Dreadlands by Blackfox Studio
Dreadlands is a turn-based tactics game and will be immediately recognizable to fans of XCOM. This under-saturated genre is always in need of more entries, so it’s delightful to see a developer tackle it with a slightly different approach.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world of gangs, fallout and endless strife, Dreadlands provides an alternative to the high-tech aesthetic of the franchise from which it draws much of its inspiration. The game is still in Early Access, so there are many missing features and a few rough edges, but what is already here is definitely interesting.
Jump in to Gang Warfare
I found it easy to get to grips with Dreadlands thanks to its familiar interface, but the game makes sure to provide some basic starter tips to keep things friendly for new players.
The most important early decision to make is which gang to lead. Three gangs are planned, but one is currently unavailable (with release planned soon). The two gangs up for grabs at the moment include the Druidic Tribe-kin and the more conventional Scrappers. The former have animal pets for melee superiority and hunters with rifles for long-range options, while the latter specialize in traps and cobbled-together tech.
Naturally (pun intended), the option to lead a group of Druidic warriors with massive bears for sidekicks was impossible to turn down, so Tribe-kin it was! Each gang has its own introduction with a unique mini-campaign designed to set up the unique world-view of the group.
The Tribe-kin are a fractured gang that partake of various substances of uncertain origin whilst mixing their love of nature with a talent for wielding rifles. Their introduction involves providing various services for their spiritual leaders, often involving interacting with usually hostile Tribe-kin rivals.
An overworld map serves as the backdrop for most of the macro-level decisions and storytelling. A base camp can be visited to purchase resources, upgrade or customize troops and to pick up missions. I found it particularly important to stock up on ammo between missions. Bandages are another crucial tool for keeping units in the game during tougher jobs.
Tactics And Bears
Exploring the overworld can lead to random encounters with other gangs, and there are plenty of hostile areas dotted around the map, many of which are labeled as a high-level threat. It’s always fun to walk past late-game dangers early on in a campaign.
The combat missions are very familiar if you’ve ever played XCOM, with a few noteworthy differences. Long-range sniping and cautious play are less prevalent whilst melee is a more viable tactic. Despite my preference for deploying hunters with their rifles, they were often less effective than sending in a furious bear to sort things out. Thankfully, the latter method is at least as enjoyable.
The action is supplemented and sometimes given a twist through the addition of “tactics cards.” These allow for a variety of curve-balls, such as laying hidden traps for enemies or providing an additional action for your characters. Some can throw in more insidious tricks like jamming enemy weapons. Tactics cards help to keep things fresh and tend to provide unexpected surprises in missions.
A Brighter, More Colorful Apocalypse
I found the visuals of Dreadlands to be a mixed bag. The game’s art is superb, and the chosen aesthetic is a great attempt to add some flare to the usually drab post-apocalyptic style. There is more than a little Borderlands to be found in the recipe, here.
The music, too, is atmospheric and on point- providing a tense and absorbing backdrop for the action and story. The incomplete nature of the game, however, means that there are a lot of rough edges at the moment, and some menus overlap with other GUI elements. Hopefully, this will be dealt with in time, as the design philosophy is otherwise very appealing.
Dreadlands is an interesting take on a genre that was in need of more love. The foundations here are strong; the gangs provide varied and enjoyable gameplay that is further diversified through the many tactics cards that can be used during combat. The personality of each gang is also punchy, something that is backed up through the colorful aesthetics of the game. There are a few little issues here and there, but most of these come down to the early stage of development.
Dreadlands is definitely a title to keep an eye on for fans of strategy and post-apocalyptic punk-Druids.
Dreadlands is available in Early Access via Steam.
Watch the official Dreadlands trailer below: