Dauntless [official site] plunges you into the Shattered Isles, a broken, albeit beautiful, fantasy world where hulking Behemoths are hunted by adventurers in a quest for glory and most importantly, excellent loot. It’s a third-person, four player co-op action RPG created by former Bioware and Riot devs. Monster Hunter is a key influence here, as the game’s schtick centers on teaming up with a few pals to fight massive creatures. There are hints of Western RPGs mixed in, though, and the combat, replete with dodge rolls, is reminiscent of Dark Souls. It’s still early days for Dauntless, and though I only got to test my blade against two Behemoths, I was able to get a preliminary glimpse of what the game could become as it heads into beta later this year.
The demo I played plops you smack down onto one of the many “islands” that make up this world. There was no peek at the hub city where players can gather to craft gear, hang out with guild mates and rest up before their next big battle. Instead, me and three other strangers at PAX East teamed up to challenge Pangar, a fearsome beast that looked to be a cross between a pangolin and a dinosaur, and Shrike, a hulking owl with glowing eyes and the power to kick up some deadly cyclones.
In the preview build, players can select from a typical high-fantasy arsenal. There are four pre-rolled characters to choose from, two bearing swords, the other two an axe and a hammer respectively. Dashing into battle, the Behemoths are truly a sight to behold, shrieking and puffing themselves up before charging at your little party without fear or hesitation. These monsters are convincingly animated, loping about the battlefield with a lifelike ferocity and grace. They made my slow axe-swings seem clumsy in comparison.
The scaly monstrosity, Pangar, tucks itself up before rolling across the battlefield, flattening anyone caught in its path. Shrike, on the other hand, deals in sweeping charge attacks that stir up wind to knock you back before it takes to the skies, well out of range. If you want to have any chance at survival, you’ll need to pay close attention to the monster’s tells, dashing out of the way when it signals it’s about to attack.
When you do manage to get close enough to make your move, combat is a very simple matter of hack and slash. There are a few combos - sword users have an elemental attack they can use with a well-timed button press, while the axe builds up energy over time before unleashing a powerful, sweeping strike. Damage is localized to wherever you swing your blade. Attack the Behemoth’s flanks, and you’ll slowly start to see wounds appear beneath its fur. A gruesome detail, but a neat one all the same. You might even be able to lob off Pangar’s tail if you’re particularly skilled.
The monsters are fabulous, exciting creations, but I was hoping for a bit more depth in combat. Battles were missing that truly epic feel with the limited number of abilities that were at my disposal during the demo. I stepped away from the keyboard feeling as though I could have done more. I aired my concerns to Chris Cleroux, Phoenix Labs’ Design Director, who was able to tell me how combat will likely evolve later in Dauntless’s development. While he couldn’t say much about any changes or developments regarding the actual mechanics of combat, he did mention players would have access to more abilities and weapon varieties down the line. We can even expect special group combos in the future, which will certainly make these hunts feel more like a team effort rather than a high-stakes chop fest.
Combat isn't everything though. There’s also a fair deal of exploring to be done. If you fail to make a significant dent in the creature’s health within a set amount of time, the Behemoth will run away to seek shelter and rest up, leaving players to dash about the map to relocate the beast. It’s a clever way to get adventurers to explore the individual isles. It’s a beautiful world, done up in a painterly, fairytale aesthetic. As you wander, you can scour the forests for treasure and crafting materials to bring back home with you once the gristly job is done, although this wasn’t available in the demo. However, I am told hunting and collecting will play a large part in upgrading your weapons and armor.
Cleroux explained how crafting and character progression go hand in hand, lending themselves to increased variety and creativity in gameplay. Players will collect parts dropped by Behemoths, along with whatever they might scrounge in the field, before heading back to town and trying their hand at crafting weapons and armor upgrades. These upgrades may be the key to shaping your character, it turns out. “Weapons and armors help define the role that a character can play,” Cleroux noted. “There're no character classes or levels as there are in other RPGs.”
With that said, you’ll still be able to shape your character into a specialization of your choosing, based on your play style. Players will be able to take advantage of special abilities depending on how they shape their weapons. “Weapons and armor will have special abilities that players can kind of optimize their playstyle and their path,” Cleroux elaborated. “So, yes we will have [special abilities], and it will make a difference as to which armor or weapon you're choosing.”
All told, Dauntless is already a good deal of fun, and could develop into some truly divine Monster Hunter action for the PC once it adds on a few more layers. I’m excited to get into the nitty gritty of the game’s crafting and weapons systems, and discover what other awesome creatures roam this fantasy land. Dauntless is expected to go into open beta this fall, although opportunities to join in the closed alpha will be revealed sometime soon.