Review: Dread Nautical (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC/Mac

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Dread Nautical
Format: PSN (18.56 GB)
Release Date: April 29, 2020
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Original MSRP: $19.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E10+
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Dread Nautical takes place aboard a luxury cruise liner that has crossed into some nightmare realm with mystery and danger lurking everywhere. Zen Studios says this is a turn-based RPG with rogue-like elements. Personally, I would argue that it’s a rogue-like with RPG elements. However that may be splitting hairs and would partially depend on the difficulty setting chosen by the player.

The typical rogue-like punishments are pretty much non-existent when playing on the easiest difficulty setting. This is a great option for people new to rogue-likes or who don’t want to feel like they wasted their precious free time when they died and lost their best items and companions.

Dread Nautical has some RPG elements. Players start a new game by selecting one of four characters, each with their own stats and unique abilities. I am sure the minor differences would matter on the hardest difficulty when everything is on the line. However, on the medium difficulty I kept forgetting about my active ability and they went largely unused. The other RPG elements, such as improving characters and upgrading weapons, are common rogue-like elements with some minor tweaks.

The character moves by moving the cursor around and selecting a square on the grid. The game automatically goes into combat mode when an enemy is aware of a character. Having to slowly move the cursor all the way across a large room and then wait for the party to walk over when not in combat takes too long and happens all the time. Free movement, where the character is directly controlled by the joystick, is sadly overlooked here.

Like any turn-based game attacks, actions, and movement take action points. As you explore each deck, there is a chance you will come across allies. Over the course of a few runs, players will have a chance to recruit them. However, until they are recruited and chosen to have them join the main character on a run, they are mostly useless. They will assist or instigate combat if they are in the same room with enemies. On one run, the ally was in a different room, with an open door, and in line of sight of the enemy, and they ignored the enemy and wandered in circles. Yet the game flow is still slowed down because they get a turn before the player turn.

The combat is pretty straightforward. Each weapon does a certain amount of damage to an enemy within a certain range for so many action points. Besides the occasional boss or stronger enemy, the enemy density and difficulty didn’t require me to carefully plan out the next series of moves.

Another reason I usually didn’t plan ahead often was I didn’t know how much health an enemy had. The enemies had health bars but didn’t have a numerical representation of the health points.

Well, that’s not completely true. Once an enemy was defeated, you could review the details about the enemy type to see how many health points it had at full health. However, that would require me to constantly look up the enemy health, review the different damages from my constantly revolving weapon selection, and then keep track of how much damage I had done. Besides a few exceptions, weapon X does Y amount of damage. There is no RNG damage range. There is a health bar, so why not express that numerically as well?

For the short time I tried to keep track of how much health an enemy had left, it severely slowed down an already slow paced game. Displaying this information for an enemy type that has already been defeated doesn’t make the game any easier but picks up the pace of play.

I found the real balance and strategy went into watching the weapon’s durability. With each attack my weapons lost durability. While it would have been easy to roll through a room swinging away with my upgraded crowbar, I would have been repairing it after every run or worse, make it to the end of a run and not been able to use it on a stronger enemy. Instead of draining all of my scraps on repairs, I used a junk weapon I didn’t plan on keeping and attacked with it multiple times to finish an enemy off when possible.

The goal of each run is to complete the deck of the ship by reaching the ship’s bridge and sounding the fog horn. The character then wakes back up in the same bed, and repeats the day on a different deck.

New enemy types are added as you progress through the different decks. Each level is also laid out differently, but they are created from the same sets of rooms like kitchen, ballroom, and arcade. Even with the little variety added to these rooms, they quickly become repetitive and boring.

Most rogue-like runs are based on how far the player can go, and their upgrades are usually based on XP or gold obtained along the way. The run ends when the player dies. Dread Nautical has chosen to have the run end when the player dies or once the fog horn is blown. This sets the ground for potentially interesting situations. Do I take my best weapon and risk losing it?

Except for the normal difficulty, death has real consequences. Do I risk one more room for a potential reward? However, most weapons found exploring aren’t better than investing your scraps into upgrading. Scraps and runes carry over from run to run. If I fell a few runes short of a character upgrade, I can just wait until after the next run. There is no golden apple out there worth the dying and losing scrap and weapons over.

Visuals:
Dread Nautical has cartoon stylized characters and environments. The simplicity of the art style works. I always stayed with the default camera zoom, instead of zooming in, so I could taken in as much of the battlefield as possible. Finely detailing every art asset would have gone largely unnoticed. The artists do a great job of using color to still bring everything to life.

Audio:
Most of the voice acting is fine. The dialogue isn’t anything to write home about.

I noticed that during some cut scenes and conversations with certain characters the sound was not balanced right. The VO was too quiet or as if the character’s whole conversation was spoken in an echo chamber while the other character sounded normal.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only, with no online component.

Conclusion:
Dread Nautical is more than just another turn-based rogue-like. The various difficulty settings make it approachable to players new to the genre and still provide the difficulty and punishment veterans of the genre crave. The tweaks to the traditional RPG elements are a nice touch.

Some minor tweaks such as additional environments and the addition of free movement when not in combat would have been nice. That said, overall, there is nothing wrong with Dread Nautical. There are no major bugs or performance issues.

The simple fact is, Dread Nautical is missing its special sauce. There is no reward worth weighing the risk vs reward scenarios. After clearing a deck and returning to my base, nothing is drawing me to the next deck. It’s a perfectly fine game and is a great game for players interested but intimidated by the genre. I merely have no desire to keep playing.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

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