I'm on the hunt!

So, Dauntless. This is a game that's been kicking around for a while in beta over in PC land, but then it all of a sudden just, boom, dropped with hardly any warning on consoles. So little time, in fact, that it's taken me this long just to be able to put solid time in and come to grips with the game's unique quirks. Which we're going to talk about.

First, though, let's talk about what it is. To put it in a sentence, it's an F2P hunting-action game that's now tied into Epic's whole system and modus-operandi. To explain that in longer form...Okay, so, you know F2P, Free-To-Play. You know how Epic does their F2P gaming, like Fortnite, with the whole season pass, free tier versus paid tier, cash shop for cosmetics model. That's all pretty well-worn territory for anyone enthusiastic enough about this hobby to be reading reviews.

Let's grab that middle bit. Hunting-action. Have you played Monster Hunter? This is Monster Hunter. Like, as a genre. If you haven't...First, you're missing out. Second, let's touch in.

The core pitch of a hunting-action game is just that. Hunting and action. The basic model goes like this: You pick a monster to hunt. It's gonna be this bloody huge bastard of a thing, like a dragon or something. You're gonna take your huge fuck-off weapon of choice, and you're gonna track it down on a map, and you're gonna kill it, skin it, and turn it into a real nice pair of pants.

Pants that are fireproof, since it was a dragon and all.

Between the hunts, you're crafting weapons and armor out of monster parts, gathering supplies for consumables and equipment, and generally prepping for that next hunt. And ideally doing it with friends, since the whole genre's built on co-op combat against the monsters.

You're usually gonna get a story path, but real talk, this is a genre where the grind is the point. You're supposed to go in, fight the same damn dragon half a dozen times so it'll finally, finally, drop the last thing you need to make your really cool helmet, then go fight the next thing. Again, all with your buddies.

So, as a hunting-action game, how's Dauntless?

At the core, pretty damn solid, actually. You've only got a handful of weapon types at this time (we'll get back to that idea), but they're all well executed, with a variety of combat options and each one having a big gimmick. That said, fair warning: If you like being at range, everything but the dual pistols is a melee weapon, and even those are meant for close quarters. You're not sniping here.

That said, when everything's butter smooth, the combat is well executed. Your movesets are perhaps a bit lean, but every weapon has a few interesting combos and tricks, and there's solid feel to each one. Even the basic sword feels like it's got some heft and force when you swing it. The one complaint I would make in this area is that the monsters don't react a ton to hits; I'm not looking for them to be stunned every time I poke them, but a little more stumbling, howling, or just generally noticing the big blows would be nice.

Of course, I had to put a qualifier there. When everything's butter smooth. Because it isn't always. And that gets us into some flaws. A big one, for me, is that the game is fully always online. Even a solo hunt requires pinging a server and setting up an instanced session, you just don't have to wait for the matchmaker to find people after you do it.

I will say that that matchmaker is good. I had no trouble finding a full party when I wanted one. And the netcode holds up pretty alright even with that full party. It's just...It feels a little silly, to have network hiccups when I'm fighting solo against a monster. Know what I mean?

Which reminds me of the menus. And I'm...Kind of of two minds on these. First, there are some parts that are really good.

Like, picking a monster to hunt, either for a quest or to get that sweet loot? They're straight up listed by element and then in order of strength, as you unlock them. It makes it far easier to find just the monster you're looking for.

But then you have problems like how messy and ill-explained a lot of the inventory stuff is. Or how how prominent some of the cash shop and premium season pass stuff is, including the fact that said pass gets you extra loot on your hunts. Which...Means either the game is balanced to need that and later endeavors are gonna hurt, or it's balanced not to need that and supporting the devs is going to throw your difficulty curve all out of whack.

Now, all that said, we have to also look at this as a very living model. This is very very much a games-as-a-service title, and while it's been cooking for a minute on PC, this console release is in many ways its first big unveiling. There's still a lot of early work here, and a lot to refine.

Hell, like I mentioned before, it's not out of the realm of possibility that entirely new weapon types might be on their way. The game didn't even start with all six currently in play. So with more willingness to really crank up the flow, including the formal season model, there's likely going to be quite a lot to come back to and enjoy for a while.

Which gets us to the big question. Worth it? Not worth it?

So, here's the thing. We're talking about a free to play game with production values. Right out the gate, I think you should give it a bit of your time, just because it's there and free and well built.

The real question, then, is investment. Both of serious time, and of real cash. Do you jump on that season pass, do you pour hours into this and get your friends involved?

That's...A bit more murky.

There's a lot of rough edges on this, still. Menus that are funky, performance that's a bit wobbly, behaviors and animations that are just kind of...weird. I had a glitch at one point, where my lantern just straight up didn't work. Could not use any of its abilities, I'd hit the button and it would use the charge up but no effect.

On the other hand, there's also a lot of promise and a lot of heart. And I've seen some of how the game looked before, it's improved a lot already.

I guess for me, it comes down to this. Try it. Try it with a couple friends if you can. See how you get on. But if the rough edges bug you...Come back in a couple months and give it another go.