It's been a while since I was so confused by a game when first starting it . My preconceptions of what to expect from Dungeon of the Endless are completely to blame; based on both the look and the title, I expected some sort of hack-n-slash dungeon crawler. I certainly was not expecting an amazing technicolor dreamgame, a game that is as much tower defense at it is real time strategy combat. It goes much than that, though. Simply put, Dungeon of the Endless is a: tower defending, resource managing, dungeon crawling, loot finding, roguelike, squad-based RTS -- plus some other stuff. To remove any of these elements would be to alter the composition of the game and make it something less than it is, and the intricately woven web of all of these different elements are what make this game something special.
You begin in a squad of two, chosen from a limited roster of characters that will grow exponentially with each run through the game. Your ship has crashed in a hostile land, and you must transport your power crystal through many, many levels of the dungeon to and through an elevator. From there, it's up to you to decide how to proceed. Really the only objective you are given is to find the exit and take your crystal safely to it, but while searching through the procedurally generated floors to find the exit, you'll discover the benefits of exploration.
Most rooms will have little blue pads on the floor, on which you can (and should) build items. To build items, you draw from your resources of industry, food and science. Industry is used to build items, food is used to heal and level up characters, and science is used to upgrade items, among several other things. This resource pool is increased every time you open a door, which can be viewed as a way to start a new turn of sorts. The most important items to build are resource generators, which increase how many resources you get with every door opening. But, everything you build only lasts until the end of the current level, so it's up to you to figure out what you want to build, and if there are enough doors left to open for it to be a worthwhile investment.
Opening doors serves the dual purpose of moving everything forward a turn, if you will, and adding the element of risk and exploration. You never know what's going to be in the next room. You could be lucky and find a bonus stash of resources, a treasure chest, or maybe even a new character that will permanently unlock if you take him or her with you for a certain amount of floors. It could be nothing in particular -- just another room, or maybe a good room to build a generator and some turrets. Or you might find a room full of enemies, which will trigger a wave of enemies moving to attack your crystal. The enemy waves remind me almost of a less high-stakes game of Minesweeper. Opening the door provides a moment of apprehension, and if you've accidentally clicked on a mine and the room is full of enemies, it's time to flee back to the crystal to protect it.
This is where the items you build really come into play. Enemies can attack the things you've built, and can pretty easily destroy them if they're not adequately defended. As you experience your first few waves of combat, you'll begin to discover how all these mismatched game genres fall into place. You'll learn what rooms are most easily defended, and try to build your generators and items there, so that they have a better chance of surviving the assault. You'll learn where to station your other squad members, using their superior combat ability to patch any particular holes in your defenses. You'll learn what turrets are most efficient for each situation, and even learn what order in which to open the doors, so that your enemies have no choice but to walk through what is essentially the Death Star trench run on the way to your crystal, pelted by turrets all along the way. This is where the game truly shines. In a strange way, the tower defense aspect of Dungeon of the Endless is one of the most important, as each round ends with a big tower defense firefight with waves of enemies. It's where everything you have accomplished is put on the line, and if all of your squad is killed, it's game over. The level of tension climbs and climbs as the game goes on, enemies get tougher, and floors get bigger, and it just gets more exciting as it goes.
That also provides a bit of a problem, however. Games typically don't last more than a few hours, but you don't really get into the meat of the action until about halfway through your run. That makes the early parts get progressively more boring the more you play, which is a shame because it's clearly meant to be played over and over again. The excellent sense of discovery and exploration also tends to taper out, because you'll start to figure out what works best where. The floors are procedurally generated, sure, but there are definitely strategies that are far better than others, and once you've figured out the best ones, it will start to feel the same, no matter how random it is. Even so, that constant tension of climbing the floors and getting closer and closer to the thick of the action has an undeniable adrenaline to it, and that kept me coming back even if I had a pretty solid game plan already. It can be kept fresh for even longer by considering its multiplayer mode, though there have been reports of matchmaking and server issues with it.
It would be wrong to conclude this review without talking about what a great looking and sounding game Dungeon of the Endless is. The music in particular is fantastic, and sounds like the Mass Effect soundtrack had an 8 bit (not actually 8 bit, but you know what I mean) baby with the music from Twin Peaks. Spacey, ambient, with just the right amount of cheese. The retro graphics are able to convey a surprising amount of atmosphere to the game as well. Each floor has a very distinct look and sci-fi theme, whether it's organic technology or sterile, crystalline room design. Also worth mentioning is the amazing humor the game manages to squeeze into the item descriptions and very small amount of dialogue. My personal favorite was the description of The First Aid Kit item, which reads: "The first of a long line of aid kits, its value is mostly historical as many of the contents have rotted away."
Dungeon of the Endless combines so many things we know and love about video games, and makes something that legitimately feels new and fresh. Despite the fact that the best part of the game is toward the beginning, it will remain interesting and entertaining for many hours, if you find the idiosyncratic gameplay is to your tastes. If not, be warned that there is not much variety, and the entire weight of Dungeon of the Endless's longevity is carried by the gameplay alone.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
One of my earliest memories is playing Duck Hunt on the NES with my older cousin. Pokemon Yellow and Ocarina of Time were the main time sinks of my childhood, and both series remain two of my favorites to this day. Xbox Live got me much more interested in FPS and other competitive and cooperative games, and nowadays I find myself enjoying cooperative games more than any others.
Aside from video games, I spend my free time writing, playing, and recording music and ritualistically binging on Netflix. View Profile