After spending some time in the alpha for Dauntless, I certainly had some questions. While I, personally, am a huge fan of Monster Hunter-type gameplay, I didn't feel the "spark" of those games inside Phoenix Labs' free-to-play title.
There is certainly the potential for a gem of a free-to-play game here, though. It can be addictive, it certainly has a level of challenge and skill dependency in the Behemoth fights, and hell, the most badass gear in the game is a visual sign of someone's badass-ery since they farmed the materials themselves. Tie it all up in addictive cycle-based gameplay a la Warframe and you could have a real winner.
Alpha started off well for me, but started to lose some of that shine in early gameplay. BUT...it's alpha, right? The game was in testing and was more limited than the full game will be so I set aside some of my concerns and brought them out when I had a chance to chat with Phoenix Labs Co-Founder and Dauntless Executive Producer Jesse Houston.
Magicman (MM): First off, for our readers, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do day-to-day behind the scenes in your role?
Jesse Houston (JH): Hi MMOBomb readers! I’m Jesse Houston, Co-Founder of Phoenix Labs and Executive Producer on Dauntless.
MM: Dauntless obviously gets compared to Monster Hunter Online, particularly here in the West where that title in inaccessible. Was that a key inspiration piece for Phoenix Labs? Lots of Monster Hunter fans around the office?
JH: First, it’s really flattering to be compared to Monster Hunter, thank you. :D Monster Hunter is a great franchise and we’re honored to be compared to it. When Phoenix Labs set out to build its first game we discussed a variety of different genres and game types. We ultimately settled on the Action-RPG space because we wanted to build a game that didn’t exist yet, and something we’d be passionate about playing with our friends. At its core Dauntless is a social experience about players banding together and overcoming challenges together. We want to create those shared memorable moments over and over for players. But our inspiration doesn’t just come from one game, it comes from all of our favorite games over the years.
MM: Obviously Alpha content is very limited for testing purposes. We get a basic feel for the game though: hunt, craft, level up weapons, go hunt tougher prey. While that gameplay can be addicting for some, it can be rather limited for many. What does Dauntless have in store for players to break the feeling of monotony and attempt to attract a larger audience?
JH: We’ve found that most players already have many hours logged in just the first week! We have dozens of encounters and multiple tiers of content in place. The feedback thus far has been very positive. To expand a bit more on your Alpha point, while Dauntless may be a little rough around the edges, we believe in developing the game alongside our community. The game you play today will be very different from the game in 2018 and beyond. One of our core values is to build the game transparently and work closely with the founding community. This may mean that some content isn’t ready for everyone on day 1, but that’s okay, we’re in it for the long game and look forward to them joining us in the future.
"We believe that it’s critical that when you see a Slayer walk through Ramsgate in badass gear that you know they earned it by defeating a Behemoth."
In terms of the future, we listen to both Slayers and the broader gaming community alike. You’ll see many of us active on our forums, subreddit, and Discord daily. As of August 23rd, we have already released three patches since launching our the Founder’s Alpha on August 18th. We have big plans for future content drops, including new behemoths, new weapons, expanding quests and stories, and much, much more. Dauntless is just getting started and we’re excited to create new adventures for players to share.
MM: Being free-to-play, obviously players want to know about the game’s monetization plan. I’m sure cosmetics come into play here, but what else is Phoenix Labs envisioning in the way of being profitable? It seems like a game that TOTALLY gets broken at its core if anything hits the “pay-to-win” mark.
JH: You can load into the Founder’s Alpha today and see our plans for monetization. We’re firmly against pay for power. We believe that it’s critical that when you see a Slayer walk through Ramsgate in badass gear that you know they earned it by defeating a Behemoth. We’ve seen lots of great feedback around customization and cosmetics and we plan to expand our offerings as we continue into Beta later this year. More armor dyes, flares, emotes, cosmetics, player creation, and more. It’s important to us that monetization doesn’t disrupt the core Dauntless experience.
MM: Let’s talk content. We have 4 weapons currently available, a place holder in game for a fifth, and teases in posts online about more. What can we expect on that front? Any truly ranged weapons coming? I mean like crossbows or bow and arrows, not like the current “ranged” play of the chain blade’s secondary attack.
"Our vision for ranged combat is to have an intense ranged experience that still requires the player to still have a high-risk relationship with the Behemoth."
