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Dauntless Gameplay Preview & Hands-On Impressions

Posted on March 17, 2017

Anyone who sticks to one medium for gaming -- PC, Xbox, Playstation, destroyed Switch -- inevitably misses out on some games. For us at GamersNexus, Monster Hunter has long been one of those franchises. Luckily, Phoenix Labs felt the same way, and so created a more platform-favorable co-op, behemoth-slaying RPG called “Dauntless.” Dauntless aims to bring a refreshed, new take on the hunting experience, adding a healthy dash of Dark Souls-inspired combat for the PC platform.

The very existence of humanity is being threatened by aether-fueled behemoths, we’re told, and so you shouldn’t feel bad about eradicating entire families of beasts, Design Director Chris Cleroux informed us. Just murder all of them. They’re all bad.

You play the role of a slayer -- a human trained in slaying Behemoths, naturally. Airships drop you and your teammates into instanced maps to slay a particular behemoth, with our hands-on experience featuring four players vs. one BBEG. As you explore the map, hunting the behemoth, you’ll find various crafting materials that feed into the game’s only progression system: Equipment, which is upgraded and made new to advance your character; there aren’t classes or skill trees in Dauntless. Slaying the behemoth rewards player with yet more crafting materials, as a bonus to not-dying.

When not out slaying, players reside in the main hub of Dauntless -- the city of Ramsgate. Here, we can take up all the activities of an out-of-raid MMO character: trading, crafting, chatting, and so on. Not much else is known about Ramsgate at this time, aside from being a bit of a central hub.

As of now, there have been four behemoths revealed: Shrike, Pangar, Drask, and the newly-announced Embermane. In our PAX East demo, we fought the giant owlbear Shrike and the icy dinosaur Pangar. Wounds you dealt to behemoths become more clearly represented in the textures as damage wears in, and by the time death is close, wide gashes become apparent. Some area-specific attacks are also rewarded, like when we attacked Pangar’s tail in the demo. Ultimately, we managed to chop it off entirely, something we’re told will be quite useful on some behemoths as it grants extra crafting materials. While taking the tail off the Pangar is useful during the fight, increased damage on the behemoth also increases the chances of it entering a frenzy. This is sort of a berzerker mode on your standard Barbarian-type character.

We did not get to see any of the crafting or inventory systems and the characters we got were pre-made. The setups of the four characters did show how different itemizations completely changed how the characters played, but note that full character creation will be available at launch. One of the more entertaining characters on selection was armed with a combination hammer-shotgun. The shotgun portion used an active reload similar to the one in Gears of War, adding a bit of gameplay challenge to work with. In addition to just shooting the behemoth, you could drop the hammer for a kind of rocket jump. Another character, equipped with a big axe, specialized in charged attacks. A charged attack filled a power bar based on how long the attack was charged, with a full power delivering a devastating attack capable of “staggering” or stunning the behemoth.

Combat in Dauntless is designed to replicate the challenging and mechanical combat of Dark Souls’ boss fights. Behemoths attacks have certain signals they telegraph, while some attacks have misleading signals to trick the players. Dodging and planning your strikes is important as many of the behemoth attacks stagger players when delivered. As of the PAX East demo, there is no taunt function in Dauntless; the behemoth AI determines how and who it attacks. Teamwork is necessary to make sure everyone stays alive and makes full use of their abilities.

Dauntless developer Phoenix Labs was founded by former Riot Games developers, namely Jesse Houston, Sean Bender, and Robin Mayne. These team members brought on former members of Bioware, Riot, Blizzard, and Capcom to work on Dauntless. Talking to Engadget about being an indie company with former members of so many AAA developers, Houston called Phoenix Labs "a new, unique approach to crafting AAA experiences [...] We feel smaller, focused teams are able to move quickly, react in real-time, and double down on what they are best at."

It can't be said that the formula to Dauntless is entirely original, but the demo does get the formula down right and bring it to PC. Phoenix Labs plans to bring Dauntless into open beta later in the year. Micro-transactions will fund the game, but should be limited to cosmetics and “temporary boosts.”

- Keegan Gallick