Coming from Phoenix Labs is the latest entry in the increasingly popular Free-to-Play (F2P) genre, a game called Dauntless. This has an interesting premise, asking us to go on hunts to destroy monsters, take the trophies that they drop when they are defeated, and then use these bits of dead monster to craft new armour and weapons to help us take out stronger monsters. It’s almost like another game that Capcom released not so long ago, but as this is free, it has to be worth a look, right? I jumped into the Shattered Isles to find out.
First things first, the story, such as it is. The Shattered Isles, where we have our base of operations, are a series of floating islands in the sky, and the reason they stay up is because of a substance called aether. The main town – Ramsgate – and the islands themselves are under threat from Behemoths that have come out of the Maelstrom. Now, these Behemoths wouldn’t be too bad, in a live and let live kind of way, if it wasn’t for the fact that they eat aether, the very stuff that we need to keep the islands in the air. So now it’s a case of them or us, and the scene is set for a series of increasingly difficult battles against stronger and stronger Behemoths.
The Behemoths themselves are an interesting bunch, with a strong identity to each type, and an almost Pokemon-esque elemental typing to them. For instance, Pangars are Ice Behemoths, and Embermanes are Fire Behemoths. In order to fight them most efficiently, you need to use the opposing element weapon, and the same elemental armour. So in the example of the Pangar, you’ll need an Embermane weapon, and Pangar armour. The Behemoths come in Blaze, Frost, Shock, Terra, Umbral and Radiant flavours, in addition to Neutral ones that don’t have any particular strengths or weaknesses. So as you can see, with two or three different Behemoths in each category, there is no shortage of things to hunt. Each type of Behemoth has an armour set and weapons associated with it too, that you need parts to craft. The grind for some of these parts is very long though – at least if you base it on trying to complete the Volomyr Radiant armour set – but it’s a testament to the game and the fun to be had that it never feels like it’s too much effort.
This then is why we are hunting these beasties, but how does the game play when we are out on the hunt? For the majority of the time, the answer to that is very well indeed – but there are some caveats.
The first task that our Slayer faces is which weapon to try and specialise in. We start out with a sword, but there are many other types of armaments to choose from; War Pikes, Chain Blades, Hammers and Axes, and if you complete a couple of missions, Ostian Repeaters, basically dual wield pistols. Each weapon has a different heft, a different feel, and has an optimal range, so experimenting and seeing which class suits your play style is recommended. Hammers excel at stunning Behemoths, letting you and your team get in a few free whacks while it’s incapacitated, while War Pikes wound Behemoths more easily, reducing their battle effectiveness.
Each Behemoth has four areas that you can attack – head, tail, and right and left sides. Chopping their tail off will stop them attacking with it, in addition to providing you with resources, so it makes sense to try and work on one section of the beast at once until it breaks, before moving to the next. This method will net the most resources, but broken parts of a Behemoth are more vulnerable to damage, so if you are getting stomped it’s best to just try and take the monster out as fast as possible. Of course, the Behemoths object to being smacked about with pointy lumps of metal, so learning attack patterns, when to dodge and when to tank a hit are all part of the skill.
Mentioning the team, as I did above, and this is arguably the most impressive part of Dauntless on Xbox One. It has fully fledged cross-play working brilliantly, and it’s normal for each hunt team to be split between Xbox and PC players, which causes absolutely no problems. Cross-play and cross-chat all work fantastically, and the player base of the game is also very healthy, with no issues in finding a team to join. Of course, if you want the ultimate challenge, you can choose to go one on one with the Behemoths, but on later levels this usually doesn’t end well. See, at the start of each hunt, you have three self revive potions, but once they are gone, you can only be revived by a team mate, so it’s always worth taking backup. Another plus is that gathering a Hunting Party is an absolute breeze, compared to that other game where you hunt monsters, which was an unbelievable faff.
Graphically and it’s good to see that Dauntless looks great, with a pleasing cartoony look to the world, and very well designed monsters. The armour and weapons all look different and full of purpose, and with dyes and various orbs that can be added to the armour to change the look and effects, the possibilities for customisation opportunities appear pretty much endless. The draw distances are great as well, allowing you to see clear across the island that you are hunting on, and being able to spot a monster from a long way out.
The game is also very good aurally, with pumping battle music, thumping impacts and growling monsters all present and correct. The only downside I can find is the camera can be incredibly dim witted at times. I’ve found myself backed into a corner by a Behemoth, and the camera just wigs out, showing me the inside of the behemoth, but absolutely no useful information at all. It’s also very easy to run off the end of the world, especially when chasing the Behemoth, with the viewpoint seeming to lag behind your character, and thus you can’t see what you are running into. The last little niggle I have is that there isn’t a lock on function to enable you to track the Behemoth. Imagine trying to play a game like Dark Souls without being able to lock on to to enemies and circle them, looking for an opening, and you’ll have an idea about how hard it is to even hit the monsters sometimes.
All in all, some minor niggles aside, Dauntless is a very good game. The micro-transactions are always visible, and are pushed a bit too much for my taste, with your character being exhorted to buy an Elite Hunt Pass almost every few steps, but this isn’t a game where you need to pay to win. In fact, as long as you are prepared to put in the time, you don’t need to buy anything. Sure, emotes and skins are nice, and go to support the devs, but they aren’t needed and I’m pleased to say that I haven’t had to spend a penny and haven’t felt deprived. Building and upgrading armour and weapons is very satisfying, and the grind for the crafting materials is almost a pleasure.
In summary, if Fortnite and Monster Hunter had a baby, it would be a lot like Dauntless.