Dauntless Review: A Great Free-to-Play Monster Hunter Style Game

“Dauntless” is a free-to-play, cross-platform, cross-save RPG developed by Phoenix Labs and published by Epic Games, that borrows heavily from the “Monster Hunter” franchise. But don’t let the words free-to-play turn you off. The microtransactions and Hunt Pass are there for the hardcore players who want to earn more customization options and give back to the developer, but they never get in the way of the free-to-play players.

Last year I got addicted to “Monster Hunter World” for a few months. It was a lot of fun to explore the wild fantasy landscape discovering giant monsters and using enormous weapons to destroy them. The addicting quality came from trying to collect enough resources, gained from defeating the aforementioned giant monsters, to craft and upgrade weapons and armor with which to take on even more giant monsters. The fact that you could craft weapons and armor sets specific to the monster you just defeated, added a bit of a collect-them-all element to the game. And the variety of giant monsters to hunt and the variety of play styles that came with each of the various weapons kept the gameplay from getting old.

“Dauntless” borrows all of these concepts and throws an attractive art style on it, while also making it free to play and cross-platform. As a fan of the idea of cross-platform play in general, this sort of cooperative PVE gameplay is easily the best type of game to feature cross-platform play. In the future, this should be the norm. No longer will we have to weigh the benefits of platform exclusive games versus where our friends are playing, because we can just gravitate toward the exclusives we want, but still be able to play with our friends regardless of the platform (but that’s a piece for another day).

Like “Monster Hunter World,” there is some great creature design for the monsters in “Dauntless” (referred to as behemoths), and the sound design is particularly good. Each slash of the sword or impact of the hammer hits with a satisfyingly meaty thunk. And fights with behemoths play out very similarly to the way they do in “Monster Hunter World.” You can break limbs and body parts, you can cut off tails. Behemoths become enraged for portions of the fight, and they also run away part way through so you’ll have to relocate them to begin the next phase of the fight.

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Unlike traditional RPG’s, “Dauntless” doesn’t have classes or a perk based leveling system. Classes are replaced by a variety of weapons that each have their own playstyle, and perks are replaced by cells that you can slot into weapons and armor slots for added bonuses and play-style customization. So you’re never locked into any particular class, you can always equip your character with a different weapon if you want to spice up the gameplay.

“Dauntless” also, crucially, brings down the learning curve in a big way. When “Monster Hunter World” came out, a lot was made of the fact that “Monster Hunter” games could be so complex and difficult to master that they were very off-putting to anyone new to the series. “Monster Hunter” veterans called “Monster Hunter World” the most accessible game in the series, and yet despite that, the game was still so complex that I needed to do a fair amount of research to understand all the systems at play, all the weapons to master, all the cooking of meals you had to do, and how hunting and crafting really worked. “Dauntless” simplifies all of this.

Firstly, there is no cooking meals for buffs before leaving on a hunt, and no need to carve up the behemoth once you successfully kill it – you’re automatically awarded for your efforts. Secondly, hunting is as simple as running around until you, or a teammate, finds the behemoth, then firing off a flare so your teammates can join in on the fight. Maps are smaller and easier to navigate, which makes them less interesting to explore, but also helps focus the hunt on finding the behemoth – which is easier given the smaller map size. There are also fewer weapons to learn and the moves associated with each weapon are easier to grasp and memorize. Movement speed is quicker and less clunky than in “Monster Hunter World,” so it’s easier to avoid damage from monsters (still not easy, but easier), so you’re less likely to feel like you keep getting hit repeatedly by cheap shots you couldn’t avoid simply because of how slow your character moves.

It’s also more forgiving if you do take damage because there’s an area on the map you can go to (called aether vents), to regain health, but you’re also automatically given five healing potions (that you don’t have to craft) and three revives (that you also don’t have to craft) that help keep you in the action.

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Despite having fewer weapons that are easier to master, the act of using them to slay the games ever growing list of behemoths never gets old. I’d even go as far as to say “Dauntless” has all the addictive qualities of “Monster Hunter World,” but without many of the frustrations. It is infinitely more approachable than “Monster Hunter World,” and the fact that it’s cross-platform means that even the playerbase on your chosen platform starts to dwindle, you’ll have two other platforms from which to pull from. It also means that no matter which platform your friends, family, coworkers, or roommates play their games on, you’ll be able to play with them on your platform of choice.

However, before I heap too much praise on the game, “Dauntless” is not perfect. There are a number of bugs, including one that makes it so pressing the action button when prompted has no effect, and matchmaking and server stability can be problematic at times. The game also won’t let you back out of matchmaking once it’s started, so you’ll have to close the game and restart it if you accidentally queued up the wrong hunt or equipped the wrong gear. But what the game does well far outweighs the frustration of some of the smaller things it doesn’t.

For instance, it would be nice if hunting really felt like hunting rather than simply running around until you finally happen across the behemoth. And one map in particular seems like it was designed to frustrate players with random holes to fall through. After accidentally falling through one, it drops you at a random spot on the map and it may or may not be far enough from the behemoth that you’ll need a flare from one of your teammates to figure out where to go. And yet, these minor frustrations never hurt the playability of the game for me.

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The controls are simple, intuitive and customizable. The weapons and move lists feel similar to those in “Monster Hunter World” without feeling like it’s ripping it off wholesale. Mastering those weapons and learning the movements of the various monsters will keep players coming back. And trying to craft all the armor sets and variations on the weapons will keep players invested. There’s also an amount of depth to the game in terms of crafting and utilizing cells and fusion (like passive perks in other RPG’s) that will be welcome to the more hardcore players out there that like to min-max their RPG characters.

It’s a fun and fluid action, RPG game that won’t cost you anything to try and is likely to get long term support by developer Phoenix Labs. The fact that it simplifies so much of the experience while maintaining deep RPG elements, and that it features cross-play, makes it an even more forward thinking game than the one that inspired it.

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