During PAX West, we met up with Chris Cleroux, the Design Director of Dauntless to discuss how far the game’s come since we first saw it, what’s changed, and where we’re headed now that it’s in beta.
MMORPG: So, I saw Dauntless back at E3 and the one thing that struck me right away is there's a lot more detail to the environment, the characters, and the world. So what have you guys been working on to improve the visuals since then?
Chris Cleroux: Well, focusing on the fidelity, but making sure that – so we've added two new biomes. We've got our snowy biome and our arid biome, along with our temperate. We're making new islands and the system that we have allows us to create a lot of variance in those things, making sure that each combat arena feels really good. And I'm not sure if the last time you saw, whether we had our chain blades or not in terms of new weapon varieties and armor sets which are always being introduced to the game. So even technically, approaching those things, optimizing a bunch of our visuals so that it looks awesome all the time.
MMORPG: Let's talk about the new weapons and armor a little bit. What's been introduced since we last talked?
C: Oh man, well since E3, well that's a while ago. We've got four weapons in the game now. We've got a sword, we've got our hammer, we've got our axe, and we've got chain blades. Chain blades is the newest one. Each of the behemoths – now we have a lot more behemoths than what you saw at E3 – each of those has their own armor and weapon set as well. Each has their own power set and abilities that are associated with it, the players can use to customize into a play style that they prefer, as well as the abilities and powers that they want.
MMORPG: So let's talk about a couple of the behemoths that you guys are showing off here. I just took on Pengar, who's like a giant ice T-Rex.
C: Haha. Yeah, so we've got Pengar, and he's our, like you say, a giant Ice T-Rex. We've got our Shrike, which is earlier in our progression in closed beta, kind of a giant owl bird that has some swoop and some what we call wing cutters at close range, and then we have Nezaga. Negaza is one of our newer behemoths. It sits at our end game in our closed beta right now. It's kind of a slither lizard that has quills on its back but it's also electric, and some pretty neat raid-like mechanics.
MMORPG: At the risk of sounding redundant, it seems like there are lots of "elemental" elements to the game, like fire and electricity and water. I'm curious, will those elemental aspects play a bigger role in strategizing your loadout as the game progresses?
C: Absolutely. So we want to make sure that players feel a sense of progression and a desire to build a specific armor set or weapons set so they can have greater success against behemoths who are later in the game. So you'll see that a little bit now. Pengar, being the ice behemoth. If you had taken the Embermane, which is one of the early fire behemoths, his weapon and armor set, you'd have a different effect and a different success against that behemoth.
MMORPG: So there's almost a Mega Man effect where you kind of got one boss to get the power to take on the next boss?
C: Absolutely. But it's important to us that we don't provide... so like, games like Mega Man, there's an optimal choice. You can be successful, and we want to be sure we allow players to have choice in our game. If we only say, "this is the one best thing you have to do," it doesn't mean a lot to the players. They have to do that one thing. But if we say here's three things, five things you could go at, then people have more choice. They can optimize around their own play style and just continue to have fun.
MMORPG: What has surprised you the most when you see fans playing the game? What didn't you think would occur that has happened?
C: That's a great question. I guess I'd frame it in what I love to see in our community. We really strive to be transparent and communicative with them. And so the level of insightful and dedicated feedback they give us, and their willingness to engage and understand what we're trying to do with the game, so they can feed back and give us things that are valuable to us, is awesome. So I love the communication back and forth with our community and we continue to grow that. I mean, additionally, I think as the high point too, what I love, is when I hear people scream when they get blasted by a Jurassic laser the first time. Those moments where they have a new encounter with a behemoth and they just, it feels special to them.
MMORPG: Let's talk about the hub world a little bit, because we haven't seen a lot of the world outside of the field where you're battling. What can players expect from the social aspects of the game?
C: So we have, in terms of social systems, our core is Ram's Gate. That is our social hub, it is our city. Right now we can get a couple dozen players in there at one time. They can go, this is where all of our crafting and quest hubs and everything that's contained within that city, is there for players to come back, upgrade their gear and whatnot. They can engage other players in a citywide chat. They can also form guilds, which is really important to our social system. If you have friends that you wanna go and see who's online, we're going to do some guild quests. We're going to roll that out. That's really important as well. So, keeping players together.
MMORPG: Now you mentioned guilds. What are going to be some of the advantages to joining a guild?
C: We're still fleshing those systems out to be able to add more flavor and more impact and functionality to guilds. So you can look forward to some more of that in the future. Right now we can just get players together and they can communicate and go on a hunt together.
MMORPG: Let's talk about the damage system to the enemies. The game seems very nuanced in that you have to really pay attention to what's happening on the screen rather than looking at bars or meters.
C: It's very important to us that we do not have a health bar, per se, like a literal health bar for the behemoths. We want players to be able to pay attention because where you damage and how much damage is on a behemoth actually matters. So we want players to be able to get a sense of how their fight is progressing based on where they're focusing their damage, and how the behemoth's behavior is changing over time. We are continually improving that system to give more and better feedback to players, so you can see the change really effectively and impactfully.
MMORPG: Do you feel a need to constantly one-up yourself when it comes to behemoths? Cause this is like a very boss-battle-based game, so you've got to keep that intensity up for the players, right?
C: I think overall, yeah, we always challenge ourselves to come up with new and inventive ways. What we're really trying to avoid though, is an infinite power scale. We want to make sure that players that come into the game don't have to play for a year before they get to the end game. We really want to create a variety of experience for players at that end game state. And we're not there yet, in terms of the number or the amount of content that we need, but we don't just want to create this huge linear chain for players. That's not engaging for us.
MMORPG: I've never seen this airship before. Can you tell me about the airship?
C: So narratively, the airship is how the slayers get around, because the Shattered Isles are shattered, and it's all held together by this force called aether. That's how trade is done, how slayers get to their battles. So the airship is really just right now a vehicle that we use to narratively drive the players around between the different hunts.
MMORPG: The one thing that I noticed was absent from Dauntless that I've seen in a lot of MMOs are mounts and familiars. This seems like the perfect game for something like that.
C: It's a great point. It's very interesting for us. We may get there eventually. We don't have any immediate plans to do that kind of stuff. When I was playing a lot of MMOs, I love the mount system too, but we have a very small instant combat kind of world. The islands that you go to are meant to be explorable, but not vast. It's not a game about overworld exploration, so we want to keep everything kind of focused for the player right now.
MMORPG: Do you guys have plans to introduce any other elements to the combat system at this point or are you feeling pretty confident about where it's at?
C: I think that we're going to continually improve our combat. We want to add more depth to our current weapons in terms of combos and abilities. We are moving forward to diversity more of the weapons themselves across the different behemoths so they feel more different and more impactful for players. And we're always going to be adding new weapons, new behemoths, new challenges for players as we move forward.