Dauntless Hands-On @ E3 2017 – The Hunt Is On
Hidden away from the neverending appointments with AAA publishers and the general public at the E3 show floor was a private appointment with the kind folks at Phoenix Labs to check out their upcoming PC-exclusive hunting game, Dauntless. Facing off against behemoths of all manner of beasts were me and a few members of the development team who were veterans of the genre. With their guidance, I was able to finally get my first hands-on experience with Dauntless, a title I’ve been curious about since its unveiling late last year.
The hunting genre can be a fickle beast to properly tame and even the slightest gameplay quirk can sour one’s experience. From my brief time facing off against the behemoths that make up Dauntless’ core encounters, I can already see the magic begin to form into what could be the next great monster hunting experience. While the Monster Hunter influence runs deep in the project in development, there are already enough signs to make me confident that Dauntless will be a hunting game standing on its own merits.
One of the unique abilities available to slayers is through the use of a lantern, an equipable item that gives a wide range of support abilities. As the Psychic skill and paintballs are obviously not available in the Shattered Isles, I instead had to rely on an ability known as Ping that gave a handy approximation of how far off the target was from my current position. Other Lantern abilities included a small AoE heal, perfect for the slayers that aim for a more supporting role in combat.
Dauntless offers a wide range of weapons for taking on the massive Behemoths, and it’s always been the unique weapon styles that I’m drawn to (I’ve been a Switch Axe/Charge Blade main since their first debuts in Monster Hunter). When I tried out Dauntless’ hammer, I fell back to my old tactics of trying to charge up and go for that satisfying full power swing to the Behemoth’s face. What I didn’t expect was for the hammer’s secondary attack to operate like a cannon blast. Instead of simply staying up in the Behemoth’s face (in this case, a giant spike-covered beast known as Quillshot), I had to adjust my playstyle on the fly and move back into more of a mid-ranged stance and blast away with my hammer’s chosen element. There’s even a quick active reload that can help recharge the blast charges, Gears of War style.
For my second and more memorable fight, our team decided to take on the Skraev, a big and nasty owlbear that had its sights set on making our four-person squad its next meal. This time around, I went with Chain Blades and dabbled around in Dauntless’ cosmetic system, giving my entire outfit a pink motif in hopes of striking fear in the Skraev’s heart. If you’re familiar with the Thorn from Freedom Wars, or the Demon Hand from Toukiden 2, you’ll have some idea of how Dauntless’ Chain Blades can change the flow of battle. Hanging back and watching the Skraev do its thing and float back down to recover, only to use the Chain Blades’ secondary attack to close the distance and fling yourself in for a counterattack, is among my top moments in my hands-on time and could see myself sticking around with them for a long time if there are enough elemental versions to exploit Behemoth weaknesses. It's worth noting that learning the intricacies of each Behemoth, whether it's their elemental affinity or weak points, are essential both for efficiency's sake as well as being able to harvest better loot for actions like cutting off a tail.
Taking advantage of a free-to-play model is perhaps one of the smartest moves that Phoenix Labs could have made for Dauntless. The hunting genre has been around since the early days of the first Monster Hunter on PlayStation 2 and Phantasy Star Online’s Dreamcast debut. However, for many players, this genre is still daunting and cryptic to get into. It took a flash success like Dark Souls for the tough-as-nail style of action RPG to reach a wider appeal and grow out of its niche status in the Western markets. Despite growing in popularity, there’s still some obtuse design to player progression and even the fights themselves that can be a skill hurdle for players to overcome. By designing a title around the free-to-play model, players are free to join in on the action without worrying about dealing with Steam Refunds if just isn’t their style.
Jesse Houston, Executive Producer on the Dauntless project and President of Phoenix Labs, assured me that while this was a PC-focused title, they were more than open to players using whatever USB devices they have at their disposal. A few examples they mentioned included Guitar Hero guitars, arcade fight sticks, and the obligatory Xbox One and PlayStation 4 gamepads. I’m sure if you wanted to implement a bit of cardio into your gaming sessions, setting up a DDR mat is always an option. For the more standard controllers (the native PS4/XB1 controller, among others), Dauntless already has profiles set up that makes swapping from keyboard to controller and back as seamless as possible.
It’s also worth mentioning that Dauntless aims to accommodate for a wind range of PC specs. Rather than playing upon one of the overpowered rigs that typically adorn E3 demos (I’m looking at you, Threadripper), the four of us played with a number of Alienware laptops. These might have been more powerful than the consumer models that would probably be most interested in a free-to-play hunting game, but the experience was silky smooth the whole way through. As more people get access to play Dauntless during their open/closed beta sessions, I’m sure we’ll see a more definitive set of minimum system requirements become available.
Players looking to get their chance to play Dauntless for themselves have a number of options to choose from. Fans interested in being a part of the closed beta can sign up here for a chance to be selected. After creating an account, players can opt to purchase one of three levels of Founder’s Packs to take part in an exclusive Founder’s Alpha beginning August 18th. A closed beta will follow later this year, allowing a wider range of fans to take part in the action and help shape the future of Dauntless.