by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
It is difficult to ascertain the thought process behind the creation of Dungeon of the Endless. Amplitude Studios’ debut game, Endless Space, was a turn-based strategy game along the veins of Sins of a Solar Empire. They are feverishly at work on their next big title called Endless Legend and that too will be a turn-based strategy game. To me, a Roguelike Tower Defence game with much lower production values than either of those two games seemed entirely out of place. In fact, the ‘Endless’ part in the title of all three are all the obvious traits that they have in common. I can’t quite wrap my head around it, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the Early Access version of this ‘ugly duckling’ of the Endless family.
The game opens as the penal (no, no, don’t go there) transport ship Success comes under attack from an unknown source. Having no defenses of its own, the heavily damaged vessel breaks into two pieces with the front half spiraling towards a nearby planet. It crashes, and you wake up in a small room, next to what appears to be the ship’s sole surviving power crystal. With nothing else to do, you set out to explore your surroundings.
Starting with two characters, you open door after door and each hides something different to discover. Sometimes you simply find an empty room that is ready for you to hook it up to the rest of the network powered by your energy crystal. At other times the room reveals a chest with goodies, a survivor willing to trade with you or even to team up with.
The game would hardly be any fun if you could just walk into any room and look around. Most rooms are infested with all sorts of critters that have to be defeated before you can move in. In most cases, they will try and slip by you, heading straight for the crystal. Stopping them before they can bash the energy out of it is paramount. Apart from sending in the troops – your playable characters – you can add a wide range of defenses to the rooms that you occupy. Some slow the enemy down, others take pot shots at them. If this sounds familiar, it is because I just described the base mechanics of a Tower Defense game.
I’m glad to report that Dungeon of the Endless’ gameplay is varied and deep enough for it not to be a Tower Defense game. Dungeon exploration aside, the characters under your control come in melee and ranged variants, they can be leveled up using food that you grow in your rooms and they can be equipped with tools and weapons that will either give them an edge in combat or allow them to do things like repair damaged objects.
The objective in each level is to find the exit. Once you have found it, you pick up the crystal and make a dash for the exit while protecting the crystal with your life. Waves of creatures will try and stop you and it is not uncommon to lose a friend or two in the frantic onslaught. As every friend is hard-won, the sense of loss, or rather the awareness of how much more difficult the next level will be without them, can be a little overwhelming.
It’s Roguelike, Jim...
What makes Roguelike’s interesting is the thrill of discovering something unexpected, something you’ve not seen before and Dungeon of the Endless does this quite well. The game offers up something new with almost every opened door. It can be a special item, some much needed currency or a new character to add to your team.
Dungeon of the Endless is also hard, very hard. There is no doubt in my mind that many players will not make it through to the second level on their first playthrough, and only seasoned veterans of the genre will see the third on their first run. But you will get better with each attempt and the game is inviting enough to make you want to try and beat it. Both the introduction cut-scene and game music are vaguely reminiscent of the Cryo Interactive’s classic Dune, setting a mesmerizing, almost melancholic ambiance. Further enhancing the mood temperature are some wonderfully dreamlike aesthetics and nightmarish creatures and of course the ever looming permadeath. I know it is odd, but I felt oddly alive playing this game.