JH: Speaking to the earlier point about collaborating with the community, one of the more prominent pieces of feedback we heard is around ranged weapons. We had always planned on doing one, but during the Tech Alpha we really saw the urgency and demand for one. So, we re-organized some priorities to fast track ranged combat. In Dauntless, you’ll never be “safe” while in combat. Our vision for ranged combat is to have an intense ranged experience that still requires the player to still have a high-risk relationship with the Behemoth. We’re already hard at work on two different weapons that incorporate ranged combat in this way and we’re really excited for players to try them out.
MM: How about scaling? I saw a reddit reply from Phoenix Labs confirming that Behemoths do scale to party size…do they also scale according to party gear? In alpha, I got the feeling that even after leveling up gear and crafting new gear to increase power that I wasn’t really seeming to take previously beaten behemoths down any faster than when I fought them earlier, but that could have just been alpha or early gameplay. Can you give us a peek behind that curtain? (i.e. a feeling of progression rather than just stats on weapons and gear symbolizing progression)
JH: It’s important to us that parties of any size can enjoy Dauntless. Behemoths will scale depending on party size so that a part of 2 players have the same challenge as a party of 3 or 4. Gear absolutely plays a factor in your ability to slay a Behemoth. That said, the most important part of the equation is player skill.
MM: Ok, to follow-up on that, sticking with the example you gave of a 2 person party and a 4 person party having the behemoth scale to ensure the same challenge, does the gear Slayers wear also impact the actual scaling? For example, if that 2 person party you spoke of went in with low power starting gear and then again for that same fight with higher end more powerful gear, would they have the same challenge both times since the Behemoth scaled to the gear as well as party size? Or would they mop the floor with that behemoth the second time around?
JH: Our goal is to make every battle feel epic, challenging, and most importantly, rewarding. New gear will help players take on increasingly challenging Behemoths with bigger and better rewards. It will also improve their stats against previously hunted beasts but the encounters will also feel balanced and meaningful so players never feel like a behemoth was too easy.
MM: What are the plans for number of zones and behemoths as we move through beta and then into launch? I was a tad sad to see behemoth model repeats with new skins so early in the alpha gameplay.
JH: The Shattered Isles is an ever-changing landscape. The islands you see today in the Founder’s Alpha will likely not be the same islands you see by the end of Closed Beta. We’ve included the first 3 tiers of Behemoths, progression, and quests in the Founder’s Alpha. During Closed Beta we will release more zones and encounters culminating into our end-game encounters being available in Open Beta. Once we hit Open Beta we plan to explore more of the Shattered Isles; new regions, cities, weapons, armor, and of course new fearsome Behemoths.
MM: What can we expect for the next few updates to the game?
JH: We’ve already been patching the game on a steady basis, including new art for the Chain Blades. You can expect new content throughout the Closed Beta, Open Beta, and beyond. Dauntless is a living product and will continue to receive free updates for years to come.
MM: Phoenix Labs has likened Dauntless more to games like Warframe in the spirit of instanced zones and farming of materials type gameplay, but can Dauntless provide the variety that a game like Warframe can in enemies and environments with such a focus on single “big monster” battles?
JH: Yes, the design space in Dauntless is super wide. We’re excited to continue to explore new types of encounters never seen in the action-RPG genre. An example of this is Rezakiri, one of our later Behemoths in Tier 3. It’s an encounter that merges bullet hell mechanics with tightly paced melee combat.
MM: What would you like readers to know about Dauntless going forward? Maybe something readers don’t already know about but your team is excited about.
JH: Everyone here at Phoenix Labs is genuinely grateful for the opportunity to share Dauntless with you guys. Seriously. Hearing your feedback and excitement over the game so far has been tremendous. We want to continue to surprise and amaze you through the Beta and for years to come. Stay tuned everyone, we’re just getting started.
My thanks to Jesse for taking time out of a certainly busy schedule to chat with us!
About the Author
Mike “Magicman” Byrne has been a part of the MMOBomb family for years and serves as the site’s current Editor-in-Chief. His love for MMOs and gaming in general has led him to covering games for numerous gaming websites including Gamebreaker TV and XIV Nation where he proudly displays his fanboy flag for FFXIV:ARR.
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