There’s no question that Capcom’s Monster Hunter series has an avid following. The publisher’s latest release, Monster Hunter: World, has the most sales to date, with millions of copies sold; and the side release Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate isn’t doing too shabby on the Nintendo Switch front. So it doesn’t seem like too bad an idea to release a game inspired by the likes of the Monster Hunter series, but not too afraid to do its own thing.
That’s exactly what Phoenix Labs does with Dauntless. First introduced a while back during The Video Game Awards, the free-to-play adventure has your Slayers hunting down mighty Behemoths that are basically making a mess of things, pitting you against them with the promise of great rewards for bringing them down. At first, the hunts seem pretty simple. But as you level up your gear and form your battle parties, you’ll find that they become greater in difficulty. And soon, your challenge truly awaits. But does that make the game worth your time overall? I’m going to say yes, especially if you’re looking for something aside from Monster Hunter: World to invest a few hours in.
Getting Started In This Troublesome World
Right off the bat, Dauntless throws you into trouble, but it doesn’t necessarily leave you there. Phoenix Labs is courtesy enough to invest you in the game’s tutorials, so you get a good idea of how things work.
First off, you’ll get a walk-through of the combat. You’ve got light and heavy strikes, which you can chain together into combos. This is a good system, and one that doesn’t eat too much into your stamina. Still, if the game tells you to cool down a little bit, it doesn’t hurt to take things on the defensive and take a little rest, just to play it safe. There’s also special techniques that can give you a boost on speed and power, always helpful if a Behemoth is giving you a harder time than expected.
There’s also defensive techniques. The roll is your best way to go, as you can get out of the way of charge attacks or strike techniques, particularly those when an enemy pounds into the ground. This is a great way to keep your health up, though there are times that you’re certainly going to take damage. Fortunately, you’ve got a few health orbs that you can take if you need a quick boost; and sometimes an ally can help give you a hand if you’re down for the count. (You can always refill in town should you need it.)
Then there’s the weapons. You start off with a basic tutorial sword, but you can pick up new weapons fairly easily, and craft your own back in the town of Ramsgate. You can create swords that do well against particular enemies with special buffs, and equip them at any time with your character before jumping into battle. The variety here is fresh, and being able to make something new – even if you don’t invest heavily in buying new equipment – is pretty neat.
Okay, then, let’s get to the main hub.
Welcome To Ramsgate
Once you visit the main hub – which you’ll do after the initial hunt – you’ll like what you see. Finding key points on the map is simple, thanks to the overall HUD that shows key people to visit. This includes your commander, who guides you through training and talking to folks. There’s also a blacksmith, a place where you can unlock orbs to power up, an armory where you can build new items, and maps where you can go on new hunts. There are also other locations and people to talk to.
It’s a good navigation point. And although it may not be as big as Monster Hunter: World’s home base, it’s still impressive for Phoenix Labs’ first go-around. It’s also an ideal meeting spot if you’re trying to form a hunting party for the initial time, even though it can take a little bit for your journey to begin, depending on server availability. Sometimes it took a few minutes for a Behemoth battle to start. Other times, we jumped right in.
As for the Cores and Orbs that you pick up, these help you earn buffs over the course of the game. They add to your overall strength, and create a level of customization that help you define your character. Although you have to build up and can’t rely on a preset customization set-up (not good for those that just want to “jump in”, as it were), it does add something of personal value for those of you that want to build something. And what’s more, it’s great to see how many ways you can branch out. Sometimes you can add a little endurance, or additional strength, or even with a little defensive technique here and there. A lot of possibilities exist here.
And while there is a Season Pass and some Microtransactions here and there, they aren’t entirely necessary. Dauntless doesn’t really beat you over the head to get ahead. You can unlock some free stuff based on the hunts you go on. Sure, it does help with the progression and all, and you do help the developers by making some purchases, especially when it comes to some Cores and Cells. But overall, it’s your call. (No guilt trip, promise. But these guys did deliver a polished experience.)
There’s a lot of stuff to wade through in Dauntless. So if you’ve got the time to invest, you’ll be promptly rewarded. Let’s dig into that.
The Hunt’s the Thing
As I stated earlier, Dauntless’ early content is a bit on the easy side. Some of the early Behemoths went down within a matter of minutes with a proper party. However, as I continued to dig further into the game, the challenge level certainly rose to the occasion.
For instance, with one particular ice-themed Behemoth, the Boreus, he managed to call in some support. As he built a shield around himself (consisting of icicles, of course), he added some secondary characters flying through the air. The goal was to kill these creatures before we could do damage to him again. Some other Behemoths also have secondary defenses like this, making them a lot tougher to kill. And that’s just those that don’t get into nasty techniques themselves. They make a real difference that makes the game a lot of fun.
While there is a bit of Monster Hunter-ish gameplay to it, Phoenix Labs has nailed down the gameplay aspects pretty nicely. Dauntless doesn’t get boring, even with its repetition. And the special techniques are fun to master, especially as you apply new techniques, orbs and more to your character. The new magic attacks are really something, and the buffs actually play a grand part in how your characters get things done on the battlefield. You really feel how things unfold as you make progress – something rare in most games that promise such a thing.
