Quick thoughts on Dauntless from a Monster Hunter player
A promising start
The Monster Hunter series was always two things here in America: a console/handheld exclusive and never developed by a Western studio. Dauntless aims to change that status quo.
I've put in a few hours into the very, and I mean very early Alpha build, and so far, I think Phoenix Labs is certainly on the right track. I've made my character, completed a few short tutorials and hunted some of the game's signature Behemoths. I won't go too in depth regarding the game's graphics, environments, and UI since the game will undoubtedly undergo a lot of changes until its Beta and final release.
I've tried out four different weapons in the Alpha, as so far those are the only ones available: Sword, axe, hammer and chain blades. As far as difficulty and technical gameplay go, the sword seems to be the most beginner friendly, while the chain blades sit on the opposite spectrum, being the most technically advanced weapon. I'll get into these a bit later.
The one thing I was mostly interested in, besides the "feel" of combat, is just how impressive the monsters are. Both in terms of their design, but also, and more importantly, their behavior. One of the best things about Monster Hunter games is just how sometimes unpredictable the monster behavior is. Sure, you can learn their patterns through careful observation, or you know that during a hunt, a monster will most likely flee once they feel they're in danger. However, it must be stated that how each monster moves and executes its various moves feels unpredictable and "organic." The first fight against the Rogue Gnasher is deceptively easy. The movements seem incredibly telegraphed, to the point where my first fight against him, I barely got hit. Needless to say, I was worried.
However, I only truly saw what a Gnasher could do when I fought it's normal form, without its Rogue status, and things certainly began to look up. All of a sudden I saw new patterns, ones that weren't immediately recognizable and predictable like its Rogue predecessor. There was also a form change when periodically the Gnasher would enter a sort of berserk state and get much more aggressive. This was the kind of fight I was looking forward to, and it was only the beginning.
Much like the Rogue Gnasher, the Rogue Shrike, which is this giant half-owl half-bear creature, was relatively easy, even though it certainly held its own against another random player and me. This Behemoth's Rogue form was a significant step up from the Gnasher's. However, it seems like the Rogues tend to be Behemoths that don't deal as much damage along with not utilizing their full moveset. After fighting the actual Gnasher, I welcomed any proceeding Rogue Behemoth I fought since it allowed me to get somewhat accustomed to its moveset and how it moves through the environment. It's an excellent primer for the actual hunt to come.
The Monsters themselves have interesting designs, ranging from a pig-snouted lizard that shoots out quills from its back to the aptly named Embermane which is a horned Behemoth coated with fire. The monsters I've fought so far we're only slightly bigger than myself, and I do wonder if there are plans to have much larger Behemoths, the size of giant dragons for example.
As far as combat goes, it feels slightly faster and more responsive than Monster Hunter does. That's certainly not a knock on Monster Hunter since slower more deliberate attacks are the core of the game's underlying mechanics. Dauntless goes for tighter combat, which still ends up feeling pretty good. In fact, its most responsive weapon which feels more like it belongs in God of War are the chain blades. Even dodging feels more immediate and snappy. In most cases, you're able to break your attacks mid-combo, allowing you to roll or dodge to safety. However, some combo finishers have lengthier animations, and once those are activated, you'll have to wait until their finished to regain movement and dodge capabilities. It feels good to learn a Behemoth's attack pattern and start to see various openings where to unleash your more powerful moves and deal some extra damage.
I walked away loving the sword and chain blades the most since they seemed to offer the kind of gameplay style that suits me personally. The sword, being a very beginner friendly weapon, is a great damage dealer with easy to pull off combos and a relatively user-friendly Special Action, which is this game's equivalent to Hunter Arts. Standard attacks build up your special gauge, while your power attacks dish out elemental damage. You can then activate your special gauge by either unleashing an Elemental Blast as a combo finisher or with a full gauge; you can do an Elemental Overdrive, which speeds up your attacks and adds an elemental status to each attack.
The chain blades, on the other hand, are a bit more technical. Their standard attack consists of quick close range hits that deal a good amount of damage, while the alternate attack sends the blades out on chains for a ranged attack, which deals somewhat less damage. It also drains your stamina, so it's important not to overuse this. Unlike the sword, the chain blade's Special Action doesn't revolve around dealing damage but rather getting the player into the action and out of it safely. With each charge, you can either hook yourself to the monster and propel yourself to them instantly, or while you're next to the monster, you can press it to push yourself off and jump backward to safety. Mastering these moves in conjunction with various combo attacks make the chain blades a very versatile weapon.
I'm excited to see this game continue to improve. Right now, I'm not a huge fan of the same environments we fight in. The idea of floating islands is cool, and thematically, I like that the quest timer is tied to your airship's power. However, I am excited to see some more varied environments. More weapon types are coming, as is indicated by the game's UI, so I'm excited to see those and how they change up the combat mechanics.
Do I recommend buying into the current Alpha? That's a tough question. If you're a hardcore Monster Hunter fan and want to witness and participate in the growth of this game actively, then absolutely. I believe player input will make this game even better in the end. However, given its very rough state, those who are looking to simply play the game and experience it as it's being developed, should probably wait until the Beta period, when those edges are looking a little less rough.
With that said, you can check out the Founder's Packs here and see for yourself.