A few weeks ago at E3 I was able to get into an apartment with the guys behind Dauntless, a co-op action RPG with MMO elements and a clear vision: get four players together and pit them against unique behemoths that have personalities of their own. Four of us sat around a table on laptops and went to town, or rather, towards the monsters, which we fought in order of difficulty.
To begin, the graphics reminded me of 2014’s Wildstar but with more of a focus on Slayer identity in the form of armor and weapons. They clearly represent the behemoths that they are crafted from and, from a combat point of view, embody their elements and style. the Shattered Isle, the game’s main stage and the place in which the behemoths have to be hunted, is expansive and feels like it exists on its own despite the massive creatures that live there.
Within the Shattered Isles are all types of flora and fauna which players are encouraged to harvest for recipes. Unlike Monster Hunter the game’s islands do not have loading times when the behemoths decide to flee which is refreshing and feels as if there is more of a “hunt” going on.
We set out across the island until one of us found the first behemoth, Gnasher, and fireworks began going off in the sky to signal his location to the other players. What followed was a mad dash towards the beast in an effort to mitigate danger away from the player that had found him. Swords unsheathed and everyone began going to work on him, but being careful to dodge his constant onslaught of adaptive attacks.
There were no indicators in regards to telegraphed attacks besides reading the behemoth’s body movements. This is important when considering when to attack and when to back off and heal. Of course, being familiar to the monster hunting scene, I went straight for the tail and I was punished for it.
What makes Dauntless‘s combat exciting is the multiple combat mechanics that the player is managing at once. They have a lantern ability that, when charged, can do things such as a mass heal, a mass stamina boost, or a provide the other slayers with overshields. I also had the chance to call in airdrops during the fight from which each slayer on the team could heal. All of this paired with the game’s four weapon types made fights feel dynamic instead of routine as in other games.
The weapons are broken up into four categories: swords, axes, hammers, and twin blades. The sword felt simple at first but as I watched the developers utilize them, I realized that you needed great timing and a keen eye for opportunity to make use of the swords various attacks.
I quickly moved towards the twinblades for our second fight because the idea of two scythes seemed too cool to pass up. The twin blades allowed me to throw out the blades and pull myself towards the behemoth we were fighting and get in after we had evaded his ranged attacks.
As we began our third and final fight against Skraev, an ice-wielding owl creature, I opted for Embermane’s hammer. A hammer mixed with a shotgun forged out of the materials from a fire behemoth. That fire damage type would help me to do a large amount of damage to this ice behemoth and set him on fire too.
The shotgun combo elements were familiar from other hunting franchises but they felt satisfying nonetheless. Skraev was proving to be difficult and it was clear that the training wheels had been taken off. The developers were being downed too and they explained to me that they wanted these behemoths to be difficult even for the people making the game.
In between each fight we had returned to Ramsgate (the game’s social hub) to change out our weapons and armor to better fit the hunt we were embarking on. These armor and weapon sets would have been difficult and to obtain I’m sure, had I not been granted them all for demo sake. I could imagine grinding for one of these badass looking armor sets for days.
Everything in the game has a purpose. Fighting rewards preparation and planning in Dauntless and that planning extends to your fellow slayers as well. It’s going to take a lot of thought in order to achieve high ranks in different hunts and guilds will be competing for those for the foreseeable future.
Skraev swooped overhead just barely missing me and landed, frustrated that he had not made contact. The behemoth had already fled and was showing visible signs of fatigue that promised that the fight was nearing its end. I began asking about the uses for the different weapons charged attack and almost as if on que Skraev began an aerial run and one of the devs, Jesse, unleashed a charged sword attack that slashed across Skraev’s face mid flight and sent him crashing to the ground.
Dauntless has a vivid personality that feels like something I would grind for weeks. The community is inherently supportive so far because the game is focused on cooperation. The devs have also implemented deep matchmaking that will go beyond gear-level and experience and pair players together based on their personalities.
Dauntless feels amazing to play and reminds me of the raid-like mechanics of World of Warcraft and Destiny combined with the personality of a hunting game. All of this wrapped up in a package that is free-to-play is astounding and is something to keep your eyes out for as the release date approaches.
Dauntless will be making its way to PC in December of this year and, while it has amazing controller integration, is not coming to console in the foreseeable future. You can check out Phoenix Lab’s recent announcement about their Founder’s Alpha here. You can also check out the game’s E3 trailer above.