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DNF Duel open beta review: A beautiful base with fresh ideas but some early concerns

Posted by Dakota 'DarkHorse' Hills • December 21, 2021 at 8:25 p.m. PST • Comments: 19

Fighting game betas are a pretty magical place when they're working by giving essentially everyone the opportunity to try out a title no one's really gotten hands on with before, which leads the community down a road of discovery and comradery.

With DNF Duel's first open beta test closing up shop yesterday, we've had a bit of time to reflect on the unique and beautiful base the gameplay provides while also raising a few questions and concerns as the project moves forward.

The Dungeon Fighter Online spin-off takes simplicity and accessibility as its absolute core and using it to create something that feels fresh and exciting โ€” although it remains to be seen if those sentiments will be long lasting.

By removing the need for all traditional special inputs outside of improving the MP recovery of MP Skills, each of the 10 characters were easy to pick up and start doing combos with in a way that doesn't come across as too watered down.

Questions began to dissipate a good bit in the beta's final two days after players got more time to dig into and refine their fighters though that doesn't mean those concerns were satiated completely.

Here are our final thoughts on what the DNF Duel beta provided and what it didn't quite hammer down in its first outing.

Gameplay and Mechanics

The first thing that immediately stands out about DNF's gameplay is how each character has way more specials than they do normal attacks.

Each fighter, as far as I'm aware, only has six normals in total for neutral, crouching and aerial lights and heavies while coming in with at least 10 specials, which is a good bit jarring for seasoned fighting game players.

This makes each class' regular attacks feel a bit limited and linear to poke and start combos though I'm not sure if they'll serve any additional utility on the higher end of skill and strategy.

Those limitations put the bulk of the emphasis on the characters' specials and serve as DNF's greatest standout strength but also perhaps a weakness.

Regular Skills appear to be the true center point for combat here by serving the functionality of almost everything you expect out of a fighting game character while serving as the starting point to determining where strings go.

The ability to cancel Skills into other specials and MP Skills makes the game stand out amongst its peers although I wish there was a bit more parity between how the classes could use them.

Some like the Striker felt as though they could simply cancel everything into everything else while others like the Berserker and Inquisitor need to more carefully plan out their routes.

I wish that perhaps there would be another universal system to allow any Skill to cancel into any other once in a string without restriction to increase the combo variety and options just a bit.

MP Skills are where a lot of the game's flash and flair lie with even more powerful and interesting attacks and abilities to send out, which are attempted to be balanced by the moves of course requiring MP to utilize.

Players begin each round with a full 100 MP to kick things off and can lead to some frenetic excitement from the word go, and things can get even crazier at lower life where up to 200 MP can be utilized for the flashiest combos possible.

For the most part, I felt these worked out fine for the flow and rhythm of matches while creating some nice tension once one player's MP is completely drained.

Although every character appears to have an invincible reversal on their down MP Skill, I was glad to see that Awakening Skills did not include that same advantage for being available at the press of a button to do extraordinary damage.

While they are certainly explosive and cool to look at, I do wish that there were two different animations for Awakening Skills with the regular and a shorter version, so that we're not pulled out of the action completely for an extended period which might get dull after seeing them dozens of times apiece.

The lack of a Training Mode in the beta was admittedly a bit frustrating at times when trying to figure out new characters and which of their Skills can cancel into each other on the fly, but more importantly prevented us from seeing the Skills and Awakening abilities within the game itself.

It's so easy to miss out on the fact that each fighter gained a special buff once they reached low life because there was no way to know what they did without outside knowledge. How many of you knew Dragon Knight got better MP recovery in Awakening for example?

The real higher end depth of DNF Duel appears that it'll come from the game's Conversion system, which allows players to cash out their white recoverable health for bonus MP and a free cancel to allow for different combo opportunities and creating new mixups.

I admittedly didn't reach a point where I was using Conversions more than pure experimentation because it was difficult to tell when they'd be fully worth the life trade off.

Characters

Despite each class being functionally the same in terms of base buttons and inputs, Arc System Works and Neople are doing a great job at making every class stand out from one another in terms of play style and what they can do with the tools at hand.

Everyone is visually distinct and appealing from one another, which can give you a character crisis of trying to figure out who to pick and spend time with โ€” though that's not a bad thing.

Characters like the Ranger, Vanguard and Kunoichi feel as though they're almost playing completely different games from one another, and it's pretty neat to see them come together in a pretty cohesive way.

Without the ability to really lab anything, it did lead to some frustration in trying to figure out what counters there were (if any) to characters like the Striker, Crusader and Dragon Knight, who all felt as though they could completely steamroll you once they got going.

I feel as though the Striker needs a bit more balancing to increase her recovery after specials because I was not really amused getting hit with an extended combo and then immediately eating another or getting put into a blockstring, leading to many, many seconds going by where I could seemingly do nothing.

It made me question whether the game's defensive mechanics were up to snuff or not.

The Crusader also may need to be toned down a bit considering how easy it seemed to be to get wins with him although we may just need more match up knowledge. I do suggest only allowing him one wall at a time though.

Classes like the Kunoichi and Dragon Knight showcase the technicality and variety these characters can have to provide a deeper experience, and I hope we get to see a bit more of that for others as development continues.

Overall, the 10 fighters we got to play felt wonderfully distinct from one another though I do worry that some like the Hitman, Vanguard and Grappler might need a bit more variety to prevent seeing the same bread and butters over and over again.

Online

I said it in my first impressions, and I'll say it again. The netcode is fantastic in DNF Duel when matchmaking worked properly, and I only experienced maybe two games with slowdown during the dozens and dozens I played (not counting the disconnects of course).

It's just so nice to not even have to think about connections and just focus on the match no matter what the circumstances.

Even against players that were seemingly in Japan, things ran smooth and left me and my opponent hitting rematch over and over again until one of us would get tired.

I would have preferred a simple quick match option instead of the lobbies, but they were fine for the most part โ€” again when they worked.

The most frustrating thing was trying to actually get into a lobby, which is I guess the "nicest" problem you can have in an initial beta.

DNF Duel is trying to do something different within its genre, and our interest is certainly piqued as to whether or not they'll manage to pull it off in an engaging way that'll stay fresh and fun for months and years after launch.

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