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Dungeon of the Endless: Not Your Usual Roguelike

The new game from Amplitude Studios combines elements of roguelike, real-time strategy and tower defense, with fun results.

Amplitude Studios is an interesting new developer with a very community-focused approach to making games.

Its previous title, sci-fi 4X strategy game Endless Space, also saw the debut of its "Games2Gether" system, whereby those who purchased early access to the game or otherwise supported it were entitled to vote on what the development team's priorities should be -- and which direction things with clear-cut choices would go in. Donate more to the game, have your votes carry more weight. It was a nice idea that allowed those who were most excited about and willing to support the game to feel like they were having a real say in how it evolved over time. And, as it turned out, Endless Space evolved into a remarkably solid turn-based strategy game in its own right -- and one with a rich backstory ripe for exploring in other games.

So it is that we come to Dungeon of the Endless, a spinoff of Endless Space set in the same universe, but making use of a dramatically different art and play style. Instead of turn-based, it's now real-time; instead of lavish 3D graphics, it makes use of super-stylized pixel art; instead of a 4X game, it's a... umm... well... I think I need to start a new paragraph to explain that.

Amplitude describes it as a "roguelike dungeon defense game" and that's actually a pretty good description, though one that probably doesn't tell you much if you haven't played it. So here's the gist: your spaceship crashes in a dungeon and you have to get out. In order to do so, you'll need to explore the dungeon until you find the exit, then carry your ship's power crystal from your ship to the exit. Repeat 11 more times (two in the current alpha version) and you win. Die horribly and you lose. Simple as that.

That may sound reasonably straightforward and roguelike-ish, but it's the execution that makes Dungeon of the Endless a remarkable game. Rather than the usual tile-based, turn-based movement seen in more conventional roguelikes, Dungeon of the Endless concentrates on rooms and their relationships to one another, with minimal micromanagement required. Each time you open a door on the level, you receive resources -- specifically, production, science and food. Production is used to build things, science will be used for research once that feature is implemented, and food is used for levelling up or healing your heroes.

Yes, heroes plural; you have more than one unit under your command, and can control each of them independently. There's no character creation, though; at the outset of the game, you're given a random selection of two heroes, and you might find additional team members as you progress on your journey. Once a hero dies, they're gone, though; so you'll need to keep an eye on things and make use of the Baldur's Gate-style active pause system when things get a little hairy.

When you discover a new room, there's a chance you'll disturb a bunch of enemies, who will come swarming towards your heroes and/or your ship's crystal. There's usually more enemies than a single hero can handle, so that's where the building aspect of the game comes in: each room has a number of nodes, upon which you can construct various defensive structures such as turrets and missile launchers. Some rooms also have larger terminals that you can construct production facilities on; these increase your income per new room discovered, and even more so if you "staff" them with a hero while you continue to explore.

You can't just build willy-nilly, though; all rooms need to be powered through the "Dust" currency, with 10 Dust being required to power a single room, and all powered rooms needing to eventually link back to the ship. You'll acquire Dust through both exploration and defeating enemies, and you'll need to think strategically to determine the "best" rooms to acquire resources and set up some solid defenses. As soon as you pick up the crystal and start heading to the exit, an unstoppable swarm of enemies will make an appearance and do their very best to stop you reaching your goal; you'd better be ready.

Dungeon of the Endless is enormously satisfying to play. Each hero handles markedly differently, with some being "tank" types and others being speedy but fragile melee types. Each game is noticeably different, too, since through exploration you have a chance of discovering new items, equipment and blueprints for new defensive structures to construct. In one game, you might have a reasonably easy ride thanks to some strong heroes and an early discovery of powerful weaponry; in another, you might be stuck with weak but nimble heroes, and have to determine the best way to sneak them through the hordes without them meeting a sticky end.

For those who played and enjoyed Endless Space, you'll find a pleasing degree of IP correlation, too, despite the obvious differences in aesthetic and play style. The resources you collect and the iconography used to depict them are the same, for example, and the concept of the game provides an interesting, alternative and more intimate perspective on the galactic-scale conflicts seen in its parent game.

There's no need to be good at Endless Space -- or indeed to like it at all -- to appreciate this, however; it stands very much on its own two feet, never feeling impenetrable to newcomers, and its markedly different game style means that those of us who are... less than good at turn-based strategy games -- and yes, I include myself in that description -- can find something to enjoy here, since there are fewer things to think about, but much more in the way of reacting quickly to dangerous situations required.

Dungeon of the Endless is available now as a Steam Early Access title. At present, only three levels out of the eventual 12 are implemented, and a number of features are completely absent. