Title: Dauntless Released On: May 21, 2019 Genre: Action RPG Reviewed On: PC and Xbox One Also Available on: PS4 Developer: Phoenix Labs Publisher: Epic Games MSRP: Free-to-Play (In-game Transactions)
We need to address a proverbial ‘Elephant in the room’ before delving into this review of Dauntless, one that it will be considerably difficult to avoid. So why not get it out of the way nice and early? That is of course the game that the majority of players will compare Dauntless to: Monster Hunter: World.
The inspiration is undeniable, the developers themselves have over 6000 collective hours in various Monster Hunter games; but they also state that they were influenced by games such as Dark Souls and World of Warcraft as well. As a gamer with over 500 hours in MHW and a WoW playtime that does not even bear thinking about, I personally felt the WoW vibe considerably more than that of MHW during my initial time with Dauntless. That was due to atmosphere, rather than the actual game play; which of course is much closer to MHW.
With that said, despite their similarities it would be a disservice to label Dauntless as a ‘‘MHW clone‘; especially considering that Dauntless was first revealed during The Game Awards in December 2016, whilst Monster Hunter: World was not announced until E3 2017. So with that in mind, Scholarly Gamers would like to try and review Dauntless on its own merit; trying to abstain from direct comparisons unless absolutely required.
What is Dauntless?
Dauntless is the first release from Phoenix Labs, a studio that you may or may not be familiar with. Whilst small in size, the pedigree of the team speaks volumes; which is composed of former developers from Riot Games, BioWare, Blizzard Entertainment, and Capcom. With a team like that, it is no wonder this small studio is now on everyone’s radar.
Published by Epic Games, Dauntless is a free-to-play action role-playing game that is intended to be played cooperatively; as the team describes their game as a ‘social experience’. Dauntless is set in a fantasy world named the Shattered Isles, named as such due to the state of the environment following a cataclysmic event which tore the world apart. All of the remaining landmasses within the world are floating in the air, suspended by a magical energy known as aether. As the world was torn apart, monstrous beasts were released which prey on humans as well as the aether that holds the Shattered Isles aloft: Behemoths.
As such, the player takes up the mantle of a Slayer, an elite warrior that is tasked with hunting the Behemoth threat in order to preserve humanity. The Behemoth’s hunger for humans as well as the aether, if left unchecked, would result in the extinction of the human race.
In a nutshell: you good, monsters bad, slay them all.
Before we delve into the mechanics of Dauntless and of course how the game plays, the most defining aspect of this game is that ‘social experience’ which the developers proclaimed. Whilst Dauntless was originally planned for a PC-only release, the plan changed and the game has been released for Playstation 4 and Xbox One; with future plans for Nintendo Switch as well as mobile releases. Whilst a multi-platform release is fairly common, most games from AAA studios release on multiple platforms in an attempt to gain as much market-share as possible; Dauntless launched with a feature that is considerably uncommon, cross-platform play between ALL platforms as well as progression tracking across the different platforms as well.
In the partial PC screenshot above, you can see that I am a grouped up with both an Xbox One player and a Playstation 4 player; whilst I am on the PC. Whilst Fortnite of course allows cross-platform squads to be constructed, as long as they as listed as friends on your Epic account; every aspect of Dauntless features cross-platform matchmaking. As soon as you load into the city of Ramsgate, you will notice that the social space is populated with individuals from different platforms.
Although it is worth noting that on console the Xbox and PS4 logos are replaced with a generic graphic representing a console as pictured below. Most likely due to licensing issues, although it could be in an effort to prevent ‘console wars’ from flaring up during a hunt.
Voice and text chat is also cross-platform within game, providing a seamless communication experience regardless of which platform you are on. Needless to say, the wizardry that is occurring within the back end is considerable. It is no wonder that the first week following the official launch has been plagued with server issues related to capacity and queue times. Just consider for a moment, the amount of players on all 3 platforms that have been frantically wanting to play this latest free-to-play title; whom all have to be routed through the same login/game/matchmaking/chat/social servers as far as I understand.
Keeping in mind that this is a small studio, they most likely were not prepared for the more than 5 million (and rising) players that have played Dauntless so far as of time of writing (now over 6 million just mere minutes after writing that sentence). For a free-to-play game, those kinds of numbers are unsurprising; but considering that Dauntless belongs to somewhat of a niche genre, it makes that accomplishment considerably amazing.
