Dauntless – Aether Unbound (v1.0) (PS4) Review

Dauntless is finally here as a full game! The game has been in early access for months but now it has reached version 1.0 coming as part of the game’s biggest update yet. If you don’t already know, Dauntless is a free to play action RPG game available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One where you play solo or as a group of up to 4 players to defeat a behemoth in intense combat scenarios. Developed by Phoenix Labs and published by Epic Games, the game is increasing in popularity as there are bigger and better updates coming frequently.

Whether you’re new to the game or if you’ve been playing since it first appeared on the store, here’s why now is the best time to get involved in the fight against the behemoths for the Shattered Isles!
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Dauntless begins with you undergoing a briefing onboard a ship with some very important leaders. The briefing tells you of behemoths, huge and powerful monsters which have appeared all over the land causing destruction and chaos. As a new recruit, you must learn to take on these behemoths to drive them away. As part of your briefing, you will be able to create your own character which then appears during the in-game cutscene. The journey in the ship doesn’t quite go as planned and you’re thrown into a 1 v 1 with the first behemoth as a sort of tutorial. Once you have defeated this nasty-Raticate-from-Pokémon-looking thing known as a Gnasher, you are extracted and shown your new home. That’s really about it for the story which may disappoint some players but really, this is all about the fighting.

As this game is online-only and very social, it wouldn’t be complete without its own hub area. If you’ve played games like Destiny 2, for example, you will know how this town works. In Dauntless, the area is called Ramsgate, a village on the Shattered Isles where you essentially have multiple vendors who all offer different missions, rewards and things for sale. You will go to each of them to receive different missions to then get rewards related to what they sell. This can be things like grenades, potions or cores which can be opened to get cells to upgrade your armour and weapon pieces. Whatever you do in Dauntless, you’re always achieving something. Whether you go into a hunt for a particular chosen behemoth or for a patrol for any behemoth of a particular type, there are always materials to gather or pieces of monster to break. It rewards you for playing more and more but even if you only have one fight, you’re going to be gaining something.

Also in the hub area, you can interact with other players in limited ways such as typing messages to each other and showing off your emotes. It sounds boring, and it mostly is, but you will definitely be jumping around the main hub area with random people showing off your new emotes and armour before you know it. Most importantly though, which you will 100% do more than anything else here, is that you can pet the dogs! They are so cute and they have such a satisfying response to you fluffing them. Anyway, unfortunately, unlike Destiny 2 though there isn’t a fan to jump on or a football to kick around but there is a secret turtle you can find and 10 items to collect every day that contributes to your hunt pass level.
dauntless 2+1The Combat
What really makes Dauntless stand out is the combat. There are a huge variety of weapons and cells to upgrade them, which each have their own abilities and strengths and weaknesses. Couple this with the huge number of behemoths to hunt and there’s a game that is full of ways to tackle fights. The behemoths are brilliantly well designed and they each have their own crazy attacks and challenges. Some behemoths are agile and nippy, yet some are huge and imposing while some rely on buildable weapons to attack you from various angles. There’s a lot of variety and each behemoth feels truly unique. There are even more dangerous fights later in the game as you discover more advanced versions of the earlier behemoths.

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So, how exactly are we going to defeat these huge beasts? With the awesome weapon choices, that’s how! There are now 7 weapon types that all offer different playstyles with their own pros and cons. The types are the hammer, the war pike, the chain blades, the Ostian repeaters, the sword, the axe and the new strikers. The pike, hammer and axe are heavier, slower weapons that can break parts off of behemoths easier, the sword and chain blades can inflict wound damage that makes the behemoth bleed, while the repeaters and strikers offer long-range or up close base damage, depending on how gung-ho you are.

Each of these weapons have cell slots which can offer you various upgrades, including better chance to stagger behemoths, more stamina and even chances to recover health. There is a choice for every type of playstyle and you can own each type of weapon so you’re never limited to sticking to one of them through your entire time on Dauntless.
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To further deepen the experience these weapons each have subtypes where they have an elemental effect. There are multiple elements that add more of a tactical edge to the hunts. Each behemoth has a type, in the same vein as Pokémon for example. They will then have a strength or weakness based on their type which you will need to be aware of to try and get the advantage in the fight. For example, if you’re against a fire type behemoth, it’s best to go in with a frost weapon to get bonus damage. Also, you should go in with some fire type armour to get the most resistance from the behemoth’s attacks.

For a free-to-play game, there is some incredible depth to the game that you possibly wouldn’t expect. You might argue that it overcomplicates things and makes it feel a bit more of a grind to get all these weapons and types levelled up but realistically, this isn’t going to be a game that you play hardcore for hours on end and is more of a palate cleanser when you have an hour to kill. Still, the depth is truly impressive for a free-to-play game and allows those who are a bit more hardcore about behemoth slaying to truly dig into the intricacies of each fight and you do see some people who basically lead you through fights.

