Interview: How Dauntless’ weapon revamp will affect development and gameplay


Last month, Dauntless announced a far-reaching change to weapons, with individual weapons becoming more distinct, a new swapping mechanic that lets players switch between two equipped weapons mid-fight, and several updates and adjustments to nearly every weapon-related part of the game – which, admittedly, is a large part of the multiplayer RPG.

As a long-time player of the game, I naturally had some questions about the whole thing, so I reached out to Phoenix Labs to see if I could get some answers about some of the underlying plans for the system, how the studio is approaching some of its impact, and what this shift means for the overall game. Here are the answers to those questions from Dauntless lead product manager Jordan Power.

MassivelyOP: I suppose the first question I would ask is: Why attempt to revamp weapons now? Was there a critical mass of feedback and metrics that the team was waiting on before acting? Was this as simple as wanting to loosen up the Dauntless meta? Or was there some other factor that pushed the decision?

Phoenix Labs lead product manager Jordan Power: This is about a much bigger investment in Dauntless than revamping this one feature. Weapons are core to the game, of course, but this is one part of a major update we are planning to release next year. Each month, our development blog will highlight something new so keep your eyes out for that. But, why touch weapons at all? A couple reasons:

First, we found that all of the fun, and all of the cool tricks and specials and neat gameplay was found later and later in the game. You unlocked fun as a reward – which of course wasn’t the best experience for new players. So we wanted to make sure every weapon had all the fun from moment one, and then progression could be about skill and power. Second, we wanted each weapon to be distinct — this comes from our own vision for the future of Dauntless.

As we add more weapons, the sameness of each sword, for example, means that new swords must either be directly weaker or directly stronger than what’s already there. There wasn’t a lot of room to build. But if we can make each weapon unique with its own playstyle, each individual sword with its own strengths and weaknesses, we end up with a lot more room to design and a lot more for players to discover. The gameplay of an Embermane Sword vs a Hellion sword for example, wasn’t much different. As a player, you used it in the same way. After our major update next year — two different pieces of gear should feel distinct and change the way you approach combat.

As for player feedback – it’s not like players were asking for this specific solution. But certainly we know they want more weapons, more fun tools to use on hunts, more to do in general, a stronger end game, a more engaging new player experience, new cosmetics, new behemoths to fight, and more. There is so much we want to bring to our community, and fundamentally weren’t set up to deliver properly. This major update will allow us to do so going forward. Secondary to all of that, we are in a position as a studio, as a team, where the timing makes sense. We are able to do what we’ve wanted to do for a long time.

You discussed in your AMA how most regular weapons will feel like exotics and exotics should be ramping up. Has there been any news about where those conversations are going? How does the Dauntless team view these new-look exotics?

This is what I mean by each weapon feeling like it offers something unique. Exotics were kind of the reference point for how you could take a basic weapon kit and give new mechanics that were full of flavor.

You’ve also mentioned that mods and specials will be getting a look. I suspect that there’s still a lot of work to be done in this area, but do you have any general lines of thinking in this regard? Or have there been any examples that can be shared?

Yes, still quite early. But these are those parts that often unlocked too late – as a reward for completing content. But that means that fun things (like the sword spinning special) didn’t unlock until later.

The blog post noted how there will be 20 different crafting levels for weapons, to say nothing of the game’s current weapon levels and reforging mechanics. The devs did mention that a crafting post is forthcoming, but is there any sort of information that can be shared about how these systems will interplay? Or is one replacing the other wholesale?

Probably best to wait for the crafting blog post where we’ll deep dive into that. And happy to do more questions then. We’ll have a new dev blog each month. September will be all about the way the Hunting Grounds game mode is changing and why. But to clarify — weapon skill can currently reach level 20 (sword, axe, etc). But players will instead be able to level each weapon (this sword, that axe) to a number much higher than 20.

Weapon swapping is a big task, particularly when you consider how various weapon effects will stack when doing so, which also means that balancing is likely going to become a similarly big task. What’s the overall line of thinking in terms of balance? Will there be emphasis on flattening things or will the team lean into some acceptably “broken” builds? Or will leaderboards and Trials command how balancing works?

