March 29th, 2016

Time Played: 6 Hours

Last Played: 3/24/2016

Dungeon of The Endless: Oh, Snap!

If you’ve been following my progress through reviewing my Steam library, you know that I have a soft spot for Amplitude’s games. They can be pretty technical, and even convoluted at times; but they’re damn good. And I have finally spent some time with their Rogue-Like game, Dungeon of the Endless, and I have to say… Well… It’s really good.

I’m sure that’s no surprise. But if you don’t know, Amplitude is the studio behind the Endless Legend, and Endless Space games. Both of which are wonderful 4X titles that revel in being a more niche offering than say, Civilization.

Dungeon of the Endless is no exception.

Not only is the Rogue-Like genre pretty niche as it is… Okay I mean, I understand that It’s basically exploded at this point. But most people I talk to don’t take to Rogue-Likes. Anyway, what I was getting at is that Dungeon of the Endless differentiates itself by being both a Rogue-Like dungeon crawl, and a tower defense. Which, I mean, if you pitched that to me I would probably have told you it was a bad idea.

But they make it work. Well.

I’m not a huge Tower Defense guy, I find that I enjoy them but they invariably become frustrating rather than challenging. Sadly Dungeon of the Endless might not be exempt from that, but I’ve really enjoyed my six hours with it so far. And want to spend even more time with it.

Anyway let’s get out of the introduction and get to the meat of this.

What makes the game good? Amplitude has a history of making their games really mechanically dense– In a somewhat off putting way. And this is coming from a fan. It takes time to become accustomed to the systems in their games. Dungeon of the Endless, referred to as DotE going forward, has a very good balance. It has depth without being opaque. There is definitely a bit of a learning curve, but it won’t take you fifty hours to become comfortable with it. In fact, in my short time with it I’ve already made it to the second to last level.

The conceit behind the dungeon crawl being that you crash land on Auriga in an escape pod, and have to fight your way through the different floors of the Endless facility your pod bore through. The Endless being a precursor race, not unlike the Forerunners from Halo. You start out with two heroes, from an opening selection of four. Each hero has a unique feel, some being slow, tanky, and ranged. While others are fast, melee glass cannons. And they all have unique abilities that can significantly alter the flow of combat.

One such ability makes all of the enemies in a room fight each other, rather than your dudes. Super righteous, bro.

Each hero is suited to particular tasks, and DotE requires you to learn their strengths and exploit them. Once you get a feel for it, it really comes together. I was having issues getting further than the the halfway point in the dungeon, and just reading a few tips on the mechanics vastly improved my success with the game.

One of the more interesting mechanics present in DotE is that while the game is turn based, it’s not turn based in the traditional sense. And it doesn’t take the MMO/Bioware route either. The game has pausable real-time combat, but turns are initiated by opening the various doors present in the dungeon. Once you open a door, a ‘turn’ is counted and you either have to engage in real-time combat– or you are given some kind of reward for exploring.

Opening doors is how time is progressed; I.E. cooldowns on abilities are measured in doors. And each opened door accrues more resources. … Yeah the game has resources. Look, I told you it was niche, man.

Like the other games in the Endless universe, they operate with a system of resources known as Food, Industry, Dust, and Science. AKA. FIDS. DotE is no exception. You have a base income in each resource so you will always be generating something, but in most cases you need to build ‘modules’ to generate more on a per turn bases. This is where the Tower Defense aspects come in, as well as the strategy. Would you rather have a lot of upgraded defense modules? Then you’ll need Science and Industry. Would you rather have a higher level Heroes, and a bunch of lower level modules? Food and Industry. And so on.

Industry builds the modules. Science improves them. Food heals Heroes, and increases their levels; it can also allow you to recruit other heroes you meet in the field. And finally Dust, which might be the most important of them all.

Dust allows you to power the individual rooms that make up the floors. And while it isn’t necessary to power each and every room, there are significant incentives to get as much dust as possible per floor.

Every unlit room has a chance to spawn enemies. More enemies means more chances for them to reach your Crystal. (It’s a power source, think the Ancient in DOTA.) That’s a bad thing. Also every time it’s attacked, you lose Dust. This is a worse thing. You can stop this by having a hero stand in a room, or by powering it with Dust. Each room takes ten Dust to power. Now the floors in this game are big and sprawling. You will almost never be able to power each room, and this is where you have to plan ahead. Making kill rooms, choke points, and other sorts of stockades against the enemies DotE throws at you.

It’s a fine balancing act between having enough resources to defend yourself, improve your party, and exploring. One mistake will hardly derail your run, but it can put you in a significantly worse position that becomes harder and harder to crawl back from. “Do I open the door on the east wing, and hope I get dust? Or go for the one on the north wing because there are fewer unlit rooms up there?”

Most deaths in this game are slow and painful.

Each door opened is a risk reward proposition. As the game continues on, and the amounts of Dust you receive become less and less you have to really judge which doors to open, and when to open them. Sometimes a single floor can take upwards of twenty minutes, because you want to be very systematic with your exploration. Or at least, that’s how I’ve found success.

On each floor, as you progress and open up more rooms eventually you’ll find the elevator. This is the exit to the next floor up. Now, this game wouldn’t be a Rogue-Like if it didn’t hate you, right? So in order to progress to the next level it requires you to take the Crystal, and walk it to the exit. Easy right? Nah. Not only is that sucker heavy, it also makes each unlit room continuously spawn waves of enemies that are, you guessed it, attracted to the Crystal. You have to protect your heroes and make it to the exit to progress. And it can be pretty nerve wracking.

But it’s also very satisfying to get into the elevator and slam the doors shut on the horde of monsters trying to devour you.

And this is probably my favorite part of DotE. Between each level, your characters have little snippets of dialogue that really build their character. Like, I didn’t think there was much to the individual characters… Until I recruited Sara Numas into a party with Gork “Butcher” Koroser.

At first they didn’t really interact. Until eventually she recognized him. And started asking him about his past. Eventually she broached the subject of a world that he fought on. And, from the way she spoke, it sounded like he was doing more murdering than anything else… Turns out Gork was responsible for murdering Sara’s parents. She, obviously, wasn’t very happy with him. Gork, being the kind of guy to take pleasure from murder, laughed in her face about it. Sara then proceeded to tell him she would kill him after they got out of the Dungeon… Well Gork kept picking at Sara. Pushing her buttons… Eventually she snapped and attacked him.

And Gork killed her.

Not only was I blown away at the hidden interactions between the different characters, and the implication that there could be many more of these, but also that my best hero was just killed and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

In that moment I was shocked, angry, and completely impressed. To quote a modern sage, “I’m not even mad, that’s amazing.”

This single moment defined how I feel about Dungeon of the Endless. I never really know what it’s going to throw at me, and it keeps surprising me. I didn’t expect this game to be as good as it is. I didn’t expect it to be as approachable as it is. And I damn sure didn’t expect the sound track to be so good.

The music is almost maliciously relaxing.

This game is really good, and I’ve started gushing.

Check out Dungeon of the Endless, it’s worth the price of admission. I was hesitant to pick it up, and got it on sale; I have no regrets. Did I mention it has multiplayer?

What do you think?

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