The multiplayer clicks really well, too. And what’s more, Phoenix Labs has really managed to nail down the cross-play support right off the bat. That means you can join in with Xbox One, PS4 and PC players across the bat. Switch owners will be able to hop on as well once their version of the game launches later this year, too. So no one will miss the party. For now, it’s a great support system, and aside from waiting for a match-up to start for a few minutes, there’s very little to complain about here. Performance is unmatched, and that’s something that we’d never thought we’d say about a game from a small company like Phoenix Labs.
Definitely work on playing with your friends tho. Randos can be good to have on your team, but the game really shines when you have teammates that can work with you instead of just doing their own thing. They can make bringing down a Behemoth and earning the goods together far more rewarding than, say, having four people just hack and slash at random. There’s something about technique that really makes it all come together. See if you can find fellow players that are willing to win it all alongside you.
Pretty Good Looking
Although Dauntless doesn’t exactly have the AAA budget that Monster Hunter: World possesses, Phoenix Labs did a bang-up job with what they’ve put together here. When the game launched, it did have some issues with its pop-up visuals. But now that it’s come together, it looks really nice.
The game has fluid 30 frames per second visuals (sometimes 60, but not often), and the animations are pretty sharp thus far, particularly on the Behemoths. Boreus, for instance, is dazzling, especially once he forms the Ice Shield on his body. The characters look great, too; and the city of Ramsgate flows with life, just as smoothly as any of World’s cities, even with lesser detail.
That said, there is a bit of drabness to some of Dauntless’ environments. That’s not to say they’re bad, they just seem a bit lifeless in some spots. Also small compared to, say, Capcom’s lush world. That’s not a bad thing, but it also leaves out the possibility of exploration. Maybe that’s something that can be fixed down the line. At least that makes it easy to find the prey you’re looking for so you can get into the fight, right?
The voice work is great, with each of your characters sounding quite convincing. The music cues are imaginative as well; and the sound effects are as powerful as you’d expect for a game like this. No complaints at all in that department.
Overall, this is a pretty solid game for a first time out by Phoenix Labs. Some work could still be done, but the team accomplished exactly what they set out to do, despite some mild limitations. Monster Hunter fans or those that really enjoy the genre will get a kick out of what’s here.
Even with the mild repetition that’s at play here, Dauntless has a lot of strategy to offer, particularly with the more challenging Behemoths that pop up later in the game. Plus, with the customization angle that you discover in Ramsgate, you can unlock really cool abilities for your character later on in the game. There’s a lot to build towards here.
You’ll get a lot more out of the game if you invest in the Season Pass. But even if you don’t, Dauntless has a lot to offer with its unlockables and its many hunting quests with its Behemoths. On top of that, its Cross-Play feature is unprecedented, and the fact that such a small studio can offer that level of support is incredible.
Learning Curve: 8.5/10
It’s fairly easy to jump into the world of Dauntless. Although there’s a lot to take in, the in-game tutorials walk you through everything that you need to know. And what’s more, you’ll get a hang of the combat within a few swings of your sword. You’ll build up to be a badass within just a matter of hunts.
Despite some of the environments needing some touch-ups, Dauntless is not a bad-looking game in the least. The animations are superb, and the Behemoth design is absolutely off the charts. What’s more, your character design is superb, and Ramsgate looks like a truly remarkable city, despite the fact it’s not as big as other in-game hubs. You’ll have a good time running around with this game.
Solid voice acting from a number of secondary characters. Good music cues keep you in the fight. Great sound effects from both your weapons and the Behemoths that you hunt down. Great mix overall.
Value for Money: 8.5/10
Even if you don’t invest that much in Dauntless, you’ll find nothing but a great time with it. But if you do buy the Season Pass, you’ll be rewarded with a terrific experience, one that will keep you hunting like a pro. Either way, prepare for some seriously great hunts with friends, no matter what your platform ends up being.
While Monster Hunter: World continues to pound its chest in dominance, it’s no longer the only game in town. Phoenix Labs’ Dauntless proves that it can hold its own against the king. Even though it comes up slightly short in some areas, it more than makes up for it with deep customization, enjoyably rich combat, beautiful visuals, a deep in-game hub, and a lot to do. On top of that, the Cross-Play support, multiplayer and customization will keep you busy for hours on end. Don’t hesitate to jump into this hunt, players.
+ Terrific take on the Monster Hunter theme with in-game combat and customization.
+ Great graphics overall, both in combat and with the Ramsgate hub.
+ Impressive multiplayer, particularly with its Cross-Play support.
+ A whole lot to do, whether you invest in the Season Pass or not.
- A few of the environments could look better.
- Some matches can take a while to start up.
- Switch owners will have to wait a bit to join the party.
- Behemoths later on in the game will take a lot of damage to bring down.
(A review code was provided by the publisher to MMOGames)Related: Dauntless, PC, Phoenix Labs, Playstation 4, Review, Xbox One