By Tyler Lubben / October 27th, 2014
As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, I’m a big fan of games that use retro, pixelated graphics. Based on that fact alone, I quickly snapped up Dungeon of the Endless when I was given the chance to try out a pre-release version of the game. However (and this was very irresponsible on my part), I was horrified to find that the game contained elements of one of my most-loathed genres: tower defense. My brain simply is not wired for these types of games. I’d rather just jump in and deal with problems myself rather than try to set up clever defenses to stop the oncoming hordes. However, at that point, it was too late to back out, so I was forced to forge ahead. After playing for a while, though, I was pleased to find that AMPLITUDE’S new title contained features not only of tower defense games, but also of many others, creating a unique gameplay experience that ends up being more than the sum of its parts.
The premise of Dungeon of the Endless is a fairly simple one. A large prison transport ship known as the “Success” is transporting a few hundred criminals to colonize a previously uncharted planted known as Auriga. Upon arriving in the planet’s airspace, however, the ship is attacked by the automated defenses of a long-departed race known as the Endless. The Success is quickly destroyed, but not before the escape pods are launched, and the prisoners reach the planet’s surface. Crash landing deep beneath the planet’s surface, the survivors awake (mostly) unharmed, and find themselves inside a vast Endless dungeon. From here, players will control a small squad of criminals and/or prison guards as they multitask between searching for an exit to the surface of the planet and protecting the core of their escape pod – their only source of power – from Auriga’s hostile indigenous life.
After the game’s opening, players select their team members as the escape pod barrels towards the planet’s surface. Initially, you’re only able to choose from a pool of four characters, but you’ll unlock more as you play through the game and meet new characters in the process. You also start off with only two characters, though you can control a maximum of four as you recruit them in the Dungeon. I started off in the tight confines of my escape pod with only a single door as an exit. Opening this door revealed a room with a few bug-like creatures that immediately attacked. My two characters made quick work of them, though. After they were dispatched, I then found myself in a room with multiple exits.
This is the basic meat of Dungeon of the Endless. Players have their characters open doors and deal with whatever is on the other side. They might find enemies, treasure, characters to recruit or nothing at all. They can then choose to mouse over a room and middle-click it to have the core power it. Light is extremely important, as enemies will not spawn in rooms that are lit. This is why players must defend their escape pod’s core at all costs. No power means no light. However, your core can do more than just light rooms. Even in empty rooms, players are very likely to find at least a few large and/or small nodes on the floor.
This is where the tower defense portion of the game kicks in. Every time the player opens a new door, this indicates the start of a new “turn,” much like how tower defense games work. When this happens, enemies can potentially spawn from any open, unpowered room. It’s easy enough to deal with early on when characters can stay near their core. However, as they continue to explore and venture farther and farther away, it will become necessary to set up defensive structures to stave off the enemies when taking them on personally isn’t a viable option. To that end, players have four types of resources to keep track of; Industry, Science, Food and Dust. Industry is used to build various modules to increase your resource output, as well as defensive equipment. Science is used for developing new modules and upgrading existing at special Crystals found on each floor. Food can be consumed by your characters to either heal damage during a fight or level them up, which will increase their stats and unlock new active and passive abilities. Dust is basically electricity, and the more you have means the more rooms you can power at once. It isn’t often that you’ll have enough to power every room on any given floor, though, so it’s important to give priority to rooms that have a lot of modules to use, or rooms that would be difficult to protect your core from. At the start of a new turn, players will get a nominal amount of Industry, Science and Food, with an increased amount for any generators they have put down. During a normal game (and we’ll talk about that more a little later), defeating all of the enemies will end the turn and fully heal your characters. You can then set up new defenses, lay down new modules or outfit your characters with items and equipment that you have found or bought from a merchant.
