Dauntless, the free-to-play Monster Hunter-esque co-op action game from developer Phoenix Labs, recently blasted onto consoles and the Epic Games Store to huge success. Part of that success likely came from the fact that Dauntless was the first game to feature full cross-play between PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One at launch, an impressive feat that already seems to be paying off.
With more than six million players playing shortly after launch and a recently announced Nintendo Switch version on the way, we chatted with Dauntless producer Chris Fox and Phoenix Labs public relations manager Andy Burt to learn more about the inspirations behind Dauntless, how a Behemoth is made, what to expect in the future, how cross-play came to be, and more.
Q: Obviously Dauntless is inspired by Monster Hunter, but that series has a bit of a reputation for being obtuse and difficult to get into. What aspects of the series did the team feel could be streamlined and make more appealing to a wider audience?
Chris: We knew we wanted to do a multiplayer game, we knew we wanted to build a cooperative game. We were looking around at the type of experiences out there, and certainly at that time, the four player cooperative hunting action game wasn’t super prominent. It was something that we loved among ourselves, just that feeling of every single session being you and your buddies against ridiculously awesome boss fights. That’s the stuff we enjoyed the most. The sense of cooperative achievement and the loop that kind of gameplay provides is the core of what we enjoyed the most and what we wanted to build with Dauntless.
All the details around that, we look not just at things like Monster Hunter but games like WoW (World of Warcraft) and Destiny and other things, find things we enjoy across a variety of inspirations and blend those together into what Dauntless is today. At its core, its teaming up with your buddies and hopefully kicking the crap out of some monsters.
Q: Dauntless has a more stylized art style and appearance for its world and characters. What did the team look to for inspiration?
Chris: We want this game, this experience, to be something that lasts a long time. Part of that is designing an art style and aesthetic that is more timeless. It’s not something that is tied to a year or in which it was built. If you look at 360 or PS3 era games, they are hitting the things you generally associate with that tech. They are dated, they look like they belong to a time and a place. We want Dauntless to look awesome in its style forever. Part of that as well is that everybody can play Dauntless regardless of what hardware they have. So building an art style that didn’t require a 2080 Ti just to get in the door was really important as well.
Q: What is your weapon of preference in Dauntless and what is your favorite Behemoth?
Chris: Weapon is hammer, I would say. That’s still the most satisfying for me. Just the hit impacts on that, the way it feels and sounds. It’s super satisfying. As for Behemoth, let me think, this is like picking my babies. Rezakiri, I would say still. Just the overall aesthetic of that encounter, the whole radiant element in general, Valomyr as well, but just the way that looks, the prismatic approach to how the effects look I think is super unique and cool. That fight in particular was quite a shift in how we thought about encounters in our game could be, and I think it still holds up as one of the more unique and challenging encounters the game has to offer.
Q: How does the team go about designing the Behemoths? Is it everybody gets in a room and says “Hey, this kind of monster sounds cool,” or does it start on the art side and you guys build its moves and things after the fact?
Chris: All those things you said have happened. We’ve been doing this for a while and I think our approach has evolved a little bit. Certainly we’ve gotten into rooms and said “Hey, what would be cool?” and have had pitches come from pieces of concept art first. These days though, we’ve got a pretty decent view of where the game is going in the next few months, six months, nine months, and we are looking at the features we have coming down the line. The way we treat a new Behemoth is how can we build a cool encounter that not only will be super satisfying for players to fight, but will also pair nicely with some of the new features and game modes stuff we have coming down the pipe. On top of that, is there anything we can drive forward from a technology or proof of concept point of view that a Behemoth could help with.
A good example of that is we most recently did Boreus which has the spawn-creep, minion type element to it. That was we want to have more aggressive fauna or little creatures on islands that you can interact with outside of the base Behemoth encounter. The best and most effective way for the Behemoth team to get that into the game was to build an encounter that incorporated the mechanic. We start talking about stuff coming in the future, it’s what ideas do we have that we think would make for a cool mechanic elsewhere in the game, not just in a Behemoth encounter, that we can prototype in an encounter or push forward with an encounter. At that point, each new Behemoth becomes more than just a fight, it becomes driving the overall toolset of the game forward. Ideally you are giving player combat designers in the studio more tools to design with moving forward as well.
Q: I know you guys put out some statistics for the recent console launch, where you said 60 percent of in-game parties were taking advantage of the game’s cross-play functionality. How early on did cross-play become a priority, and why do you think it’s important for players across all platforms to be able to play the same game together?
Chris: I think the importance speaks for itself really. We looked at the few games out there that were doing it and what an awesome experience it was. Obviously Fortnite being the vanguards there, but once we realized it was possible it became super apparent that was the direction we wanted to go. We talked for a long time about the idea of “One Dauntless”, and we were talking about sharing your saves and sharing your account. When it became clear that actual cross-play was a possibility, it was a no-brainer. It’s certainly the thing this year, and earlier, that we’ve been working on the most. How important it was to our “One Dauntless” vision was something that drove us these last few months for sure. The 60 percent of parties being cross-platform was immediately a gratifying thing to see and let us know it’s the right direction.
Q: Shortly after the console launch Call of Duty came out and said their next game is going to be cross-play as well, so you guys really were leading the charge on some of that which is cool. Were there a lot of hurdles to overcome to make that happen? I know Sony in particular seems to be the platform holder that’s a little more hesitant to allow cross-play. Did it take some convincing to get all the parties on board?
Chris: I’m not really sure what the nitty gritty details there were. I know that working with Epic and having them as a partner and in our corner for this is certainly beneficial in that regard. On the business end we’ve got a super talented group of people. They put their mind to something and they make it happen.
