I love a good tactics game. These titles when they’re done well are like chess on steroids. The other nice thing about this particular sub-genre of strategy gaming is that the majority of these titles are turn-based which gives you time to think and plan. Now I know some of you will prefer the RTS genre and I totally understand why. I loved Starcraft 2 and Command & Conquer as much as the rest of you, but I like the thinking room that a turn-based title gives you better. The game we’re looking at today is of the turn based variety and it’s called Dreadlands. For me, this is a game of two halves and I’ll explain why in a little bit.
For this particular escapade, I’ve brought the other strategy specialist on the TVGB team along for the ride with me. My good friend Albert E. will be throwing his ten cents into the mix and we’ll be seeing what we agree on and of course what we don’t.
In Dreadlands, you take the role of one of three factions in a post-apocalyptic romp to control the titular Dreadlands in which the game is set. This title has a very Mad Max sort of vibe with you starting out as part of a small, relatively unknown gang and building from there. This is quite an RPG-heavy game which is something I love. A lot of tactics games leave the story in the background to focus on the key elements of the game. This is fine but gives the style more of the board game feel. Having an ongoing story with a good amount of side quests to link everything together changes the style enough to be noteworthy.
Continuing the point I’ve just been making. Even tactics games that have a good amount of story often don’t give you the freedom that an RPG does. What you find is that you fall into the routine of having a bit of story, doing a level, a bit more story, and so on. This tends to make progression pretty linear. Instead, these games tend to focus on mechanical progression in building units, gaining skills, and the like. There isn’t a lot of real adventure there though. Dreadlands gives you other areas on the map to visit. Some of these are raids on gang hideouts or creature lairs, but there are towns to explore and encounters as well for a bit of random spice. This expands the world for you which is definitely welcome.
I’m going to focus more on the mechanics in Dreadlands than on the plot. The story is great but it’s massive. Use my Mad Max analogy from earlier and cross it with the first couple of Fallout games and you’re kind of there … sort of. What I think we need to focus more heavily on is how the game plays. With this foremostly being a tactics game, the way it plays is far more important than anything else.
The faction you play isn’t just a cosmetic thing. Each faction plays a bit differently. I’ve taken on the role of the Scrappers for my playthrough. The Scrappers are basically a bunch of scavengers that build cool things from scrap metal. These items are fairly obvious in the tactics cards you are given at the start of each match. You get four of these and they come at random from a deck you collect and build as you go. For the Scrappers, you have the likes of scrap mines, bomb rats, and mediglow stations, which heal units. They also explode, damaging or killing said units if they stay close for too long.
There are some interesting mechanics at play here which force you to switch up your playstyle mid-match. Guns in this post-apocalyptic setting are not reliable and have a chance at jamming. This prevents you from taking a run and gun approach for too long. There is a tactics card to fix weapon jams but with tactics only being usable once per match for each card this isn’t necessarily going to aid you in the long run. Repair kits will perform the same task but aren’t in abundance. Bullets are also scarce meaning you need to watch the amount you’re using.
On the other hand, running headfirst into melee isn’t always the best option. Firstly if you land your unit in the open and they get shot at they’re likely to become pinned. Pinned units lose most of their actions so you might be creating a sitting duck. Units in melee become melee locked. This makes sense, it stops them just pulling a gun and firing but also makes other units firing into melee perilous.
With all, I’ve just mentioned a level of difficulty is added to Dreadlands which I really like. Too many tactics games see you relying on the same units to win out and sticking to the same tactics to prevail. You can’t do that here and the game forces you to think on your toes. Resources in Dreadlands are scarce so you’ll need to work out how you’re going to use them. You’ll collect scrap metal which is needed to upgrade your base and build things and med packs which … well they’re med packs. You can either use these yourself or give them to other settlements you’ll find on your journey. This will increase your standing with these groups and give you better gear in their shops. You’ll also need glow. This resource comes from glow hunt missions, (which are bloody hard) and as quest rewards. Base upgrades need glow so it’s a very rare commodity that you’ll probably need to kill for.
So there is a lot to like here. My gripes are more nit-picks, to be honest, and none really affect play. Firstly there are a couple of spelling errors I noticed in the script. As this is a largely written game I would think that good spelling and grammar are really important. The first mistake I noticed was in one of the opening screens and this didn’t make for a great first impression. I’m not a fan of the dialogue in general. I can see why the Devs have made certain choices in the way they’ve created speech but a lot of it feels forced to me and it’s a bit off-putting. There are no spoken parts that I’ve noticed as of yet and greeting NPCs just gives you odd sound effects. These are all minor things in comparison to what Dreadlands does right but I think they’re enough of an annoyance to be of note.