This is made even easier with the guilds, where you can form groups and party up to fight behemoths together. Communication can definitely help, as you can revive each other and use the different weapon types to pick behemoths apart. The behemoths are stronger if you enter as a group so it’s definitely important to enter with some kind of plan, especially if you’re tackling some of the later fights which can be extremely tricky. The way the game makes it playable for solos or group players, casual or hardcore players really is impressive, it doesn’t feel like you need to be a certain type of player, it’s very well balanced.
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Aether Unbound (1.0)?  What’s new?
So, as the game enters version 1.0 the game has brought with it the biggest expansion yet. There have been a few new big additions that have given us even more content in Dauntless on top of an already everlasting array of armours, behemoths and weapons. Here are the two biggest parts of the update:

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First of all is the new weapon type, the Aether Strikers. The strikers are possibly my new favourite weapon type in the game, as they introduce an all-new play style. The strikers are essentially gloves that require you to be up close to inflict damage with fists of fury. They are available from fairly early on but to people who have been playing the game in early access, they will be available to you immediately if you’ve already passed the point where they unlock. They work in a very unique way, where you must land combos to build up a bar which then earns you mantras. Charging mantras then opens up two abilities. Those abilities are then used to maintain your mantras to follow up with even stronger attacks known as techniques.

It sounds complicated at first and it takes a little getting used to but when you do, I think it’s the most satisfying weapon on the game. Of course, being up close means you will have to play a much riskier playstyle, but you definitely see the rewards for your aggression; they certainly pack a punch. Hardcore players will love the huge amount of levelling up this will now add to the game while also having fun with a new way to defeat behemoths. Alongside this, there are also new quests to get you introduced to the strikers and give you the added incentive of unleashing your rage on behemoths, although I’m not sure we need another excuse to beat up those huge monstrosities.
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Also new are the bounties. Bounties are a way to level up your hunt pass quicker without having to go out of your way or do any more unnecessary grinding. By spending a bounty token (which you can earn back in random loot drops or by purchasing a ‘hunt pass’) you can select up to 4 bounties to work towards whilst going on your hunts and patrols. They could be ‘defeat 10 behemoths’, ‘deal x amount of damage’ or maybe ‘using a certain weapon’. They are much easier than the previous weekly challenges which were overly long and quite simply unrealistic to most casual players of the game. This new bounty system is a much-welcomed addition as it allows more people to hit more levels on the hunt pass in a simpler and less grindy way.

These are on top of the also recently released changes for the better such as saved load-outs, improved and clearer menus, new exotic weapons and the lady luck trials. These trials are only available for the best of the best slayers around, open only once you reach the current final behemoths, Rezakiri and Shrowd. It’s fair to say that the game is being incredibly well supported, with frequent balance changes and bug fixes along with these brilliant new features. Developers Phoenix Labs definitely need praising for their dedication to the game as it truly gets better and better with more and more to do all the time, all free of charge!

There is a ‘hunt pass’ that you can purchase with real money periodically by seasons, similar to that other Epic published game you might have heard of called Fortnite… These are by no means pay-to-win, instead, they offer various cosmetic items such as armour skins and emotes and don’t offer an advantage over people who don’t wish to invest in the pass if they don’t want to.

Official Trailer

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Final Conclusion:
As far as free-to-play games go, Dauntless is easily one of the more addictive and fun ones going that isn’t a battle royale. The option to play with up to 3 friends or solo in some fantastic battles with huge monsters feels like something I’d usually be more than happy to pay for. There is a huge amount of strategy that is possible if you delve deep enough but you can also play very casually if you aren’t fussed about levelling up every single weapon or armour piece. The game does have a massive grind feel to it which will put a lot of people off, which is why unless your back-catalogue is small (lucky you) you will probably only play the game for short bursts between the all-day sessions of your other games. That being said, the game is more than adequate to pass a few hours as well, I’ve definitely fallen victim to the “one more fight” syndrome and realised 3 hours have passed.

Dauntless is a brilliant and lengthy free-to-play game – one that has and will be supported with crazy amounts of content. The latest update that pushed the game out of early access is its biggest and best update yet, especially with the release of the ridiculously fun new striker weapons. With a lot of content and the ability to play with friends, Dauntless is at least worth giving a shot. Obviously, it draws comparisons with Monster Hunter World but if you need another fix of David vs Behemoth action, this will more than quench your blood-thirstiness.

A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Dauntless

FREE
8.5

Final Score

8.5/10

The Good:

  • - Tonnes of content
  • - Frequent updates
  • - Great Behemoth designs
  • - The weapons are fun to use
  • - You can pet the dogs!

The Bad:

  • - Lack of a real story
  • - A heavy grind is needed
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