Dauntless is a free-to-play action RPG developed by Phoenix Labs and debuted a full release across Windows, Xbox One, and Playstation 4 with fully functional cross-play. The game closely resembles the gameplay structure of the popular Capcom series, Monster Hunter. As an adventurer, you will depart from a central hub of shops, NPCs, and other players into a world inhabited by large monsters (never happy to see you) in their various biomes. Killing monsters grants you crafting ingredients to create strong armor and weapons that enable you better odds of defeating more powerful behemoths. If this description creates excitement within you, it is important to note that Dauntless is free on all listed platforms. Though not without its problems, Dauntless might be one of the best free-to-play games currently available.
Publisher: Epic Games
Developer: Phoenix Labs
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: May 21, 2019
Game Acquired Free-to-Play for the Purpose of This Review
The immediate resemblance between Monster Hunter installments and Dauntless is almost impossible to overlook, but Dauntless throws the player into the game and hunt much more rapidly than most Monster Hunter games. Indeed, Dauntless is a game that shines in its ease to jump in and out of fast play sessions, with most expeditions lasting under 15 minutes. Dauntless features much of the same gameplay elements that Capcom’s celebrated series, but in a reduced and simplified form. The adventurer of Ramsgate, Dauntless’ main city-hub, is not bothered with even story. The little story that is available (you, on an airship, crash land onto an island and are enlisted as a hunter of behemoths) is presented in the opening cinematic and almost never mentioned again. Depending on the type of gamer you are, this can be good or bad, but one thing is certain – if it’s gameplay you want, it’s gameplay (and only gameplay) you’ll get.
Dauntless is similar to Monster Hunter in game style, but the quick observer would see much more in common with the other, more popular Epic Games Store free offering, Fortnite. The graphics are stylized in an almost cartoonish manner with exaggerated facial structure, oversized weapons, and bulky armor. Characters move in the light-but-tight fashion of Fortnite with high jumps and quick turns. The colors are universally bright and saturated, which is welcoming initially but over long play sessions may become tiresome to the eyes. The behemoths are obviously the centerpiece of graphical achievement in Dauntless, ranging from detailed firecats, insects and owls to more fantastical creatures. The behemoths move smoothly and their attacks are prefaced by well-timed tells. Furthermore, each behemoth attacks predictably. Cats pounce, owls swoop, and insects sting. None of the behemoths are wasted; each is truly a joy to battle and conquer.
The immersion felt in the over-the-top monster battles is underwhelming when considering the world of Dauntless at large. The city of Ramsgate is beautifully decorated but ultimately feels lifeless. After sitting in a frequent (and sometimes aggravatingly long) queue to enter the game, it would have been nice to bump elbows with the countless other adventurers ready to improve their own loadouts, but each instance of Ramsgate rarely seemed to accommodate over a small handful of players. The NPCs rarely have very little to say to the player aside from an infrequent, uninspired quest of killing a certain behemoth with a certain weapon. The numerous NPCs, largely static in their positions and personalities, also offer little variation to gameplay; aside from the armor, weapon, and consumable crafters, you will rarely visit any of them. Once you leave Ramsgate and venture to the floating islands that house your prey, you will be greeted with beautiful environments of snow, sand, dirt, grass, and trees, but even these offer no deviation to gameplay aside from aesthetics. Monsters don’t interact with their environment as you might expect, resulting in a wasted effort from Phoenix Labs to create beautiful, though tragically unused, biomes.
Again, if you aren’t looking for mind-blowing immersion, you will be happy to know that Dauntless’ combat system works marvelously well. Numerous types of weapons, including the staples of sword, axe, and hammer, amongst others, are almost immediately available to your disposal. Combos are easily identified between a mix of light attacks, heavy attacks, and your specific weapon’s special maneuver. Each weapon you forge, either neutral in damage or crafted to attack with a specific element, can also be modified to change your special attack or alter your damage output. The attacks flow well and, combined with dodges, sprinting and jumping, need to be timed well to polish your end of hunt score, maximize your damage output, and mitigate any incoming potential damage or downtime. Almost every point of damage I took could be attributed to poor decisions I made in the heat of battle. Certain systems could undoubtedly be improved (like an occasionally laborious method of changing gear in a mildly convoluted menu), but the main mechanics of Dauntless leave very little to complain about.
If you’ve played many free-to-play or cheap games in recent years, you are surely familiar with the “season pass” style of monetization. Dauntless offers extra rewards following level-ups of your avatar with the initial $5 purchase of a battle pass, and $10 for subsequent passes unless you accumulate enough unused premium currency during your time of play to avert that cost. Many of the rewards are cosmetic and are fun to apply, but other microtransactions and rewards offer quicker progression through the game via increased material gathering following hunts. Though not necessary to compete and certainly not a “pay-to-win” model, it should never be applauded of a developer to add progression through a game’s journey via purchase with real-life funds. Pitifully, many of Ramsgate’s NPCs have dedicated themselves to this vocation.
Of final note, in my time playing Dauntless over the weeks since launch, I had to suffer through a slew of bugs that, though not game breaking, killed immersion and caused significant frustration. Hit boxes occasionally seem to extend far beyond a behemoth’s lashing tail, causing what should be a successful roll to knock you to the ground for a chunk of damage. Maps occasionally feel poorly programmed in the midst of a hunt, with behemoths glitching in and out of a hill or characters becoming stuck behind a poorly placed pillar and unable to move. Server errors occasionally booted an entire party from a hunt going otherwise swimmingly. Most common and irritating is a frequently unresponsive action button. Attempting to heal at a fountain, mine a rare mineral, or revive a downed comrade will sometimes leave you with a full action wheel and an unresolved action, forcing you to sidestep a few times and retry to achieve the desired command. With such a long beta phase as Dauntless had, these common and glaring bugs would hopefully have been ironed out. I am sure they will be in future patches, and will be receptive to playing more when they are.
All of these aspects cumulatively considered, it is easy to overlook Dauntless’ less palatable aspects in favor of the game’s accomplishments. Jumping in and out of sessions is quick and easy, and battling even difficult and frustrating behemoths with four friends feels rewarding when finally felled. Phoenix Labs has pledged their continued support. It would be difficult to not realize the immense potential Dauntless has with a dedicated ongoing development team, and I’m excited to see where the game’s direction leads and what challenges lie in store for devoted hunters. I certainly plan to return frequently as updates release to experience these advances. If you’re looking for a multiplayer adventure and the wallet is tight, no game deserves the recommendation at this time more than Dauntless.