Every now and then, a thought bubbles up to the surface of our culture and takes hold in more than one place. Cultural thought patterns are a real thing, and you can often see the results of their effects in the simultaneous Hollywood release of similar movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact, or Volcano and Dante’s Peak, or E.T the Extraterrestrial and Mac and Me (okay, I threw in the last one for fun. We all know that E.T. was plagiarizing Mac and Me).
This effect is less apparent in game culture. When two similar games release in a close time span, gamers often cynically label the second similar game to emerge as a “rip-off”, regardless of how long it was in development before the release of the prior title. Games are subject to trends, so similar games get released all the time, with the latter game often bearing the brunt of unfair scorn. And game development is usually so hush-hush, it is rare that you can stand back and see the path of thought that led developers to create a particular game.
But it is clear that a couple of years ago, two separate groups of game developers, in different parts of the world, both sat back at the same time and thought “You know, Monster Hunter is awesome, but how can we get new players past the ridiculously high barrier to entry?” At Capcom, the result of that thought was the fantastic and amazingly successful Monster Hunter: World. And at Phoenix Games, a new development company created by former Riot Games developers, the tree that grew from that seed of thought is Dauntless, and equally amazing, but very different take on the “monster hunting” genre.
Take note, good people: Dauntless is no rip-off. It is instead an alternate-dimension version of monster hunting that leans heavily on refined quest dynamics lifted from MMORPGs, easy matchmaking of the sort you might find in a Call of Duty game, and simplified crafting for those that don’t want to (or have time to) delve though fourteen layers of menu interface to make a hat. While it could be said that Monster Hunter: World took Monster Hunter and added some catchy pop hooks, the team behind Dauntless listened to Monster Hunter hum a few bars, and then went off and wrote their own symphony based on the melody. To further mangle my metaphor, if the core Monster Hunter franchise is Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3, then Monster Hunter: World is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and Dauntless is John Williams’ score to Jurassic Park. All are awesome, but you would never mistake one for another.
What I’m trying to get at is that Monster Hunter: World is accessible, but Dauntless is pop-culture-levels of accessible. In many ways, World blew the doors off the genre, and Dauntless is now sitting pretty in the room beyond the doorway; smiling, waving, and beckoning players in. And while it is impossible to talk about Dauntless without refencing Monster Hunter: World, I am now going to stop, other than to say this loudly and clearly: Gamers, you do not have to chose a side. It is absolutely acceptable to love both Monster Hunter and Dauntless. No one is watching, no one is judging. You can do both, and still live a full and happy life.
I spent many hours doodling around with Dauntless’ closed beta, and I enjoyed it enough that when they dropped a big patch and wiped everyone’s progress, I started over again and built my character back up from scratch. And when Phoenix Games wipes everyone again in order to get their servers set for the open beta that starts on May 24th, I’m going to do it again. The core loop of Dauntless is honed down to a glittering shine, and the time spend vs. reward ratio is deeply satisfying.
Part of what makes Dauntless so appealing is the easy way in which it onboards new players. After a simple tutorial to get players accustomed to the basic controls (and putting them to battle against their first behemoth), players are taken to Ramsgate, the simple but attractive central hub area of Dauntless. It is here in this shared social space that players are given quests, build weapons and armor, and open the occasional loot box. (Just to be absolutely clear, loot boxes are earned through play, and are not for sale for real world cash.)
When you first start playing, quests and loot come at a very quick and satisfying pace. Players are led through a series of starting monsters, each interesting and challenging. Materials from each type of behemoth in Dauntless can be converted into a unique set of armor and weapon, and towards the start of the game, just killing a monster one time is enough to construct a basic set of cool-looking armor. The motivation to try to hunt the same behemoth again is strong, as you can use the additional parts you glean from the hunt to level up your new stuff.
In the beginning levels, this loop is stripped down to its core. One of the first beasts you face is a Shrike, an owl-bear thing that swoops around and shoots bolts of wind at hunters to stun them. If you attack a body part of a Shrike for a while, it will start showing cuts and damage, and after further attacks, a glowing orb will pop out of it and rest on the ground nearby. Players then can run over and pick up the orb during a lull in the battle. This is the manner in which you gather materials for gear construction. Any part you break off of a Shrike is just a “Shrike Feather”, whether it was knocked off of the Shrike’s tail or snout. A Shrike feather can be used to make a weapon, or a chest plate, or leg armor, or whatever, which streamlines the early gear construction in a very welcoming way.
