Fighting behemoths in Dauntless can be quite the daunting task, if you’ll pardon the pun. These encounters take around fifteen minutes, give or take. That’s fifteen minutes of slashing, dodging, and healing. If you make a mistake, there’s a good chance you end up dead, lose all the materials you may have gathered, and have to start over.
Dauntless is a third-person action MMO developed by Phoenix Labs, similar in premise to the Monster Hunter series. From Ramsgate, the game’s central hub, you journey out into the Shattered Isles, a collection of floating islands, to gather resources and slay behemoths threatening your civilization. You then bring your rewards back to Ramsgate and use them to construct and upgrade your gear.
Let’s start off with a look at Dauntless’s strongest feature: combat. I was impressed by this right out of the gate. There’s almost a sense of weight to the fights, and you know that your weapon swings take time and imbalance you, which opens you up to attacks. Further, running around and swinging a heavy weapon isn’t easy, and if you don’t keep an eye on that stamina bar, you may find yourself unable to roll away from a behemoth’s claws. Using recovery potions and other items also opens you up to attacks, so if you make a mistake in timing, there’s a good chance you’ll end up dead. You have to plan out every swing of your weapon and every combo that you chain, all while watching the behemoth you’re fighting for indications of its next move and making sure you have stamina to respond. All of this gives Dauntless’s combat a tactical yet action-oriented feel, which I found myself getting hooked on. Some have compared the combat to what Dark Souls offers, and I think that’s fair.
There’s a wide variety of materials and equipment in Dauntless, and I was becoming addicted to the hunt. Some materials, like aether flux, you might get just from fighting behemoths, of which you’ll fight plenty. Others, like iron ore or dartweed, you need to search around the level for and mine or harvest. Then there are horns and tails, which you actually have to break off of a behemoth during a fight, a task which can be both difficult and satisfying. There’s something fulfilling about ripping the tail off of an exceptionally vicious monster, then using it to craft a powerful piece of equipment.
Currently, Dauntless is PVE only, although developers have expressed openness towards exploring PVP features somewhere down the road. In such games, the community tends to be relatively friendly, and Dauntless is no exception. I didn’t encounter a toxic player once in my twenty-plus hours with the game, and there are games where you can’t go twenty minutes without finding someone toxic (looking at you, Rust and League of Legends). I was also impressed by Phoenix Lab’s level of engagement with the community. At one point, I asked a question about a policy on the Dauntless forums, and within a few hours, a developer replied with a well-reasoned post. I’ve also seen developers reply to community members' YouTube videos about Dauntless, without a response having been solicited. I’m of the opinion that having developers who care about community opinion is absolutely critical for an MMO to be a long-term success, and I’m convinced that Dauntless has this.
However, there are several features in Dauntless which feel substantially underdeveloped, even taking into account that this is a closed beta. Firstly, there is no character development or plot whatsoever. After reading lore excerpts from Dauntless’s website, I was really hoping to see some sort of plot in the game itself. I’m further hoping the voice acting from quest givers is placeholder, as there has been little attention given to it.
Although admittedly not an essential feature for an MMO, I was unimpressed by Dauntless’s soundtrack and found myself muting it in favor of my own music within hours. The interface feels cluttered, the UI seems rushed, and inventory management is a bit of a mess. Hopefully Phoenix Labs will fine-tune these features before release.
Matchmaking was quite annoying, which isn’t shocking during a closed beta, but I wonder if game design might contribute to this. When I was searching for a hunt, there was a good number of players online, but none appeared to be doing the early-game activities which I was, forcing me to solo content likely not meant to be soloed by beginners. I was given the choice of waiting a long time to find assistance, or just soloing a hunt, and having a hard time of it. I ended up failing one of my hunts and losing about thirty minutes of effort. I can’t help but wonder if other players find themselves turned off from Dauntless’s early game due to this. In my opinion, Dauntless should add the ability for players to join a mission in progress, perhaps so long as the behemoth is above a certain health threshold. Warframe has a similar feature, and it cuts down on waiting times substantially.
Given the roughness of the previously described features, I feel that Dauntless should really be at an alpha stage, not closed beta. Perhaps part of the reason they rushed beta was to give Founder's access to the title, as most Founder's Packs included beta access, but not alpha. In any case it seems that Phoenix Labs are aware of this and intend to spend more time developing their game before release, considering that Dauntless's open beta date has been delayed.
Honestly, I’m cautious to make a recommendation on Dauntless, one way or the other. In the twenty-five hours I spent on it, there was a lot that impressed me and a bit that worried me. I am convinced that Phoenix Labs genuinely wants to make this a fun, immersive game, but that doesn’t mean they will succeed. What I think everything will come down to is what state Dauntless is in at release, how many players this version attracts, and if Phoenix Labs are able to effectively monetize their game. If they manage all this, I see Dauntless turning out similar to Warframe, becoming a favorite of many gamers for years to come, with regular expansions and fine-tuning. The fact that they already had a Halloween event indicates to me they are serious about this. On the other hand, it is also possible that Dauntless fails to attract players and flops at release. Phoenix Labs might not make a profit and become forced to give up on the title (we might call this the Battleborn scenario). Phoenix Labs plans to turn a profit by selling cosmetics and boosters, and while this is a solid plan, the game will need a certain level of popularity for it to succeed.
If Dauntless sounds interesting to you, you can currently buy a Founder’s Pack and take part in the closed beta. The lowest-tier package is $40 and comes with closed beta access and a few goodies.
I bought a Founder’s Pack and haven’t regretted it for a minute. I’ve found Dauntless to be a refreshing experience, and as far as founder’s packs go, it’s comparatively affordable. That said, if you’re patient, Dauntless will be free-to-play in open beta, and considering that there will be at least one closed beta wipe, there’s good reason to wait.