Monster Hunter is Capcom’s most profitable franchise. As a result, the series has a slew of imitators, such as Ragnarok Odyssey, Soul Sacrifice, and God Eater. Those games not only feature the core Monster Hunter kill-and-loot gameplay loop, but also the notoriously high learning curve. Thankfully, developer Phoenix Labs offers a more accessible beast-slaying option with the Phoenix Labs-developed Dauntless, a free-to-play PC game.
Like Monster Hunter World, Dauntless tasks you with killing large monsters (called Behemoths) in order to forge better weapons and armor to take on even more powerful beasts. Why are you performing these actions? You’re a Slayer. That’s it. If you’re looking for a deep narrative, you won’t find one here. Dauntless’ main concern is getting you into hunts as quickly as possible.
After a brief cinematic introduction to the game world, you’re thrust into the character creator. Don’t expect robust options that allow you to tweak every single aspect of a character’s face and physique. Instead, you’re presented with a relatively limited number of preset faces, skin colors, and hairstyles. While this ensures you won’t create a ghastly-looking abomination, it also removes the freedom to truly make a unique Slayer. But as is the case in Monster Hunter, your character’s appearance becomes somewhat inconsequential, since you’ll cover it from head to toe in armor.
After creating your Slayer, you’ll select one of seven available weapons. This includes axes, chain blades, swords, war pikes, and firearms. Certain weapons are best used against specific enemy defenses. A sword is a perfect tool for armorless behemoths, while the hammer shatters protective plating. No two weapons play or feel exactly alike, which adds to the combat variety. It’s best to head into the training area (more on that in a bit) and test out each weapon to see which one fits your play style.
You’ll spend a great deal of time in Ramsgate, which is Dauntless’ hub world. While there, you’ll forge new equipment or upgrade your current gear. Equipping the right gear before a hunt is crucial, since the behemoths have specific elemental strengths and weaknesses. If you’re going up against a behemoth whose Aether (magic) aligns with frost, you’ll want to use weapons that deal fire damage and don armor which protects against cold. Due to these alignments, you’ll want a large equipment variety to ensure you’re covered for any battle. Creating equipment is as easy as visiting the forge and having the smith create items from materials obtained from slain behemoths.
Hunts are extremely fun. Behemoth battles are fast-paced and action-packed affairs. Though most behemoths are large, they move across the field with surprising agility. You must master dodging to keep your head on your shoulders. You’ll often fight the same behemoths numerous times when grinding for loot, so it’s great that battles are always engaging. The fact that hunts only take about 10-15 minutes to complete makes it a game you can enjoy when pressed for time. Monster Hunter fights, on the other hand, can last between 30 minutes to well over an hour.
Your character gains levels by completing Mastery Challenges, which you’ll find listed in the main menu. This includes killing a certain number of behemoths, breaking specific behemoth parts, and forging armor sets. New Mastery Challenges unlock as you progress through the game. Clearing your Mastery Challenge goals becomes a game in and of itself, and is quite addictive.
Dauntless is great fun for the first 20 or so hours. Unfortunately, the gameplay loop eventually gets tiring. You visit Ramsgate, select a mission from a quest giver, don the proper equipment, go out and slay a behemoth, return to Ramsgate, forge new items, select another mission, and repeat the process. To be fair, Monster Hunter shares a similar gameplay loop. What helps that game maintain its stellar pace without growing stale is its greater weapon variety, larger and more diverse creatures, and more expansive environments with vastly different biomes.
Dauntless’ bland, sterile environments don’t do the game any favors. And the less said about the quest givers who exist only to dole out missions via bland text boxes the better. If not for the ability to team up online with up to three other hunters (across all platforms via crossplay), the grind would be unbearable.
Free for All
Dauntless is a free-to-play game, but you can optionally spend real-world cash for in-game forging materials and the Hunt Pass. The Hunt Pass (Dauntless’ season pass) has two tracks: a free track and an Elite track ($9.99). The free track rewards you with prizes like emotes, platinum (the in-game currency), and skins. The Elite track unlocks new materials, including new gear and armor dyes, as you level up. Since the majority of these items are cosmetic, they aren’t necessary.
The new-gear grind is not egregious, and with time, you’ll earn all the material necessary for whatever you want to forge. We commend Phoenix Labs for implementing a user-friendly form microtransaction implementation that won’t destroy your bank account.
Call of the Void
Dauntless has received numerous updates since its beta launched in 2018, with each adding new monsters, weapons, and quality-of-life updates. The game recently received its biggest update yet in the free Call of the Void expansion.
Call of the Void introduces a never-before-seen chain of floating islands to explore. The lands contain new and old behemoths, all of which are now imbued with the dark Umbral element. Umbral gives once-familiar creatures all-new special attacks and combat patterns. Call of the Void also contains an evolving narrative that plays out throughout the season. The world evolves as the narrative unfolds, and your actions directly affect the storyline of the next big update (coming in July). That last point is good news considering Dauntless’ barely there narrative.
Dauntless launched without a proper tutorial, so you learned the gameplay basics while trying to survive behemoth encounters. Thanks to Call of the Void’s training ground, you and your party members are free to practice in a safe environment. The training ground is effectively Dauntless’ answer to Monster Hunter’s training arena. It is easy to select a weapon and go to town on any of the dummies scattered across the small field. In a nice touch, the combo inputs appear on the UI’s right-hand, and damage values erupt from dummies as you strike. It’s surprising this mode didn’t exist prior to Call of the Void, but it’s a welcome addition.
Dauntless’ base game features optional, raid-like missions called Escalations. Call of the Void introduces a new Escalation, Umbral Escalation, that mixes things up by having you fight a series of behemoths in succession. Random modifiers, random perks, and facing multiple behemoths at once also set this newest Escalation apart from previous ones. On top of that, you’ll have to contend with brand-new behemoths.
Dauntless has an eye-pleasing, stylized look similar to Fortnite that won’t melt your gaming rig’s graphics card. Those playing Dauntless on PC need a rig containing at least an Intel Core i5-2400 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti GPU, 4GB of RAM, 15GB of storage space, and the Windows 7 operating system. These moderate specs ensure anyone with a halfway decent machine can play.
My gaming desktop, with its Intel i7 4790 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, runs Dauntless without issue at 1080p resolution, and with all graphics options settings set to “Epic.” In fact, the game moves at a blistering 100 to 144 frames per second in Ramsgate and the field. You can also lock the frame rate at a solid 60fps, if you so desire.
The game features a number of modest graphical options. Within Display settings, you can adjust the frame rate limit, motion blur, field of vision (FOV), and V-sync. The Advanced settings allow you to adjust anti-aliasing, shadows, post effects, textures, and other options. Dauntless features Easy Anti-Cheat, which is a third-party DRM. The game supports both mouse and keyboard inputs, as well as game controllers.
Dauntless is the bacon cheeseburger to Monster Hunter’s filet mignon. That’s not at all a bad thing, especially for people who want an easily digestible monster-slaying meal. Solid combat and a true sense of progression save what can often times become a repetitive experience. That said, Dauntless is an ever-evolving title that continually receives updates. As a result, it’s okay to walk away from Dauntless when you tire of it, and return when new content drops. If you’re looking for a tight, pick-up-and-play title, you’d do well to give Dauntless a shot.