All Aboard – Dread Nautical Review

Dread Nautical, created by Zen Studios is a tactical, turn-based RPG with roguelike elements. Dread Nautical takes place on board a cruise liner called the Hope, ravaged by supernatural forces, you have a choice of playable characters and have to seek out other survivors, food and supplies onboard this monstrous hell-ship. Previously released for Apple iOS, Dread Nautical is now available on all major consoles. Zen Studios currently have a large library of Pinball games with Dread Nautical being the second RPG they have tackled.

The game centers around 4 characters each with their unique traits and abilities. Fargo Drexler, is a noir looking middle-aged detective. Vi Nussbaum is a young teen dragged onto vacation by her parents to escape video games. There’s Hatano Kenichi, a young man escaping the Yakuza lifestyle only to be in a much worse place now. Finally we have Miraje, a hip fresh-from-the-70’s black woman trying to find a new life performing on the ship. To start I went with Fargo. The game has your character awaken in his cabin and start the first objective ‘New Awakening’, the game’s turn-based system has you taking up to 4 moves at a time, in the intro mission you learn all the basics of movement, attacking, healing and looting.  

The start of the game shows you the ropes, the main enemy type, the thrall, a zombie like-human, is all over the first deck of the ship. Combat is like any other turn-based game, you have a set amount of moves you can make and this incorporates what weapon you can use when in range of the enemy, for example, you start with a lead pipe given to you by Jed, the redneck character who helps you at the end of every day.

Jed introduces you to the current situation on the first day informing you that both characters have met many times before and he has been helping each day by updating the character on the situation. Jed tells you how the event just unfolded and all inhabitants on the ship have been turned with a few survivors left. Taking the elevator, you are given a selection of floors, obviously only the first is available but there are many more floors available, one at a time.  

Combat in the game is very simple, just as easy as a move to a position, select the weapon you want to use and smashing or shooting away at the enemy. Sometimes throughout the game, I felt like the enemies were a little too dumbfounded. I would walk up behind an enemy who was facing away from me and do whatever I wanted. This included using abilities or loot nearby without the enemy noticing me. Then I could move in for a sneak attack. Fighting more than one enemy at a time proved difficult in some situations, eventually making me think about where I am positioned before taking on more than one enemy.

On the first level you meet Billy, an old military vet who is taking on many Thrall alone. Once you’re finished clearing the room with him and taking on a few more fights he tells you about meeting you before and having issues with trust onboard the ship. Once you talk him down and help him out, he asks you to find him the next day on Deck 2. Doing this then prompts the introduction of new survivors and also the introduction of newer enemy types which add to the diversity of fights.  

Talking about fighting, fighting with more than one enemy or if you have another ally, the fights are really drawn out with a lower thirds title animation showing before players. Allies and enemies take their moves but get a little boring after a while especially if more than 3 enemies are involved. Combat can also be very repetitive but that is expected in turn-based games. Combat isn’t the highlight of Dread Nautical but the rest of the game makes up for it.

The art style in the game is beautiful, a great mix of cartoon graphics crossed with the haunting setting and enemy types it has a really big Void Bastards vibe which works well for this game. Combined with the music the game has an unsettling tone behind it that, along with the story, really establishes the dread on the ship.

Each day on the ship concludes with you sounding the foghorn which results in you starting back at the beginning of the ship but with no explanation as to why this happens, which just adds to the mystery of the Hope. Following the foghorn, you get to feed the survivors you have using the food you find on the decks. Mid to late game this can get difficult when you have multiple survivors and are a bit low on resources. But if you grind the lower levels for the supplies it can make it a little more bearable.

Crafting is also present in the game, letting you upgrade, repair and scrap items you find on your journeys. At the start you have a limited inventory space of 3 items. This makes it difficult to find items to bring back to the base and makes you decide if you want that extra weapon or if you want to pick up that medkit you found whilst looting. Items in the game also have a limited amount of use. The rarer the weapon the more uses you get out of it, giving you the chance to keep one weapon for a few decks if you play your cards right and use a variety of weapons and repair every time you can.  

Overall, the game is a solid piece of fun, I found it easy to sink a good few hours at a time into the game as it gives you plenty to do. But if games like Void Bastards and X-COM don’t hold your interest, this may not be your type of game. At times I found the combat infuriating, especially if there was a survivor in the vicinity as they get to make their move – even if they aren’t partaking in the fight you’re in.

Aside from the drawn-out fights and repetitive combat, the story, secrets and looting/ base mechanics hold your attention. I did find it difficult to play the game for more than a few hours at a time, but, Dread Nautical is a perfect choice for players interested in turn-based mechanics and, with an interesting story, this can hold interest for those who can wait out the slow load screens and mechanics.

Purchase Dread Nautical for the Xbox One here.

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