Another Day, Another Boss Battle

I started writing an article about Dauntless almost a year ago. It was after PAX East 2018, and I had absolutely loved what I had seen. On May 24th, the open beta began and I was able to jump in. With a strong art style, a dedication to co-operative online play, and monsters that looked ready to tear into you, what could possibly go wrong?

I wanted to write the article; really, I did. But the game kept evolving. New updates were released regularly, giving quality of life improvements to the graphics, to the sound design. Weapons were re-worked. New monsters were being added.

“After the next patch,” I said to myself, like a mantra. After I fight every behemoth in the Maelstrom, then I’ll review the game.

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Free tip - when a behemoth turns red, you probably should run.

Then it became “After I see what this new monster Koshai is like”, then it became “maybe after I get a chance to try out these new repeating revolvers”. It always felt like Dauntless was a good game just on the verge of becoming something great. I found myself wanting to wait for their open beta to be over, to announce with some finality what I really thought about this game.

Nearly 10 months later, Dauntless is a game that is still in open beta. After sinking 20 hours into this game in the last week alone, I’ve found I just can’t wait anymore to review this game.

I love Dauntless, plain and simple. Let me try and convince you why its worth your time to pick up a massive sword to go save the world.

Simple Premise, Giant Creatures

Dauntless is a game that’s very straight forward about what it is, and that’s one of its charms. There are giant monsters behemoths out there in the world, causing untold havoc. As a new hopeful Slayer with a capital S, you’ve been tasked with hunting these things down and putting a stop to their rampages.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it should. For this review however, I'm not so worried about comparisons. What’s more important how accessible Dauntless is both in concept and in gameplay. “So wait,” my writer Eric asked when I invited him to try it out. “It’s literally just giant boss battles without any filler?” That’s right Eric, that’s the beauty of the game; what makes it even more exciting is how you can jump right into these epic boss battles completely free.

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A cutscene from the tutorial mission. That's my face when I realized that the monster I just fought was the smallest I'd be going after.

Dauntless is right now a free download on the computer. Once you sign in for the first time, you’re treated to an introduction cutscene or two, and are ‘dropped off’ as it were on an island with just a giant slab of metal that could be called a buster sword. Finishing the tutorial mission gives you all the basics of how a hunt should go, and soon after you find yourself tossed back into Ramsgate, the hub of all other Slayers.

A few quests in town, a few more guided hunts, and you understand every basic function that you’ll need to enjoy Dauntless. Fight behemoths, collect parts from said behemoths, and pretty flowers nearby the giant creatures, return to Ramsgate to craft really funky oversized weapons and potions, then get back out there to fight new giant creatures that have new and exciting ways to murder you in response.

The Weapons Make The Slayer

It’s important to say here that simple doesn’t mean shallow.  Far from it, I’ve found the systems in Dauntless to have balanced a layer of depth with accessibility that makes me want to continue to master my ability to fight giants. You can see this depth in a few different areas, but the areas that its really important to see it is first is in the weapons of Dauntless, then the importance of damage, and finally how you are going to want a team to survive.

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The next few sections go into a little more in depth than a standard review. If you want to get right to the point, skip to the section “The Thrill of Battle And Joy Of Defeat”.

There are currently six different weapons in the game that you can choose from, each with its own strengths and methodology. In general, the left mouse button is for light attacks, the right mouse button allows for stronger or alternate attacks, and the Q button is your weapon’s special skill.

The sword is your starter weapon, and the easiest to get a grasp on. There are heavy and light attacks, and because attacks are relatively quick, its easy to have windows to dodge, move, or adjust during a fight. Remember that Dauntless – like other games in this style – punish you for mashing buttons too quickly. The sword’s Q attack powers you into an anime-inspired mode of higher damage, where pulses of energy fly off your sword to inflict more cuts. You can even dash around faster, letting you launch yourself into the right place for a few good swings.

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The sword is a great balance of being nimble while still having some real impact on staggering your foe.

The chain-blades are probably one of the most popular choices for new players, but are a bit harder to master. Two short kama weapons attached by a chain, your short attacks slice and dice faster for less damage than a sword, but give you more mobility. Your heavy attacks take stamina faster from you, but let you attack from range. Your weapons swing out in giant arcs, giving you some space for when you know a particular behemoth might be about to pull off a very dangerous attack. Your Q however isn’t an attack at all, but instead a meter that fills up to award you dashes. Hitting the button will through you headfirst to be next to the behemoth, and another button press gives you an epic ninja-backflip to get away as quickly as possible.

