I'll level with you, reader, this is perhaps one of the hardest game previews or reviews I've had to do, which is why it took so long. This isn't just because the update felt like a few steps back, which it did, but because as I was beginning to write this, Phoenix Labs put out a release stating that they heard the problems the players had and were actively working to fix them. Well crap, that makes it difficult. So now I could complain about the scarcity of potion options with the new ability to buy potions with real money, or I could complain about how the new crafting system makes it a chore to upgrade simple armor, or how currently they took the aspects away from the armor and equalized the stats of different tiers so there's no point in grinding out more than one set, but the devs already know it and are working on it. I don't think you know how this works, Phoenix Labs. You're supposed to ignore the outrage of the players and instead focus on how to milk the free to play cash for all it's worth, citing something about increasing the sense of accomplishment. You aren't supposed to actually change anything until the shareholders start complaining. Your near immediate response to player feedback makes it almost impossible for a critic to rip on your game's flaws.
Joking aside, What I'm saying is that the game is still very rough and though they made a few changes I didn't like, the biggest problems I had were immediately patched away. This happened at least twice as I wrote this. Therefore, keep in mind while reading this that though I may have my quibbles with Dauntless I still think it's a game with a lot of potential. I'm still not sure if it will be able to compete with Monster Hunter World, a game that looks more awesome with each passing trailer that will have more weapons as well as a more developed fanbase, but I do desperately want to see Phoenix Labs succeed on this project.
You could buy a founder's pack starting at $39.99, or you could wait for the game to be free in 2018.
In the Shattered Isles, the world has been split into several floating islands inhabited not only by a steampunk civilization, but by hulking monstrosities known as Behemoths. Your average citizen doesn't stand a chance against one of these creatures, therefore an elite group of hunters known as Slayers go to the islands with these creatures and hunt them down before they can cause too much damage. However, the Behemoths seem to be getting more and more bold, so it is up to the Slayers to stop the Behemoths and keep the city of Ramsgate standing.
I gave my opinions on the story in my last piece, and it hasn't changed at all. I like the lack of chosen one narrative and I like the self awareness of the dialogue.
As I said in the introduction, they did make a few changes I wasn't too much of a fan of but the biggest ones seem to be going away soon, so I'm just going to stick to the changes that seem to be permanent as well as the complaints that maybe won't be addressed immediately.
New hunting board and progression
Where before I complained that the board was disorganized and tough to navigate, now it's quite the opposite. All of the creatures have different tiers and different lands in which to hunt. There is also a new RPG like level up system which doesn't effect your stats at all, but does handle which areas in which you can hunt. On one hand I didn't like having to grind out creatures in the Verge to get to the Yonder, but at the same time I'm grateful that when you get there most of the people know what they're doing. So, on one hand a bit of grind, but on the other hand it isn't an obscene amount and it helps be sure players are skilled enough before hunting harder Behemoths, so I give it a pass. They've even added an airship room where your party can modify their loadouts before hunting, which is something that makes the whole process better. So basically all of the complaints I had about the matchmaking and party formation in my last preview are completely erased.
First off, when I first logged on after the "Sharpen your Skills" update I found that my progress had been entirely reset so that I could more easily fall in step with the new progression system, which ticked me off but seemed fair. Full disclosure: the rest is a main reason I am not wholeheartedly recommending a founder's pack because I don't want to recommend what may be Sisyphean task for a while. I then found that the aspects are gone (but found out later they will be back so I can't complain) and that the new cell customization system is up. Though you get the cells randomly in slayer cores and I wish there was a way to perhaps combine some of the common ones to get a different cell, the system is pretty good. That coupled with the specific armor benefits could really help make sure that no two players have the exact same loadout. Also, the base armor stats of the beginning armor is a bit more equalized, which will really help the game seem a bit less linear with "first get the gnasher, then the shrike…" and so on and so forth.
I feel pretty…
Though many changes in this patch were awesome, one was a bit less so. They really cut back on cosmetic options. The armor and banner dyes are now extremely limited and the only way to get another color is to buy premium currency. I know that this is just cosmetic and it isn't locked behind gameplay, so this isn't something that breaks my opinion of the game, but at the same time I had gotten used to a decent enough variety of colors before they were all unceremoniously locked behind a paywall. Like I said, it's just cosmetic and doesn't effect the game at all, it was just something that was taken away for seemingly little reason.
New weapons and damage types
As anyone who plays Dungeons and Dragons will tell you, damage types are everything. Phoenix Labs must play D&D in their off time because now these damage types matter too. There is the slashing damage done by axes, swords, and chain blades that focuses more on part breaks; the piercing damage done by the new war pike which opens up armor gaps to exploit, and blunt damage by the hammer which focuses more on interrupts and staggers. Honestly if I had one complaint I'd say that the blast on the war pike seems a smidge overpowered. It deals a ton of damage and can stagger practically anything if timed correctly.
Sharpen your Skills introduced two new behemoths: The Skarn and the Kharabak. First off, kudos on those names, I think they're super fitting for the creatures. The Skarn is an earth bending dinosaur and the Kharabak is a fast-moving giant insect. I'll confess to have not gotten to the Kharabak due to the intense grind needed eariler on. Though they fixed that, it still really dug into my time so I couldn't get to the top-tier monsters even with the extra time I took. The Skarn is a wonderful encounter though, just challenging enough. It requires a well balanced team: a hammer to break through it's armor, a spear to pierce it's defenses, and a slashing weapon to sever the parts.
In this vein, I will voice a complaint that I only really noticed after playing a while: I never really felt that accomplished after breaking a Behemoth's body part. If you shatter a tail the thing is severed and it forever modifieshow the encounter goes. Anything else and it just kind of makes a satisfying crunch and it drops a crafting component, then things go ad nauseum. I'd love if one break on a limb made it limp, or if a head break made it's charges random, or if two breaks on a leg severed it. It's a tad greedy, but something like that could really help the combat feel more satisfying.
Graphics and audio
The graphics haven't really changed, though i will say the designs for the new behemoths are pretty great and definitely different than anything else they have. A few characters have different hair, that's neat. That's all I can say about that one. Audio wise it's still much the same except for a couple voice actors changing which honestly didn't work for me. The armorer's new peppy and upbeat voice grew on me after a while, but the weaponsmith's new voice I think is supposed to sound like a big, jovial fellow, but he just sounds like a guy trying to sound like a big, jovial fellow. Aside from the few things, for the full opinion read my last preview, not much has changed in these departments.
I refuse to give a new review of this game on every update. Not because I refuse to play it, quite the contrary, but because new changes are coming so quickly, I'm sure the minute I come up with something to complain about Phoenix Labs will patch it in. It's still a rough game, but Dauntless is well on its way to becoming my favorite free-to-play game on PC. That is, when it is free to play. There are some bugs and some points that need improvement, but when a developer is so ready to respond to the complaints and build with its community as Phoenix Labs, I feel weird complaining about them because as soon as I write a new preview the problems will be gone. The comparisons to Monster Hunter World are inevitable and I will say that Dauntless will really need to try hard to survive upon that release, but I won't call it impossible. Were it not for Monster Hunter, I would call Dauntless a good game in its own right that has the potential to be great. Whether you spring for a founder's pack or wait for it to be free, this is definitely one to keep an eye on.