While swapping adds to player power, overall, with planned behemoth balancing we expect fight times to increase slightly. I do want players to be able to find those exciting and powerful combinations, that’s what makes swapping fun. But of course we’ll be looking out for builds that dominate or come close to “forcing” a playstyle in order to complete content. I am OK with some of that power — it’s about having fun and feeling that slayer fantasy, after all. We are also planning a number of play tests with the community and expect those to uncover any glaring issues.

How much of an impact do you think weapon swap combos will make in fights? In other words, do you expect this to be a hard requirement for maximum DPS or will this be designed with an eye to situational use?

The benefits of two weapons will likely lead to higher DPS for all players who make the most of it. Could you hunt with only one – sure.

With so many weapons needing so much targeted updating, what do these new systems mean for adding more weapons? Does this make creating new weapons – and associated new Behemoths – that much harder and longer?

As each weapon is now a single, unique piece of gear – we have more room to explore cool designs. As for time, in the old system a new weapon was a new weapon type – and took a long time to create. In this new system we can build a whole new weapon type (wink) or a new weapon based on an existing one. For example, a blunt club that is based on the sword but has unique moves and abilities. So we kind of get a lot of options for weapons, and are building a content schedule that will allow for weapons to be added on a regular basis. Much more frequently than now.

Much of the homogenization that was mentioned in the blog post announcing these tweaks could arguably have come from the desire to make Dauntless a more approachable critter hunting RPG. Do you think this new buildcraft and weapon swap mechanic will upset that design?

Yes, that was certainly the goal that led us there. And I don’t think it was the goal that was wrong. But we’ve found the experience was too simple in some ways but then too complicated in others (cells, omnicells, specials, mods, weapons, armpits, legendary bond, lantern, etc). It is a lot to keep track of and most of it is not shown visually. I’d want to move toward the opposite – where the places with the most choice and depth are also the places where you can visually see and feel the impact of the choices you make (weapons etc). Plus, the new Buff system will really help clarify a system that has proven to be very overwhelming and opaque for players.

The change to requiring different monster parts in order to build weapons reads a lot like how the game used to play years ago, roughly before the Hunting Grounds were added if I recall correctly. How will this decision change the Hunting Grounds setup? Will this upend that system? Are targeted hunts coming back?

Big question! Spoiler alert! Our next dev blog will talk all about a “new” mode that will feel familiar to longtime slayers. There is something really powerful about having a goal on an island – an end moment that says “you won!” You can see that in escalation now. So we are mixing the best parts of the hunting grounds with the best parts of targeted pursuits. Lots of cool surprises there that I’ll keep under wraps for now – depending on if our blog is out.

The team has very likely seen the frequent feedback that players would like to see a new weapon type. Do you believe that this refresh will ease those calls?

No, I don’t think a refresh will satisfy that need. But we have heard it and have a plan for a new weapon type. Initial prototypes have begun, but design isn’t final yet.

The weapon revamp isn’t planned until next summer, while updates to Dauntless so far have been steady but also with expected updates (more Gauntlet seasons, rotating battle passes, etc.). Do you think players will be patient enough to wait on these features? And if not, what sort of things is Phoenix Labs planning to keep the game feeling fresh?

The weapon update is a tiny part of a much larger evolution of Dauntless. We know it’s a long time to ask our players to wait with only community events and season changes – but I believe this is the best way for Dauntless, which has been around nearly five years, to continue to grow for the next 5, and the next. These development blogs every month are intended to bring players along on the journey there with us. Plus, the playtests. Also, we have a fun habit of dropping spoilers, leaks, concept art, 3D art, videos etc in our Dauntless discord. So join us there if you want the latest updates in real time.

When can fans roughly expect the next slate of details, such as the next AMA, the next dev blog, etc.? And how frequently will the communication on these updates come?

Once a month! September’s update will be out near the end of the month. Each one will likely have an AMA as long as those continue to be something the community is excited about.

I’d like to thank Phoenix Labs for taking the time to answer my questions.
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