On the opposite side of speed is the axe, which has punishing attacks with the sacrifice of mobility. Their attacks can be charged by holding the button, and are released with devastatingly high numbers. Even better, landing charged attacks leads to your weapon meter charging up. Once its charged, you can spend it to release a massive overhand swing. Hit with that, and your weapon meter resets at a higher level. Every level you have, the more damage you stack. Using the Axe is high risk, high reward.

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Being skilled with multiple weapons is a key in this game. As someone that loves the heavier weapons, faster monsters often give me a harder time.

Another high damage weapon is the hammer, which I’ll admit is my favorite. It’s a weapon that could have felt slow and ponderous, but the brilliant idea of adding shotgun blasts to its repertoire elevates it to a weapon that feels rewarding. Your Q lets you reload your four shells, but clever timing can let you auto-reload while even supercharging them with some of the monster’s essence. Attacks can be powered up by using your right click to expend a shell mid-swing, adding a little extra velocity to the attack itself.

The warpike was a later edition, and it adds a different layer to combat. Fast hits that don’t do a lot of damage, the warpike can still get you stuck in flashy attack combos that wouldn’t be worth it if not for two things. First, its attacks wound the behemoths, causing small glowing tears. When a part is wounded, that area becomes easier to damage by everyone else on your team. Secondly, the warpike saves up attack power that you can bank into very powerful, bazooka like shots of energy. While their basic attacks feel like they don’t do much, those big hits can be some of the highest numbers of the game.

Finally, the repeaters – a pair of pistols that are the most recent weapon put into the game. After going through a quest chain to unlock them, it’s a weapon you put together into parts to gain different effects, like throwing down mines for your Q or activating an attack damage buff for your team. You get to attack from range, but you get rewarded by dealing more damage up close. Even stranger, reloading next to the behemoth overcharges your blasters for a short while. The repeaters are both very forgiving to try, but very hard to be as effective with as others who know how to dodge and roll in melee.

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After letting you fight creatures of lava and rock, why not give you some ranged weaponry?

There’s a lot of options, and while I’ve really enjoyed the hammer because of its big attack swings, I’m slowly growing on the sword, and eyeing the warpike. Changing up what weapon you are using breathes new interest into the game as you launch into hunt after hunt.

Fantastic Behemoths And How To Break Them

Building up good weapons (and really cool looking armor sets) is only part of your key to success. The next is realizing how important it can be to coordinate with the others coming with you on the hunt. For better or for worse, Dauntless was made to be a game played online, with up to three others coming with you as you launch into a hunt. It’ll be up to how well you coordinate to see how deep you can go into questline.

Coordination starts when one Slayer finds the prey first, sending up a flare to signal that it’s time to unsheathe weapons and group up. Team-work really begins when someone is inevitably thrown to the side like a ragdoll by a tail sweep or fireball, needing to be revived to get back in the fight. Fights get tense as suddenly an enraged behemoth leaves half the team wiped out, and the rest have to figure out how to get their friends off the ground without being taken out too.

That’s just scratching the surface; when you realize how weapons interact and that behemoths show their damage, you start to go deeper. As fights go on, you might see that a Gnasher’s tail (think an angry giant beaver that’s been crossed with a velociraptor) has a bunch of cuts in it that are growing wider. It’s a visual signal that shows your comrades have inflicted a lot of pain there. Sweep in with a sword or chainblades, and soon enough you’ll see that tail get sliced right off, removing a valuable weapon from your foe.

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Victory can be hard won in this game. While its possible to be carried by teaming up with very skilled players, Dauntless is at its best when you are playing with a group of friends all learning the creatures together.

Wounds will glow as warpikes wound sections, making it easier for other weapons to fracture and break off valuable pieces. As parts break away to become valuable treasure to make new weapons, the behemoth also becomes more vulnerable at that section. At the same time, maybe the drask you are fighting (imagine an Iguana that also likes being a 30 foot long tazer) has a bunch of circles and lines around its head. Then you know heavy hitters like Hammer users are trying hard to stagger the beastie. A few more solid hits, and the creature will topple for a few precious seconds, letting everyone pile on.

As you journey deeper into the islands of Dauntless, the rewards for working together become more important. You can craft pylons, which give benefits in an area to teammates. As behemoths gain thicker hides, it becomes more important to coordinate where you are hitting first as a group.

In my opinion, this reliance on multiplayer is a huge part of the fun that Dauntless offers. It adds to a sense of danger and adventure, that you aren’t out there in the wilderness alone. It lets this game with a simple premise become a lot deeper quickly, without making it inaccessible to start.

