is a free-to-play, co-op action RPG heavily inspired by Monster Hunter. You kill big monsters, harvest their parts, and use those parts to craft better gear to kill bigger monsters. There are no skill trees, no classes, and the world is more setting than plot. It’s all boss fights, all the time.
I love games like these. They’re big, addictive loot ladders that are all about improving your skills and setting your own goals. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Monster Hunter games and also enjoyed , Koei Tecmo’s demon-infested take on the genre, so when Dauntless was announced, I was tickled to see it bringing more monster hunting to PC, .
After spending a good amount of time with its alpha build, I’m less tickled. It’s not that Dauntless is straight-up bad. It’s very buggy and unfinished, but I expected that going in. What threw me off is how obnoxiously free-to-play it feels, how linear yet padded every last piece of it is.
The monster mash
Dauntless is centrally about fighting monsters (or behemoths), so I’ll start there. At the time of writing, there are four weapon types: agile chain blades, hefty hammers with built-in shotguns, hard-hitting axes with charge attacks, and well-balanced swords. All four play very differently, are easy to pick up, and control well on a gamepad or with a mouse and keyboard.
That’s pretty much where the positives end. For starters, there are only four weapons. With Monster Hunter: Generations sitting pretty at 14 weapons and Toukiden 2 at 11, I can’t help feeling disappointed. But more weapons are already on the way, so I’m willing to chalk this up to Dauntless’ infancy.
I can’t say the same of weapon quality. In Monster Hunter, you’re able to assemble combos on the fly, swapping attack speeds and angles of approach as monsters move and stagger. You can sneak in quick hits when a monster’s enraged or launch into seamless, infinite combos when they’re vulnerable. In Dauntless, attacks and combos are rigidly spelled out and quickly grow repetitive.
There are no running, jumping or rolling attacks, and rather than invent your own combos, you have to spam a few baked-in options. These rarely involve mashing more than one button, and worse still, every weapon has at least one redundant combo or attack. In this sense, the frustrating lack of damage values—you aren’t actually shown how much damage your attacks deal and behemoths have no health bars—is arguably to the game’s benefit, otherwise players would surely ignore some attacks entirely.
Where weapons consistently disappoint, the basics of combat frequently annoy. Between the awkward lock-on camera and oddly short weapons, I regularly wind up pulverizing the air in front of behemoths. For me, the kicker is the absurdly slow stamina recovery and the short-lived, expensive items that augment it—which leads us to crafting, the other half of Dauntless.
Defeating a behemoth nets you a handful of parts as well as a loot box filled with the real goods. You’ve got to take that box back to the hub town, Ramsgate, and crack it open to start crafting. Well, I say that, but realistically you’ll need to do that another eight or nine times to get anywhere, because Dauntless is incredibly stingy.
I have no problem hunting rare monster parts. I once soloed 26 times to get his gem. Dauntless just has no . Crafting a new behemoth’s armor set and weapon takes hours, and only partly because monster parts themselves—even low-grade ones—are scarce.
The real bottleneck is ore. There isn’t a fast (or fun) way to get the iron and cobalt you need for crafting. Whereas other games let players passively duplicate stuff or take on dedicated gathering quests with consistent rewards, Dauntless asks you to scour maps for random materials.
At the very least, Dauntless does have some cool gear to craft. Armor pieces come with ‘Aspect’ points that unlock passive buffs. Mixing and matching armor to unlock specific Aspects is fun and preserves the usefulness of old gear. You can also craft equippable lanterns with active abilities like a temporary heal or stamina boost. Yet here, too, I wish weapons were more involved. As it stands, choosing a weapon to craft comes down to choosing the biggest number.
The big bads
Happily, the behemoths themselves are colorful and interesting. The first one you encounter, the Gnasher, is a jeep-sized beaver. Then there’s the Shrike and Skraev, towering, winged bears with the heads and talons of owls. Quillshots and Charrogs are huge, lumbering beasts, and great complements to spry, leopard-like Embermanes.
Behemoths are also tiered. Prove yourself by taking down a small rogue Shrike, for example, and you’ll be able to fight a full-grown specimen. Manage that and, eventually, you can tackle the aggressive Moonclaw Shrike. Naturally, these variants have more health and deal more damage. There’s room for improvement, though. I’d like to see behemoth variants use new attacks instead of using the same attacks slightly faster.
My biggest complaint is that it doesn’t feel like you’re really damaging behemoths. My attacks plink off their hide in puny bursts of sparks which lack the kind of satisfying feedback that tells me I’m wearing a monster down. Their attacks are easy to read and they do leave themselves open, but I don’t just want to wait for them to give me a window of attack. I want to beat, trip, and stun them to create my own window.
I started having more fun with Dauntless once I realized I shouldn’t try and play it alone. Not only are fights easier with a group, several items and mechanics smartly encourage cooperation. Teammates will crowd around whoever casts an AoE heal, for instance, and likewise flock to flares signaling a behemoth’s location. You can also revive fallen teammates infinitely, which is good because you can’t carry many healing items.
Like most everything else, multiplayer is so unfinished that it’s difficult to critique. Chat is unusably laggy and the matchmaking system is unintuitive, but both will surely improve with time. However, while most of my grievances can be attributed to how early Dauntless is, there are enough fundamental problems with the combat and progression—the primary hooks—that I can’t recommend anyone buy their way into its beta. Dauntless is simply not worth $80 today, and barring an unprecedented update, it won’t be worth $40 when the access price is lowered come September.
But again, Dauntless will be free-to-play once it’s completed, and by then it may well be worth checking out. At the very least, it's definitely worth keeping an eye on. I fear Monster Hunter veterans will always find it too simple, but if developer Phoenix Labs can add more content and make it all easier to access, Dauntless may yet prove to be a fun, free action RPG to play with friends.