Daunt­less PC

A co-op RPG that’s out to bring mon­ster hunt­ing to the masses

EDGE - - GAMES -

Felling a beast the size of a mod­est sky­scraper is a univer­sal videogame fan­tasy – us­ing its parts to fash­ion your­self a fancy new pair of kicks, per­haps even more so. De­spite this, the Mon­ster Hunter se­ries has never re­ally man­aged to win over the west. Cap­com’s forth­com­ing Mon­ster Hunter: World is look­ing to change this, of course, ex­tend­ing a friendly hand to all with a world­wide, mul­ti­plat­form re­lease. There’s noth­ing quite as ac­ces­si­ble as ‘free’, though, is there?

Cana­dian de­vel­oper Phoenix Labs knows this. But then, Phoenix Labs knows a lot of things. Founded by a team of for­mer Riot Games devs, and since bol­stered by more hires from Bl­iz­zard, BioWare and Cap­com, the de­vel­oper is well-placed to snag a sec­tion of this genre’s ter­ri­tory. Daunt­less is its cham­pion: an ac­tion-RPG with a fo­cus on co-op that’s free to play, cer­tainly, but which our demo sug­gests is far from cheap.

What might have been a bloated swathe of open world is in­stead a se­lec­tion of sand­boxes that fit neatly within the game’s lore: fol­low­ing a cat­a­clysmic event, the world has shat­tered into sky is­lands men­aced by man-eat­ing Be­he­moths. Once you’ve gath­ered up to three friends in the so­cial hub, fast trav­el­ling to your prey’s par­tic­u­lar hunk of rock starts a hunt. Al­though the ar­eas we ex­plore are markedly sim­i­lar in de­sign (and a lit­tle empty, bar­ring a cou­ple of ner­vous deer-like crea­tures) they, too, look ex­pen­sive. Ethe­real fin­gers of light stretch through trees, over the car­toony grass and our stylised Slayer. Up ahead, a red flare ex­plodes in the sky: a pal has found the Be­he­moth.

This one is a Shrike, part-owl, part-bear, all sweep at­tacks and nasty di­ve­bombs. And

ground-pounds. Oh, and tor­na­does whipped up by its wings. And did we men­tion the talon slide-tack­les? It’s an in­tim­i­dat­ing and var­ied moveset. Each as­sault is sub­tly sign­posted in ad­vance, though briefly enough to con­stantly catch us by sur­prise. We’re not trou­bled enough to use our spe­cial moves, but there’s re­spon­sive­ness and depth to even the ba­sic com­bat which, like seem­ingly ev­ery­thing these days, cites the Souls games as a point of ref­er­ence. Vague hit­boxes and feather-light sword swings soon tell the real story. A prefer­able one: with Be­he­moths not stag­gered by blows, fights are weighted in their favour. A bal­anced co­op­er­a­tive chal­lenge is, it seems, the pri­or­ity.

Well, bal­ance and loot. The lat­ter takes the form of cores of vary­ing rar­ity, con­tain­ing craft­ing ma­te­ri­als with which to smith weapons and ar­mour. As in Mon­ster Hunter, tar­get­ing cer­tain parts of Be­he­moths will re­sult in spe­cific drops. Plenty of weapons can only be cre­ated with a smat­ter­ing of Shrike beak, for ex­am­ple; still more pow­er­ful ones might mean hav­ing to chop bits off a tougher beast, such as the icy, ar­madillo-like Pan­gar. More chal­leng­ing hunts re­quire com­mu­ni­ca­tion and prepa­ra­tion: there are no player classes in Daunt­less, so team com­po­si­tion is a mat­ter of load­outs. A set of chain blades in hand, and some Berserker po­tions on the D-pad, for in­stance, makes us the DPS to our part­ner’s tanky build.

Each weapon has its own perks; usu­ally one or two of­fer some mo­bil­ity. While our part­ner’s rocket ham­mer can pro­pel them into the air to get the drop on our prey, our chain blades are even slip­perier stuff. When a pan­icked Pan­gar rolls away from us dur­ing a se­cond, more dif­fi­cult hunt, we can throw our blades at its flank and reel our­selves in. The same abil­ity up close will pro­pel us away with a back­flip. In the­ory, this is a bit of smart de­sign that will have us slash­ing and slic­ing about like a but­tered Bay­o­netta. In prac­tice, things don’t go so smoothly. Our prey con­stantly ha­rasses our friend, as they’re do­ing most of the dam­age, leav­ing us to chase af­ter its very fast, very rangey roll. Us­ing our chain blades to whizz back into the fray isn’t al­ways ef­fec­tive: there’s no in­di­ca­tion of the move’s range, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to ex­e­cute con­sis­tently. For a choice that’s meant to favour ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity over raw dam­age, it’s dis­ap­point­ing.

But then, we’re not fight­ing as a full four­some. And with a full re­lease set for 2018, there’s plenty of time for tweaks to the smaller stuff. The cru­cial take­away for now is that not once do we feel lost in overly com­plex craft­ing, or frus­trated by slow an­i­ma­tions while chug­ging health po­tions mid-fight – and in that Pan­gar bat­tle, we’re knock­ing plenty back. Mak­ing a beast­slay­ing RPG ac­ces­si­ble, af­ter all, shouldn’t mean mak­ing an easy game: just one that’s easy to get on with. If its free-to-play struc­ture man­ages to be as agree­able as its co-op com­bat, Daunt­less might just be a hunter’s new best friend.

Founder’s keep­ers

The term ‘free-toplay’ inevitably at­tracts sus­pi­cion; plenty of games have promised a smooth, cash-free ex­pe­ri­ence, only to lock key weapons and items be­hind pay­walls. Phoenix Labs is keen to stress that this won’t be the case in

Daunt­less. We’re told play­ers will only have to part with real money for cos­metic items, con­tained in spe­cial Chroma Cores, which are filled with ar­mour dye to add gra­di­ent colours of al­ter­nate fin­ishes, trans­mog stones, ban­ners, dif­fer­ently coloured flares and more. You’ll have to pay up for a cos­metic pack in or­der to get guar­an­teed ac­cess to the Founder’s Al­pha and Closed Beta this sum­mer, how­ever.

Each weapon has its own perks; usu­ally one or two of­fer some mo­bil­ity

A stamina me­ter at­tempts to in­tro­duce an ex­tra layer of strat­egy to com­bat, al­though it rarely gives us any trou­ble

The Em­ber­mane is a sort of cross be­tween a dragon, a lion and a rhi­noc­eros, with the handy bonus of be­ing able to breathe fire

LEFT Fight­ing the Pan­gar de­pletes our health po­tions. More HP can be har­vested from aether fis­sures in the ground, but a long an­i­ma­tion makes it a risky move.

Lan­terns of­fer party-wide buffs of health or shields when ac­ti­vated, but charge very slowly, mean­ing din­ner is prob­a­bly served for this at­tack­ing Shrike

BE­LOW Chain blades might not be the best choice for ev­ery bat­tle; if we want to break off bone for craft­ing, a ham­mer would be bet­ter

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