Dauntless Review — The Hunt That Never Ends
Phoenix Labs has crafted a fully realized action RPG with Dauntless that brings together players across all platforms.
Xbox One, PS4
Review copy provided by the publisher
Phoenix Labs has taken up the task of creating the West’s first action hunting game with Dauntless, a free-to-play title that’s literally all about the thrill of hunting, gathering, and crafting that sweet gear. While some of its systems and mechanics leave room for improvement, as a title you can jump right into and play today, Dauntless is one of the best free-to-play games I’ve ever played.
From the getgo, Dauntless offers solid tutorials that’ll get you accustomed to its world, weapons, items, and Behemoths. Upon completing some of the introductory tutorials, you’ll be getting a hefty list of quests and suddenly, you’ll be off fighting Behemoths to your heart’s content. Outside of battle, you’ll be spending a good amount of time exploring Ramsgate, a town where you’ll be able to visit shops, start hunts, run around with other players, and more.
“Dauntless is one of the best free-to-play games I’ve ever played.”
Ramsgate is easy to navigate, with only a handful of meaningful locations you’ll have to consistently access within. It ultimately works as the game’s main hub location. I found players constantly grouping together, showing off armor, emotes, and more. If you’re jumping into Dauntless by yourself, Ramsgate is a great location to look for others to help you on your hunts.
Dauntless clearly draws a lot of inspiration from Capcom’s Monster Hunter. But I have to say, compared to every other hunting game I’ve played, Dauntless’ set of monsters, also known as Behemoths, are wildly unique compared to the rest of the competition. Of course, you have the Behemoths that’ll just slam you to the ground with sheer force alone, but there are also other beasts that use more unique abilities, really changing up the ways in which you take them down.
For example, Boreus will build a thick ice shield around his body while simultaneously summoning minions to defend itself. The only way to crack through this shield is to defeat those minions. Riftstalker is a fast, shadowy Behemoth that’ll suck your squad into a dark portal where it’ll then creep out of the walls at high speeds to attack. Stormclaw creates shock barriers that it uses to split you and your team members apart. While Dauntless’ list of Behemoths isn’t as vast as Monster Hunter, the ones that we do get are wildly unique when compared to one another and are as fun as they are difficult in the later stages. Every hunt concludes with a letter grade and endgame screen with loads of information about rewards and progression. It’s really easy to see where you’re at before you even begin your next hunt.
“While Dauntless’ list of behemoths isn’t as vast as Monster Hunter, the ones that we do get are wildly unique when compared to one another and are as fun as they are difficult in the later stages.”
Hunting games are nothing without rewarding weapons to equip yourself with and master. Dauntless has six and each of them is fitted for different gameplay styles with varying movement and attack speeds. I find myself gravitating towards faster weapons, so naturally, I was accustomed to the sword and spear. Dishing out moderate damage at high speeds while being able to roll out of dangerous situations quickly is my cup of tea. The repeaters are one of the more unique weapons in-game as they focus on nothing but ranged combat. Each weapon comes with its own set of combos and specials, meaning a more versatile team of Slayers will be able to get the most out of each ability in a hunt.
Armor is also important in Dauntless as each one comes with different buffs and bonuses that’ll help or harm you against specific elemental Behemoths. Each set of armor is visually unique, but it’s important to note that you can use Transmog Stones to change your armor’s cosmetic appearance. These stones are a cheap premium item, and can also be acquired from purchasing the game’s season pass for $10, but we’ll get more into those things later on. There’s also a special lantern accessory you can equip which will grant you two unique abilities that you can use to help you in battle. These come in the form of short buffs, magic attacks, and more.
Cells are an additional integral part of building your Slayer in Dauntless. This is really the only part of the game where RNG comes into play. Each Cell can be equipped to specific weapons and armor and they’ll grant you different buffs like increased health, stamina, invincibility frames while dodging, stagger damage, and so much more. With all of the customization mentioned above, it’s a bit surprising the game doesn’t have a preset loadout system. You’ll have to adjust your armor and equipment before every fight because, as I mentioned, different elements have varying strengths and weaknesses to Behemoth elements. The ability to have a couple of preset loadouts would go a long way towards making Dauntless a bit less cumbersome to jump into. Micromanaging everything can get a little annoying at times.
