It’s easy to jump to conclusions about Phoenix Labs’ MMO Dauntless. The game exudes Monster Hunter in almost every way, from its memorable creature design to its varied RPG elements and precise gameplay mechanics. Given that the series’ next big installment, Monster Hunter: World, is just around the corner, some PC users have been quick to dismiss Dauntless as a cheap imitation. But although Dauntless is still a little rough around the edges, skeptics should know that missing out on the game’s Open Beta next year would be a mistake. Dauntless is a surprisingly fun co-op experience that has real potential.
It’s no secret that hardcore Monster Hunter fans in the West have wanted a good quality PC iteration of the franchise for some time. Monster Hunter Online exists, of course, but it doesn’t seem like that particular title will be seeing the light of day outside of China anytime soon. Thus, the demand for an expansive Monster Hunter title on PC in which hunters fight in battles against exotic monsters certainly exists.
Enter Dauntless, with its entertaining gameplay loop of tracking down enormous monsters (Behemoths) in a similar fashion to Monster Hunter. Coordinating which weapons to use plays a major part in combat, adding an extra layer of strategy when playing cooperatively with friends. The recently revealed War Pike, for example, is effective only when used in tandem with a hammer-wielder. One weapon damages the armor while the other finishes it off with direct piercing attacks to the flesh.
Indeed, each Behemoth in Dauntless has clearly been designed to encourage this sort of teamwork. The two additions coming to the title in its latest ‘Sharpen Your Skills’ patch are certainly evidence of that. The first new enemy that myself and a few of the game’s developers encountered was the Skarn, a brute Stegosaurus-like creature with rock armor. Its armor must be pried off the monster’s back before substantial damage can be made, all the while testing your patience as it swirls in a vortex or burrows underground to escape for a brief period of time. The second enemy was the Kharabak, a speedy flying enemy that was towards the higher end of the spectrum in terms of difficulty. In fact, we found the scissor-hand insect quickly made a mockery of us with its whirlwind attacks and relentless chopping, so much so that none of us were able to defeat the Behemoth successfully.
Though we lost and spent a considerable amount of the battle healing each other, the experience was still fun and engaging. In between fights, I managed to delve into the game’s RPG mechanics, which includes an intricate amount of weapon and armor modifications thanks to the Cell System. These range from simple damage buffs or team buffs to damage multipliers that are reliant on how well a player tackles a particular challenge. This gives players the freedom to choose whether they’d like to play solo and rely solely on themselves to win a Behemoth fight, or if they’d like to rely on others to achieve victory. Drops from Behemoths are shared equally among party members, so there’s no need to worry about who’s carrying the most weight either.
As for how combat actually feels to play, they follow a similar beat to Monster Hunter titles. The adrenaline of fighting these massive glowy-eyed creatures is certainly there. Learning to read each enemy’s attack patterns is a rewarding experience, making you feel accomplished knowing that you successfully dodged a Kharabak’s glinting claws. In fact, the Behemoths themselves are the main draw of Dauntless by far — they just feel so alive. So much so, in fact, that I felt myself feeling guilty for killing them, which somewhat reminded me of a Team Ico title, such as Shadow of the Colossus. Once significantly damaged, the Behemoths cry and welp in convincing fashion, and even flee just as they would in real life. Finishing them off an emotional and immersive experience.
And yet this immersion lies behind an innocent, easy-going, cartoony aesthetic that’s definitely not abhorrent by any means but does leave a little to be desired. I was told that there would be more fauna and flora once Dauntless’ Open Beta launches next year, though for now, the landscape is fairly barren and featureless. There’s really not much else to do other than fight Behemoths when you’re outside of the game’s hub. Dauntless is thus comparable to Shadow of the Colossus in another, less remarkable sense – if you’re looking to do anything outside of fighting Behemoths all day, you’ll be disappointed.
As far as microtransactions are concerned for this free-to-play game, there’s no sign of developer Phoenix Labs implementing a premium currency. It seems as though Dauntless’ in-game purchases will be relegated solely to cosmetic changes or progression, the latter of which isn’t as much of a problem as one may think, considering the fact that the MMO is purely co-op in nature.
I walked away from my experience with Dauntless impressed with its gameplay and mechanics. It definitely succeeds in rewarding players through its combat, intelligent Behemoth design, and deep RPG mechanics. The emphasis on experimenting with different weapons and coordinating attacks cooperatively certainly adds a tactical layer of depth that isn’t there in Monster Hunter titles. Sure, the game is a little lackluster outside of these combat engagements at the moment, but hopefully, its world will become more fleshed out with time. There’s potential here to bring the Monster Hunter style gameplay loop to a massive audience on PC, especially given that it’s a free-to-play experience. In the end, even those desperately looking forward to Monster Hunter: World should try Dauntless, if only just to experience a hugely entertaining co-op title with their buddies.