Yager streamlines the city-sized craft at the heart of its epic war game
While formulating its vision for
Dreadnought, Yager put together a list of beloved fictional captains to sketch out the game’s different ship classes. Jean-Luc Picard encapsulates the spirit of the generalised destroyer class, for example, while the relatively zippy corvette ships evoke the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo. But among this line-up of spacefarers, it’s the apparently incongruous inclusion of Marko Ramius – the submarine captain portrayed by Sean Connery in Hunt For The Red October – to represent the sniping artillery class, that best sums up
Dreadnought’s character. “We wanted the game to have this naval feel to it – these big ships that take a while to turn,” game director Peter Holzapfel tells us when we note the absence of a strafe button. “We didn’t want the artillery cruisers to be a class where you just strafe in and out of cover – we wanted players to have this feeling of orienting a giant gun towards a target.”
That sense of piloting an enormous, lumbering ship is present, to varying degrees, in all five classes (corvettes, destroyers and artillery cruisers are joined by the tank-like dreadnoughts and repair-focused tactical cruisers). It’s a remarkable sensation: the lack of speed initially makes you feel vulnerable, but your arsenal of mountain-levelling ordnance helps redress the balance as you begin to master switching energy between shields, engines and weaponry, and using entire landmasses as cover. It all takes getting used to, however, and in the context of modern shooters – or even RTS games – the lethargic pace at which the larger ships move is a shock when you first take the helm.
“That was one of the most intense challenges on the creative side,” Holzapfel says. “It was like, ‘Why has nobody done this before?’ And then, ‘Oh, because it’s not easy to pull off!’ [Laughs] But what we’ve seen is, because most players are so used to faster movement, they initially choose the corvette class. In that, we’ve created a space where new players can feel at home, and they [are weaker and] require lots of energy management, so you have to get really good. Then, as players get into the game more, they figure out how everything works and begin switching over to the slower classes because there are all these huge ships that do way more damage.”
Around 50, in fact, at current count. The game has expanded significantly since we last saw it, taking on a dizzying selection of ship designs, customisable components, and upgrades. Every ship has slots for primary, secondary, internal and perimeter weapons and kit. The primary weapon is defined by the ship’s class and can’t be changed – within that, however, you might find one artillery craft with 360-degree aiming while another has a narrower aiming range but more firepower – although you can switch out the secondary weapon according to your play style. The internal slot, meanwhile, allows you to tinker with movement speed and weapon power, and perimeter devices provide AOE options such as shields and mines.
But while the scope of the fleet has broadened, Yager has also streamlined energy management, piloting and combat systems to prevent flying any of these ships becoming overwhelming, but without sacrificing tactical depth. “With spaceships, it’s really easy for designers to go crazy,” Holzapfel laughs. “You have a keyboard, you have a spaceship, and it’s like, ‘Alright then: I have all of these buttons and I’m going to use them!’ The more you can do, the more fun it becomes for you as a developer – but that’s not necessarily the same for the player. So as a framework we kept controllers in mind. The D-pad has four directions and there are four face buttons, so you naturally limit yourself to four abilities, and we made energy a binary thing where you either assign it to something or you don’t. Now it’s much easier to control.”
Holzapfel is confident the refinements made to Dreadnought over the past year represent marked improvements, and from the time we’ve spent with the PS4 version of the game, we’d be inclined to agree.
“We wanted the game to have this naval feel to it – these big ships that take a while to turn”
TOP Ships bristle with weapons, each of them individually animated. Some weapons can only fire in certain directions, making combat a slowmoving, deadly dance.
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Dreadnought director Peter Holzapfel