Platform: PC (reviewed) | Xbox One version TBA
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Don't call it a Roguelike. Dungeon Of The Endless may feature permadeath and dungeon crawling, but one word can't do justice to this extraordinary genre-defying beast. To take a stab at pigeonholing it, I suppose that 'Real-Time Turn-Based Strategic 4X Tower Defence Roguelike RPG hybrid' is probably the closest I can get.
So the first thing you need to know is that Dungeon Of The Endless uses traditional Roguelike genre staples as a launchpad for a totally fresh and unique Sci-Fi experience that continually switches up the pace and challenge in exciting new ways.
The second and most important thing you need to know, however, is that it's absolutely bloody fantastic. Dungeon Of The Endless was already impressive when Ampltude Studios released the alpha last year, and has only grown stronger due to user feedback and honest painstaking hard work. I'm having trouble finding anything remotely wrong with it, but explaining how all of its crazy genre-blending systems interlock will take some doing.
Dungeon Of The Endless starts with a bang, as an escape pod of random prisoners slams into the planet of Auriga, burying itself deep within the bowels of an ancient facility. The survivors are forced to team up and fight their way to the surface, exploring randomised floors full of beasties, challenges, new faces and opportunities. Amplitude fans will have already noticed that Auriga is indeed the same planet to feature in Endless Legend, since all three of their games exist in the same continuity, and they use the same fusion of high fantasy and hard Sci-Fi to create another unique and fiercely colourful setting.
At your command are a team of armed reprobates that put the Guardians Of The Galaxy to shame: a grab-bag of bounty hunters, insane dimension-shifting psychics, murderers, scientists, proud avian warriors, chefs and more, all bringing unique skills and weapon proficiencies to the battle.
With only two available at the beginning of the campaign, you'll use simple point-and-click mechanics to move them from room to room, each door opening slowly and revealing the next randomised chamber in increasingly sprawling layouts. Sometimes you'll find useful resources, weapons, items, shopkeepers and new companions, hopefully you'll find the floor's exit, but usually you'll find a horde of varied enemies eager to rip your party to shreds.
This being an Amplitude game, combat is hands-off as characters prioritise threats according to their own internal logic, but you're able to manually activate a range of incredibly potent combat skills and direct them to certain rooms to combat onrushing foes. It's frenzied hectic stuff that feels like an RTS with an active pause mechanic, but we're just scratching the strategic surface.
See, Dungeon Of The Endless is a 4X game. Each door you open counts as a 'turn,' granting you a supply of food, industry, science and Dust, the same resources that Endless Space and Endless Legend use to great effect. You'll cleverly use these ever-dwindling stockpiles to level up your heroes, recruit new ones, barter with shopkeepers and turn the lights on, making tough sacrifices and big decisions at every step... before researching and deploying a range of support structures and towers to fend off an inevitable assault.
See, Dungeon Of The Endless is a tower defence game. You'll have to protect your vulnerable Crystal, which acts as a generator that can supply power to surrounding rooms. Doing so turns the lights on and activates nodes upon which you can deploy defensive towers of varying flavours, support buildings that increase resource generation or other more esoteric effects. Every so often waves of beasties will swarm and attempt to attack your crystal -- a game over -- meaning that exploration will suddenly descend into a breathless dash to fall back to defensible positions. Everything can and will go straight to hell in a single mad minute.
In another twist, once you find the floor exit, you can only power up the elevator and escape by moving your crystal over to it in an insane battle royale that often sees characters die defending their sluggish comrades or left behind as the hordes close in. As such, you'll need to constantly level up and equip your heroes appropriately in order to survive.
See, Dungeon Of The Endless is an RPG, and a damn good one. Spending valuable food on character levels unlocks powerful new active abilities that can turn the tide of battle, while each failed run grants new heroes and gradually introduces you to how best to use them effectively. Numerous items are up for grabs, some improving basic stats, others conferring new passive skills both useful and damaging. Will you equip them? Sell them? Save them? In yet another unexpected twist (probably the nineteenth so far), some characters even reveal backstory text and exposition between floors, revealing a web of tangled histories and fleshing them out as more than just avatars.
The net result is that Dungeon Of The Endless constantly surprises you. Pacing constantly switches between exploration, action, defence and strategy, with each run throwing up crazy new situations to deal with. What do you mean an EMP wiped out my towers? Ooh, a hipster scarf? Do I research a Tesla Tower Level 3 or a healing robot? Wait, does Sara Numas have a dark history with this escaped psychopath? Each run may throw you on the mercy of the random number generator (every once in a while an unexpected enemy wave will wipe you out and leave you spitting nails), but the solid ruleset and deep interlinked mechanics allow advanced players to constantly improve their skills and deepen their understanding of how the systems work with every failed attempt.
Dungeon Of The Endless is hard, of course. Absolutely, astonishingly, insanely difficult. But it's also a joy to fail, just to appreciate a completely unique and exciting mini-narrative of your very own, before jumping straight into another run. Heck, you can even do so in co-op thanks to straightforward online multiplayer with netcode strong enough to work brilliantly in Early Access. Which almost never happens.
Finally, we have to talk about the presentation. Dungeon Of The Endless is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played, boasting sumptuous pixel art that feels fresh and alien rather than nostalgic, painstakingly designed to be colourful without being silly and fizzing off of the screen thanks to a hot complimentary colour palette. There's a huge variety of biomes, foes and characters to enjoy, brought to life by fantastic lighting, and my only gripe is that some of the menus could be a little more convenient to browse (especially equipping items).
Perhaps as importantly, though, FlyByNo's chiptune soundtrack is utterly magnificent and sets off the tone beautifully; haunting, mysterious and poignant rather than upbeat and chirpy. Don't take my word for that, mind, because you can freely listen to the album or pay what you want to own it.
Just the cherry on a cake made from a dozen different and crazy ingredients, yet looks and tastes absolutely divine. Or in less pretentious terms: get on this now and get on it hard.
- Fantastic and varied exploration, RPG progression, combat, strategy and permadeath
- Hybrid gameplay constantly surprises you and switches up the pace
- Achingly gorgeous pixel art and lighting
- Utterly compelling over multiple unique runs
- Mournful, soulful, stupendous soundtrack (get it here!)
- Being able to manually select priority targets would have been nice
- Heavy reliance on RNG and surprise might annoy some intensely boring people
- Can occasionally feel unfair, menus could be slightly more streamlined
The Short Version: Dungeon Of The Endless is the best Real-Time Turn-Based Strategic 4X Tower Defence Sci-Fi Roguelike RPG hybrid you'll play this week.
And easily one of the very best games you'll play this year. Absolutely unmissable.
9 – EXCELLENT: Only the exceptional need apply here. There might be one or two slight blemishes, but overall games that score a 9 are genre-leaders: must-have titles with perhaps the odd imperfection. You won’t be wasting a single penny in buying a game that scores this high. A few games of this calibre will make it worth spending hundreds on a console or powerful enough PC. Killer apps, indeed.