They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in which case Dauntless must be really trying to get on good terms with Monster Hunter because these games are so similar that if you made the graphics a tad less cartoony, you could honestly confuse the two. Though there are some minor differences aesthetically and with the gameplay, Phoenix Labs made a game that is stunningly like the Capcom staple. Oh, and that isn't a complaint. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you're going to copy off someone, be sure it's the straight A student. Dauntless quickly usurped Warframe as my favorite MMO, but there is one huge problem. See, fans of Monster Hunter wanted to see an MMO of the game for some time, and when Dauntless was announced we were excited to see we may have one, albeit unofficial. However, a few months later Monster Hunter World was announced and it looks like everything fans have wanted. While Dauntless is a game that looks great, sounds great, and plays great, it is going to have to do some work to distinguish itself from the Monster Hunter franchise to avoid being completely smashed by the established competition.
Dauntless is currently in closed beta, but a Founder's Pack can be purchased for access for a minimum of $39.99. Open Beta is coming early in 2018.
The world has been broken into floating fragments, each with it's own climate and ecosystem. Though harvesting from these islands is necessary there is one unfortunate roadblock: the creatures known as Behemoths. These monstrous being are primal forces of nature, driving off intruders with fang and feather, with brute force and devious cunning, and even some with the elements themselves. In response to this threat, the humans of the islands have developed societies of the best hunters. Those who can show their mettle against these menaces are Slayers. Airships bring them to these islands, and if they return it is with pieces of the broken monster.
This game has everything I like in an MMO story, it makes you feel epic without making you the one and only person who can deal with the threat. However, the game's epic-ness doesn't mean it takes itself too seriously. One of my favorite lines is when one character said "didn't I just tell you this…?" when this is literally the first time you've talked to them. I chuckled a bit at the self-awareness. As of right now I couldn't really tell you which NPCs were which unless you're asking me which ones can craft what, but I'm willing to cut some slack because it's in closed beta. Besides, the story knows it isn't the main draw of an action RPG. That distinction goes to the gameplay.
As I may have hinted before, a lot of this is very much like Monster Hunter. If you enjoy that franchise, then this game is exactly up your alley. If you're not too sure, let me break it down for you.
Equipment based stats
One of the trademarks of the Monster Hunter games is the fact that your character's stats are completely based upon what animal's corpse you're wearing at the time, and that is something I've always been a fan of and this game is no exception. I'm one of those guys who always likes mixing up my playstyle a bit, and this kind of system allows for you to seamlessly change from an agile swordsman to a hammer-wielding tank. But, something that I do think Phoenix Labs needs to work on is the explanation of how these things impact your character. As of right now it isn't really explained all that well. In order to find out how aspects will impact your character you have to go to the armorsmith and then find the thing you want and then you can see how it would compare to what you have now. If that could be implemented in your loadout screen that would make everything so much smoother. As of right now there isn't the plethora of options Monster hunter has, but it's also a much younger game and in its closed beta, so that's to be expected.
Different weapons equal different playstyles
As I hinted a bit in the last section, each of the four (soon to be five) weapons lends itself to a slightly different play-style. I tried a bit of all of them and found that they all had different combos and special attacks. I settled on using a sword as my main weapon, but I occasionally used the chain blades. That isn't to say that the battleaxe and hammer are bad, I played in parties with people who stunned a monster with an elemental blast from their hammer or easily lopped off a body part with a charged axe blow. In the next update there will be the combat pike, which seems to be more focused on sidestepping combos. It is worth saying that as of right now there are no ranged weapons, but the combat pike will have a ranged capability. I don't know if they plan on adding bows or guns but I've always been one for being up close and personal with these monsters so that doesn't but me all that much.
