Dreadnought may be named after its most iconic ship, but it could have more accurately been called "Fleet" or "Armada." The name implies an overwhelming capital spaceship, raising the question of why anyone would play as one of the four ships at all. Like all class-based games, though, this one will require a fair bit of teamwork and playing to specific strengths.
The dreadnought is the most bombastic of the five choices. It's a brute, armed to the teeth. It features a nuclear weapon to decimate enemies. However, it's also a lumbering beast, with wide arcs to its turns and little maneuverability. It will probably rightly be the centerpiece of a team, but it can't manage on its own. Corvettes are its polar opposite: fast, agile little fighters that can run rings around the larger ships. The Destroyer serves a middle-tier option, while the Artillery and Tactical Cruisers fill roles as sniper and medic analogues, respectively.
If that sounds like a hodge-podge of sci-fi tropes, that's intentional. During our hands-on time at E3, the team at Yager said they wanted a game that ran the gamut of all the varied types of combat you've seen over decades of movies and TV. You could be Han Solo or Captain Picard, as your tastes dictate. The focus on the big guns, they say, is simply because that hasn't been explored much in games. They wanted to make a game that let you broadside a space vessel and issue a flurry of commands
I dabbled in each of the five classes, and the differences were immediately noticeable even in a short time. The Corvette felt appropriately zippy, while the dreadnought made for slow, deliberate tactical decisions. Though the tank-like dreadnought certainly felt more hearty, I was shot down if I tried to go it alone or didn't communicate with teammates. I found myself most comfortable in the support roles, staying behind a larger ship to provide healing, or keeping my distance for the long-range artillery shots. More ships are said to be on their way before the official launch, with multiple ships available for each combat role.
The navigation never quite felt completely natural to me, but I'm sure it could with a longer playtime. I chalk that up to the natural awkwardness of trying to get my bearings in a fully 3D space while also learning a variety of commands. With a little time, it shows potential to be a deep experience with plenty of tactical prowess and teamwork options.
That depth, and the high visual fidelity, makes it surprising that this is planned as a free-to-play game. Yager reps declined to talk about their plans for the F2P model, as their ideas aren't yet fully formed. Whatever the studio does have in store, it expressed so much excitement that I'm curious to learn more. Considering I asked explicitly about cosmetic items, I'd be disappointed to find their ambitions end there.
I'm not sure how the market will respond to a game like Dreadnought. It borrows a lot from class-based multiplayer games, but its differences are more stark than the similarities. Space combat has fallen out of popularity in recent years. A unique class system might just be enough to revive it.