After you explore enough, you’ll eventually find the elevator to the next floor. Once you have done this, you’ll have to go back and have one of your characters retrieve the core and carry it to the exit. Be aware, however, that once you do this, the monsters will come out in full force. Powered rooms will still be safe, but unpowered ones — and even rooms you may not have explored — will begin spawning them endlessly. At this point, there’s very little room for error, so it’s important to plan ahead of time. It’s usually a good idea to lay down a large number of automated guns to deal with the oncoming waves, though, if you have a fairly straight shot at the exit, you can also power all the rooms on the way to the elevator and just make a break for it. Once you get the core to the exit, you can choose to warp away immediately, though be sure that all your characters are present before doing so. Anyone who isn’t in the room when you escape will be left behind. This is probably the closest thing to a boss battle that the game has, as, while the enemies do get bigger and stronger as you explore, there are no actual “big bad guys” to deal with mano e mano.
One of the more interesting features in Dungeon of the Endless is that some of your characters have history with each other prior to the game. These will often become more apparent through conversations that take place while riding the elevator between floors. This can have unintended consequences as you explore more of the Dungeon. Case in point: when I first started the game, I chose a bounty hunter by the name of Sara Numas (get it?!) and a violent mercenary named Gork. As I went through the Dungeon, we found that Sara’s parents were killed in a space pirate attack when she was young, and Gork was actually responsible for this attack. Sara tried to continue to work with Gork initially, due to their shared circumstances, but her desire for revenge eventually got the better of her and she killed Gork during one of the elevator rides. Naturally, I was appalled, not the least because Gork was my main damage dealer, and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to continue without him. However, through this action Sara unlocked a new passive ability that increased her attack power. It wasn’t a huge help in the face of losing such a strong character, but it was interesting to discover that doing something as seemingly inconsequential as picking your starting characters can bring unpredictable surprises.
In terms of the game’s presentation, this is one of the high points of the experience. As I’ve already said, I was initially drawn to Dungeon of the Endless because of its retro graphics. but, aside from that, the music and other art were fantastic, as well. The music, in particular, I was impressed by almost immediately. It’s a very solemn soundtrack with soft and sober themes. It works perfectly with the theme of the game — one where players must slowly and methodically work through the Dungeon. If some of the tracks sound a bit desperate or depressing, it only goes to show that the gameplay can feel like that at times, too. The characters are you controlling have quite a difficult task ahead of them, after all. Aside from the pixel art that has been showcased already, there are also some well done hand-drawn pieces that are shown during the game’s loading screens and an interesting feature called the Album. This can be accessed either from the Pause menu or in the Main Menu when you aren’t playing the game proper. It seems to be something of a mix of character analyses from some shady figure and an exhibition of some of the game’s concept art. More art is unlocked as you play with different characters, and it’s fun to take a look at when you need a break from the action.
It’s usually possible to get through a game in a few hours (if you survive), but there’s a lot of replay value with Dungeon of the Endless. At the start of a game, you can actually choose which escape pod you use before beginning your adventure. You start with only a standard pod, which offers no bonuses or penalties, but, as you complete successful runs, you’ll unlock new ones to provide varied gameplay and new challenges. You can choose an Infirmary Pod, which increases the max HP of your characters, but takes away the auto-healing at the end of a turn. There’s also an Armory Pod that gives you four powerful characters from the start, but takes away the ability to research defensive modules, and a Drill Pod, which digs so deep into the planet’s crust that it’s impossible to reach the surface — basically an Endless Mode for those who want to see how long they can survive. This is only a few of the different game modes that players can explore, so there are plenty of new challenges waiting.
Dungeon of the Endless also contains a multiplayer mode that allows players to each control an individual character and work together to reach the end. Unfortunately, this is not something I was able to try — either because of my version of the game or it just hasn’t been implemented yet — I never saw any games to join. However, it sounds like an interesting premise, even if it wasn’t possible to explore. For the most part, I was impressed with this tower defense/roguelike/strategy/RPG/dungeon crawler. Even despite my lack of skill in a few of those genres, I had a blast exploring the Endless’ Dungeon. The game felt like a finished product already, but that may only indicate that it’s ready to leave Early Access status on Steam, which is occurring today. Alone, the game is top notch already, but I can only imagine what it’d be like if you can get some friends in on the action, as well. Definitely give this one a try.
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