My fellow fanatics, I got lucky recently and actually got into a server to check out the brand new free-to-play action RPG, Dauntless. I made my character, went through the tutorial, and tucked into the newest craze in gaming right now.
And within minutes I only had one thought in my mind: this seems a lot like Monster Hunter. Yes, it seems that Capcom’s best-selling game of all time about guys with oversized weapons beating up giant monsters has a legitimate piece of mainstream competition. True, there were other attempts to ape this formula with series like God Eater and Ragnarok Odyssey but neither of them have gained so much popularity that their servers had players waiting for hours just to log in.
So, my fellow fanatics, let’s stack up Dauntless to Capcom’s Monster Hunter World and see how their strengths, weaknesses, and differences stack up.
Story and Atmosphere
Honestly, this section is more of a formality. Both games have tissue-thin plots that basically amount to “giant monsters are threatening our village, go team up with some friends and stop them,” with increasing levels of scale and intensity.
It is in tone and attitude that the games really show their true colors. Monster Hunter World is set in a fantasy world centered around a pioneering exploratory force. You’re always either working with a research team or making plans to settle down and colonize new territory, the monster battles being framed as a form of colonialism: the natural order testing your ability to survive and cultivate in such harsh environments. There’s even a sort of caveman vs. dinosaur aesthetic going on since most of your weapons look like they’re being fashioned from crude metal or giant bones and the monsters imitating the appearance of ancient predators like the T-Rex or velociraptors.
Dauntless on the other hand goes for more swashbuckling high-fantasy with its appearance. The setting is full of flying wooden ships with magical sails, the arenas are depicted as giant floating islands teeming with some unnatural source of energy, and the overall look of the weapons and armor you obtain is greatly stylized, the kind of bold large design that wouldn’t be out of place in World of Warcraft. While I haven’t gotten too into the story, there really doesn’t appear to be too much in the details of Dauntless’ world and what you do in it. You’re still part of an elite group who kills monsters, in this case they’re called Behemoths, but it seems to be partly to protect people and partly to harvest the magical Aetherite energy for exploratory or alchemical means.
In short, both games are upfront about what they’re all about, just in their own special way, making this an honest case of whatever your tastes are.
Combat and Progression
The devil, as they say, is in the details and it is here where things get interesting. Both games are hack and slash action RPGs where you and up to three other players team up for drawn out brawls with creatures, using special skills, items, and weapon abilities to turn the battle in your favor. Both games feature hub areas where you incrementally improve your gear and craft items in preparation for the next hunt. And both games really make no attempts to hide that this very basic yet addictive gameplay loop is the focus of the experience.
It is here that Monster Hunter World clearly shows itself as a more involved, legacy experience. There are fourteen different weapon types to choose from, each one of them can be improved but in convoluted ways through a progression tree. There’s an entire thesaurus’ worth of perks and abilities that come with certain pieces of armor that can be mixed and matched. There’s even a research mechanic where you can learn every little detail about each monster from the three or four different element and damage types it’s affected by and what body parts are easily broken. There’s even a consistent internal logic regarding certain monsters being territorial against others, acting out reliable patterns in the world like stealing eggs or actively hunting weaker prey, and reliable, predictable locations where they will go to nest, rest, or protect themselves.
And while I don’t wish to completely reword my review of the game here, you can just read for yourself, this is the series after it took a large axe to more of its time-consuming systems like spending too much time fishing, mining, and scavenging for herbs in order to refine and focus the experience for a more general audience, and leaning on this depth and complexity to engage and retain the player base.
Unfortunately, for those who haven’t exactly marinaded in the series’ own internal logic and shorthand, the result was a mixed bag. Despite a lot of clutter being cut down, Monster Hunter World’s tutorial was very much a case of the player figuring things out for themselves and not exactly preparing them for more advanced play. For some players this was seen as a positive, being able to just pick up a weapon and go to town, but it could also overwhelm newcomers. A few friends I spoke to never even got to what amounts to the end of the game’s first third because the more in-depth elements were still vague and hard to grasp, while friends I knew as Monster Hunter veterans were already at endgame content shaking their heads at how things had been dumbed down.
Also despite me loving the weighty punchy combat, a lot of new players will find it absurdly slow and cumbersome. While each weapon does have a tangible heft and weight to them, it comes at the cost of responsiveness and the sense of agency. You swing your weapon, you are dedicated to that wind-up, the whiff, and your character dragging the weapon back to its ready position, and depending on what you’re fighting that can be enough to end you. This even extends to using items. Something as simple as using a potion will have your character take out the flask, spend several seconds chugging away to get your health back up, then putting the flask away, you being completely vulnerable the entire time. Despite variety, several of the weapon types can feel too much like a hat on a hat to the layman, examples like the Heavy Bowgun compared to the Light Bowgun or the Charge Blade compared to the Greatsword. And the only real response to this complaint usually boils down to “just get used to it” by series veterans. As if “git gud” mutated and passed on from the Dark Souls tryhards.
Finally, even though Monster Hunter World has the best online infrastructure in the franchise, it is a lot more complicated than you think to just team up with friends for a hunt. Or even stick around for multiple hunts back to back.
