Dungeon of the Endless (Xbox One Review)
Roguelikes have always been a staple on PC for indie developers, everyone seems to have their take on the genre. As somebody who doesn’t own a PC, or at least a PC modern enough to run more than MS paint and a web browser, it has been both a blessing and a curse when waiting and hoping for some interesting – almost niche – titles to trickle down to home consoles. Thankfully Dungeon of the Endless was not lost in the sea of similar roguelikes and will be arriving on the Xbox One shortly.
Dungeon of the Endless blends that staple mechanics of a roguelike RPG and blends them effortlessly with tower defense, cooperative play, and interesting characters to provide and experience unlike any I have been able to enjoy before. French Developer Amplitude Studios have went above and beyond when it comes to blending the two, creating character archetypes and objects that allow players to approach defensively or split from the pack of survivors and become a lone wolf.
Although the story of Dungeon of the Endless is not formally relayed through cutscenes or dialogue there is a great deal of information nestled in the characters and the picture album, which only unlocks certain information when criteria is met. Which is a true shame, as a little more story or information could carry Dungeon of the Endless a bit further, especially when it comes to character interaction and understanding. For the most part the only aspects of the story you really need to know are that you were previously aboard a prison ship, and that you have now crash landed on a planet inhabited by an ancient race known as the “Endless”. As Dungeon of the Endless is technically an installment in the “Endless” series it would have been nice to either play previous installments or have a brief introduction explaining the nature of what may have happened previously. Although as I am unfamiliar with the series there may be little to no tangible connections between the games, bar some similar settings and lore.
In spite of Dungeon of the Endless lacking in story, there is a great deal of character and information nestled in both the environments and playable characters, some of which are not playable at first. When you initially crash land deep below the planet’s surface the areas are loaded with technology and small creatures ready to attack on sight, suggesting that these levels have remained largely unattended, but the further up you climb the more human enemies look and the more complex the dungeons aesthetic becomes as you draw closer to the “Endless”. It’s what Amplitude have managed to achieve with a very limited style, making subtle changes at every turn, that keeps players interested and invested. At times these environments would feel like they draw inspiration from the greats of sci-fi cinema, like Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but put their own spin on it.
Just like the environments of Dungeon of the Endless there is a vast and varied cast with all manners of stats, attributes, and equipment that means you will want to try every single character to find a best fit for your chosen run. Some characters will have higher hitpoints, and strength, but lack the ability to get certain perks because of a low with stat. Others will be boosted by grouping together, giving players stat boosts when in the same room, and even providing a heal when their skill replenishes. All this variety leads to numerous characters being able to boost resource generation, being more suitable for exploration, or just aiding the team by repairing damaged turrets, or by defending the crystal in the first tile. With changing scenarios and different team compositions/approaches, there are countless ways of building a team to see you through to the end of the various modes available. Personally I loved going Warden Mormish, as I was able to use his abilities to generate dust efficiently while operating modules for extra resources because of his perks. And coupling him with a strong independent character meant that he was able to sit back and generate resources without much stress.
All of these wonderful designs are pulled together in Dungeon of the Endless’s various “Pods”. Prior to starting a mission you are given the option to select one pod, a basic pod with no attributes or modifiers, and you proceed to escape the prison ship as it crashes to the planet. Once the game officially starts you are tasked with finding the escape point to the floor by exploring a succession of procedurally generated rooms. Each room potentially poses a threat of having monsters inhabiting it, or proves as a paradise with its own power source allowing you to build turrets and resource modules. As you progress there are various instances, some of which good and others bad, that can power down rooms, provide new equipment through chests or merchants, or provide much needed resources in the form of stock piles – there are even some gambling type instances in which you can wager your current resources for a chance at the contents of a “Dust Factory” or “Cryotube”. By clearing rooms, or through successful instances, you will generate much needed resources. These various resources can be used to power rooms, level up characters, heal, build items, purchase equipment from merchants, and research upgrades.
Both resource management and turret placement play an integral part of Dungeon of the Endless and learning what turrets best suit the area you are in and how to place items is key. Saving your “dust” – the resource used to light a room – to section off entire areas means that no enemies are able to spawn, preventing the need to build defensive turrets around resource modules, saving you valuable resources, but also presents a massive risk as you never have enough dust to light every room on the floor without very specific characters in the perfect scenario. This ebb and flow between risk and reward applies to almost every aspect of Dungeon of the Endless, and when you manage to secure an entire floor while netting a large number of resources you are overcome by an immense feeling of satisfaction. In fact the first time I finally completed a dungeon I took a few moments to bask in the brilliant illustrated end game screen and savoured the moment before diving right back in.
And you needn’t dive in alone. Dungeon of the Endless supports up to 4 players at once, although in changing to multiplayer you lose the ability to select a pod. So all these challenges can be tackled with your friends, adding a new layer to how you manage resources and who gets to do what. Sometimes it might just result in a shouting match between the group as somebody opened a door before everyone is ready and now the crystal is in bits and you have lost all the power to the rooms because of a player’s enthusiasm for opening doors.
It’s this persistent and enthralling experience that keeps Dungeon of the Endless going, the ability to conquer difficult levels and persevere through increasingly resistant enemy forces will have you chomping at the bit before. Over time you will unlock some more complex pods with different modifiers and the learning process starts all over again. No matter what difficulty you are on, the enchanting soundtrack lures you in as you strap yourself in to the escape pods for another round. I have never quite found as much joy in a roguelike as I have with Dungeon of the Endless and for fans of both tower defence games and roguelikes I couldn’t recommend it enough.