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Dungeon of the Endless Early Access Beta Preview
Not only has Amplitude Studios managed to insert the word ‘Endless’ into all of their games – Endless Space and the upcoming (currently on Early Access) Endless Legend and Dungeon of the Endless – but each game takes place within the same rich sci-fi universe and manages to tell a compelling little story.
A ship from Endless Space is shot down over the planet Auriga and crash lands into a strange facility, and Dungeon of the Endless begins. Once the survivors make it the surface of this interesting rogue-like tower defense dungeon crawler, the ‘story’ shifts to Endless Legend as they craft a civilization and attempt to reach the stars once again. I’ve covered Endless Legend in a previous Early Access preview, but now it’s time to dive back underground into the pixelated, randomly generated world of Dungeon of the Endless.
For those familiar with other Endless games, the UI and resource structure of Food, Industry, Dust, and Science (FIDS) is instantly recognizable, but also well-crafted and intuitive to newcomers. Dungeon of the Endless may well be both their most and least accessible game depending on your proclivity for the 4X turn-based strategy of their previous outings compared to this unique mashup of genres.
Watch me play some Dungeon of the Endless below!
The gameplay here is so different from their other games, and most games I’ve played, that it’s difficult to describe. It has the initial properties of a rogue-like – that is, a dungeon crawler with randomly generated and progressively difficult levels and permadeath. You begin a game in your crashed escape pod with two random starting heroes. Like other Endless games the heroes have their own breakdown of RPG stats like HP, defense, and DPS as well as three equipment slots for weapon, armor, and utilty. Heroes can be leveled up using food and gain passive and active skills. They’re the lifeblood of your adventure – if you lose all your heroes you lose the game.
Your objective is to find the exit point on each level. You progress by opening doors to access new rooms. A room can contain anything from new weapons to heroes to monsters or resources. Or nothing at all. The gameplay is an interesting mixture of turn and real-time – resources are granted upon each opened door and researching new towers takes a certain number of doors or turns to complete. Monsters can spawn any time, however, and make a beeline for your crystal.
Your crystal is what powers up the rooms you find, keeping monsters from spawning in that room and allowing you to build resource-granting modules as well as multiple types of towers. You can only power as many rooms as you have 10s of Dust. In other words, 36 Dust will power three rooms, 84 Dust will power eight. Care must be taken when a random merchant is found when purchasing new equipment, as it’s very easy to de-power rooms, putting yourself in a nasty situation when the enemy waves come.
It wouldn’t be a proper dungeon without monsters lurking around every dark room, and here they come in all shapes and sizes from floating crystals that ignore everything and go straight to your crystal to demonic foes that rush your heroes and suicide bomb everything in the room. Monsters periodically spawn from darkened rooms in waves, and things can get really hairy when you’ve just opened a room brimming with hostile creatures when a wave begins. Building a labyrinthine network of pathways to your crystal becomes critical, as does laying down towers and using your heroes defensively to stop the incursion.
Once the dungeon exit is found, a hero must pick up your crystal and run to the exit, triggering a massive climactic wave as your hero appropriately de-powers all your rooms and towers as it makes its exodus. It’s a brilliant mechanic to create a tense finale to each floor, and forced me to strategize on the optimal path to the exit.
The one consistently weak element across Endless Space and Endless Legend is the automated combat. Some strategy is employed but I’ve always been a big fan of tactical combat and issuing vague orders to my army before watching them clash has always left me wanting more. While Dungeon’s heroes and monsters automatically attack each other, it actually works much better here as there’s often plenty going on. Towers can be built in the middle of a wave, heroes can be healed on the fly, and hero powers can be activated to tip the odds in your favor. A pause feature gives you some breathing room for building towers or retreating heroes to safer rooms, though I honestly loved the thrill of having to manage everything in real time. Dungeon’s auto-combat isn’t a weakness but a strength as the strategy level becomes a nice mix of macro and micro management.
With that lovely interface, simple but intriguing mechanics and endearing pixelated art style, Dungeon of the Endless has quickly become one of my biggest surprises of the year. The Just One More Turn addiction has evolved into Just One More Floor. According to Amplitude Studios, the beta is now “pretty much feature complete,” and certainly worth the investment on Steam Early Access. A multiplayer co-op mode is currently under development, and I’m fascinated to see how having multiple people will affect the balance and overall gameplay.