PAX East 2015

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"Dreadnought" by Grey Box

1 May 2015 | Written by Maxxum

When I'm covering an event, it's possible on rare occasion to become too involved with the subject of my review to write a fair and accurate analysis; my experience with the Grey Box team demonstrating 'Dreadnought' was one of those times. Hence, this review is being written 58 days after I spent quite a few hours at PAX East 2015 getting immeresed in the gameplay of Gray Box's latest game-to-be.

Dreadnought is best described as a futuristic blend of 'World of Tanks' gameplay with a 'Homeworld' like experience - the game is beautiful, with fast action played-out through large spaceships and much smaller fast-attack support craft. There is a plot beyond combat; some hints were provided by the developers further down in this article, however Grey Box was primarily at PAX to showoff Dreadnought's primed team combat mode.

My experience with Dreadnought started in Grey Box's press booth when I and my cameraman Dominic unwittingly became involved in a combat mode beta test with a team that was offsite in Texas. We didn't realize that we'd entired a live beta test until we'd already started combat and the people on the other side of our headsets started talking about "killing the press guys"... which meant us. I could feel a competitive spark rise after listening to the beta team discussing their strategy (a quirk with the headsets meant I could hear the beta team, but they couldn't hear me, although they could hear Dominic, who in turn couldn't hear them).

We had roughly 30 minutes to explore combat using various ships, which can be organized into familiar sniper, scout, fast attack, defensive/healer, and tank classes. When Torkel Forner, Game Designer for YAGER and Florian Zender, a Senior VFX Artist also with YAGER, arrived for their interview about the game, I was shamefully disappointed I didn't have more time to play - this then became the principle reason why I couldn't write the review so soon after PAX; I had started developing the beginning stages of psychological dependence on the game! Having had time to reflect, I would assert that the initial gamer's adrenaline I felt when playing against the beta team had affected my judgement... and not just mine, as I'll explain later. First, here is a video showing the gameplay:


The calming voices of the foreign developers is in complete contrast to the frenetic, often desperate voices of the American beta team (whom we beat). So, aside from the fun gameplay, why are people fighting in spaceships? Torkel Forner indicated that the ship combat was related to a still yet to be revealed episodic single-player campaign mode that will involve Dan Abnett in writing and "world building".

Mercenary captains command the ships seen in combat mode, and furthing that notion, Florian Zender advised that ships can be "built up" allowing players to assemble the ships to fit their playing strategy - something we didn't see during the combat mode, but the inference I'm drawing from this is that weapons, defenses, and special equipment is customizable. Florian referenced several well-known space operas like Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek; the game draws inspiration from technology seen in those shows, such as cloaking devices for ships, and small but deadly fighters able to nuisance large ships like those seen in BSG.

After our interview, and towards the end of Saturday's open floor, I returned to play the game again and stayed well after the floor had been closed to participate in another press team's Twitch stream of the combat mode. At this point, I should have been done with my analysis, however my team had received tickets to attend a Dreadnought after-party, and team death match - we didn't participate, but I was still curious to see the contest and observe other people compete.

In between matches, I ran into Florian Zender and had a long discussion regarding society and art. Florian is a well-spoken German, and his thoughts on the choices one makes as an artist reminded me of similar decisions one makes as a photographer - the choices being art crafted for practicality, or art that takes a risk by expressing something. Put another way, does one create something that is functional, or something that can be felt? As an VFX artist, it's easy to understand that these would be complexiities Florian faces as part of his job, and perhaps one of the reasons I found myself dwelling on Dreadnought from a perspective other than that of distanced observer.

After speaking with Florian, I returned to the gaming table to watch the contest which had become increasingly loud and more personal. After only a few hours, it seemed people were becoming personally invested in a game which is still in alpha. Losing players showed physical signs of disappointment (dropped shoulders, lowered head, dropped faces) as though they had lost something tangible.

Now, almost two months later and removed from excitement of the PAX demonstration, I can safely say Dreadnought's combat is fun to play, and I can reduce my analysis to focus on one very important detail of Dreadnought that remains to be answered... the plot. Unlike World of Tanks which has no story, but instead a connection to a war, real battles, and a fan base that already existed in the form of WWII combat enthusiats, Dreadnought has no history, and no pre-existing fan base, making a strong plot very important to draw fans into what is becoming a very competitive genre that already has an entry from the dominant and ever growing EVE Online, and the upcoming title 'Star Citizen', which has a fanbase who still remembers 'Wing Commander', a game that is still available to buy.

Without further information, I must leave this analysis in pending status as we await updates from Grey Box. In light of my philosphical conversation with Florian, I am curious to see if Grey Box will take the risky course for sake of emotion, or create merely a safe yet functional game.

Photo by Maxxum