My other real gripe with Dreadlands comes with loot. Lootable boxes can be found on many of the maps but I would wait until after the battle to access them. These crates aren’t always easy to get to and are often empty. This might have been done to add pressure in a firefight but I’m not sure I like the idea of bating players for no reward. You are given ample chance before leaving a level to do any mopping up and I would definitely leave this until you’re done fighting.
All the above aside, I think Dreadlands is a really solid title for strategy fans looking for something a bit deeper than a lot of tactics games have to offer. This title plays well and does what it does properly. Strategy and tactics fans could definitely do worse than finding Dreadlands over on Steam and giving it a whirl.
Look and Feel: 7
Sound and Effects: 5
Gameplay and Story: 7
Dreadlands is an RPG for those who have a lot of time and patience. Everything, from battles, leveling up, and upgrading will be a slog. However, when you do put in the work, you will experience a great game with a lot to offer for the tactical RPG genre.
The battles in Dreadlands are your average top-down tactical RPG with all the conventional units you probably will find in such a genre: the tanks, the DPS, and the healers. One of the great elements of the game is that almost all the units aren’t locked down as either melee or ranged; most human units can utilize both based on what equipment they are wielding. However, you will still have to keep in mind that in this game, the conventional tactical RPG elements still persist: a healer will not be your best melee attacker and the tank shouldn’t be the one dealing the ranged damage. So that’s left you wondering why the developers have given such versatility to units.
Well, it’s because the battles will most likely require you to both use ranged and melee on all your units. This is because, in Dreadlands, all ranged weapons are guns that need bullets. In a post-apocalyptic world, bullets (and all resources) are scarce. So that makes it that guns can only be used per battle for as long as you have bullets, which is not a lot. But what if you have a lot of money and bullets, you say? Well, you’re still going to rely on that melee, because Dreadlands has a gameplay element of ranged covering and melee locking.
Let me explain both. Ranged covering is the additional modifier a unit can get by hiding behind the battlefields’ environment. A unit hiding behind a wall will get a significant reduction of getting hit with gunfire. A 70% hit chance can be reduced by as much as 35%, and it seems like most of the time (at least during my playthrough), units are more likely to miss shots even at an 80% hit rate. Melee locking is the gameplay element that makes it so that once you engage a unit, it has a chance to lock the opposing unit to just using its melee weapon. This really gives units that can only use melee weapons (most likely beasts) an even playing field. As long as a melee-only unit can hone in quickly on a target, it has a chance to fight.
I have to give props for Dreadlands on these tactical gameplay elements, as it allows players to find a playstyle and have to quickly revise it on the go based on the enemies on the battlefield. If you’re playing against mostly ranged, you may want to go on an all-out melee while utilizing the ranged covering system. On the other hand, if you’re playing against mostly melee, you may want to go and purchase more supplies of bullets to gun them down. It all depends on what you want to do.
However, these elements are also what makes the battles in Dreadlands such a drag. You won’t just win shooting the melee units down, because the AI (even at the lowest levels) will use the environment to make sure you miss a lot of your shots. You also won’t win just using melee, because the AI will suddenly use a tactical card that will surround itself with rats detonated with bombs that can track your units down. It will make it so that an average battle can be completed in 15 to 20 minutes.
Which shouldn’t be so bad if you’re leveling up so quickly, right? Well, that’s another gripe for me about Dreadlands. Leveling up and upgrading is so minute that you will get frustrated. Getting experience to level up your units involves downing (i.e., killing) the opposing units, winning the battles, and sometimes if you’re cognizant of your units’ actions, getting extra experience for completing challenges. However, experience points are given out so little that it will take three to four battles just to level a unit. Upgrading is the same issue; money and supplies are given out by looting killed opponents and caches on the battlefield, and when they are given out, they’re chump change. Sometimes the game even trolls you (not sure if it’s a glitch or not), and gives you nothing when you loot caches.
At the end of the day, Dreadlands has a lot of gameplay elements involved that will appease fans of the tactical RPG genre and will definitely turn off the casual players. The ranged covering and melee locking systems in their own rights make each battle as exciting since one playstyle will not rule them all. However, the small victories in leveling up and loot may turn players off.
Look and Feel - 6.5/10
Sound and Effects - 5.5/10
Gameplay and Story - 6.5/10
Not bad but not perfect
Dreadlands is a game that plays well and has an interesting, immersive story. There are just a few too many overall little niggles to make this game a total winner. If you like your strategy tactical and enjoy a good RPG then you could do worse than pick this title up. Don’t expect miracles and you might well be pleasantly surprised.
Hailing from Southport England, Alex started his gaming career in the late 80s on a Commodore 64. Since that time he's either owned or played on virtually every console released. Alex happens to... Read more...