, who can be selected and promoted as part of a pre-combat customization system. Different officers grant different benefits and even level up as you gain experience, which the developer hopes will encourage a sort of bond with the tiny little soldiers manning your ship.
The ships themselves will eventually offer greater depth as well. My demo featured one ship from each of the five classes, but that number will likely jump to nearly a dozen when the game launches. And thought the ships may be slow, they're definitely diverse. The eponymous Dreadnought absorbs absurd amounts of damage and can launch mini-nukes with a pretty reasonable cool down rate. The artillery cruiser is essentially a giant floating rail gun, making it a flying sniper of sorts. There's even a support class that can buffer allies. With proper teamwork, I imagine Dreadnought becomes a dramatically different experience.
In addition to a standard team deathmatch mode, Dreadnought will also offer an episodic single-player campaign, though Yager doesn't have any details at the moment. The team also declined to comment on its monetization strategy, saying only that it will be done in a “very, very different way” that no one's ever tried before. Expect to see Dreadnought on PC by early 2015.