Sailing Through The Beautiful Wreckage At The End Of The World

It’s important to say here that Dauntless being free-to-play doesn’t mean it lacks quality. Dauntless is a complete package of a video game, with intense combat, fun monsters, and dare I say a very inspired art style. Rather than going for a realistic bent, the bright colors and sharp shading that Dauntless uses makes everything pop on the screen. The game is just fun to play because you feel like you are walking through something beautiful.

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Fighting the Valomyr is an exercise in what it'd be like to fight a rave party. Often you fight it at night, letting them add beautiful streaking comets in the backdrop.

The art choices also give Dauntless some of its gravitas. Sure, this action genre doesn’t need a lot of plot to get you playing, but I really enjoy the touches that give it a sense of place. The fact that you hunt on shatter islands, floating in the sky, having to air-drop in from magical skiffs. How the behemoths you are fighting you aren’t just going after for pelts, but because they are literally breaking the world apart as they feed on the essence of the world.

The first time you land on an island gives you a sense of anticipation. The first time you crest a hill and spot a monster that is part turtle, part active volcano, you wonder how the hell you’re supposed to deal with something that is so different from the last monster. Soon enough, you are hacking away at it with your teammates, learning how to interpret the way its gut grumbles, because that’s sometimes the only warning you are going to get before a fireball comes your way.

The sound direction deserves a bit of credit as well. How you can hear the rumbling echoes of a flare gun going off, directing you to the action. How the cry of a monster behind you gives you that fighting chance to try and roll out of the way before a tornado could wipe out your health bar. So many small details come together to create a combat experience that is – dare I say it – immersive.

The Thrill Of Battle And The Joy Of Defeat

Dauntless is at its best when you log in with a friend or two, link up over voice chat, and start screaming when you see a behemoth pull off a move you’ve never seen before. It’s a game that revels in hunts that you barely survived, where you can feel your heart jump into your chest when you hit the dodge button and pray you made it in time.

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Games like this which are built around a co-operative experience do well when they build an experience that makes you feel like you really need each other. When world itself gives you that sense of accomplishment, its succeeding. Dauntless does this in a million different ways, from letting you revive team-mates, to letting you shoot signal flares to find valuable items on a hunt, to even just giving you both a personal score and a team score after a fight. “Cool”, you say to yourself. I got a B on the last behemoth, but the team got an A. Maybe I should work on dodging next round.

Co-operative games are also more fun when you lose as a team, and the losses inspire you to gritty revenge. Dauntless does that. As we worked our way up to the Maelstrom – the endgame section of Dauntless – my team made sure we tackled each new stage, each new monster together. No surprises unless we were all there. It made the game a sublime experience.

Time and time again, we’d defeat a foe we found ourselves losing to repeatedly. Eric would laugh as I got blown over a cliff by a stray lightning bolt, or James would let out a very loud noise of surprise as suddenly Adam’s life bar dropped to 0. We’d spend time strategizing, preparing. We’d work together on a plan, on swapping out weapons and tools until we had the right combination, and finally, in a mark of triumph, we’d defeat the beast.

After that, it was time to move on to the next one. When we’ve chosen to play, we would find ourselves going hard for a few days at a time, waiting for the work day to be over to link up on discord and launch into the fray, ready to see what new monster was waiting for us over the horizon. It’s an addiction, trying to save the fragments of the world, and a fantastic way to spend an evening with friends.

Not All Loot And Glory

Dauntless is great at grabbing your attention when you are on a hot streak. You fight a monster as scary as the Hellion and manage to dodge attack after attack, you just want to keep playing. As your group manages to shatter its hide and you watch your inventory fill up with possibilities of new gear and new cells (augments you can slot into weapons and armor), you just want to keep mashing the hunt button, to get back out in the field to see what’s going to come next.

When things start to go south too often for your hunts however, the cracks can start to show. Dauntless isn’t a game for everyone, and I’ve seen this from playing with about seven different friends from real life. Combat is understandable and accessible, but this is a game that doesn’t let you cancel out your attacks to dodge or roll away, meaning you have to choose more carefully when to initiate. Gamers who want games that let you have more second-to-second control are going to get frustrated with the more meticulous pace that Dauntless sets because of this.

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As a free to play game, Dauntless relies on you wanting to spend some extra money on dyes, E-motes, and cool costumes. Don't worry, this dapper individual will help you get into...wait, Ru Paul, is that you?!

There’s also a problem when the core gameplay loop breaks down. Dauntless is great at keeping tension high in the moment-to-moment thrill of battle, but the need to constantly improve and upgrade is a huge draw for the game. Seeing how high I can push my armor, seeing how many different weapons I can collect. Sure, I have an amazing hammer made from Riftstalker parts, but maybe I want to do just one more fight to start creating repeaters that shoot literal void.

