Star Destroyer vs. Battlestar Galactica? A look at Dreadnought’s formula for fun

Spec Ops: The Line is a tough act to follow. Yager Developments’ potent commentary on modern warfare, violence, and the role these things play in video games fostered a lot of conversation after the game’s release. It wasn’t something that screamed for a sequel, though, so it’s no surprise that Yager’s follow-up project Dreadnought takes a sharp turn in a different direction.

“I think the pressure would be higher if we did a Spec Ops 2 now,” Yager’s Peter Holzapfel, game director on Dreadnought, tells Digital Trends. “We did [the first game], it works like a singular entity, and to now do a follow-up would in a way devalue it.”

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He then backpedals a bit. The crew at Yager knows that they doesn’t necessarily need to top what was accomplished in Spec Ops with Dreadnought. They just want to make a game that people give a crap about. “That’s pressure, but that’s just the normal ‘Okay, we want to do something new’ pressure,” Holzapfel says. “It’s not the ‘Be better than Spec Ops‘ pressure.”

Imagine an Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars taking on the Battlestar Galactica.

At heart a class-based competitive multiplayer game that also features an as-yet-unseen episodic story mode, Dreadnought differentiates inside a crowded genre by rethinking its online battlefields. This is a ship-to-ship combat game, but it’s nothing like Wing Commander or TIE Fighter. The combatants in this game are capital ships: heavies that bring entire batteries of laser cannons and missiles to bear on one another as they cruise slowly across the sky.

Imagine an Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars taking on the Battlestar Galactica. That’s the kind of crossover wish fulfillment Yager hopes to achieve. The dev team has focused almost entirely on multiplayer thus far, because that’s where the play mechanics needed the most work and balancing, but Dreadnought‘s episodic, single player story mode fills an equally important role.

“The multiplayer is focusing solely on battle. Obviously that will be a big part of the single player as well, but we want to use the single player more to give the sense of universe, exploration, space,” Holzapfel says. “The nice thing about this is that it basically sets up a universe. If people like that universe, we can do a lot of things in it. In this universe, there could be other games that are more Mass Effect, or more Destiny, or RTS, all that.”

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That’s where the star-caliber writing talent that Yager hired comes into play. Working on Dreadnought‘s single player mode is Dan Abnett, a comic book industry veteran who’s worked on everything from Doctor Who to Warhammer 40K to Marvel’s most recent iteration of Guardians of the Galaxy; the version that inspired the hit film this summer.

“At the moment we have a writing team [of] three writers. What [Abnett is] focusing on right now is universe building,” Holzapfel says. “Setting up [the player] motivation that then develops with the episodic approach we want to take.”

“Then he’s also doing the overarching story for the episodes. What is the season’s story arc? What is the episode’s story arc? Then that gets bounced back and forth with the other two writers and they do more of [tying in] the multiplayer.”

It’s Abnett’s diverse background that won him the gig with Yager. The tone of Dreadnought falls closest to Firefly, the cancelled sci-fi TV series from Joss Whedon that’s gained cult status thanks to its sci-fi-meets-Western genre mash-up.

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“[It’s] a pretty dark universe in itself, but also with a sense of humor and lightness attached to it,” Holzapfel says of Abnett’s work so far, which does sound an awful lot like the Whedon series. He continues, “We really like this combination because we think it’s a bit more accessible than if we had a universe that is dark and gritty and everything is really bad, always.”

That’s the space Dreadnought sits in right now. There’s still plenty more we’ll learn about the story-driven portion of the game. Holzapfel teases us with promises of RPG-style level progression and open-ended exploration — complete with random encounters — but the basic makeup of how it all comes together, not to mention that characters that populate it, remains a mystery. There’s a lot to like conceptually though, especially in the idea of mashing giant, space-faring warships against one another in open combat.

 Dreadnought is still in active development; Yager is looking at early 2015 for an open beta, with a full release to follow sometime after that.

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