Dauntless beta – free, but worth playing?

This is how most missions start in Dauntless, a free-to-play online cooperative third-person action RPG which entered open beta about a month or two ago.

You and three other slayers land on an island floating in the sky, dropped from an airship as it flies overhead. It’s like a desert, with sand blowing in the wind and sparse vegetation. The Quillshot you’re hunting looks like a cross between a wild boar and a dragon on steroids, with giant glowing spikes sticking out all over its body.

There’s no sign of the behemoth when you land. There doesn’t appear to be any abnormal movement in the tree line, but the quiet of the night makes it easier to pick out abnormal sounds. The squad fans out, each searching a different area of the island. A few moments later someone pops a flair — the Quillshot has been found.

Dauntless Quillshot

The Quillshot can be pretty challenging.

It’s a monster hunting game. You hunt giant hulking creatures called behemoths across large levels — often in multiple phases — and slay them, using their horns, hides, and various other parts to build new and stronger equipment.

The game is set in a shattered world peppered with islands floating in the endless and seemingly bottomless sky. You play as a slayer defending Ramsgate, the floating city that acts as a hub for the game, by flying to new islands and hunting behemoths before they reach town.

You’ll spend most of your time flying off to a new island, slaying a behemoth, and returning to Ramsgate to spend the money you earn and build or upgrade your equipment.

Here’s a look at how it measures up in our Dauntless review. 

Dauntless – Gameplay

The game controls a lot like many mainstream action games. You’ve got a button for heavy attacks and a button for light attacks. Depending on the weapon you choose, different button combinations will yield different combo attacks.

Dauntless Embermane

An enraged Embermane charges, its tail on the ground.

During combat, damaging and breaking different parts of a behemoth is key. It’s how you get different materials for crafting, and it’s also useful when trying to kill the beast. Tired of getting hit by an Embermane’s tail swipe? Chopping it off will cut down on the move’s range and means you’ll have one more tail to work with when crafting gear.

Each mission has a half-hour timer. If you and your squadmates can’t finish the beast off by then you fail. If everyone in the squad is knocked out, you fail. When the danger meter in the upper righthand corner hits 100 percent, reviving teammates is disabled until you either defeat the behemoth or force it to flee to another part of the map.

Combat is fun and fluid both on a gamepad and with a keyboard and mouse. There are more than 15 behemoths in the game so far. They all come in different shapes and sizes, with different attack styles and abilities. Some deal elemental damage like fire, ice, or electricity, others just hit really hard. While they all seem unpredictable at first, over the course of many hunts it’s possible — and necessary — to get used to their patterns.

Dauntless – Gear

There are five kinds of weapon to choose from: swords, war pikes, axes, hammers, and chain blades. Each weapon dramatically changes how the game is played. They’re all a little tricky, but they can all be a lot of fun.

Dauntless sword

There are tons of different weapons to build.

The chain blades focus on high-damage, low-impact attacks and allow you to attack from up close and far away. The war pike similarly focuses on doing a lot of damage very fast — and with more impact than the chain blades — but its combos have longer animations that are easier for enemies to interrupt.

Heavy weapons like axes and hammers focus more on slow hits and long animations that deal a ton of damage, with a higher likelihood of staggering the beast.

Each weapon has a special ability that builds and recharges throughout the fight. The war pike fires a powerful projectile, which gains strength the more hits in a row you land and weakens when you take damage. The sword has an overload ability, charged by light attacks, which deals damage up front and increases damage and attack speed for a short period.

You can build weapons in each style, as well as an armour set, unique to each behemoth with parts you earn fighting them. They all look unique and many have aspects beyond just a basic armor or damage rating. Some weapons do additional elemental damage, often multiplied by the strengths or weaknesses of different behemoths.

Every piece of gear also comes with sockets, where you can infuse cores, which increase the stats of your character.

Dauntless dyes

Dyes let you change your armor’s color.

The game also offers various cosmetic options for real money. In Dauntless’ store, you can buy dyes to change the color of the gear you craft, as well as transmog stones, which make your gear look like other gear — like if you want the stats of Embermane armor but the look of something made from a Nayzaga.

The store also offers premium outfits and weapons with no stats — to be used with transmog stones as much as you want — as well as new emotes for use during missions.

Dauntless – Graphics

There’s no getting around it: Dauntless is a pretty game. The islands you fly to offer a lot of environmental variety, from deserts, to tundra to lush forest. Weather conditions like rain and dust storms sometimes pop up, though it’s more a cosmetic affect than something affecting gameplay.

Ramsgate is really unique too, though there’s not much to do in it. Clearly the developers have left ample room for new characters and content — this is still a beta, after all.

Dauntless Island

Islands can have a variety of different looks.

The Behemoths themselves all look great. Most of them have very unique designs and movements. When combat’s in full swing — with trees falling as a behemoth barrels into them, and your band of merry hunters all wailing away on its limbs, horns, and other threatening appendages — it’s a real visual treat.

I haven’t run into any performance issues over the last few weeks as I’ve been playing it, though this is hardly the easiest game to run. You’ll need at least a moderately powerful PC.

Dauntless – Conclusion

Dauntless shrike

Dauntless is still very much a game in beta, and that makes sense — it only launched at the end of May. Behemoths still have the occasional animation hiccup, and hit boxes sometimes seem a little out of sync.

Rather than loading you back into Ramsgate immediately, you’re bumped back to the island you fought on for a few moments after you finish a hunt. Nothing you do during this in-between phase seems to matter — materials you pick up don’t stay with you. When I started playing the game, this period was pretty long. It’s gotten shorter as the game updates, so no doubt it’ll go away at some point.

Outside of the few honestly pretty unimportant technical hitches, the game’s a little lacking content-wise. There’s very little in the way of narrative, and really not a lot of variety to the gameplay. It’s basically an endless cycle of hunting and crafting.

That loop may be short, but it’s definitely good. The weapon variety keeps combat fresh and the different behemoths all offer fun and varied challenges. Crafting is satisfying and really strikes a good balance between adding complexity and staying accessible.

There’s more content on the way too. Developer Phoenix Labs announced the game’s first expansion, the Coming Storm, is coming Aug. 9, and will bring new behemoths, missions, and story content.

Dauntless’ beta status means it could change a lot in the coming weeks and months. From what I’ve seen so far, the game seems like it’s on the right track. As for the cost? That’s the best part, you can actually play it for free (PC only), though there are “supporter packs” that range from $35-$99 and give you access to special items and rewards.

Pick up Dauntless for free!

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