As you progress to more advanced behemoths, this process gets a bit more complicated, with tails dropping materials that can’t be found elsewhere on the monster, for example. This leads to some interesting battles. There were several times when I went into a battle with four strangers, and while we were all working to defeat the monster, I was laser focused on destroying a certain area of said monster for the materials I needed. While I did reengage behemoths several times for materials, the battles never felt like a grind. Much of this is due to the fact that part of the fun of Dauntless is learning the different monsters, and figuring out how to engage them without taking too much damage.
The armor and weapons are nicely designed, and reflect the game’s cool animated vibe. Each new set of armor offers its own set of bonuses, and it is fun to mix and match different pieces to maximize your damage, or to mitigate a certain type of elemental damage.
The visuals in Dauntless are highly stylized, with a smoothness and panache that is reminiscent of what you might get if you crossed World of Warcraft with a CG Disney film. I was playing Dauntless on a mediocre PC, and the game still ran very smoothly (and looked great), with little loss of framerate regardless of how intense the onscreen action is. While the battlegrounds are not super-rich in detail and life, it hardly matters, because the behemoths are the fantastic looking. The behemoths are beautifully designed, and are animated to move like living, breathing creatures. While some later behemoths visually iterate on monsters you might have already defeated, don’t be lulled into thinking that they will behave the same way. Each monster has its own set of tricks up its sleeve, and even early battles can result in a wipe if every party member isn’t paying full attention.
Parties are formed by jumping into a queue and waiting for folks with similar goals to join. While I did play a few battles partied up with a buddy (the leader of the group selects the mission and everyone else is plopped in), when I was playing solo I had no problem finding pick-up groups for whatever behemoth I looking to take down. The rare occasions that I did have trouble finding groups with the built-in matchmaking system, I was able to just call out to the friendly community in Ramsgate, and folks immediately came to my aid. Dauntless is a social game, and trying to play solo is a fool’s errand after the first couple of battles. While the behemoths scale in power and HP depending on how many members are in your party, you will have a much easier time of things if you don’t bother trying to solo. You need group members with you for those moments when you miscalculate your remaining health, and end up dead in the grass. Without someone to revive you, it’s back to Ramsgate to start over again.
Combat is fluid and fun, with a variety of weapons to build and choose from. I quickly locked in on the chain blades, two scythe-looking blades that can fly off their handles on the ends of chains, allowing players to attack for light damage from a distance or close in for flurry DPS. Chain blades also convert the standard dodge move to a dash/teleport, which I simply had to have once I saw someone else doing it. While a few combos exist for each weapon, they are not the focus of the combat in Dauntless. Rather, you will be concentrating getting in your hits while reading the cues from the monsters to avoid their attacks. Positioning and dodging are key to success, and as I mentioned, focusing your attacks on specific body parts can lead to greater success in gathering materials.
The free-to-play aspects of Dauntless are extremely unobtrusive. There are no pay gates stopping players from progressing, no obnoxious ads popping up in the middle of game play, and no paid loot crates. I repeat, there are no paid loot crates. If you venture into the pay store, you will know exactly what you are getting for your money. I picked up a couple of inexpensive dyes to change up the look of my armor (you can use them as often as you like). I’m also considering a couple of cheap emotes, just to show some support to the dev team. This developer created a pretty great game without being deceptive or underhanded with their pay store, and to me, that means that Dauntless deserves to have a few dollars thrown its way.
Dauntless is a fantastic game, and I found that once I had played it enough to write this preview, I just kept going back for more. I simply could not stop. A co-worker at Gaming Nexus recently commented that “as a games writer, the highest compliment that you can pay a game is to continue playing it once the review is complete.” That is Dauntless for me. There is no way that I am going to step away from Dauntless now that it is going live to a wider audience. There are so many more battles to fight, and so many more hats to make. I’m all in on Dauntless, and I fully expect that as it ages and the team adds more and more content, it will gain a wide audience. Dauntless is a high-end gift of a game, and I strongly feel that, with time to grow, it will take its place among the World of Warcrafts and the Destiny’s as one of the premier online games.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.View Profile