Hunt, hunt, then hunt some more
The notion that “there can only be one” is as bogus as the Highlander sequels (I can’t even remember who dragged me to see Highlander: Endgame, which is probably for the best). Whenever I see people fighting off the existence of another Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart challenger from another publisher I’m utterly confused: competition is good.
There can be more than one Monster Hunter too, as Dauntless demonstrates.
The Monster Hunter comparisons are warranted, but far from a problem. The core loop of teaming up with other hunters, taking down bosses, and chasing upgrades is hard to screw up, and it’s something Dauntless embraces and distills down to its essence.
There’s a lot less fluff, for better or worse. After the action-packed intro you’re pretty much left to your own devices, in a part-fantasy part-sc-fi world that kind of lets you have at it. If you want to look like a Phantasy Star Online anime character, you can do that. If you want to strike down monsters looking like He-Man, that’s entirely possible. The bright and cheery mixed era aesthetic reminds me of Wildstar (RIP) in the best way possible.
I’m not kidding about a lack of fluff: your first hunt is literally a one-on-one boss fight tutorial, then you’re thrown into the Ramsgate hub world like a babe from the womb. Succinct quests like “craft this potion” or “open this box” are all you’re really going to get in terms of direction, as navigating the (wonderfully) arcade-like combat system and learning the ins and outs of each enemy type is where the core focus lies.
I respect the hell out of that. Developer Phoenix Labs managed to craft an intriguing formula behind all of that hacking and slashing, which draws upon the “grindy” nature of Monster Hunter but allows for quicker feedback and more immediate rewards. Those rewards can get really immediate (more on the IAP system later, as Dauntless is free-to-play after all), but for the most part you are always diving into missions and getting something for your efforts.
Said missions are probably the best part due to the aforementioned arcade-oriented combat system. Dauntless opts for comfort over complexity, perhaps best explained by the deliberate design decision to gift players a fully unfettered invincible dodge roll. This makes the onboarding process that much sweeter, as you only need to mostly focus on dodging attacks, and swinging back with light/heavy blows of your own. Once you get a handle on things you can employ your meter-based super (the default sword power just buffs you across the board), your lantern powers (buffs like extra shields), and consumable items (read: potions and stuff like that). Possible weapon options include the sword, axe, hammer, chain blade, pike, and dual-pistol archetypes.
I dig the dance of it all. Light and heavy attacks can be weaved into combos (which are basically just four to five actions combined with slight pauses between strikes), dodging is smooth, supers are easy to engage without feeling like you need to hold them the entire fight, and jumping adds an extra layer to the proceedings. I haven’t gotten tired of it yet, even when some of the hunts start to repeat themselves. Part of this is due to the “mastery” system, which is similar to Diablo III‘s Paragon system that buffs your character as you accomplish more challenges.
Monetization so far is a bit aggressive, but manageable for a free-to-play game with one minor exception. The heart of it all is the “hunt pass,” which is basically just a version of Fornite‘s (and now, pretty much every online game’s) season pass. By leveling up normally you can unlock paltry amounts of premium currency, items, and even cosmetics, or you could opt to pay up to get on the “elite” track, which will earn you both basic and elite items for leveling up. Once this season ends you’ll be asked to pony up for a new pass, with another cosmetic theme: this time it’s ninjas.
There’s also a store, where you can buy myriad emotes, dyes, “ace chips” (cut crafting time down), and consumables. The latter does concern me a bit. Now since you can only carry a certain amount in battle it doesn’t offer a huge impact, but I’m personally not comfortable with the choice to offer consumables at a premium (especially since some of them buff your party, which entices people to buy them for altruistic reasons, similar to Lures in Pokémon Go). Everything else is cosmetic (transmogrification appearance changes for items, emotes, intros, signal flares), and again, mostly under control for a free-to-play game.
As I hinted at in the title, Dauntless‘ biggest accomplishment is ushering in true cross-platform play. If there was ever a giant that could convince Sony to relent on their anti-consumer cross-platform practices it has to be Epic Games, as they managed to break the barrier with Fortnite and are doing it again with Phoenix Labs’ project. Dauntless is actually cross-platform, as in there are no restrictions between PC, PS4, and Xbox One users playing together. All of it is linked by way of an Epic Games account, and progress is fully carried over between platforms as well. The only hangup is currency: there are restrictions on using Platinum (premium currency) between platforms.
Other than that you’re pretty much good. On PC you can even see what platforms folks are on (denoted by a PlayStation, Xbox, or PC logo), and Phoenix Labs reports that roughly 60% of all players are using cross-platform matchmaking. The impact that the game has had on the industry already is monumental, and the new Call of Duty is also employing a similar system. This could be the new normal.
While Dauntless still has a lot to prove in terms of longevity, grabbing a few friends and going on a hunt is easy as hell given the free-to-play system and open platform concessions. It might not keep your interest as long as Phoenix Labs might like, but it’s one impressive fresh start.
[These unscored PC impressions were based on a retail build of the free-to-play game. Dauntless features an in-game cosmetic with the Destructoid logo. This writer was not involved in that process, but we will refrain from publishing a scored review.]