Another amazing accomplishment is the cross-platform progression. Since your slayer is tied to your Epic account, you could initially play Dauntless on your PS4 at home but then pick up where you left off from a PC or even an Xbox somewhere else. All of your progression carries over. Now if only other titles could have implemented something similar (The Division 2, I am looking at you).
Free-to-play: the Usual Story
Okay, one more aspect before delving into the game itself: the F2P model. There is no requirement whatsoever to spend a dime within Dauntless, just as is the case with most other F2P titles; but if you find yourself enjoying the game, you will most likely be tempted to spend a little bit of your hard-earned cash. Most of the coolest looking skins and customisation items within Dauntless require Platinum, which is the game’s premium currency; which equates to about 100 Plat costing $1 USD. There are of course free ways to gain Platinum, but at a very slow rate and in small quantities.
I just so happened to have some balance just sitting around on my Microsoft Account, so I opted to purchase the ‘Timely Arrival Pack’; which appears to be a limited-time pack for $5 USD which includes:
- 1,000 Platinum
- ‘Timely Arrival’ Arrival Emote
- 50 Ace Chips
- 3 Common Cells
- 2 Rare Cells
- Tonics Bundle
The emote is fairly self-explanatory and is a nice nod to a certain film franchise, whilst the Ace Chips are used to speed up the process of fusing cells. The cells themselves are items which can be placed within weapons and armour to modify them with perks, these are the key component to customising your build as you see fit. Tonics are consumables that you can use during a hunt, which provide certain buffs and abilities depending on their type.
The 1,000 Platinum included in the pack was immediately spent to unlock the Elite track of the Hunt Pass. Much like other games, Dauntless is organised into seasons; we are currently in Season 5: Hidden Blades. This might sound strange since the game has just officially launched, but Dauntless has been in Open Beta on PC since 24 May 2018; hence why it is now Season 5.
All slayers start out with free access to the Basic track of the Hunt Pass, which is the topmost grey area in the image above. As your season level increases (the maximum being 50 each season), the player is reward with prizes such as emotes, platinum, and reagents.
The Elite track however, which is the more colourful bottom area of the image above, rewards each level with exclusive items such as transmogs which are specific to that season. If the player manages to reach level 50 of the Elite track, they earn 500 platinum back. Needless to say, this type of system provides a meaningful grind that will prove rewarding to those with plenty of time on their hands. If however you want to spend money in order to save time, you can drop 200 Platinum to skip to the next level.
Whether you spend money on this game is up to you, provided you have the self-discipline to keep your spending in control of course.
To put it simply, there are two main activities: Patrol and Pursuit.
Pursuit is a targeted hunt for a specific Behemoth, this is the game mode that many of the quests you encounter within Dauntless will need to be completed from. It is also worth noting that this is the game mode you will more than likely want to use for ‘farming’ specific Behemoth parts required for crafting weapons and armour.
Patrol on the other hand categorises Behemoths into their respective elements, meaning that there is a pool of possible Behemoths you may encounter. This game mode features Lesser Behemoths, so they are less powerful than their Pursuit counterparts; but completing patrols rewards Aether Orbs (depending on which element of patrol you choose) which are require to upgrade your weapons and armour. There are also daily rewards for completing a handful of Patrols, and some weekly quests will require a set amount of Patrols to be completed.
This is the basis for the compulsion loop within Dauntless: hunting Behemoths in order to craft and upgrade weapons and armour. Every single crafted item requires components/parts that come from Behemoths, or in the case of tonics and grenades require reagents to be gathered during a hunt. Whilst a grind is intrinsic to this type of game, it feels significantly pronounced within Dauntless due to the need to use specific elemental weapons and armour sets in order to successfully complete the more challenging encounters.
Now this is not to say that the grind itself is not enjoyable, but if you need a certain part that requires a specific area of a Behemoth to be broken; then you will ultimately need to coordinate this with your hunting party. Even then, whether or not the actual part you need ends up dropping is all up to RNG; so expect to spend much of your time hunting the same Behemoth over and over again for certain higher-tier equipment.
