Dauntless: First Impressions

Here’s the big question: should you get it? It’s free so, yeah, why the hell not. If you’re interested in why I’m saying that, read on.

Dauntless, if you haven’t heard of it before, is a videogame in which you play as a Hunter Slayer and go on hunts pursuits and kill monsters Behemoths. Killing these Behemoths allows you to collect bits and pieces of their corpses, which you can then use to craft weapons and armour so that you can hunt bigger, badder, more dangerous Behemoths. That’s the core gameplay loop and if you’ve heard anything at all about the Monster Hunter franchise, it will sound very, very familiar to you.

And if you’ve played Monster Hunter at all, it’s incredibly easy to dismiss Dauntless off-hand as Monster Hunter Lite. It look a bit cartoony – the visual style is to Monster Hunter what Fortnite is to Apex Legends – and it looks incredibly ‘casual’ as a result. My earliest impressions of the game weren’t exactly flattering, especially because I was coming to it after a little over 300 hours in Monster Hunter. I was used to Tempered and Arch Tempered monsters, one-hit-kill Elder Dragons, and had most recently gotten my ass handed to me by AT Xeno’jiva.

So at the beginning, after all of that experience, Dauntless felt a little … meh. The only reason I installed it in the first place was because it was free and brand new on Xbox, and I figured a hunting alternative that wasn’t Monster Hunter might be worth a shot.

It also didn’t help that the first few hunts were really, really easy. Sure, I got knocked around a little by Embermane and Boreus, but after a couple of minutes into the fight I got my bearings pretty quickly. It doesn’t really help that those Behemoths aren’t especially large, so their relatively small size combined with the ease of the fight itself made them feel very, very non-threatening. (Mind you, that isn’t a bad thing, but after Monster Hunter, in which my first encounter with a Great Jagras was legit terrifying, I wanted … more.)

I was about to give up on Dauntless entirely and when I decided to on just one more hunt, so I could see a little more of what the game had to offer. I went in with a pair of repeaters – dual-wieldable revolvers that are presently Dauntless’ only ranged weapon – with a couple of upgrades slapped on them. I upgraded my Embermane armour as far as it would go and figured killing this weird, shrieky owl-thing wouldn’t really be a problem.

And I got absolutely destroyed.

It was wonderful

I’ve often said to friends that Monster Hunter isn’t a game you play when you want to relax. At higher difficulties, it demands your full attention. A single misstep, a mistimed combo, a misjudged opening in a monster’s attack pattern will get you quickly and thoroughly killed. No matter how many times you’ve fought a monster, if you stop paying attention during a hunt, you will die. And while that may sound incredibly stressful, the thrill of the hunt and the euphoria of a victory more than make up for the focus that each hunt demands.

That relative lack of focus – until I met the Shrike – was what I was missing in Dauntless. The Shrike difficulty spike reminded me vividly of Monster Hunter’s first wall (the Anjanath) and it was exactly what I was looking for. A switch flipped in my brain and, while I’ve yet to go back to kill that obnoxious owl, now I’m thinking about loadouts and weapons and upgrades and armour and farming – all the good stuff that a hunting game should make you think about before you go to punch the skull off of some large beast.

It also helps that the Shrike is intimidating af. Like, it is one legit scary owl. Not only is it massive, but its attacks are devastatingly powerful, require good dodging, and demand that you actually focus on its movements and attack patterns so you know what’s coming next. In my first hunt, I ran out of healing potions, tapped a nearby healing rifts dry, and only brought it to the second phase of the fight (I don’t know how many more there are).

The adrenaline that comes with a hunt gone awry, the subsequent swearing of vengeance, and the eventual but inevitable monster-death that follows is what makes Monster Hunter a joy – and that Dauntless can spark that same energy is very much a point in its favour.

Not everything’s great, though

The thing I still don’t like about Dauntless is how quiet and relatively boring the islands are. Each hunt takes you to a floating island. On said floating island is exactly one Behemoth. And it’s your job to find said Behemoth and kill it.

As far as I can tell, Behemoths seem to spawn in the same place and hang around there until you find them. So if you don’t know exactly where one is, finding it can be a nightmare. I ran out of time on the Shrike fight because I spent a solid twenty or so minutes looking for the thing. If Dauntless has an equivalent of Monster Hunter’s scoutflies – which guide you to a monster once you’ve collected enough monster tracks – I haven’t figured out how to make them work yet.

The islands are also painfully, disappointingly lonely. Because there’s only one Behemoth, in the course of running around the island looking for it nothing interesting happens. There are no other Behemoths to stumble on, seemingly no secrets to find. Only resources to collect and literally nothing else to do but run around. After Monster Hunter World’s thriving ecosystems and occasional monster-on-monster action, Dauntless’ islands feel boring and lifeless.

Visually, they also feel plain and uninspired. I didn’t notice this so much with the Embermane and Boreus hunts because I found my targets very quickly, but specifically on the Shrike hunt, I realised that so much of every island looks the same. Rocks and grass and trees with no major distinguishing landmarks and a largely flat design makes running around the island both confusing and annoying.

Essentially, in Monster Hunter, you’re intruding on a large, thriving ecosystem for the sole purpose of killing a thing and wearing its ass as a hat. In Dauntless, by contrast, you’re entering a large, slightly plain arena to kill a monster and GTFO. I find no joy in running through Dauntless’ islands; they’re an irritating obstacle that I need to navigate simply to get to the good stuff.

So, to sum this up…

I haven’t played Dauntless for anywhere near long enough to know if it’ll be worth it in the long run. Hunts themselves seem like they have potential, but it’s far too early and I don’t have enough exposure to the game’s selection of Behemoths to know if I’ll enjoy the endgame or if I’ll uninstall a couple of hunts after I kill the Shrike.

That said, I do know that if you consider Monster Hunter too demanding and too hardcore, this might be right up your alley. It’s a lot easier to get to grips with, there’s much less figuring out how to handle monsters – Dauntless straight up tells you on loading screens – and much more focus on just learning how to execute. Weapons also feel a lot simpler to use; Dauntless’ starter weapon, the sword, is a slight step up from Monster Hunter’s sword and shield, and nowhere near as timing-intensive as the greatsword. There don’t seem to be any weapons that are technically complex either – there’s no weapon quite like the charge blade or the switch axe, for example – so it’s fairly easy to pick up and learn almost any weapon.

Basically, Dauntless really does feel – from a handful of hours – very much like Monster Hunter Lite. But, as I’ve come to realise in the little time that I’ve spent with it, that really isn’t a bad thing.

Trevor Coelho

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