Despite a subpar presentation, this is the best introduction to hunting monsters ever.
It hurts to say, but Monster Hunter is a hard franchise to get into for newcomers. There are barriers with the various weapons, crafting, and mission structure that makes an introduction for newcomers far less from ideal. At the same time, once you get into the swing of things, it is one of the most strategic and fun action RPGs out there. That being said, there is always a drive to introduce newcomers, and that is where Phoenix Labs' Dauntless comes in. A title similar in the vein of Monster Hunter, Dauntless tries to remove obstacles and makes the experience instantly engaging and accessible. The result is a game I can easily recommend, coming with the benefit that it is also free-to-play.
Players will travel to the Shattered Isles, where various Behemoths roam the different environments. As a Slayer, it is up to you to destroy them with your flashy arsenal of weapons and moves. There’s also a story behind why these creatures are a threat to the islands. The Shattered Isles float up high into the sky and the Behemoths eat up all the Aether, which is the magical juice required to keep them there. Together with other Slayers, who gather in the town of Ramsgate, you will go on a variety of missions and improve constantly throughout your adventure.
Improving isn't done through the methods you might expect. Your Slayer won't grow with level ups, but instead through the equipment that they use. Similarly to Monster Hunter, you will have to loot the Behemoth's remains and use the important bits for new armor pieces and weapons. After wrapping up a mission and realizing I was missing something, I felt the need to go on another hunt straight away. That is how Dauntless gets you. You will see a goal in front of you, but you are just out of reach, so you continue the cycle for the satisfaction. Surely, there will be people who don't see that appeal, but it did enough to stop me from shutting down the game after accomplishing what I had set out to do. It was encouraging to constantly shoot for new goals, delaying the finish line by just a teensy bit each time.
What makes that process work is the brisk pace of all the missions available. Where other hunting games will waste your time by searching walled off environments and collecting additional resources, Dauntless allows you to just go wild after you touch down for a new mission. Each one is focused on defeating the Behemoth, and so you’re placed in their immediate proximity. The focus is solely on the fighting and looting, which makes for a loop that goes straight to the point. Depending on what you have on you, these fights could take a while, but I was never disappointed with how Dauntless sets these up.
I haven't even discussed the weapon variety, which is why the game never loses its touch. Dauntless offers something for many different playstyles, and I had a blast trying so many unique options. My personal go-to was the Chain Blades. These were smaller, compact blades that can both be used up close and from afar, ensuring that you always have a strong means of attack. Their light weight makes them perfect for hectic situations since you can dodge in a pinch. Another that I quite liked was the War Pike, which is absolutely fantastic to do huge piercing damage. The most important thing is finding what you personally enjoy. The Chain Blades require far more frantic play, while a War Pike requires a specific strike at a monster's weak spot. The weapons all follow a basic blueprint, but finding what works for you is crucial to enjoying the game.
Most of the time I played Dauntless online, which proved the most fruitful way to play. While I had some communication problems with random people, it was an utter joy with friends. Each would use a different weapon and skill set to overcome what was ahead. Even better is that progression and friends carry over between a variety of platforms, thanks to an Epic Account. This way, I could call upon friends who have been playing Dauntless for months. I got to learn the workings of each Behemoth, who each act differently and move about in their own specific ways. Usually, you can get these details from NPCs in the HUB, but this process feels a bit all over the place. Dauntless thrives on its briskness.
While I loved most of Dauntless, there is a sticking point that I have to bring up: the presentation. Ramsgate's framerate was downright unacceptable on Nintendo Switch, floating roughly around 15 frames per second. The hunts were better, at 25-30 frames per second, but even then there were some dropped frames. Furthermore, there were some extremely long loading times that detract from the game’s fast pace. In all likelihood, the presentation will be improved over time, but right now it is just okay. The graphical style is, at the very least, quite nice and really deserves to be seen.
Dauntless is a great game dragged down by a subpar presentation. The loading and framerate could really use some work, with the hub town feeling like a slideshow now and again. Once you get hunting, however, Dauntless really comes into its own. The pure focus on hunting and looting monsters feels amazing, with fun missions and even better weapons. It thrives and pushes you constantly to completion, and slowly moves that completion goal further down the pipeline. As a free-to-play title, it is absolutely one of the nicer ones and makes for a great time with your friends.