Crafting and upgrading items is however nice and simple, with perks and stats not being too complicated. This simplicity is where Dauntless is quite deceiving, as it is a game that is extremely easy to get into (thanks to simple controls and mechanics); but Phoenix Labs has stated they plan to put extremely difficult quests into the game eventually. This would result in most players being able reach somewhat of an ‘endgame’ state eventually, but only a few would be skilled enough to take on these quests.
Very similar to how World of Warcraft used to be if you think about it.
Combat and Equipment
There are 6 types of weapons in the game currently:
- War Pike
- Chain Blades
Each of which offers unique attacks, combos, and abilities, as well as providing significantly different play styles. Combos are achieved through combinations of light attack, heavy attack, or both, as well as through different types of button/key presses (such as holding heavy attack or repeatedly pressing light attack). This type of combat system allows for unskilled or younger players (whom will be drawn to the game due the aesthetics no doubt) to jump right in and button mash, but also allows more skilled players to weave various combinations seamlessly together.
This is where one of the aspects of a true cross-platform game becomes evident, the disparity in skill level between platforms. Trust me, eventually you will notice a pattern of which platforms have players that constantly require reviving during a hunt.
Speaking of which, a word of advice: always wait to be revived by other party members! Whilst you are provided with a limited number of Stims in order to self-revive, these have a specific purpose and should not be used casually. As the fight with a Behemoth progresses, a ‘Danger’ meter continues to fill. If this reaches 100%, then the ability to revive other players is lost; at this point everyone is limited to self-revives only via their Stims.
For the most part, combat feels fairly satisfying. Each of the weapon types has unique characteristics (some are better for staggering, some for causing wounds, others for breaking parts), swords are a great all-rounder for example, whilst chain blades are fast and quick compared to the slow and powerful style that hammers or axes offer. If you prefer ranged combat, then the repeaters will no doubt have your name all over them. My personal favourite is the war pike, which is capable of fast strikes as well as heavy blows; and also features some ranged capabilities as well.
Bottom line: there is enough variety of weapons that each feels considerably different from the other, but not too many that the player is overwhelmed with choice.
Crafting weapons from the parts harvested from the different Behemoths also provides a fair range of variety. Whilst the most evident one is the respective elemental damage that certain Behemoth weapons provide, each different Behemoth weapon also has perks specific to that weapon. So just because you have 1 sword with fire damage, does not mean that you should not also build the other swords with the same element; they will most likely have different perks and possibly different types of cell slots.
The same is true for the armour sets. Whilst they all differ cosmetically, players may often find themselves making use of the transmog facility; so their armour looks exactly the way they want it to. The differences once again come down to elemental resistance, as well as perks on that armour. So make sure to pay attention to those characteristics.
The elemental system is fairly straightforward, in a nutshell:
- Neutral: good all-rounder, no extra strength or weakness against any element.
- Blaze: weapons are stronger against Frost Behemoths, armour is strong against Blaze Behemoths but considerably weaker against Frost Behemoths.
- Frost: weapons are stronger against Blaze Behemoths, armour is strong against Frost Behemoths but considerably weaker against Blaze Behemoths.
- Shock: weapons are stronger against Blaze Behemoths, armour is strong against Shock Behemoths but considerably weaker against Terra Behemoths.
- So on and so forth.
There are other elements beyond these, as you progress and unlock the various Patrols and Pursuits you will slowly be introduced to new challenges.
But How Does Dauntless Play?
Overall, Dauntless plays fairly well; but I have noticed a few things that are irritable. First off is performance on console. Dauntless looks great in 4K on my Xbox One X, albeit without HDR; but the performance of the game was lacklustre at best. After one session on console it was clear that I would be spending most of my time with Dauntless on PC. My hunting buddy who plays on a base console also informed me that he suffered from significant frame rate drops and the occasional crash. These issues will no doubt be addressed eventually, but the current focus has been on server capacity and stability.
