Between this year’s Game Awards and the PlayStation Experience conference, there was no shortage of exciting RPG news. Even among heavy hitters inside and outside the RPG world, what stood out most was a new game from a new studio: Dauntless, the first game by Pheonix Labs. The trailer was stunning but didn’t reveal much. We did some digging and found out how much more there is to be about than art style.
First off, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, take a minute and give it a watch below.. It’s worth the time.
The art style alone is enough to draw the eye. Stylized graphics have a timeless quality about them and this is clearly a game that could still draw the eye years after release. The characters are completely fantastical, pulling their oversized weapons straight from Final Fantasy. But what really caught me was the enemy, a glowing eyed owl beast (Shrike, pictured below). We now know this is one of the Behemoths featured in the game.
The trailer worked perfectly. It was mysterious but also a bit whimsical, and the fantastic weapons and armor exude fun in the same way that attract us to the likes of World of Warcraft and Crowfall. But even with that, it really didn’t say very much. Was it an action game? Co-op? What in the heck was really going on? Here’s what Dauntless is really about.
Dauntless is a co-op action RPG and the first game from Phoenix Labs. Phoenix Labs came together in 2014 and is spearheaded by game designers from Riot Games, Blizzard, and Bioware (that art style seemed a little bit familiar, no?). The game will be free to play and exclusive to PC.
Dauntless is set in a land called the Shattered Isles, a broken world surrounded by floating islands. People have set out across the frontier with the assistance of airships. Players take on the role of Slayers, protectors of the common people from the threat of the Behemoths. Hunting these monsters is a generational tradition and an act of high honor. The city of Ramsgate is described as “the final port of call” before the wilderness and is likely to be the hub city for the early game.
From what the developer has shared on their blog, the game seems to fall into what I consider the “character builder” category of RPG. Entries are few at the moment, but what’s there all revolves around the the hunt, combat, and gear upgrades. Since they’re calling Dauntless an Action RPG, it’s likely that you’ll keep a persistent character to level up and upgrade with gear and abilities. Since the game is free to play and co-op, I wouldn’t be surprised if levels matter less than skill, allowing you to more easily play with your friends.
Combat absolutely looks skill based. The article describing the hunt really pushes the idea that these enemies are smart and will require strategy to vanquish, requiring you to target specific body parts. It also emphasizes the importance of mastering your weapon and using combos to deal out the most hurt. Team composition will be an important consideration.
When VentureBeat recently tried to get a bead on the game, they asked the developers if it would be resemble Path of Exile or Diablo. Pheonix Labs shared that the game was quite different and would have more in common with games like Monster Hunter where players have to team up to defeat powerful monsters. They also said they took inspiration from games like Dark Souls and World of Warcraft.
The Monster Hunter analogy is an important one. Monster Hunter makes it name on highlighting boss battles above all. Battles are often long and difficult, even requiring friends to succeed at all in some cases. Slaying monsters gives you materials to make new, more powerful weapons and armor, letting you slay even more powerful monsters, and the loop continues. (Raiders should immediately see the connection here.) This design is laced throughout everything we’ve seen so far.
Weapon and armor upgrades, for example, are clearly inspired by Monster Hunter. Enemies will drop an aetherite material that can be refined into Aspect Anchorite. This material can be forged by the town smith into powerful gear that “harnesses the savage fury of the behemoth.” Furthermore, targeting certain parts of their bodies can yield trophies which can be used to improve weapons and armor. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume gear and armor derived from a Behemoth may also take on shades of their appearance, ala the inspirational franchise. There also appears to be a gathering system for supporting materials like plants and minerals.
All of this is very exciting. Many players, myself included, find Monster Hunter nearly impenetrable. It is a series with a devoted audience that clearly has a lot to love but also one whose systems appear overly complicated to an outside observer. An opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a flashy new game that takes that addicting upgrade loop, blends it with vastly improved combat and easy co-op, and adds in hints of MMOs and RPGs? Sign me up. And as an MMO player at heart, I’d be lying if I said the similarities to raiding didn’t excite me.
The big concern as of this writing is the business model. Since the game will be free to play, it will certainly use a cash shop to turn a profit. Will they take League of Legends’ lead and sell skins? Fan who have followed these developers from LoL seem to think so. I’m not so sure. Dauntless is a vastly different game and Pheonix Labs will have to find what fits. The market has changed since the studio formed and, presumably, development began in 2014. These days free to play is widely given the stink eye by players who have been burned in the past. They’ll have to tread carefully to strike a good balance and not go the route of LotRO’s Shirtless Dwarf after the launch boom.
We know so little, it’s hard to say anything for sure. The only thing without question is that this is a game to keep high on our radar.
Lots of stories this week and precious little space, so these quick hits will be truly quick:
Final Fantasy XV launched and is fantastic. Read our thoughts in our first Review in Progress and expect more on this in the RPG Files in the future. In a blog post, Game Director detailed the future year of free content updates, including adding new scenes to explain character motivations, the ability to play as different avatars (or even your own!), new bosses and more.
The Game Awards brought with it a brand new gameplay trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda. The trailer is our first showcase of real gameplay and highlights many new improvements to combat and other game systems. Bioware also dropped some new information introducing The Nexus and explained to IGN that they plan for relationships to be deeper and less formulaic. Mac Walters, Game Director, also talked a bit about the game’s multiplayer, sharing that it will be more cohesively tied to the single player experience, going so far as to say that “the multiplayer really drives it.”
Announced at the PlayStation Experience conference, Neir: Automata will be coming to PlayStation on March 7th, 2017. A demo is planned to arrive soon. Absolver, the ninja simulator combat RPG, was also announced to be a PlayStation exclusive also coming next year.
Persona 5 has a new trailer to accompany the opening of pre-orders. The game will launch on April 4th, 2017.