Q: What can you tell us about the Switch version?
Chris: We are super excited. Speaking personally, to be on a Nintendo platform and have our game in my hands in a portable format is pretty rad. It’s Dauntless, it’s cross-play, it’s “One Dauntless”, it’s everything you’ve come to expect. You can play with all your friends regardless of where they play. But there’s something about holding that hardware in your hands and seeing that for the first time “Okay, this is special, this is really exciting.” We’re stoked on it, I think it’s going to be awesome.
Q: Will it be required to have Nintendo Switch Online to play the Switch version? I know Fortnite on Switch you can play without it.
Andy: I think those details are still fluid right now. On PlayStation we did get the PlayStation Plus waver so you don’t have to subscribe to play on there. We’re hoping to pursue something like that for the Switch launch as well.
Q:You mentioned earlier how Epic was a good partner. For Dauntless, it’s monetized in a way that’s similar to Fortnite’s battle pass. What about that monetization path was appealing to the team, as opposed to paid expansions or loot boxes or something like that?
Chris: I think there’s a few reasons it appeals to us. First and foremost, we don’t ever want to sell stuff that’s going to be largely impacting the way you play the game. Having those cosmetic options and presenting them to players in a way that feels good. In a Hunt pass model, it’s you are going to get stuff for playing the game, and you’re going to be playing the game anyway, and we want to blend those two together. If you’re going to be playing the game a lot, you’re going to get some stuff. If you feel you want to contribute a little extra and get some more stuff, that’s an option as well. It’s important that none of that stuff feels like we are hitting you over the head with it and if you don’t buy it you are missing out. We want it to feel like a companion piece to the way you are already playing the game. To your point, we had the benefit of observing how games like Fortnite and Rocket League and a bunch of others really have gone down that path. It’s something we’ve seen players have resonated well with, and it’s working out pretty well for us as well.
Q: Dauntless did go through a pretty long open beta period. What were some of the lessons learned from the open beta that was applied to the console launch?
Chris: From top to bottom, really. From the kinds of behemoths players want to fight to the kind of weapons experiences they want to play with. We’ve gone through multiple refactors to our progression system, how you make your way through the game, the kind of things players want to wear, having not just our open beta but our closed beta and alphas, we’ve had a lot of time to put things into the community and hear what they feel and work with them and make changes. There’s no way Dauntless would be what it is today without that time and without that relationship with our community.
Q: You had some pretty large numbers for the open beta, in the millions, is that correct?
Andy: We were somewhere between two and three million before console and Epic Games Store launch. We quickly passed that number now.
Q: So console players definitely expanded that player base. Maybe a few too many players all at once, I know you guys had some server issues for the first few days, but that’s been solved now. What are some of the top priorities for the team now you’ve launched on consoles and you have this big player base. What does the team want to accomplish now that it’s out the door?
Chris: It’s full steam ahead on a lot of stuff we’ve been working on prior to the console launch. We are constantly working on new game modes, new weapons, new behemoths, new features. This is just the start in a lot of ways for what we want Dauntless to be. None of that stops, we are moving ahead on all of those things, we’ve got the Switch version we’re working on as well. We have this audience now that is much, much larger than we had before. For the folks weren’t with us prior to launch, they aren’t used to our patch cadence. It’s really frequent. Every few weeks we are patching and adding new stuff to the game. That’s not going to slow down. We are stoked to have all these people here and playing and eager to see what’s next, because we have a lot of it coming.
Andy: It’s a little confusing out in the wild, but we’re not even to 1.0 yet, as far as we’re concerned with the game. Our current version is 0.8.1 so we have a lot of cool stuff planned for 1.0 and our vision of the game for the future.
Q: So when is 1.0 coming? Is that pretty far off or more near future?
Andy: It’s in the future sometime (laughs).
Q: Did the response, the six million players shortly after launch, did that exceed the team’s expectations?
Andy: As part of the publishing team, we’re always hoping for the maximum amount of people to show up. I think it was a little overwhelming the first couple of days as we had to work on our que and make sure people could get. I think the most impressive thing for me personally is the sustained momentum. When we look at our concurrent users day-to-day and how that keeps going up and up, it shows we have something a little stickier for players. They aren’t just jumping in and leaving and never coming back. I think we’ve built something special that keeps people coming back.
Q: You mentioned your update schedule, how often should players expect new monsters and things like that? Is there a set schedule you’re sticking to for that or is it done when it’s done?
Chris: It’s more like a ladder. We do have a more rigid schedule for how often we patch, which traditionally has been every couple weeks. We don’t have a cadence for how often we put a new behemoth into the game or how often we put a new weapon. It’s more we have a whole handful of features in development, in different stages of development, at any given time and we try to make sure there’s one cool thing per patch ready to go, at least one thing. We have definitely found it’s better to let those features come in more in a “they are done when they are done” sense. Giving them time to breathe has led to stronger features at launch and stronger behemoths at launch as well. We’ve got a bunch of different irons in the fire and I think you’ll see a pretty wide variety of cool stuff in the next couple months. Our next patch is next week which is primarily focused on performance and bug fixing stuff. Not too long after that we’ve got some pretty new stuff, stuff you haven’t seen in Dauntless yet. Players won’t have to wait too long to see what’s next.
To learn more about everything Dauntless, be sure to visit (or contribute to!) the Official Dauntless Wiki. Dauntless is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via the Epic Games Store, with a Nintendo Switch version slated to release later this year.
Cameron is a Wichita, Kansas based writer whose love for gaming spans all genres and platforms. On the rare occasion when he is separated from a keyboard or controller, he enjoys fencing and obsessing over the latest and greatest Godzilla film.