The issue here is when you hit a dry spell of behemoth parts. In my experience, hitting the Maelstrom can be a make or break moment for many players because the difficulty jumps. It can also feel impossible to get started crafting the gear needed to compete at this high level. There was an afternoon where I found myself spending an hour or two unable to break any hide off these new armored beasts, even if I was able to fell them. Sure, I got some money, but I didn’t feel that rush of personal progression even as I worked hard to earn it. I left the game feeling defeated and frustrated, even though I had been taking down behemoths.

Finally, there are some bugs that plague Dauntless still. I’m more forgiving of this simply because the game is still in open beta. Still, the Kharabak fight - in which you literally fight a massive flying wasp – had my friends and I repeatedly taking damage when had stepped far away from the creature. Match-making works great in the game, except when you invite friends to your group you often don’t get to see your party information clearly until after you load into a new hunt. All things that are manageable, but still noticeable.

More Adventure Over Each Horizon

The last section was a bit of a downer; it might give you a little pause about playing. It shouldn’t. The great thing about a game like Dauntless is that its always evolving, always changing. After hitting the Maelstrom last fall, I moved onto other games to play and review for a while. I enjoyed the game for sure, but I realized this next set of monsters was going to take a bit of dedication. I knew there was a new set of behemoths arriving soon, so I was going to wait for the reworks.

Fast forward to this March, and I’ve sunk about 20 hours back into the game just in the last two weeks. There’s something special about watching a game mutate over time. I had a lot to catch up: how to use repeaters, and how to fight something called a Valomyr. Suddenly there was a way to recycle my massive stack of cores into something more useful using the Middleman. And wait, there were grenades in the game now?!

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I think the Riftstalker fight is one of my favorites in the game. A more recent edition, this behemoth shows that the dev team is dedicated to putting in new ideas as time goes on.

Two most recent changes really stand out to me as reasons to stick with Dauntless – the hunt pass and the Boreus behemoth. The first is a bit more straight forward for anyone that’s played Fortnite or games with a similar system, and it does wonders here. There is a free track for those who don’t want to put money into the game, but just having fifty levels of achievement to work towards makes me a lot more interested in managing the daily and weekly side quests you can do for reputation. It makes me branch out from using my hammer fight after fight, and see if I can manage with the repeaters, or the warpike.

Meanwhile, the Boreus behemoth just dropped this last patch on March 13th, and it is safe to say that it might herald a whole new wave of things to come.  Looking like a moose and T-Rex had a love child, the Boreus is scary because it encases itself in invincible ice before summoning flocks of flying minions to explode or fire icicles every which way. Killing these minions lets you gain buffs to break through that ice.

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It’s a fun mechanic that shows how the newer monsters like the Boreaus and Riftstalker add new exciting challenges that just increase the possibilities. Dauntless developers are already on the record that if the Boreus implementation goes well, the islands might find themselves more active, filled with smaller creatures to deal with while you find the big one.

There Is No Reason Why You Shouldn’t Try Dauntless

Dauntless was at PAX East two years ago for the first time. I had no idea about its existence, but after looking at the art style and that sweet hammer-shotgun, I had to try it. It was fun, but didn’t quite connect to be honest. It didn’t quite have that spark, where it all came together.

Two years later, I’ve probably played about forty hours of Dauntless. I’ve struggled up the ranks of slayer to have a full set of armor. I’ve bought the hunt pass, and used the extra earned platinum to buy dye packs just so I can look as cool as I want to be. I feel like an utter badass as my avatar leaps into the fray, propelling themselves into battle to take on something much better than ever before.

I love this game. Yes, I know there is another series that is all about slaying giant creatures and building gear from their bodies, one that has a lot of depth and history. Yet, I like Dauntless more. Dauntless lets itself be accessible. I could never get my friends to buy a sixty dollar game and then sink hours into the game before feeling any progression. Here, I just send an invite, and soon they are screaming in voice chat as I introduce them to exactly what a Hellion is.

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Plus, I can make myself look like a bad ass superhero. Who doesn't want that?

Dauntless is free, and that is a point in its favor. It lets you jump into a game where boss battle after boss battle await you. It’s where teaming up with your friends to take down a behemoth feels like an accomplishment and also manageable at the end of a long work day.

I love Dauntless for the gameplay experience it gives me, and I can’t wait to find out what creatures they are cooking up next. Regardless of when the final full release day is going to be, I’ll be there with my hammer.