I’ve been looking forward to Dauntless for a long time. I’ve been a long time detractor of the increased focus on instanced content in MMORPGs over the last decade, theorizing that it’s only a matter of time before a PvE game comes along and does to MMO instanced PvE what MOBAs did to MMO instanced PvP: boil off the excess baggage and present a tight, focused experience that’s a lot easier to get right than a game that’s trying to accomplish a myriad of competing design objectives at once. Dauntless and games of its kin appear to be just that.
So, is Dauntless going to lure all of the PvE players away? Of course not. But it may scratch a familiar itch for a lot of MMO players who are willing to give it a shot.
As soon as the game finished installing I hopped online, brimming with excitement. After a brief introduction, I hopped right in – and I. was. terrible.
The first thing I learned in Dauntless is that it’s a lot harder than it looks. While the control scheme may lead you to think it’s simplistic, it didn’t turn out that way in practice. The game has a fair degree of complexity in each weapons’ unique mechanics (more on that in a bit), and a lot of skill enters the mix by way of timing and placement – concepts that should feel familiar to any MMO player.
While my first hour was spent mostly derping about on different weapons and dragging my groups down, after I took a break and watched a few instructional videos, I was able to get back into the mix only being slightly embarrassing to myself, and with a greater appreciation for the path that lay ahead of me.
The game itself is very much a work in progress, and while I had a lot of fun playing it, anyone considering buying in now should be prepared for it to feel unfinished – which is totally okay. Movement is a bit clunky at times, hits don’t always feel like they connect consistently, performance sometimes leaves a little to be desired, and the content currently in game is limited – but the core of what the game offers is still more than enough to foreshadow a good thing in the making. Whether or not that potential is fulfilled, well, I want to believe anyway.
I am worried, as I am with all free-to-play titles, about future monetization of the title once it exits testing. While we don’t know a lot about Phoenix Labs’ plans for the future, the current interface to open Aether Cores, which contain loot received from killing monsters, has lockboxes written all over it – including a lengthy unlock animation with the typical ‘flip the card over to reveal what you got’ interface we’re all far too familiar with by now.
While this could work out to be a relatively benign system – as is the case in games like Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm – it will remain a worrying harbinger until more details are available. Still, with the game launching as free to play, you have nothing to lose if you wait until then to give it a shot.
For those of you chomping at the bit to get in already, the first thing you need to know about is weapons. In Dauntless, your weapon is effectively your class, and each has a significantly different experience any play style to offer you.
The first weapon you’ll experience in Dauntless is the sword, and this is no coincidence. The sword features a healthy balance between speed, heft, and mobility with straightforward combos and special attacks that shouldn’t take long to master. It’s widely agreed upon to be Dauntless’ easiest weapon, so if you’re wanting to ease your toes into the pool instead of diving right in, the sword is going to be your best place to start.
The sword features a straightforward meter that all your damaging attacks fill, then, you can use your elemental attack to drain the meter and deal a bunch of damage. This can be done at any level on the meter, but waiting until it’s full will result in starting off a powerful buff to attacks after the initial special completes. With the sword, your goal is likely going to be to fill the meter with fast attack combos, then drain it once its full for use with your heavier hitting combos.
I have to admit the hammer got me by surprise – I generally lean away from their playstyle in most games and yet, I really enjoyed Dauntless’ take on the weapon. For one, they put an elemental cannon in it, which could be playing a role.
Your cannon can be fired with your secondary attack button up to 4 times before you have to reload (your special). Reloading itself is a timing minigame, where you have to stop a bar at the exact right spot on a meter, or else you’re stunned for a moment as your character stops to smash the clip in.
The trick with the hammer is that firing off your cannon at the end of a combo will result in all of your shells firing at once – a huge burst of damage.
Oh – and when you’re sprinting, you can hop on your hammer to ride it into an aerial combo, either leaping in with an aerial hammer smash – which is just as awesome as it sounds – or firing off a second shell to give yourself another boost of distance.
The axe is slow and precise, which, for me, made for a pretty painful starting experience where I missed a lot and felt overall pretty ineffective. The axe features a narrow, narrow vertical attack (which I missed constantly) and a wider, slower horizontal sweep – though this has less range than its vertical counterpart.
Axe attacks can also be charged by holding down your attack buttons. The vertical attack locks you in place, but deals the heaviest damage. The horizontal charged attack deals less damage, but you’re able to move around a bit while you’re charging the attack. Opening your combos with a charged attack is essential – as this is the only way to build your meter to build up a massive overhead smash.
To me, the axe felt like the hardest to master, but also has the potential to be one of the most powerful once you’ve gotten the hang of it.
The chain blades made a strong first impression with me, due to their quick attacks not leaving you locked into lengthier animations and the ability to throw them a bit giving you just a bit more reach than you have with other weapons. The chain blade special attacks also function as a grapple / disengage, either pulling you to or pushing you off from an enemy behemoth depending on whether or not you were near or far from them to begin with. And lastly, the chain blade grants you with a dash, rather than a roll, that in addition to working slightly differently than a dodge, has the benefit of making you feel like a biotic god.
The trade-off is that stamina management is particularly tricky with the chain blades, as all of your longer-ranger attacks – which finish most of your combos – consume quite a bit of stamina. With the chain blades, your mobility and your damage begin to dip into the same pools, so if you go too hard on either, you’re likely to end up dead.
Beyond the four weapons currently available in the alpha, there’s a curious “Coming Soon!” section of the UI that seems to indicate that more weapons are on their way. As Phoenix Labs has done an exceptional job of giving each weapon a unique feel and playstyle so far, I’m looking forward to seeing what future additions will bring to the game.
Dauntless has a lot of promise, and it’s one I think has a lot of potential for old MMO vets who may not have the time to dedicate to raiding anymore. If you want a similar experience of learning fights and progression with your friends without the hassle of everything else an MMORPG throws at you, Dauntless is probably worth taking a look at – especially if you wait until release when the only thing it will cost you is some bandwidth and a little bit of time. I don’t know what the future will hold for Dauntless, but its current state holds a lot of potential for something truly great to emerge.