There is a reason why Monster Hunter: World has survived your very own Video Game Choo Choo’s Game of the Year deliberations for 2019.
It made its way to become a runner-up for the category, “Best Ongoing Game”, since after all, World has proven itself to still just be a gosh darned, solid game.
The community has sparked a revival thanks to the additions and improvements of the latest Iceborne updates. Even at its vanilla core, World has remained consistent and is personally what I found to be one of the strongest entries so far in the Monster Hunter franchise.
However, this piece is not going to be about Monster Hunter. Instead, I am going to have to talk about Dauntless.
Dauntless is a free-to-play, cooperative, action RPG officially released across multiple platforms in late September of 2019, but it only recently came out for the Nintendo Switch in the middle of December. As you can see on the very tippy top of this piece—and just to reiterate for disclaimer purposes—this is a review specifically for the game’s Switch version. This review will also be from the perspective of someone who has not played the game on other systems.
Dauntless takes place in a fantastical setting almost completely ravaged by cataclysmic events that released monstrous beings into the world, known as Behemoths. Society has to now depend on this economy of people taking it upon themselves to hunt down these creatures, known as Slayers.
Players take on the role of these Slayers, fulfilling bounties all the while collecting loot to craft and upgrade their equipment. Get a quest, run into some open area, take down a monster, forge better versions of what you have on, rinse and repeat. Different modifications in the form of orbs can be added on and attached to your equipment to provide special effects that can prove useful in battle. Strategy relies a lot on an elemental type system, making it easy to figure out what you must equip or mod before you head out into the wilds.
For example, equipping water element-type gear against a fire-based Behemoth will prove itself to be advantageous. The odds in your favor or against you based on what’s on your arsenal are also explicitly spelled out in the UI before you and your group officially depart. Purely cosmetic effects can also be applied to armor through dyes. As a game where there is also no buying or trading market amongst the playing community, what I appreciated especially is that you are unable to craft multiples of the same equipment. This prevents an occasional issue I sometimes face in other games where it becomes too late to realize that I have made a duplicate of something, and my only way of getting rid of it is by tossing it and thus wasting the materials used.
The routine of this game may come off as grindy and repetitive, but it is more enjoyable than it sounds: it is pretty much a basic formula that something like Monster Hunter has sustained and succeeded with. Like Monster Hunter, Dauntless also offers other modes beyond the run-of-the-mill, drop and kill.
In Patrol, you are not bound to a specific hunt but must find specific Behemoths under certain parameters (similar to Investigations and Special Assignments, in which hunters in Monster Hunter must meet specific tasks like foraging and that doesn’t always necessarily mean taking down a monster). There are also special trial and versus modes where you simply have to meet specific requirements to win (similar to Arena and Challenges, in which hunters are squared off against one or multiple monsters with changed parameters such as difficulty in a contained space). As the first game developed by Phoenix Labs, a new studio formed by former Riot Games developers, being compared to Monster Hunter is not an insult. It is actually seen as a compliment that Dauntless definitely encourages, to the point where it wants to be seen as a worthy competitor in the genre.
While some games lately take pride over whose character creator is more obnoxiously complex than the other, Dauntless does not compare at all to how detailed Monster Hunter: World’s character creator can get. There are a few things it does do, however, that are worth pointing out. Firstly, the player character is technically not defined by “male” or “female”. Instead, players have to choose a build between “masculine” and “feminine”. Although on the one hand, I can see what they were trying to attempt, it is still a huge shame that your only options of a body type are stuck between these two, very constrained options. On the other hand, your gender can at least be defined in your account settings. Unlike Monster Hunter, there is also an ability to toggle your helmet on and off whenever you want regardless of what you have equipped. Those hours spent picking out your beautiful face will not have gone to waste when you have your best armor equipped.
Everyone’s mileage can vary, and Dauntless also suffers the sort of idiosyncrasies that may not necessarily be reflective of Phoenix Labs, but very (unsurprisingly) on brand for Epic Games. In a lot of ways, I have to remember the demographic target for this game is to be much more accessible to younger audiences, but other times…I am not so sure. For instance, an NPC by the name of Gregario Flynt is a stylist that offers different customization options and special cosmetic outfits —much of these being optional premium services—to the player. I am pretty sure he is supposed to be a blatant parody of RuPaul. All of the NPCs have their own voice tics, and they actually yell out to you if they have a quest as you get physical closer to them on the map. Flynt says things like, “Yes! You go SLAAAY, Slayer!”. I hope in this year of 2020 I don’t need to explain how the use of the word “slaying” in this context makes this all the more baffling and cheesy. Meanwhile, there is currently no sight of flossing as an option in the emotes library!