This is something that isn't quite in the Monster Hunter franchise but I do feel it's worthy of note: as of right now navigating these menus is an absolute nightmare. It's an easy thing to fix in an update, but whenever you go to pick a mission or forge a weapon or armor, it's all in one jumbled mess. The equipment is all organize alphabetically, which is fine but it also throws all of the different tiers of weapons and armor together, which leads to a lot of scrolling. Granted it only wastes a few seconds and they can fix it easily in a future patch, and in fact the missions are getting a complete reworking in the next patch, but hopefully they organize your loadout as well.
Another problem I had with this game was the difficulty I had finding a party to do these missions at times. I found myself waiting for a long time for many of these Behemoths before I could get in on a mission. This could be a problem that is fixed if and when the player base expands and when the developers add the ability for people from different regions to play together, but if you do decide to get into the game right now expect to wait a bit unless you bring a friend or two.
Kill them monsters!
With the past few sections I have given being complaints, you probably think I don't love this game. You are wrong. Why? Well, the core gameplay is awesome. At the beginning of the hunt an airship drops you and the up to three others on your party on a floating island where you can harvest resources but must hunt the behemoth. Once someone does find it, you can just pop a handy dandy little flare to alert your teammates, then rush in to slay the beast! There is also a system for wounding and severing bits of the behemoth, so that could add an extra layer to the difficulty of the hunt.
A little zoology
Now, what about the behemoths themselves? Well, I loved them. Each one was difficult when I first began grinding them out to get their parts for weapons and armor, but as time went on and I learned their patterns they became increasingly easier, making a wonderful skill-based difficulty curve. Each behemoth has a unique look and feel from not only the other behemoths, but that also felt rather different from anything you could find in Monster Hunter, which helps Dauntless feel less like a carbon copy of the former and more like a homage to the gameplay.
Look, making a game isn't free, so I get when you need to include these at times. Emphasis on "at times." In order to make microtransactions acceptable, two of three factors need to be met in my book. Firstly, the game itself must be free to play. Don't beg poverty if there was a ticket to enter. Second, the changes must be cosmetic or just boosts. If someone wants to progress a bit faster or look a bit different that's their business. Third, the game must be co-op. It isn't pay to win if all of the players are on the same team. In the case of Dauntless, as of right now, it looks like it's going to meet all three. It's tough to tell because there is no whiff of a premium currency unless you get to the highest tier of founder's pack, in which case you get the option to pay for a boost or for some small cosmetic changes. I do hope it stays this way, because I personally have no problem shelling out a few bucks every now and again to support a game I believe is doing good work. I did it with Warframe and I'll gladly do it again with Dauntless if this is the way they'll do things.
Graphics and Audio
The graphics are what led me to describe this game to friends as "Monster Hunter by way of World of Warcraft." The graphics are somewhat cartoony and stylized, which I think is a style that could age rather well. All of the behemoths are designed well and the armor that they have finished designing looks pretty good. At no point yet have I gone "Oh geez I look so COOL!" But I do think the armors look pretty neat.
The music to this game is great atmosphere, never distracting but always adding to the epic feeling you gt when slaying a dinosaur beaver. The sound effects are decent, though it is on their agenda to make it more viscerally satisfying. I've heard the samples of the sounds they want to add and those sound effects are going to make you feel like a badass.
If you've been waiting on a Monster Hunter game for the PC, look no further than Dauntless. Of course, the frequent comparisons I've made over the course of this review begs the questions: Can Dauntless survive when Monster Hunter World is released for PC? What will distinguish it from its biggest competition? Is it going to be relegated to ripoff status or will it make a name for itself? I can't say for sure, but I have high hopes for this game. The developers are very transparent and have a roadmap with all of the things they're planning on adding, from minor cosmetics to new weapons and behemoths. The "Sharpen your Skills" update is coming out this month and it looks like it will be a massive overhaul that will help in carving out its own niche. I can't tell you for sure what the future holds for this game when the competition rears its head, but I can tell you that for now, despite the rough and unfinished edges (which it is allowed to have because it's closed beta), Dauntless is a ton of fun for anyone who is a fan of this style of gameplay. Whether you decide to splurge on a Founder's Pack now or wait for it to be free, I definitely recommend checking it out.