Let’s face it: action combat in MMO and online RPGs is as stagnated and dead in the water as it could ever be. All is said when TERA, a game that is nearly 7-years old, is still frequently seen as one of the references in action combat, alongside Vindictus, another old game. There’s the newer Black Desert Online, but it’s more looks and flashy effects than anything else. We need something meaty, responsive, up-to-date with the rest of the mechanics.
Dauntless is where our hope lies. Tired of waiting for Monster Hunter Online to come to North America and Europe (despite having an English patch available), we turn out attention to the work of new studio Phoenix Labs, that encompasses talent from studios such as BioWare, Riot Games, Capcom and Blizzard. It’s a great pedigree and hopefully these fellows know a thing or two about hits such as World of Warcraft or League of Legends.
The Dauntless announcement trailer is the first thing that caught our eye, and particularly due to the art style, which looks a lot more Crowfall than Monster Hunter. In fact, the first gameplay teasers don’t seem to follow this art style, instead going for a more grounded, serious tone and real-life color palette than what the trailer led us to believe – and we prefer it this way, a cartoony look would seem out of place in such a brutal, go-for-the-behemoth kind of game.
So, Dauntless is an online co-op action RPG for PC. We know it will be focused on epic combat with behemoths of very different sizes and shapes – the Drask looks like an oversized lizard, the Shrike seems inspired by an owl and should just fly away to wherever it came from, and the Embermane looks like a rhino and lion mix. However, we don’t know much about the rest of life in the Shattered Isles, the place where floating islands move across the sky and slayers live and hunt. Ramsgate seems to be the place where heroes rest, regain their strength and probably craft a new weapon and armor every now and then. This is probably the main game hub and while the developers say that this is a “majestic world of floating islands that shift and change with time”, we’re still oblivious to the extent of this claim. We don’t expect a big, diverse world in Dauntless, but more one where characters will level up, unlock new abilities and gear, ultimately facing new and tougher challenges in a loop that is familiar to most players – the behemoths are expected to be the highlight of the game, not the game world.
As for combat, it has to be polished and fine-tuned to the max as it will make or break this game. We no longer accept the boring combat seen in most MMOs and despite Dauntless not being exactly an MMO, it still has some hints of it and needs to avoid the pitfalls of the genre. We want player skill to actually matter, although we’re a bit afraid of a big focus on experience levels and gear instead of pure player skill – with Dark Souls mentioned as one of the inspirations, skill definitely has to matter. Pixel-perfect combat is also one of the taglines of the game and while we know it won’t be just like that, the short combat teasers seem promising, with dashes and stuns and charge attacks that make it look more dynamic and fair than most other games. It may look a bit slow for some but it’s probably intended for a more tactical approach, where the characters have their weight, instead of just gliding around the terrain with utter disregard for their size and whatever they’re carrying at the time.
Dauntless is exciting and we can’t hide the fact that it reminds us of the Shadow of the Colossus template, despite the obvious differences and limitations – we doubt we’ll ever be able to climb on the back of any behemoth. Anyway, what we like most about it is that Phoenix Labs seems to be focusing on the essential, which is to say the combat system and the look and feel of the creatures that we’ll get to battle. Let’s just hope that the free-to-play business model is fair and that the studio won’t try to sell overpowered items and break the balance of the game instead of nurturing it, making it big and relevant, and selling awesome skins and cosmetics that players will certainly buy if they enjoy the game. Free-to-play is only as good as your game is.
With a competent and addictive upgrade system in place, and of course regular updates with new creatures, Dauntless could be the game to finally make us forget about Monster Hunter Online once and for all.