Dauntless combines Monster Hunter and Destiny to create a fun experience which nonetheless falls prey to the trappings of free-to-play MMO economics.
The world of Dauntless, published by Epic Games, is thinly defined and its free-to-play nature can never be overcome, but hunting monsters with friends or strangers never gets old. It's not at all reductive to call Dauntless the love child of Monster Hunter and Destiny.
Like the former, the core gameplay involves co-op teams taking down large beasts and using resources acquired during the hunt to upgrade weapons and equipment, thus becoming stronger and able to confront more powerful creatures. Like the latter, the RPG elements are streamlined and the home base area is small and full of vendors who double as quest givers.
There's little in the way of story tying Dauntless together. For better or worse, Dauntless feels like it begins at the endgame loop of most other MMO/RPG/Live Service games. While some players will surely be happy to be rid of the pretense of a narrative hook and fully-realized story mode, others will find the paper-thin narrative lacking in soul and motivation to continue playing. For players who seek more than watching defensive and offensive numbers tick up over the course of an endless loop of hunts, Dauntless will do little to hold their interest.
On the other hand, players in search of rollicking moment-to-moment co-op action and the thrill of the hunt will find Dauntless provides plenty of content to sink their teeth into. The process of fighting Behemoths will be familiar to genre veterans, which isn't a bad thing. Teams of up to four players pick from a handful of different weapons classes and can gain an upper hand in their battle against monsters by focusing attacks on different body parts; though nothing is as game-changing as some of the more complex battles in Monster Hunter World, there is still a tactical advantage to cutting off a Behemoth's tail or damaging their armor into oblivion. Overall, it's a simpler version of Monster Hunter, with fewer weapon types and simplified – but nonetheless engaging and satisfying – mechanics.
Though the battles themselves are frequently thrilling, the environments feel repetitive; each encounter takes place on a reasonably sized map, but aside from picking up plants and ore to craft tonics and goodies in camp, there's next to nothing in the way of exploration. Dauntless is all about fighting Behemoths, and it certainly focuses its sights squarely on that goal. The art style is entertaining, with Fortnite-inspired character models and saturated colors. The floating islands that make up the setting of Dauntless are visually striking, and some fights take advantage of this, with monster attacks knocking characters entirely off the map, temporarily removing them from the fight.
Where Dauntless struggles is in its economy. In today's video game marketplace, so many big-budget games have adopted the economies of free-to-play titles in an effort to suck more money out of consumers who have already paid $60 for a new game. Lootboxes, battle passes, microtransactions have all been abused by cynical publishers to the point where, when a genuine free-to-play game comes along with all the trappings of a free-to-play economy, it can't help but negatively impact the experience. Thus, Dauntless, which essentially features every F2P mechanism imaginable, just feels overwhelming in its non-stop monetization.
Every time the game is launched, the player is asked to purchase a Hunt Pass. Combining Cells (earned from lootboxes) to boost their effectiveness takes a whole day or longer, unless the player spends Ace Chips to speed up the process. A paltry amount of Chips can be earned with the "basic" Hunt Pass, which all players can earn, and a few more can be earned with the "elite" Hunt Pass. Ultimately, the best way to earn Chips is to spend real money on Platinum, the in-game currency which is used to buy everything from supplies to emotes, dances, and other cosmetic items.
Dauntless is a jolly little co-op hunting RPG buried under a mess of F2P jargon. There's some good fun to be had here, and players who fall in love with the action will have no problem putting down some money to thank the developers, but most will dip their toes into Dauntless, enjoy themselves for a bit, and then sit back and wait for the next Monster Hunter World expansion.
Dauntless is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant reviewed the Free-to-Play title on PlayStation 4 Pro.