by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
When I first played Phoenix Labs’ co-op action RPG Dauntless at PAX West 2017, my party of four decided to tackle the Pangar, a massive behemoth that I would compare to a T-Rex if it was shrouded in icicles and could crush you with a simple roll of its body. And as enthusiastic as my group was at breaking open our combination hammers and shotguns, which we all strangely chose, we buckled under the pressure and collapsed to the Pangar’s all powerful assaults. We were close, as wounds and cuts covered its body, but that doesn’t count for much as you head back to base with no reward to show for it. But, in due time, I would get my revenge.
Since PAX West. I’ve been steadily playing through Dauntless’ closed beta ahead of its projected 2018 release as a free-to-play title to see how the game stacks up after more than just one fight. I’ve killed dozens of behemoths, which is the term used for the giant monsters that populate the floating islands that make up the the setting. Based out of a central city, which contains its own plethora of shops and quest givers for you to interact with, you accept various hunts that task you with killing a specific behemoth within a time limit. Up to four slayers can form a party to take these beasts on, earning materials which you can use to upgrade your gear to take on stronger monsters, with the cycle continuing to repeat as you slay more and more powerful behemoths.
Behemoths to slice...
This is a game less dependent on walking forward and mindlessly hitting enemies and more about reading the enemies’ moves and countering them with your own. It’s about knowing the difference between a creature rearing its head back and one that shifts its legs, as one will simply be a charge forward while the other will see it jump in the air and smack you with its tail. While light and heavy attacks are the primary method of dealing damage, mastering the secondary abilities for each of the four weapon types (sword, axe, hammer and twin blades) will allow you to truly maximise the hurt you can bring to the fight. For example, you can use the hammer’s shotgun to launch yourself into the air. When done properly, fights look like a delicate dance as hunters pummel each behemoth and nimbly dodge whatever attacks are thrown their way.
Though Dauntless lacks some of the intricacies that define the Monster Hunter franchise, such as the numerous traps and support items, it is much easier to pick up and learn than Capcom’s famously unforgiving series. The game can be soloed easily, with behemoth difficulty scaling up with more players in a party, though single player lacks much of the spark that makes beating a giant to death with others so much fun. The grind for gear is much simpler and far less of a grind than it could be, though it is still present. Although you will need to kill some of the smaller wildlife and forage for plants on occasion, the focus remains on hunting down and carving chunks out of the behemoths. Your inventory is also straightforward and rather simple, with little need to be constantly managed as there are only a few key slots to keep track of.
The creatures themselves are appropriately impressive in size and in design. While the Pangar remains one of the most interesting in terms of how it utilizes ice attacks coupled with surprisingly agile movements for its size, smaller behemoths such as the Shrike - an owlbear that uses the wind as a form of attack - remain challenging and engaging fights. But while the behemoths take centre stage, the developers at Phoenix Labs have also crafted a world that stands out with its own distinct style and color palette. Looking across the sky will allow you to pinpoint numerous other floating islands that make up the world, and the harshness of the snow, sand and forests that you explore are tempered by a soft lighting system that makes everything pop out.
...and bugs to crush
As with any game in beta, Dauntless still has a lot of work to be done. Technical issues are present, including several instances where my character jogged in place before catapulting forward, and I have clipped through the world and fallen to the abyss at least three times. Though the weapon types are different enough from each other, the fact that there are currently only four categories with more under development means that there is not much variety overall, making it all feel too bland for my taste. And though the various islands are pretty to look at, their emptiness and lack of things beyond the behemoth and a handful of wildlife makes them look like rather empty, giving little in the way of incentive for exploration.
But as I drove my axe through the head of the Pangar to end its life in my first battle with the creature since my introduction to the game, these thoughts were far from my mind. Dauntless may still be in closed beta, but its world and creatures have a character and style that make me want to keep coming back and hunting for more.