A Prosaic Peak
Dauntless wears its Monster Hunter inspiration on its sleeve. This fantastical ride revolves around fighting monsters in confrontations that can last a few minutes or almost half an hour, with significant degrees of difficulty and rewards. You go out to battle a beast, then return home to craft new gear; like Monster Hunter, that entertaining loop propels you through Dauntless. Because it’s a live service, the prospect of an infinitely expanding experience distinguishes Dauntless from Capcom’s series (developer Phoenix Labs has already announced an expansion), though how that unfolds remains to be seen. Regardless of the game Dauntless eventually becomes, its current form is a welcoming banquet for a voracious new wave of monster hunters.
Dauntless’ core progression is seductive, even if the missions and maps are threadbare in terms of tasks. It’s all monster slaying, all the time. Pick a weapon and go start smashing monsters, break off some pieces, come back to down and forge new and powerful gear. Combat is fluid, simple, and accessible; I appreciate how the weapons have straightforward movesets, but also leave high skill ceilings for mastery. New players can gravitate toward easy-to-use swords and chain blades, while seasoned hunters may choose heavy-hitting (but timing-critical) weapons like the axe or war pike.
All the weapons are fun to try, but weapons like the hammer and the axe are the most enticing, as you can really feel the impact of each massive swing, leading to big staggers and broken chunks of monster bits. Each weapon is unique, but Dauntless only has a small selection of them, and the essential combinations are few and easy to learn. While this works well for onboarding new players, the lack of options dulls the experience over time.
Outside of weapons, armor, and consumables, you can augment your gear with cores that provide various boosts and abilities. Creating sets of gear with powerful bonuses – like the chance to deal double damage, or the ability to revive an ally with full health instead of a fraction – is incredibly satisfying. You can feel the weight of each new tier and choice as you take on behemoth after behemoth.
You can dance around the flames of giant turtles, avoid the deadly tail of a mutant beaver, and find the squishy core of a rock-ensconced foe. Whatever you’re fighting, you need to learn and adapt. Battles are more complex than simply dodging a behemoth’s standard attacks. Learning how to “boop” an enemy during certain animations and knock them down, interrupting dangerous attacks and getting a large window of opportunity, is enjoyable and allows you to take on tougher monsters with experience and skill. Later encounters task you with dodging at the disco as an immense laser bug showers the sky with beams, and fighting under a cloud of darkness as the behemoth hunts its pray unseen.
While some behemoths are recycled across difficulty tiers, various tweaks and changes to their abilities keep them interesting and fresh. One monster lays down structures that fire deadly projectiles, and hunters need to destroy and manage these electrified blasters. A later version of the same monster drops the same defenses, but they’re shielded – so you this time you need to bat their projectiles back.
The cycling of collecting, building, and customizing cycle is great all the way to the end. At that point, things change. Dauntless’ endgame offers players a new type of loot to collect, rare recipes that provide insane bonuses that break all the rules (like resurrecting after death for a few incredibly powerful vengeful blows). However, the true top end of the game is currently limited to two challenging monster encounters. Both these fights are awesome to learn and master, but after you’ve brought them both down 20 times or so, even hoping for those amazing exotic drops doesn’t provide enough incentive to hop back in for another round.
As a live service, developer Phoenix Labs could address the scarcity of content for advanced players in the future, but that possibility doesn’t excuse the missteps in the current version of the game. Dauntless is a great foundation for a rollicking monster-mashing time, but without the critical component of a compelling endgame, your journey has no satisfying destination. Only time will tell if the swirling islands around Ramsgate can provide something more.