There are just so many turn-based tactics games coming out, it’s good to see each one with their own spin on the genre. And while Dread Nautical’s specific spin might not be unique to the game, its emphasis on telling its story and focus on a central character separate it from recent games like Fort Triumph, Chimera Squad and Gears Tactics. But you won’t be completely alone in Dread Nautical, as you will find out that there are others surviving on this strange ship.
Dread Nautical isn’t a horror game exactly—it’s not very scary, nor does it try to create an atmosphere of suspense—but it employs Lovecraftian horror themes. You wake up as one of four playable characters—each with their own unique abilities. Soon, you discover that you’re in a time loop, and stuck on a cruise ship filled with not-quite-zombies—creatures with tentacles, and crystalline protrusions that claw and sometimes spit. It’s up to you to navigate the ship to find scraps for upgrades and repair, food to survive, and other survivors to bolster your chances of successfully completing all of the above.
The combat in Dread Nautical is turn-based and tactical, but it’s really a roleplaying game with the ability to have a small party. It reminds me of a roguelike, in that it requires you to replay levels once defeated. And while the levels aren’t entirely different, the room layouts and enemy placements are different, so you’re not exactly sure what you’re walking into. Unfortunately, turn-based doesn’t really work out that well in Dread Nautical.
Don’t get me wrong, I love turn-based combat—when it’s done well. Dread Nautical almost would have been better as a real-time combat game, or at least better with some tweaks to how enemies fight you, and even the environments. The combat just isn’t that interesting, or fun. Most enemies can be funneled through doorways to be taken down one at a time—and in fact, this is often the best strategy, as putting yourself into proximity to attack an enemy often leaves them with the opening shot. Melee is the weapon type you’ll find most often to begin with, and it just isn’t that satisfying to use. Ranged weapons are a little more viable, but each weapon has such limited uses, I saved my ranged weapons for the more difficult enemies.
Each floor has a foghorn to sound, and when you do, you wake back up at your home base. This base can be upgraded to have better crafting, more beds for survivors, and a station used to increase the abilities of your survivors. These benches stay upgraded between runs, so Dread Nautical’s safe area feels like it’s always improving, even if you’re repeatedly failing a run. That is, unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulty, which resets your entire progress upon death.
If you want a full tactical team, you’re going to have to recruit survivors you run into as you explore each deck. If you make nice with them, eventually you might be able to recruit them. It’s often best to just go along with any delusions they have, or just do as they say. Anything off script will make them, usually, become upset with you. You can team up with up to three other survivors with their own unique abilities.
Exploration and looting is extremely important in Dread Nautical. Finding food will ensure your survivors will continue to survive, and weapons will break—and it’s cheaper in resources to find new ones than to maintain the ones you’re using. That is, of course, unless you find an exceptional or rare weapon. Scraps are used to upgrade stations at your home base, and build beds to house more survivors. Unfortunately, exploration just isn’t that much fun. Most decks are very same-y, and despite the threat of enemy encounters, there’s rarely anything tense, nor is there a sense of dread.
As I mentioned before, there are multiple difficulties. The ‘normal’ difficulty is the most forgiving, and you lose nothing but your progress on your current deck if you fail. ‘Hard’ will kill survivors, and cause you to drop all of your equipped items on failure. ‘Insane’ essentially forces you to start from scratch upon failure.
Dread Nautical isn’t on the cutting edge of graphics, but I enjoy its art style. In fact, Dread Nautical seems well put together throughout. There is a lot of voice acting in Dread Nautical, and all of it is pretty good.
Dread Nautical is okay. It’s not the most fun I’ve had playing a turn-based tactical game recently. Exploration could have been great, but it ends up feeling flat, and repetitive. The roleplaying elements are okay, but the combat just isn’t that fun. With the amount of new turn-based games out, Dread Nautical isn’t one you should be focusing your time on.
Dread Nautical, previously available on Mac and iOS via Apple Arcade, is available now on the Epic Game Store for PC.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR