At E3 2017, we had the opportunity to sit down with the Dauntless team at Phoenix Labs in their cozy installation. Dauntless is an online free to play cooperative behemoth slaying RPG that lets you and 3 friends come together to take out monsters, loot their corpses and craft new gears and weapons.
When we first started the demo, we were given a rundown of the basic controls. Consumables are mapped to the D-pad with attacks tied to the face buttons and special abilities, running and sheathing to the bumpers. The demo begins in the hub world, called Ramsgate, where you will select missions to launch into with your party. This hub world is the center of socialization, and is packed with other players giving it a very MMO like feel, that is a strong shared world. At this hub world you can also craft equipment and open the cores you obtain as loot from your hunts, which you can use the vtiharious materials for crafting your new stuff. The process of opening cores is very similar to visiting the cryptarch in Destiny.
Gearing up involves slotting armor, weapons, lanterns and items. You have armor slots for the helm, gauntlets and leggings, one weapon, and a lantern which you can select based on the different abilities it confers, such as a temporary stamina boost. You can slot your consumable items to your d-pad.
Armor can be mixed and match but combining armor from the same behemoth spoils grants set bonuses which min maxers will absolutely love theory crafting. Weapons are also crafted in the same way. There are no stats to your character, instead your gear progression is how you will get more powerful. Gear can be dyed in a variety of different colors, allowing for more customization. All of your equipment can be improved through crafting and are tier based, allowing you to tackle increasingly more difficult behemoths. This is the positive feedback loop that is the holy grail of good party based gameplay. Tackle the behemoth, loot, craft better gear, tackle stronger behemoth, get ass kicked, go grind and farm, conquer your shameful demons. Rinse, repeat.
Rather than strict roles like tank, rogue, etc. Dauntless allows you to specialize your character based on the gear you equip. The weapons also work with this system, allowing you to choose from a few different weapon classes like swords, hammers (which also have a ranged cannon), axes and chain blades all of which have their unique movesets and further differentiation based on the behemoth you kill to earn them, such as elemental effects. This is a great system that allows for a lot of pre-battle strategy.
We launched into a mission and put the cooperative party based combat through its paces and found it instantly familiar and comfortable. Those who have played Dark Souls or Monster Hunter will feel at home with a health bar and stamina gauge that has to be managed. Dodging is king when it comes to these behemoths, and making liberal use of their i-frames is an important way to stay alive. The behemoths have weak spots and have special abilities tied to their physiology which can be used against them. For example, a tail swipe can be taken away by cutting the tail off, which removes that option, but the behemoths will check to another new strategy. The movesets of the behemoths are dynamic and they are extremely fun to engage, as careful study allows you to anticipate and react to their movements. Some take to the air, others call AoE attacks and ranged abilities like whirlwinds.
Once we got into the groove of the behemoth combat, we had a blast. The team based play is a ton of fun and players are really able to focus on what’s comfortable for them. You can revive downed comrades, but an important feature is a danger mechanic, which gauges the severity of the battle. The more damage you take, the higher the meter goes and once it reaches max, you have a fail condition. You can keep the meter low by having a successful go at combat, so standing around like a punching bag is not going to do you any favors. We pressed the attack, and were able to bring down our first behemoth quickly and had a much longer encounter afterwards which resulted in a maxed out danger meter. This game is no slouch when it comes to difficulty and the Director of Dauntless, Jesse Houston told us there will be behemoths with a 90% failure rate. Bring it on!
They plan to add more content post launch, including new behemoths and potentially some new modes, like timed arenas with leaderboards. The focus for development is on refining the combat against the game’s behemoths and the crafting and gear progression system to make sure players are progressing at paces that are fair and rewarding.
For a free to play game, the monetization will be based on cosmetics like the aforementioned dyes and boosts, which will allow players to increase the amount of loot they can obtain, but not the quality. It’s important to Phoenix Labs that the success is the game is based on skill, so players will never be able to pay for better gear or easier ways to become powerful.
In some exciting E3 news, Phoenix Labs announced that the Founder’s Alpha will launch on August 18th. Players who have purchased Founder-tier packs will be able to explore the Shattered Isles in this first publicly available version of Dauntless. You can find out more about the founder packs here.
Once the demo was done, we didn’t want to leave. The addicting gameplay of Dauntless had already sunk its teeth into us. We were already teasing out strategies in our minds, things we could have done better and the types of gear we knew we wanted. That’s the mark of a game that is on to something special. Dauntless is set to release on PC sometime this year and we plan to be there right at launch, with a few of our closest slayers in tow.
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