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Dauntless’ first hours are welcoming to new players, fun for veteran monster hunters

Phoenix Labs’ monster hunting game is now in open beta

Phoenix Labs
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

The highly anticipated Dauntless, the first game by studio Phoenix Labs, entered open beta on May 24. This monster hunting game is all about getting a group of friends together, hunting down a behemoth and returning to town to build weapons and armor from its hide. Dauntless welcomes new players in with arms wide open, trading the extreme complexity the genre is know for in favor of a more friendly experience.

When you first drop into Ramsgate, the hub town in Dauntless, you’re instantly struck with the game’s sense of style. Everything about Dauntless is gorgeous. The weapons all look unique, the armor is fancy and every aspect of the behemoths shines in the game’s art style. Dauntless is colorful, which I found helpful for clarity when trying to grasp the game’s new monsters.

Each beast is different, although similar in size. They’re all some weird combination of existing animals and fantasy creatures. You start relatively simple, killing starter lizard that’s about as lethal as a training dummy. But then you move into fighting the Shrike, Dauntless’ mascot behemoth.

Imagine an owl but with the weight and power of a bear. That’s a Shrike. This beast can fly, but only very briefly, letting you know right away to move when it lifts off the ground. It’s the first fight in Dauntless that feels remotely threatening. Each attack by the beast is well telegraphed, which lets each move you make feel deliberate. Every swing of my hammer felt clumsy at first, but I was able to optimize after my first few Shrike kills.

I’m only a few hours in, but I’ve already taken down the fire turtle Charrogg, a couple beaver monsters called Gnashers, a shelled lizard called a Skarn, a porcupine-boar called a Quillshot, and more than my fair share of Shrikes. Each of these beasts feels different to play against, and the only real disappointment so far is the lack of size diversity between the creatures, although that could change as I move ahead.

Phoenix Labs

The best fight I’ve seen so far has been against the Skarn, a rotund lizard with a shell it keeps wrapped around its body. The catch is how the Skarn is able to move and control the shell with its mind. The shell breaks off from the behemoth in order to bolster their attacks, leaving one side or piece of the creature open. Its rewarding each time you play the fight, because you learn where the beast’s shell is placed at any given time. The more you learn to dodge the Skarn’s attacks, the more you can find the openings under its shell.

My main concern about Dauntless is how little complexity there seems to be after the first few hours. The combat is interesting enough, as are the behemoths, but in the few fights I’ve done against the same beasts, I’ve already found myself gaining mastery. Dauntless seems designed to be played for a long, long time by a dedicated player, but it remains to be seen if the game’s simplified systems will bore players in the long run.

This may be partially thanks to the lack of weapon diversity in the game currently. Right now, players can access the hammer, sword or chain blades from the outset of their adventure. As they move further into the game, they can unlock an ax and a war pike.

More weapons are supposedly coming soon, but the current slate of gear doesn’t seem like enough to satisfy dedicated players. But complexity has also been piled on gradually. For example, it took many hunts for me to unlock my first new lantern. For the first section of the game, I thought the lantern was a simple tool used to help you track the behemoths, as the first lantern you’re given helps you do just that. But after defeating a Skarn, I was able to trade that lantern in for a better one.

This new lantern can create a rotating wall of rocks around me, dealing damage to behemoths that get too close. Tapping the button will also give me a shield for a brief time. It’s an added layer of complexity added into a system that I didn’t expect, and it lets me replay fights I’ve already done a little differently. I hope to keep finding things like this as I move forward.

Phoenix Labs

My other big concern relates to the cell system. Each time you level up in Dauntless, you’re given a capsule that holds some cells in it, which you can then infuse into your weapons and armor. These cells don’t seem to do too much at the early level; they add some stats or bonuses here and there.

While not available for direct purchase at the moment, players can purchase boosts to their experience gains and thus increase the rate that they can earn cells. Playing for just a few hours, I never saw another way to get cells other than the blind boxes earned each time I leveled up, which is a little concerning.

Dauntless had some initial server problems on its first day, which is understandable for a game moving into open beta. But every time it went down or I got kicked out for some reason, I instantly got back into the 20-plus-minute queue to play. What’s there in Dauntless already is exciting and fun enough to keep me interested as it develops.

Each new behemoth I discover is a wonder and every new system they add changes so much about each hunt. I’m still discovering everything there is to Dauntless and I don’t want to stop playing until I’ve seen it all. The question that Dauntless leaves me with then is if it’ll still be this exciting when I kill my hundredth or even my thousandth Shrike. I don’t know now, but what I’ve played already has me excited to find out.

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