You can hunt specific Behemoths through pursuits and patrols offer more randomized experiences with special rewards and loot. The system is nice and laid out really well as you can easily see which quests need completing and what benefits you’ll get from every option. I’ve been playing Dauntless since March with the game’s PC open beta. Around April, one of the newest changes to the game came in the form of Arcstones and Elemental orbs which act as new crafting materials for weapons and armor along with Behemoth parts. You’ll need orbs and stones as they’re acquired for fighting specific Behemoth types and their rarity and usage changes depending on what section of the game you’re in. I’m mixed with their inclusion, as the actual Behemoth parts feel less meaningful. However, they do make upgrading the hefty amount of equipment smoother.
The Mastery system was also added a bit before Dauntless officially launched. It adds a whole new wave of content to dive into that encourages players to explore everything and anything the game has to offer. Mastery also plays into your overall progression in-game as your overall Slayer level will increase as you pursue each Mastery. From dishing out a certain amount of damage with axes, hunting a Behemoth multiple times, or crafting an armor type, everything gives you rewards and buffs that’ll make you a better Slayer overall. The sheer amount of things to pursue can be overwhelming, but it’s a sure-fire way of guaranteeing players will always have something to do in Dauntless as more content comes over time.
While its systems and mechanics are solid, Dauntless is also a really good looking game. Environmental effects pop along with a great palette of color that really shows during some later Behemoth hunts. Exploration isn’t a big part of Dauntless so you won’t find much to actually do besides gathering some materials and hunting your Behemoths. Every location is relatively small when compared to a game like Monster Hunter: World so I never really found myself getting bored of any location. Developer Phoenix Labs put the focus on hunting, and there’s definitely room for growth in these areas, but as of right now, I’d say it’s not a necessity at all.
There’s also something to be said about the game’s sound design. Breaking parts and bashing Behemoths is immensely satisfying. Additionally, Behemoths themselves give off different audio queues that’ll notify you of an incoming attack. Hearing and seeing their movements can be a vital part of staying alive.
It’s hard to talk about a free-to-play game without talking about its use of microtransactions. Phoenix Labs has proven itself over time to really be crafting a game that people can jump into and enjoy right from the start. You could play Dauntless from start to finish without paying a dime and feel like your experience was worthwhile. Everything that’s purchasable in Dauntless is cosmetic aside from Ace Chips. The Cells that I mentioned earlier have one of three rarities and you can use a special system in the game to upgrade them. You’ll acquire almost all of your Cells for free and combining them can up their rarity. Actually performing combinations is free but the wait time can be pretty long depending on the rarity of the Cells your combining. You can, however, use Ace Chips to speed up the process. Unless you’re combining two of the same Cells you might not get the one you want which can definitely be a downer.
I never found the system itself to be predatory in any way at all. In fact, I’ve gotten a ton of high-level cells that I used in the late-game. It just does need to be mentioned as I’ve heard players express RNG concerns. However, I hope I could alleviate any worries you may have had by relaying my own experience. I really believe Phoenix Labs has done a commendable job responding to their community and adjusting their microtransactions accordingly.
Dauntless does have a seasonal Hunt Pass which has become a staple in free-to-play titles as of late. There is a free pass and a premium one. Both get you access to some of the game’s premium currencies, however, players who opt for the $10 premium pass will get a lot more. If there’s one form of paid content I like in these types of games it’s this type of pass as the price of entry is low and allows you to support a developer that’s literally offering you hundreds of hours of content free-of-charge.
“I initially overlooked Dauntless as another Monster Hunter clone and I was wildly wrong for thinking that.”
The last thing I’ll mention is cross-play and cross-progression. With Dauntless being tied to the Epic Games Store, Phoenix Labs has given players across Xbox One, PS4, and PC the ability to play and interact with Slayers across all available platforms. It’s a really crazy thing to be in a lobby with people on Xbox and PS4 while they’re able to use their microphone. While it’s not entirely related to the core game, it’s a great triumph and Phoenix Labs should be commended for it. To top it all off, you can use one Epic account to access your character across all platforms.
Dauntless has plenty of room for growth, but it’s already one of my favorite free-to-play games. I initially overlooked Dauntless as another Monster Hunter clone and I was wildly wrong for thinking that. Whether you’re a newcomer to the genre or just looking for an alternative while you wait for Iceborne, you can’t go wrong with Dauntless. As the West’s first foray into the monster hunting genre, Phoenix Labs’ Dauntless is an absolute triumph.