Dauntless by comparison is a much simpler affair. There are only six available weapon types, and improving them is straightforward. Pick a weapon you like, go fight some stuff, use items to make its damage numbers go up. The same thing applies to armor. The only real shake-ups to this are elemental advantages and minor perks on certain items. Using a fire weapon against an ice monster yields more damage. Wearing this helmet gives you a five percent increase to damage against a monster that’s enraged. All basic and understandable shorthand that’s been used in countless RPGs before, and no real reliance on internal terms.
Combat is a lot faster as well. Everything from attacking, healing, getting special parts broken off a monster, or putting down support abilities happens almost immediately. In fact, fighting the monsters up close seems to be the only real approach in Dauntless since the only dedicated ranged weapon is a pair of dual pistols, and there is a greater emphasis on attack speed, and persistent damage. There is also a distinct lack of alternative items like traps, poisoned bait, and tranquilizers. If you’re gonna fight monsters in Dauntless, there’s only one real way to do it.
This may upset players who enjoy a more meticulous measured approach, but for those that do groove on Dauntless’ wavelength the six weapon types presented do hold certain defined roles. The War Pike has a lot of reach and is meant more to interrupt and take creatures with quick jabs and reactive strikes, the Sword is great for doing damage across multiple parts of the monster at once, and the Hammer is… still used to smash a monster’s head in to stun it.
As for monster variety, Dauntless is in a weird position. Presentation wise, there is something very artificial and game-y about each hunt. You are sent to a collection of floating islands, sometimes with a bit of snow or sand on it, and the monster you’re hunting is hiding somewhere completely by itself. There’s no real way to track it other than just to spread out and hope you bump into it. Admittedly, this is due to Dauntless not being a premium experience with years of iteration backing its final design, and demanding such in-depth detail from both environment and enemy AI would be ludicrous, so it’s a case of the developers wisely choosing where to put their focus.
And that focus is in distinct visual design. While the variety in Capcom’s latest installment mostly amounts to variations of dragons and hulking dinosaurs, Dauntless’ monster designs feel like a remix of a classic Dungeons and Dragons monster manual. There are lava-spewing salamanders, burrowing turtle creatures that levitate rocks as armor and improvised weapons, and freaking owl bears. The only real issue is that a lot of these designs are shamelessly repackaged for variety. For example, the owl bear creature, the Shrike, simply gets ice-powers and is simply re-named a Skraev.
Also in terms of online infrastructure, Dauntless is a lot more appealing. Every time you start a hunt, you will be matchmade with random players, but joining friends’ games or starting your own guild is just a few button presses away. A far cry from the competition’s more vague and confusing rules of having to join hunts in progress or making an entire dedicated room or server.
It also cannot be understated that Dauntless is one of the first official major games of 2019 to completely support cross-platform multiplayer. No matter if you’re playing on an Xbox, a PlayStation, or a PC, you can play with friends and others online and enjoy the experience all the same.
Monster Hunter World has been out for a year and has been slowly dishing out free seasonal updates and cross-over events with other major gaming properties such as Street Fighter, Final Fantasy, and The Witcher. Its latest addition, Iceborne is a premium paid expansion said to add in a brand new location and even more monsters to hunt, including more diverse creatures from the series’ past. It’s an old school form of support, but when the base experience has hundreds of hours worth of monsters to kill, it can get away with it.
As for Dauntless, its model is a lot more familiar. The entire game is free-to-play and is full of the kind of microtransactions one can expect. Cosmetic looks for weapons and armor, special and goofy emotes to help you stand out from the crowd, and even a form of loot box that grants you powerful augmentations to give you that extra edge in a hunt. The latter is actually acceptable since the entire game is co-op focused and every single augment received has some utility to it, no useless clutter or obvious pay-to-win nonsense going on here. And there is even a hunting pass, similar to Fortnite, where you pay a certain amount of money upfront, and by beating challenges and continuously playing the game you earn unique cosmetic items and costumes based on a theme.
A lot of this is standard for a free-to-play experience, but it also showcases how much more of a personal touch Dauntless lets you have. Wanna look like a ninja? You got it. Want to make your chain blades look a certain way? Go for it. Want your intro to each hunt be a time vortex thing like The Terminator? Nothing’s stopping you… aside from possibly an empty wallet.
Dauntless may be the new kid on the block, but it does a lot right when it comes to first impressions. While its gameplay is a lot more straightforward and basic, it ultimately ends up its greatest strength. Anyone can jump into this game and immediately get it. Plus it somehow manages to be more varied with a smaller pool of monster designs compared to its competition. The actual hunts themselves aren’t exactly bursting with depth or strategy by comparison, but presentation and accessibility helps it considerably.
Monster Hunter World meanwhile is a game guilty of resting on its laurels. While there is an absurd amount of depth and strategy to be found, a lot of modern gaming conventions like personal expression and clear, coherent teaching of the player has been left wanting.
This isn’t to say one game is better than the other, far from it. Monster Hunter World now has legitimate competition, and the talented developers at Phoenix Labs should be commended for putting such a distinct spin on this type of action RPG with Dauntless. Time will tell if these things improve, but at the end of the day, this just means more interesting monsters to hunt and friends to make along the way.