Behemoth Hunter

Game Title: Dauntless
Developer: Phoenix Labs
Price: Free to Play

What is it?

Dauntless is a coop action game that is heavily inspired by the Monster Hunter series and as such is built around players facing massive monsters, or in this game’s case, Behemoths.

Structurally it is very similar to Monster Hunter in that you’ll be taking down these behemoths, breaking and gathering their parts, ultimately to craft new gear to take on more challenging encounters.  This process is simplified and streamlined a bit more compared to its inspiration, focusing 100 percent on the actual behemoth encounters rather than mixing it up with other smaller tasks.  Fans of Monster Hunter will know that many missions involved things like gathering herbs, eggs, or fighting smaller creatures.  While you can gather herbs or mine for ore during missions in Dauntless, the ultimate goal is to defeat a behemoth in every scenario currently.  Perhaps the future of the game will add more variety, but for now it is like this.

The crafting system is also streamlined compared to Monster Hunter, with each piece of equipment having a straightforward upgrade path rather than having gear transform through winding upgrade trees.  This crafting system also makes hunting anything feel rewarding thanks to a core resource called Archonite which drops from any behemoth.  This is needed for crafting all gear and has higher quality forms as you progress to higher tiers.  What this means is instead of needing hefty amounts of specific behemoth materials, that instead is shifted over to archonite.  Doing random patrols which picks a random behemoth for you to fight rewards extra archonite too, making the hunting loop feel less repetitive and dull.

Currently the game offers five weapon options to choose from, each offering their own playstyles and benefits to a team.  Initially the game gives players access to the Sword, Hammer, and Chain Blades.  As the player progresses and upgrades their Weaponmaster reputation they can unlock the Axe and War Pike weapon options.  Upgrading this reputation is done by crafting weapons in addition to completing daily and weekly challenges.  The team at Phoenix Labs plans to continue adding more weapons in the future so don’t worry about the currently limited arsenal.

The Sword, Axe, and Chainblades all are slashing weapons and excel at cutting tails.  This means when attacking a tail with one of these weapons you will see higher than normal yellow damage numbers.  Yellow damage means part damage and bringing a behemoth part’s hidden yellow health all the way down will break it and reward you with a material drop.  There is also blue damage numbers which means stagger damage and is primarily dealt by hammers and axes, but every weapon option is capable of doing some amount of it.  When a behemoth’s hidden stagger health bar reaches zero it will stumble and fall over leaving an open opportunity to deal heavy damage.  The stagger health bar will now reset at this point giving players another opportunity to bring it down again.  Outside of the actual behemoth health (green numbers which are hidden unless a part is already broken), lastly there are red damage numbers called wound damage which is primarily dealt by the War Pike unless the player is geared to deal wound damage with any weapon.  Every part on the behemoth has a hidden wound damage health bar which when diminished will create a visible wound on that specific part.  All teammates hitting the wounded limb can now deal 50 percent extra part damage to it, making it easier to break.  War Pike users don’t benefit from this as much and only get a 25 percent bonus.

Currently there is a limited amount of progression to work though which includes five different tiers of behemoths to fight.  The first few tiers are a breeze for most players, but it does pick up considerably in the final two tiers.  In total there are technically 25 different behemoths to face, however many of these are variants rather than entirely new creatures.  I’d say maybe around 14 or 15 of them are truly unique, however even the variants do change up the encounter in various ways rather than just scaling them up.  At endgame you currently have little else do to but keep farming the same endgame behemoths until you’ve maxed out your favorite gear.  That and you can also keep coming back to complete daily and weekly challenges to earn new cells, which are essentially Dauntless’ version of Monster Hunter’s decorations.  They can be slotted into gear to give you new perks to tailor your own unique slayer builds.

One major change from Monster Hunter is the inclusion of the Danger system.  Rather than giving players a limited amount of lives like Monster Hunter, Dauntless allows slayers to go down several times and be revived by fellow teammates.  Going down however results in added percentage to a danger meter.  The meter also increases slowly over time and when a behemoth enrages.  If it reaches 100 percent the ability to revive stops and the behemoth deals increased damage to players, however there is a chance for redemption still in this dire scenario.  If you deal enough damage to a behemoth and hold out long enough they will flee, dropping the danger meter a significant amount and allow you to revive any downed teammates.  A downside to the fleeing behemoth scenario however is that they will heal up 33 percent of their health pool when retreating like this as well.  This sounds like it will make it so much easier than Monster Hunter, but it isn’t always the case considering Dauntless provides players with resources that are much more limited to the massive loadouts you could bring with you in that series.

