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Dread Nautical

Posted by GG Goblin On April - 30 - 2020

Turn-based tactical combat on a cruise ship with eldritch horror. Just what the doctor ordered.

Tactical turn-based games have been having a bit of a boom just lately, with a nice selection of new titles giving fans of the genre plenty to be excited about. The good news about the influx of titles is that each one is trying to make their game stand out from the rest, and so there is plenty of variety to choose from. New to the melting pot from Zen Studios is Dread Nautical, a most unusual roguelike tactical RPG in that it sets all of the action on a cruise ship of all places. This is not the strangest aspect of Dread Nautical, but throw in some Lovecraftian horror and it all kind of makes sense. Well, kind of…


Following a dark and foreboding opening sequence with a slightly overly-menacing voice-over, the player discovers that the cruise ship Hope has been overcome by some kind of supernatural threat, turning many of the passengers into abominations that prey on the survivors. The player will then get to choose from four different survivors, each of which comes with their own special abilities, and the adventure begins. Survive, find other survivors, and work out what the hell has happened to the Hope.

The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who frequents this genre. The player starts with just the one character, but will soon be able to recruit further characters to their team, with each again having special abilities and skills to make the players life a bit easier. Obviously, the game gradually gets more difficult, so those additional abilities are very important. Dread Nautical has a variety of difficulty levels, and permadeath is only an issue at the highest, so failing during a level on the more normal difficulties will only leave the player having to start that day again.

Each character has a number of action points that dictate what they can do during a turn, be that movement or attacking an enemy for example. The player will have to find their own weapons during their exploration of the ship, and these weapons have limited durability so only last for a short time, unless they are repaired. Depending on the weapon, which include both guns and melee, the action point cost of using it can vary.

So, each day, the player will send out their characters to explore a deck, with a view of reaching and activating a foghorn to sign the end of that deck. On the deck, unexplored rooms remain unseen until the door has been opened, so players are able to skip whole rooms should they wish, although they may then be missing out on an important item or resource. Alternately, they could be ambushed, so it is all about risk and reward.


When not out exploring the levels, the player will be back at the safe hub. Here, the player is able to do all of their management duties, including unlocking and upgrading facilities that will allow things like the repairing of equipment to the upgrading of abilities. There are three resources that the player has to worry about, with scrap being the most readily available. Runes come into their own for upgrading the characters, when the appropriate facility is available, and will give characters improved health or extra inventory slots, for example. Then there is food, which is the most important and least available resource. The player will have to ensure there are enough beds for all of the survivors that join the player, and ensuring they are all fed becomes more and more difficult as the roster increases.

Even on the most basic difficulty, Dread Nautical is a tricky game and will test the players tactical abilities. There is a certain amount of luck to the game, but that means things can go in the players favour as much as against. The UI is perhaps not the best and can make things more difficult than they need to be.

So far, I have avoided discussing the tone and visuals of Dread Nautical, which really are going to have a Marmite effect on players. For the tone, the idea of a dark and foreboding atmosphere of Lovecraftian horror are cast to one side quickly as the surviving passengers are often just silly, saying odd things that wouldn’t be out of place in a comedy game. The game is obviously not taking itself seriously, but I wish it was. The visuals are also far from eldritch. The game is bright and colourful, inhabited with characters of exaggerated proportions and monsters of seemingly random shapes. I don’t know why the developers have taken this route in what could have been a great gritty game, but the gameplay more than makes up for any misgivings about the way the game looks. Love it or hate it, Dread Nautical still plays well.


Fans of the tactical turn-based genre will find plenty here to enjoy. Dread Nautical is very compelling and rewarding to play. The tone and visuals may turn some players away, but overlook them and it is very easy to sink into the gratifying gameplay. Dread Nautical is a strange and tricky game that could potentially bring newcomers into the genre, and give the long time fans something new to test their tactical brains.




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