Speaking of frame rate, playing Dauntless on PC is bittersweet. The game is hard-capped at 62fps; so if like me you have a 100Hz or higher display, then hopefully you have a panel with a variable refresh rate. Those on 60Hz panels will have nothing to worry about. Due to this cap though, it is hard to speculate on what type of performance to expect from various systems; although the minimum and recommended specs are fairly forgiving:
- Minimum Spec
- Nvidia 660Ti or equivalent
- Intel i5 SandyBridge (from 2011) or equivalent
- 4GB RAM
- Recommended Spec
- Nvidia GTX 970 or equivalent
- Intel i7 Haswell (from 2013) or equivalent
- 8GB RAM
Whilst it is possible to uncap the frame rate by modifying some files, it is definitely not recommended. The fps is capped due to animation and physics timings, somewhat similar to the Dark Souls problem of years ago. It is unknown whether this cap is here to stay or not, but regardless the game plays silky smooth with all settings at ‘Epic’ on my own rig.
The game also looks fantastic on an Ultrawide display.
I also have experienced a few issues with what I can only describe as server latency. Sometimes it requires multiple attempts to gather herbs whilst on a hunt, as well as certain attacks not seeming to connect as intended (when trying to stagger a Behemoth for example). It is definitely is not an issue with my Internet connection or input lag, but I imagine is more closely tied to whatever the tick rate of Dauntless is.
Despite these gripes, the game does indeed look great and plays well. The Behemoths are varied enough to keep things feeling relatively fresh, whilst the various maps are a decent size and well crafted; albeit devoid of any other creature besides the Behemoth. More importantly though, it is just plain good old fun. I have witnessed more than a few friends and colleagues lose an entire evening to Dauntless without realising it.
I am enjoying Dauntless a fair bit as well, but I can admit it has not hooked me as hard as Monster Hunter: World did upon release. In reality I could have started playing this game back in the beginning, during Season 1; but I was never interested in it back then, so why did I become interested in it now?
Gamers that enjoy a grind are in a strange place at the moment. Whilst I do not want to point fingers and criticise specific titles, players of these titles will no doubt know exactly what I am talking about; they are in a holding pattern, waiting to see what happens next with their game of choice. Likewise, many fans of the hunting sub-genre are patiently awaiting a certain expansion to release for their game; so Phoenix Labs and Epic Games have launched Dauntless at the perfect time, whether intentionally or not.
Admittedly I find myself looking at the handful of titles that usually require my attention for various daily or weekly quests, debating whether to fire them up or not; only to instead log in to Dauntless. Not because I desperately want to reach the end-game or maximum level like I tend to do with other games, but merely for a breath of fresh air and something different.
There is no denying that the console launch has been a little bit shaky, with considerable amounts of server maintenance and excessively long queue times just to log on to Dauntless. Once again, this has to be expected given the sheer scope of what Phoenix Labs has accomplished with this true cross-platform experience. Stability has already significantly improved, but still remains the focus for the developers; hence why some bugs which have been known for over a year have still not been addressed (whatever you do, do not look at the ‘move list’ whilst you are at the ready screen prior to a hunt; otherwise your screen will be stuck that way for the ENTIRE hunt).
Despite the issues, Dauntless has clearly had a decent degree of success; the player numbers do not lie after all. Then again, many gamers could very well have a similar train of thought to myself; always willing to try out something that is free. But when you consider that during the open beta the Dauntless player base was steadily growing and peaked at around 3 million players, it becomes evident that Phoenix Labs has done something right; their goal of 9 million players does not seem unreasonable considering the rate of growth.
Whether you think Dauntless is trying to piggy-back off Fortnite‘s success by using a similar art-style, or offers an ‘MH-Lite’ experience whilst hunters await the large expansion releasing later this year; it does not take away from the fact that Dauntless is fun and easy to get into.
Whilst the formula itself is nothing new, the way it is executed provides an accessible experience which also happens to look vibrant and colourful. The lack of a solid narrative (as in having a story that actually matters) prevents complete immersion in the world of the Shattered Isles, which I think is why I have not completely thrown myself at Dauntless. But the inclusion of cross-platform play and progression certainly warrants giving it a try.
It will be interesting to see how Dauntless continues to grow over time. Once the game is fleshed out a bit more and the bugs addressed, we could have a Behemoth of a title on our hands.
Final Score: 7/10
Dauntless provides a refreshingly accessible experience with vibrant characters and environments. But like a raw precious gemstone, it will require a fair amount of polishing to prove its worth.
This game is free to play, all in-game currency was purchased by the reviewer.