Life is far from easy in the Dreadlands, on the surface it appears that pretty much everyone is out to get you in a Mad Max style wasteland. As you make your way around the map you’ll encounter settlements and events, most of which will drag you into a fight, though, some will offer you goodies for your team.
Dreadlands is a turn-based tactical RPG by developer Blackfox Studios which brings a few different ideas to the genre. When you first start up you have the choice of 3 factions: The Tribe-kin, a group who are in tune with nature and use beasts and totems; the Scarbacks, former slaves who started a revolt and now have a “Freedom of death” lifestyle and finally. The Scrappers who are all about utilising the junk in the Dreadlands to create weapons and traps. Once you have chosen the faction you like the sound of you get to pick a name and icon, these can be randomised though if desired.
During my playthrough, I chose the Tribe-kin gang, initially consisting of my shaman leader who uses a long rifle and a beasts claw; a big death bear (aptly named Cubsy) and a white hound called Howlie, it wasn’t long before our next member joined and our merry band got stronger. Along the way, you can find or recruit new members to your gang that you can swap out at your hideout. Also, at the hideout you can take care of your team, healing any of them that have been injured in battle, stashing your loot, organising, building and changing your tactic card decks and recruiting new members in the barracks.(“Okay, we have our defences and our guards set up, now we need a hot tub!”)
Once you leave your hideout, you’re off into the big wide world that you click to move your little guys around. There are loads of little pop-up settlements and dungeons to explore which adds a nice bit of random chance to the game, its mostly up to you if you decide to risk venturing into one in hopes of gaining materials and experience. However some of them are quite hard if you’ve not levelled your team adequately, which can cost a fair bit in medical supplies to heal any fallen friends.(“Ooof! That’s gonna cost me!”)
Each of your gang members has their own skill tree that can be upgraded by leveling them up; luckily, it seems that fallen team mates still gain at least a small bit of the overall earnings so they don’t get left behind. The talent tree gives your guys different abilities like applying bleed and poison effects to the enemies and increasing health and hit chance. Which is definitely something you need as a lot of the time I played, my hit chance was upwards of 75% but I was missing shots quite a lot. But that’s the deal you make when playing with random chance and the game never truly feels unfair and winning a difficult fight is a proper fist pump moment.
When enemies get too close you get melee locked meaning you have to resort to fisticuffs and hope that your damage will take off a larger portion of the enemy’s health than they do to you. The last system in the combat side of things is morale, when you start, a bar is shown at the top of the screen with a threshold line. If either side gets pushed over this then their morale breaks which causes characters to become panicked. This state can be brought on by downing enemies and following up with an execution to take them out of the fight permanently, push the enemy far enough and they may well decide to cheese it and end combat. The player also gets this choice and can flee from battle once the bar is firmly on their side.(“Okay guys, if you don’t die you get a pizza party!”)
Mentioned earlier were tactic cards, these helpful abilities are given to you at the start of each fight, choosing four at random from your deck. If you’re not happy with the choices you can select a card (or all of them) to be redrawn, however it is just another random shuffle and you may get given a worse card as a substitute. After your first turn you are free to use these cards when you wish, one example draw for one fight were 2 totem cards, one that explodes and one that heals, one that jams an opponent’s gun and one that gives a character an extra move. Sometimes though the enemy will counteract your cards or pull their own often feeling like you’ve wasted your chance to pull off something amazing.
The story is pretty open and you can just go off and explore the ruins and other towns if you wish, you have your main quest line but major settlements offer you a side quest of which you can only have 1 of at a time. These are worth doing for the cash and reward items you get from them and if you’re lucky, you may even get some Glow.
Another resource that can be used in item creation and as an emergency bribe if you get ambushed out in the world. The characters I’ve come across are often quite humorous at time and despite some typos and lines coming off flat they are rather well written and enjoyable to read in their comic book style speech bubbles. Major settlements have a variety of vendors along with people you can turn over your junk to in return for reputation and fame, another resource that’s recommended to increase as you progress to some of the tougher fights and beasties you’ll encounter.
Whilst I never encountered or sought out any, the game includes online modes, co-op and PvP, I did see some dots moving around the map but decided to stir clear of in case my team wasn’t up to par. But it’s nice to know the option is there once I’m brave enough to pick a fight I might have a chance of being half successful in.
Graphically, Dreadlands is very nice to look at with its stylised appearance, sometimes the arenas are a bit samey but traps and loot are randomised. Character designs are really well done too with people having a fondness for leather and gas masks; my favorite was a “Mushroomancer” that was recruited, wearing a little tin hat with glowing mushrooms all over him that gave special abilities of healing and area poison damage.
Overall, there are some good ideas in here that away from the normal flow of the genre, a little bit more variation in the fight locations would have been great rather than randomising the layouts but there is still enough to sink your teeth into if you’re a fan of tactical RPGs and are looking for a cartoon style wasteland with enjoyable characters and skills.