Dauntless is an upcoming free-to-play action RPG from Phoenix Labs, coming to PC and PlayStation 4 this year. Harry Papadimitriou checked out the game at E3 and reports back on what it takes from and brings to the monster hunting formula.
Dauntlessis a free-to-play, co-op online action RPG, in which a group of up to four friends can team up to hunt beasts in a Monster Hunter-like style. The game takes place on the Shattered Isles, human-inhabited floating islands that require Aether to stay afloat. Large beasts that roam the land known as Behemoths consume Aether, thereby destabilizing the floating islands and creating a natural conflict between them and humans. This sets the stage for players, who take the role of Slayers with the task of hunting down these beasts. The game is designed as a hub-and-spoke RPG in which players gather in a central area to accept new hunts, and then head off to each hunt area to track and kill Behemoths.
Behemoth fights are all about players' ability to execute, rather than being level- or statistics-driven. Each Behemoth has a series of attacks and attack patterns that are telegraphed, and players must learn and appropriately react to these tells in order to succeed in the battle. There are also tactical aspects to fights. For example, players can target specific body parts, and by dealing a certain amount of damage to a body part, a Behemoth may lose one of its attacks. In the demo, after chopping off a Behemoth's tail, it completely changed its attack patterns. Damage numbers and health bars on Behemoths are not shown, and players must instead determine battle progress from the wounds that appear on its body. Behemoths can also flee to different areas of the battle map, and players have access to tools that assist in tracking. Those I fought in the demo had some interesting abilities such as encasing players in blocks of ice, which could be broken by teammates to free those trapped. If a player falls in battle, teammates can revive him or her by holding a button while near the body, but this ability leaves the teammate vulnerable and has a long cooldown.
When Behemoths are defeated players gain materials used in crafting armor and weapons, and the quality of materials dropped depends on how well players perform in the fight. Additional materials can be found from fauna and various locations in the battle area. As players defeat increasingly difficult Behemoths, they obtain increasingly higher quality materials for better armors and weapons. This familiar cycle is the general way of progression through the game. There is no experience and no leveling up — increased player power comes directly from player equipment and items. In lieu of classes, Dauntless offers many different weapon types, each enabling a different style of combat and unique mechanics. For example, the chain blades I selected allowed me to hit a button to grab on and pull myself onto a Behemoth to attack, and then hit that same button to do an acrobatic flip and put some distance between us when things got dangerous. Item tiers progressively unlock, and once a new tier unlocks players can craft any weapon and armor in that tier. This mechanic allows players to experiment with different fighting styles at any point in their progression, without having to start from scratch if they find they don't like the weapon and style they initially chose.
Aside from the fighting style determined by weapons, player abilities are handled by equipping various items. Players can select one of many lanterns to equip, each having a unique ability. As players attack a Behemoth, their lantern charges up and can then be expended to activate its ability. In addition to weapons and the lantern ability, players also have access to a handful of item slots, each with a unique item type to choose from. For example, there is a healing slot in which players may equip either self-healing or team-healing items, and separate slots for items that affect attacks. There is also a special ability that can be used once per battle, allowing players to call an airship. This can have different effects from dealing damage to revealing location of items on the map, depending on how players have set up their airship.
Dauntless' graphical style is balanced between cartoony and realistic, with minimalist and clean textures and somewhat reminiscent of Team Fortress 2 but without the caricature proportions in the latter. I thought that the environments and Behemoths looked great in this style, but some of the character armors I saw didn't pop, and I wished that they featured just a bit more detail or post-processing effects to make them stand out. The game still looks aesthetically pleasing overall even if not entirely visually cohesive, and hopefully this will improve as the game moves out of technical alpha into its first beta stage in August, and into open beta sometime in late fall or early winter.
Overall, Dauntless promises an online co-op Monster Hunter-like experience, with many of the staples in that series making an appearance. It features a pleasing, unique visual style, fast-paced combat based on execution rather than statistics, and a gear-based progression system that allows players to experiment with their character build at any time. While I'm a bit weary of the free-to-play model, I'm excited at the prospect of the co-op hunting experience Dauntless promises.