What I Liked:

  • Each weapon type feels unique and offers something different for the team.
  • A lot of well designed behemoth encounters that rarely feel cheap in that pretty much everything can be dodged if you familiarize yourself with the encounter enough.
  • Adapts Monster Hunter World’s armor skill system through perks.  This makes it easy and fun to experiment with different builds.
  • Some truly challenging and fun encounters which require teamwork and coordination.
  • Danger system makes the game feel much more approachable and less frustrating when playing with lesser skilled players.
  • No need to craft healing potions constantly as the game provides you with an infinite supply with five each hunt.
  • Probably the best adaptation of the Monster Hunter formula I’ve played.  It is easily the most faithful in terms of combat feel and various systems and features.
  • Endgame encounters are cycled in and out over time through a system where islands are floating in and out of reach of Ramsgate, the game’s main city hub.  This helps provide a little extra longevity and content to look forward to, even if it is through a artificial method.  It definitely helps keep the focus on a select few Heroic endgame behemoths for a period of time, allowing players to learn the encounters and collect their gear.
  • Simple leveling system and reputations to level that provide occasional rewards to players.
  • Flare system makes it fun and easier to mark the behemoths location.
  • Lanterns function similar to Monster Hunter: World’s mantles and give the player a couple extra abilities to work with in combat.
  • Coop and teamplay is infused in the game’s weapons with features like the War Pike’s wound effect and the Hammer’s ability to break the armor on a specific behemoth’s to expose the skin for other weapon types to hit.

What I Disliked:

  • Combat is maybe a bit too simple and could use a bit more combo variety.
  • Cash shop allows players to buy buff potions.  This is a minor frustration as they can also be easily crafted normal in-game.
  • Some issues with lag and bugs at times.
  • Very clunky and ugly looking placeholder UI currently.
  • Currently feels like it is lacking a refreshing endgame.  Once you reach the final encounters and are happy with your maxed out gear there is very little reason to continue playing other than to grind up materials for alternate builds.
  • Quest system is a bit too simple and bare bones so you don’t ever feel really invested into the game’s world and setting.
  • Obtaining cells is completely random currently, making it frustrating for those trying to work towards a specific build.
  • Island gameplay could use a boost to make it more enjoyable to explore and find the behemoth.  The jump pads and speed boost power-ups are step in the right direction, but it could use more elements to allow players to properly track the location.  I realize the starting Lantern players get does help track the location, but I feel such a feature should be available to all players rather than having to gimp yourself by sticking with that base lantern.
  • Weekly and Daily Challenge feature is a nice idea, however it could use some work as I frequently receive challenges asking me to go back and fight weak monsters despite me being prepared for endgame content.
  • The time it takes to load back to the main hub after a hunt is far too long currently.  This isn’t just a loading time issue, its the victory screen content that lingers on far too long before the loading even begins.  Players should be given an option to skip this to load back in right away.
  • Player collision with other players and small objects is very frustrating as it causes the player to stop almost completely.

Final Thoughts:

Dauntless is a game which has huge potential with it currently being the only free to play hunting genre game and one of the few that are available on PC.  The big problem they are facing later this year is the arrival of Monster Hunter: World on the platform.  It has the free-to-play advantage, but Monster Hunter has the popularity advantage meaning that fans of the genre are going to flock to it even if they have to pay for it.

I don’t necessarily think this means Dauntless is set up for failure as they still have several months to beef up their game with new content and more polish to make it a solid competitor.  Capcom’s Monster Hunter: World also could stand to gain some extra content as well, meaning if there isn’t an expansion-sized update to the game in time for the Fall PC release, it’s hard to say how long players will stick around for and may want to check out Dauntless while waiting for updates.  While I will definitely be checking out Monster Hunter: World, what I’ve experienced in Dauntless so far has be interested in hanging around Ramsgate from time to time to see what’s going on.

Overall I’d say Dauntless is worth giving a shot right now in its free-to-play state.  If you end up getting hooked maybe consider picking up one of their supporter packs as well to show the devs some appreciation.  One thing to keep in mind though is that the game does certainly feel like a beta as it is being called.  The placeholder UI elements, bugs, and sometimes lag and login issues do make it a frustrating experience at times, but there is a solid gameplay core here to build upon.

Expect to see updated impressions in the next major transition for Dauntless which will be going from open beta to full launch.  There is currently no estimate for when this will happen so stay tuned.