Who is this game for?!
That said, the game succeeds on its most basic fulfillment of what it is supposed to be, but lacks in everything else.
Personally, combat does not feel good to me. Jumping is useless in battle itself and it is treated as a distinct action from attacking. Do you want to do a cool sword strike jumping mid-air? Just don’t actually jump, because it might cancel out your attack! (Don’t even think about other button combinations.) Instead, open up your Abilities list in the Main Menu to figure out a single, specific button that the move you’re thinking of is probably bound to. There is a rough stiffness to attacking because the control scheme has abilities bound to singular buttons and not performed through combinations.
Dauntless is also suggestive that specific Behemoth parts must be acquired strategically, but most of the time, it feels like I have been consistently getting what I need while just hacking and slashing at random. I have noticed a Behemoth’s tail will always fall off if at least a quarter of its health is down, regardless if Slayers have focused on that body part or not. The idea that combat has all these complexities seems to be an illusion, which can probably be attributed to the game’s questionable mapping of its controls on the Switch. For one thing, inversion is not even provided as an option.
The Switch’s design overall is unconducive to the game’s mechanics compared to how it possibly feels on another type of controller or a keyboard. The experience is barely optimal, in which often times I have found myself exerting my right index finger to sustain a hold on the right trigger button to properly chain a combo for a special ability, while trying to gyrate my thumb of the same hand on the right analog stick because the camera is absolutely going haywire as only chaos fills the screen.
Dauntless can be played as a single player, but it still depends on being online since the game sessions directly must be logged in through an Epic Games account. There is a justification to this downside, as it is necessary for the game being able to have cross-platform and cross-progression features. Although server connections have been consistent and there has been no noticeable input lagging, loading times between screens can be abysmal and even simply walking around in Ramsgate, the game’s central hub, drops frames and stutters at every step. This is most evident when the player character sometimes bugs out during fast movement or jumps. It is unclear if this is in direct response to lag or if it is its own individual issue with the character’s model.
But the most egregious flaw of Dauntless on the Switch is that it is downright ugly. Dauntless’ otherwise simple, stylized graphics still manage to get crunched and compressed in all sorts of gnarly ways on default settings. Here’s a fun fact: prior to the magic of digital post-production tools, some visual tricks and transitional effects had to be directly done on the film strip itself or sometimes involved the camera during shooting. To achieve soft blur effects or glows would involve smearing substances like petroleum jelly on a glass pane over the camera lens. But what happens if you put a little too much of the stuff and don’t properly wipe things clean for the rest of the shoot? That is what Dauntless on the Switch looks like.
I have said many negative things about Dauntless, but I can compliment it strongly that it truly does feel like a free-to-play game to the very word. As far as I have played, no where at any point did I feel like gameplay was inhibited or in any way enhanced because of someone else splurging on items. Is it because the game is still relatively new, so are those things just not evident or even present yet? Besides the occasional pop-up advertising me to buy an Elite pack that mostly has cosmetic things, I can close and forget it until it shows up again. As per the tradition of many (at least, good) MMORPGs, it only seems natural that communities will eventually express genuine, monetary support for the game without being asked if interest is sustained. Although it is now potentially facing decreasing numbers, one can see how games like Fortnite succeed and managed to achieve an initially profitable model: just be fun. (And uh well… having all the working elements that might be encouraging video game addiction especially in younger brains? But I’m not an expert.)
And at the very least I can say as unappealing playing Dauntless was, I can definitely say some fun was experienced! Sadly, the Switch version of the game is not convincing enough for me to maintain my interest in this game. It was certainly not persuasive enough for me to reach out for my wallet.
Dauntless wanted to simplify many mechanics of a genre in hopes of recapturing what Monster Hunter is to a new audience in their own way. Unfortunately, some of these choices have not made the game interesting or any more unique compared to the aforementioned franchise or other similar titles. The Switch version of the game is an even more insult to its presentation, by being just outright broken and poorly optimized. Its genuinely, free playing experience for what it offers is tempting, but its current reiteration on the Switch can best be dismissed when a better version of the game on other consoles should be explored (thank goodness for cross-play!).
If you only have a Switch, it might also be worth checking out Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, instead.