Dauntless Thoughts

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This morning I am going to talk a bit about a topic I had originally planned on doing so earlier in the week.  Dauntless is a game that I have a brief history with because I got to play it at a Pax South shortly after it was announced.  I was supremely bad at this game having never really played a Monster Hunter title before and never quite grasped the concept of being able to heal myself up…  and wound up getting downed over and over.  Enough times that I fear I was probably the reason why my playtest group of randos failed to take down the encounter.  If I am remembering correctly I think we were going up against Quillshot, but I could be completely wrong.  The game sparked curiosity in me, but never enough to pay my way into the alpha or beta testing process through a founders pack.  Time moved on and Monster Hunter World was announced…  at which point I remember saying that Dauntless ultimately had to hit market before that game to be successful.  I signed on to play the console version of MHW and everything else is history…  with me not being completely indoctrinated into the cult of hunting monsters for fun and profit.

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In the meantime however Dauntless has “released” on PC, and I say that in quotes because it claims to be in Open Beta.  However if you open the floodgates to all players….  and publicly announce that you are not going to do any more resets…  then your game has launched albeit in a super buggy state.  I would also argue the moment they started taking money from customers…  they also launched the game but that is a whole other discussion.  On May 24th I joined the madness as folks bombarded their servers generating queues in the hundreds of thousands.  I’ve heard of some folks who had to wait eight hours or more to get through the queue…  only to get disconnected and have to deal with the process all over again.  I personally lucked out in that I left the launcher running on my Desktop and by the time I made it home from work on Friday I had made my way through the queue and was ready to sit down and play the game.

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At it’s core Dauntless is Monster Hunter…  but simplified.  I am sure this is not exactly the definition they would like me to use…  but instead of Hunters we are Slayers and instead of Monsters we are fighting Behemoths.  Ultimately Dauntless feels what happens when you create a Monster hunting game… without over a decades worth of history to draw upon.  Monster Hunter World feels rich and vibrant in part because it stands on the shoulders of over a dozen different games and a massive back catalog of creatures to draw from.  Comparitively Dauntless feels extremely simplistic as if the Monster Hunting concept is drilled down to its most basic concepts.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for folks coming from the PC who might be completely new to the genre but even after getting used to a single Monster Hunter game I find that Dauntless lacks a lot of the nuance and subtlety that World had.

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This is most noticeable in the Behemoth design which feels less like you are fighting an unpredictable living creature and more like you are going through the motions of a World of Warcraft style raid encounter.  Behemoths attack in patterns that end up making the encounter feel more predictable.  Sure it might be technically challenging to perform the right ability at the right time, but it never really feels like I am trying to read the monster so much as simply responding to a very obvious tell that is happening before each attack.  There are several encounters where you just sorta stand back and let the Behemoth finish its nonsense before getting back in an engaging again.  The combat also feels fairly formulaic in that I mostly focused on breaking each one of the weak points similar to how we might fight Kulve Taroth, in order to get maximum rewards at the end.  Once you have taken out all of the weak points however…  the fights largely feel like you are hitting a wet bag of hitpoints with no real visual way of knowing how close you are to winning.  Sure the monster tacks on visible damage, but it doesn’t actually seem to make the fight any different, and when a monster runs…  they just sort of blink to another area of the island rather than giving you the opportunity to stun and continue the fight.  There is never a point where the monster seems to be tired… or limping or otherwise effected by your actions but instead just unceremoniously falls over whenever you have depleted its invisible health bar.

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Another challenge with Dauntless is that it feels very limited in scope.  You don’t really have world to explore but instead a chain of disconnected floating islands that have no more personality than a walled arena.  Sure there are a few resources out there that you can gather to make potions, but there is no real joy of exploration as every single game mode revolves around taking down a specific monster.  My favorite mode in Monster Hunter World for example is their version of Expeditions where I can roam around interacting with everything on a map without actually chasing down a Monster…  or if I get the urge I can take one out at my own pace.  Dauntless has effectively four game modes…  quests that you are given by your trainer, patrols, expeditions and pursuit.  The quests obviously have a specific scope that generally revolves around introducing you to a new monster that you will be hunting.  Patrols involve dropping into a specific zone and facing off against a random monster that lives on that island…  giving you some bonus armor and weapon crafting bits to account for the non-targeted nature.  Expeditions do a very similar thing…  but this time you get a cache of crafting materials used for making potions and such.  Pursuit gives you the ability to focus in on a single monster that you want to hunt…  with a slightly lesser bit of armor and weapon materials since you know exactly what you are going up against.  The problem is…  all of these modes are essentially the same apart from the reward package.  Behemoth is the game of dropping from weird looking airships onto tiny islands to fight monsters.

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I don’t want to give the impression that Dauntless is not an enjoyable experience, because it absolutely is.  The problem however is that the one area the game really shines… is only due to the fact that Capcom and the Monster Hunter team really don’t understand how the internet works.  I’ve railed on just how annoying the grouping experience in Monster Hunter World is… in that it involves shifting back and forth between lobbies and quest boards… with no real system to let you easily join a party with some of your groups and go off and do stuff together. Dauntless has this all covered with a solid chat interface and friends lists and the simple ability to form a group with people and then queue to do stuff.  There is nothing I have encountered that does not support simply queuing for it… which is absolutely not the case in Monster Hunter World.  Kulve Taroth is a great example of how contorted the alternative can be… in that you have to find a lobby where people are running that encounter and then hope there is enough room in an active group to be able to get in and fight the monster.  You could absolutely have the misfortune of joining what looked like a fully lobby where only one team of four players is actually doing the event…  and everyone else is off doing random stuff.  Dauntless is simple…  if you want to do something with a friend you simply invite them to your party and then start an activity…  no fuss no muss.

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I feel like at some point in the future…  Dauntless is going to be a truly great game.  The problem is… it needs time to bake.  Sure it has been in development for several years now, but it needs time to gain the same level of richness that the varied Monster Hunter experience has.  All of the weapons feel simplistic in comparison to the wide variety of play styles available in Monster Hunter, and there is the huge problem of not actually having a ranged game at all.  This was the point at which a few of my friends checked out of Dauntless because they were bow or bowgun mains in  Monster Hunter.  The problem is after doing some of these fights…  the mechanics and encounters really are not balanced in a way as to support a ranged player which is probably going to be an issue moving forward.  I like the game quite a bit and have spent a bunch of time playing it over the last week and some change, but it isn’t quite ready to support the level of devotion that I gave to Monster Hunter World.  This is likely going to be one of those once or twice a week games for me, because I am extremely curious to see how it evolves.  Unfortunately in the meantime though… it lacks a lot of features and cannot really properly be throned as “the PC Monster Hunter”.