Dread Nautical Review
Wouldn’t it be nice to get away on a nice long cruise? To forget your troubles and find yourself at sea on a small floating villa? How could a ship named The Hope be anything less than majestic and regal? You know what they say: the journey is just as brutal as the destination… right? Dread Nautical is an isometric turn-based tactics game set on the cruise vessel “The Hope.” For unknown reasons, each of the game’s starting four playable characters have been inexplicably lured to board this vessel that – while out at sea – has had some strange and spooky events taking place.
You awaken in the hold by a strange yet friendly deckhand who teaches you the basics of the game. You’ll make your way to the bridge and ring the foghorn, only for an intense yet somehow pacifying horn to rip apart the air and make you pass out, only to awaken back in the hold. The game’s creative ideas are definitely compelling, but the gameplay didn’t feel up to my standards. I had to approach Dread Nauticals mechanics with the mindset of a younger gamer and as an intro into tactics gaming, it works pretty well. Each character has limited inventory space, Action Points per turn to spend, and a host of upgradeable abilities to really make them your own. Each weapon is also unique enough to warrant keeping a few on hand for different occasions while keeping in mind their durability and AP cost.
Movement was unfortunately clunky, with characters in motion unable to be stopped. While exploring one floor of the ship I had missed an item a few rooms away. I clicked to the area to see if they would travel long distance – and they did – however I could not make them stop moving, making them enter unsafe areas due to the automated path. I understand this if it were in combat, but in exploration you are free to move an unlimited number of spaces at any given time. It’s an unnecessary annoyance.
You’ll encounter a number of NPC allies on the ship – survivors of the ghoulish attack – but they aren’t ready to trust you just because you still have all of your skin and your ribs aren’t protruding out of your chest. You’ll need to interact with them several times on each floor to earn their favor and get them to join your team, giving you access to their unique skills. This does come with a downside, however, as everyone still needs to eat. As you explore the floor you’ll find what remains of the food around. Upon completing the stage you can use the food to keep everyone healthy and fed – provided you found enough for each of your companions. If someone goes hungry their wounds will not heal, and they can eventually starve. This was a great addition to the game for me and I am glad it was included.
Combat itself is fairly straight forward with weapons, items, movement, and abilities as your key actions. You can also switch between party members to more effectively utilize AP. This means I could move every character into specific positions and then cycle through again to have them attack one after the other, which opens up some great opportunities. It is unfortunate that attacks and actions cannot take place diagonally, however, and all actions must be vertical or horizontal. There are plenty of moments it would make perfect sense to attack on the diagonal but it simply isn’t featured here and was a huge let down. While this does encourage better character placement, it removes a plethora of combat opportunities.
NPC AI proved itself to be… inconsistent at times. If I found myself in an advantageous position, ready to spring a trap, the enemy would spend its turn pacing back and forth rather than advancing towards me, knowing full well where I was. Some enemies refused to pass through doors, forcing me to give up my position and walk through the line of fire for two turns before being able to attack. In other cases, the AI would just pace back and forth or walk the plank directly to their doom. I had also mistakenly dropped an item I needed on the floor, to which an NPC ally – yet to join my team – moved onto the necessary space and did not move again. I tried everything I could including exploring the rest of the entire floor but the character did not budge and I had to move on without it, despite the fact she was wandering freely about the ship before that.
Dread Nautical has a fantastic minimalistic art style with a classic polygon feature that adds to that retro feeling. As a tactics game, it left a lot to be desired for me, but I can see how this would be a great intro into the genre without overloading a newcomer. The RPG elements of upgrading and enhancing characters and gear, as well as the survival food mechanic are fantastic, and the setting is truly interesting to play, but the gameplay wasn’t up to par to get me hooked. That, combined with the AI issues, makes Dread Nautical a bit of a rough ride lost at sea.
*Xbox One code provided by the publisher*
- Interesting Narrative
- Great Food Mechanic
- RPG Elements
- No Diagonal Combat
- Awkward AI