Dauntless may finally introduce Monster Hunter to the masses

Monster Hunter is not my cup of tea. Every time I try to enjoy a new entry, I find myself being bogged down by an unfamiliar control scheme and steep difficulty spikes. The creatures themselves never stand out to me and I feel as though the mission structure consistently takes me away from the action rather than placing me right in the heart of it. For these reasons, I didn’t believe I was a fan of the monster hunting genre. And there are many people in this same position, despite Monster Hunter World‘s success. Phoenix Labs’ Dauntless may have convinced me otherwise and might be the way this style of game can reach more people.

During my hands-on time with the game last week, I rediscovered how much fun creature slaying could be when fans are given the opportunity to simply pick up a controller and play. While traces of Monster Hunter are deeply ingrained in Dauntless‘ identity, the latter game seems different enough to attract people who were always curious about the genre but don’t want to be overburdened by hard-to-learn mechanics. This free-to-play action RPG may truly bring monster hunting to the masses when it launches on May 21 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One (and later on the Switch).

Dauntless Preview | Pick up and play

Dauntless Preview

The character customization will likely grab people before they even jump into the actual game. Its options were rich and diverse, with loads of hairstyles, skin tones, and facial features to choose from. Once I crafted a Slayer for myself, a brief cutscene played and showed the threat that these Behemoths pose to the Shattered Isles. Each one of these creatures consumes the Aether that keeps these platforms afloat, and it’s up to players to eliminate these beings before humanity falls into the abyss below.

Combat is extremely easy to get used to, as most of it is relegated to two buttons: a light attack and a heavy attack. Depending on what weapon one uses, special moves can be used through each shoulder button. Combos are initiated simply by pressing the light and heavy attack buttons, though players should rest assured knowing that they won’t be able to defeat Behemoths just by mashing away. These creatures will anticipate one’s moves and learn to maneuver out of the way, forcing one to resort to other combos should they hope to claim victory.

Satisfying damage numbers let fans know how much they’re inflicting with every stab, shot, or swing and sound effects make every move feel punchy. As I took down the tutorial stage’s Behemoth and claimed its rewards, I couldn’t help but relish in my accomplishment. It enticed me to return to the game’s hub, Ramgate, in order to outfit myself with new gear that would enable me to take on higher powered threats.

Dauntless Preview | Crafting galore

Dauntless Preview

Visiting the game’s weaponsmiths showed more about the six different arms available, of which include axes, hammers, chain blades, swords, Ostian Repeaters, and war pikes. Each weapon can be meticulously customized according to parts and elemental damage, allowing players to properly take advantage of whatever weaknesses the next Behemoth may have.

It’s allegedly incredibly important for teams to communicate which arms they plan on using before embarking on a hunt. Having two of one damage type on a team isn’t recommended lest players want to spend a significant amount of time chopping away at an enemy. For instance, inflicting pierce damage will only pry off a Behemoth’s armor. Dishing out both pierce and blunt damage, however, ensures that an equal amount of damage is dealt on a beast’s exposed skin.

In this case, being proactive doesn’t take away from the fun. Rather, it encourages groups of people to work together towards a common goal, knowing that each Slayer will earn an equal share of the rewards that are dropped after a beast has been slain. It helps that Dauntless‘ menus are easy to navigate through and that players are explicitly reminded of a Behemoth’s weaknesses before they are transported to an arena. The game is incredibly direct, thus mitigating confusion among party members and allowing them to focus on having fun.

Dauntless Preview | Formidable late game content

Dauntless Preview

But there weren’t just tutorial beasts to fell but also other formidable threats in store for high-leveled Slayers. After once again going through the vast assortment of arms available to me, I chose to equip myself with the Ostian Repeaters — a new weapon that was introduced due to fan demand for more ranged options. I embarked on a late game hunt with one of the game’s developers, the likes of which was equipped with a hammer.

After briefly sprinting around the map, we encountered a super powered Skarn in the distance. My partner ran up to the foe and began swinging right away while I shot off my guns from a distance. As we ripped off pieces of the monster’s armor, it became nervous and created a vortex that managed to draw me in and wipe up three-fourths of my health. I struggled to dodge away in time before the beast threw a mass of boulders my way.

The intense fight constantly kept me on my toes. Rolling around and poking in as many hits as possible evoked Dark Souls, though the challenge doesn’t seem as impossible.

The Ostian Repeaters were fun to use, as they let you keep your distance and give you a chance to catch a slight breather. But there were also opportunities to get up close to the Skarn and unleash a special move that saw a wave of damage numbers wash across the beast.

It was hard to not feel accomplish as the Behemoth crumbled. It was a great indication that the game’s challenge will remain consistent with one’s level, and that Phoenix Labs has gone to great lengths to balance everything for players of all experience levels. Hopefully, this holds up in the entirety of the game.

Dauntless Preview | A whole new world

Dauntless Preview

Dauntless‘ cartoon aesthetic is reminiscent of classic action adventure games like Jak and Daxter, as its grounded in realism yet opts to introduce plenty of color through its costume and creature designs. There are plenty of transmogrifications available for each weapon and armament and the Behemoths glow with different hues once players trigger their enraged states. The area in where you battle the aforementioned Skarn felt densely populated with grass, trees, and aether vents, but was large enough to make my encounter with the creature feel like a full-fledged war.

This warm presentation coupled with the title’s gameplay accessibility may make it suitable for teens looking to play something outside of a shooter or battle royale game for a change. Considering the fact that Dauntless will be free to pick up and play, there’s nothing stopping them from expanding their horizons.

Dauntless Preview | Keep your eyes peeled

Dauntless Preview

From its straightforward gameplay to its easy-to-understand RPG mechanics, Dauntless feels like a free-to-play version of Monster Hunter with little to no barriers to entry. Players who aren’t keen on the latter’s design may have plenty to look to forward to here, as an obtuse control scheme and layered mission structure are two things that are nonexistent in Phoenix Games’ title. Rather, it seems as though Dauntless remembers what makes the genre fun to begin with and thrusts players into the heart of the hunt, steadily ramping up the difficulty as they craft new weapons and armor. It’s shaping up to be worthy of a chance for those who’ve dismissed the genre.