I've come back to Dreadnought after a longer break - after lvl 50 and something like 100 hours of fun, it was time to move on. And I come back to 8v8, 30+ ships and tiered research/matchmaking. Oh, and maintenance.. Looks like the game went down the World of Tanks progression system, with some bad flaws however.
So let me rant about the bad incentive to play Recruit instead of Veteran that these changes cause.
Seeing how a tier 3 ship has all the fun modules (Destroyer with energy generator and storm missiles? Hurray), but costs 24k... I wondered how much money do I make on a Recruit-Newbie-Stomp vs a harder Veteran game.
Well, turns out that both matches give me the same base income of roughly 1000 credits. However, the Recruit game was actually fun, while the Veteran game felt like a waste of time. Oh, and there is maintenance for Vet games, reducing my income further.
Lets talk World of Tanks/Warthunder/... for a moment, because that's pretty clearly what inspired this new progression system. In WoT, at low to mid tiers, you drown in credits and the grindfest is getting experience. You can reduce the grinding via paying money to turn exp into free exp. The progression itself is "yet another tank/plane" and modules that give "yet another +10% to damage" - in other words: extremely dull. But the skillful gameplay can kind of save most of that.
Now I see that Dreadnought uses the same progression system, with one bad change: Not exp is the bottleneck, but credits. What's the point of the gp/free exp system, if exp is not the bottleneck? It completely misses the point of how the manipulation of the player works. And I'm not a big fan of that manipulation, but well, like I said: At least WoT/WT's gameplay save it for me and make it acceptable.
Why do WoT/WT have "Maintenance"? Well, assume you make 2k credits and pay 1k maintenance. If you now sell 'boosters' with 50% credit income, you get 3k credits and pay 1k.. oh, look, the booster actually does 100% instead of 50%. It makes the booster feel 'stronger' and allows for balancing the booster properly. But like I said.. that only makes sense with a credits-bottleneck.
Hooray, 30+ ships... my first thought was "Oh no, what did you do! We had 15 more or less meaningful ship choices and they got diluted?". Yes, it was "only 15 ships" - but as a comparison, Overwatch has "only 23 heroes". That's not bad, because they are widely different and encourage different playstyles. And its something I appreciated about the original 15 ship cast, even though it didn't quite feel like it was fully intentional. The "tier 1" Gora was one of my most played ships, because it was just a solid ship - though slow.
Now I come back to the game and see, that not only is the difference in ships the module kit ("good"), but the base ships gets random +x % damage ("bad!"). This leads me to the stupid Veteran games, where there is like three tier 4 healers, outhealing any dps. And they even outtank the damage themselves. We are now in a situation, where a tier 4 ship is just better than a tier 2 ship. Yet again, both get put in the same match. What's the point for the tier 2 player? He'll just go back to Recruit and have fun there.
(And not to say that the others in the Vet game enjoy it.. but the tiered research and matchmaking 'forces' them in there, even though they despise it and they get less bottleneck-credits)
Talking about forcing people to do things. I liked my Gora. Now I have to play 3 tiers of 'static' arty cruisers that I never really liked to get to it. Eww.. and that's something I liked about the old system: You could choose and play whatever of the 5 ship classes you prefer and still progress properly. Sometimes you feel like Arty, sometimes like Tac.. but as it is now, it is "Well, I'm gonna play Recruit, because I wanna have fun. Which tier 2 ship is not fully researched yet? Ah, okay, lets play Arty/Tac then." Yes, you could skip that with free exp, but .. no, not for this price. And especially not because you then sit in front of the next paygate, the credit bottleneck.
One thing that actually makes the credit bottleneck even worse is the fact that you decided to give the modules "+10% to damage"-upgrades too. Those are not interesting! But you need to buy them, in order to play your ship 'optimally', draining even more credits from the account.
So okay, if you go down the route of tiered ships (yay, another +20% instead of my skill mattering.. boring), you really need to increase the playerbase. I liked that matchmaking now allows to queue for "any" mode... but splitting the playerbase between Recruit (= fun) and Veteran (= I have to play it.. urgh)? Considering above problem, Veteran games take longer to queue AND are less fun to play. With tier 2/3, I may not have unlocked the tools to deal with nonsense like armor booster and the like. Coming back as a lvl 50 player, this feels pretty awful, because I "know" I would deal with it, but it takes another week or two before the game "allows" me to deal with it. Feels terrible, especially since I'm the kind of person who enjoys skill based gameplay and despises 'gear checks' that a only linked to my playtime, not to my skill.
I've limited time and I don't have time to grind my way to the gear I need so I can play at my skill level.
In any game, there are some units that get even better the more you've got of them. In this game, it's Arty and Tac cruisers. Having seen teams with like 4x Arty and 3x Tac cruiser is just.. silly.. It no fun to play again, especially since - for some reason - the tier 2 corvette does not do enough damage anymore to kill any of the two targets in the first pass (Bonus: Wow, you removed cloak! I would say: Good choice!). And that happens already even if the prey is tier 2. Don't get me started on higher tier targets..
All in all
I very much enjoyed the "choose whatever ship you like"-approach of the original progression system. I was not forced to buy modules or their upgrades if I didn't want to. In 5v5, a Koschei/Monarch combo or the like was annoying, but acceptable, whereas now it's Tac cruiser spam time in 8v8. Credits were a bottleneck before, too, but at least you could use GP to deal with that issue to some degree (especially for ships and 4k officer briefings). The matchmaking was far from perfect, but at least it didn't split the player base and I didn't feel like "Well, I'm a tier 2 in a game with tier 4 ships.. what am I even doing in here?".
I'll probably grind my way to a Storm missile/drain torpedo/weapon booster/energy generator tier 3 Athos and see whether I can even make a dent with the current balance (If I even get a Vet game!).. and after that will probably drop the game again, because it feels like the new progression system gets too much in the way of my enjoyment of the core gameplay.