Developer: Amplitude Studios
Dungeon Of The Endless is incredibly tough. It's unpredictable. Beautiful. And breathes new life into the roguelike and tower defence genres, even though it's still only in alpha.
Amplitude Studios aren't known for sitting on their laurels. Having supported their superb 4X title Endless Space with masses of free and weighty paid DLC (the card-based ship combat is awesome, end of), they launched into a new venture that provides a intimate new perspective on the hard sci-fi universe. Arriving just before Christmas as an early access title, Dungeon of the Endless is already shaping up to be something rather special.
So what is it? On a basic level, Dungeon Of The Endless - which I'm not going to abbreviate to DotE to avoid any confusion - strands players on a mysterious planet, controlling survivors of a crashed prison ship. We have to lead our troops through randomly-generated dungeons in a blend of RTS and exploration gameplay, all while securing resources and territory to defend with turrets and fortifications. It's an unpredictable balance of offence, exploration, defence, Roguelike and strategy that constantly hits you where you least expect it... followed by a mad dash at the end of each level as hellacious enemy legions close in for the kill.
Just in case that wasn't enough, it also happens to look utterly ravishing.
Things start out simple enough: an escape pod holding a powerful crystal generator, alongside a couple of survivors randomly picked from the scum of the universe. Insane laboratory experiments rub shoulders with robots, bounty hunters (Sara Numas - can you spot the reference?), soldiers and convicts. Some are quick and deadly, others are slow and durable, all possessing unique weapons, engagement ranges and passive skills. Though more recruitable survivors wait in the unknown depths outside the pod, you'll have to play the cards you're dealt as you make the first tentative steps out of the safety of the airlock.
Exploration is the first priority, seeing as the pod has crashed straight into the first level of a sprawling dungeon with the only escape route being an elevator somewhere in the stage. Rooms and floorplans are randomly created, and opening doors is a simple matter of simply clicking on them and letting your heroes do the rest. Perhaps you'll find a powerful new weapon. A merchant. A blueprint, a plate of food, maybe even a new survivor to befriend. Whatever happens, you'll earn a few resources... and likely encounter a swarm of snarling horrors hell-bent on ripping your squad apart.
Combat in Dungeon Of The Endless technically auto-resolves, in that you have no direct control over each hero's specific attacks, but simply move them from room to room and occasionally heal them with your limited food stock. This sounds very basic, but in practice, you'll need to juggle your heroes effectively to make the most of their specific skills and speeds, not to mention desperately running them back through previously-cleared rooms as their health reaches critical levels. The action can be paused at any time a la Infinity Engine RPGs, allowing players to make sense of each brutal assault - and to hopefully avoid the sting of permanently losing any of their valuable squad.
Just when you think you've got a handle on Dungeon Of The Endless, though, it suddenly reveals a completely new dimension.
Remember that "crystal generator" I mentioned earlier? This unassuming tetrahedron is the only thing capable of powering the elevator, while every creature in the dungeon plans to destroy it with extreme prejudice. Waves of foes spawn from pipes and sumps, pouring towards your pod in the hope of shattering your only means of escape. Protecting it while searching for the exit is therefore a key concern, which is where Dungeon Of The Endless unveils its deep strategic layer.
As a generator, your crystal is capable of powering up each room you clear out, so long as you have enough energy ('Dust,' in this case, a key resource of the Endless Space universe). Turning the lights on is as easy as a middle-mouse-click, but doing so activates a selection of hardpoints that can be equipped with powerful towers or defensive measures, limited by your meagre metal resources and any blueprints you've managed to scavenge. Rooms can be garrisonned with vicious direct-damage turrets, Tesla coils, debuff machines (slowing or otherwise abusing the incoming hordes) or devices that grant powerful boons to any survivors in the vicinity. Survivors also play a vital role in the defence, desperately racing to hold the line.
Unlike most Roguelikes, the dungeon isn't just your enemy. Rather it becomes yours, yours to defend, yours to exploit and yours to escape - granting you a sense of ownership and agency that's hard to find elsewhere. Dungeon Of The Endless is incredibly tough, unforgiving yet pleasingly versatile; constantly forcing players to switch up their strategy and adapt to changing situations.
Especially when survivors finally locate the elevator and face the unenviable task of manually carrying the crystal to the next floor. Once unplugged, defences go offline and aliens spawn by the dozen. Good luck.
Dungeon Of The Endless already looks sensational, in the most literal sense. Sure, it favours the now-slightly-overused big pixel retro art style, but a colourful and profoundly alien aesthetic makes it look completely unique; detailed enough to impress but vague enough to let your imagination fill the blanks in your mind's eye. The lighting is also particularly impressive, subtle yet adding plenty of welcome atmosphere.
Going forward, Amplitude plans to add more familiar 4X elements to further ground Dungeon Of The Endless in the Endless Space universe, such as tech trees and science resources. The game will also expand vastly in terms of scale; as I understand it, only three of the planned twelve levels are available in my press build. We'll naturally want to see more items, weapons, blueprints and characters too.
Amplitude's project is still in early days and early access, but Dungeon Of The Endless has managed to embed itself firmly in our release radar. Despite consisting of components we've seen thousands of times before - RTS, roguelike, tower defence, RPG and 4X - it feels fresh, unpredictable, vital and new.
Frankly, we can't wait.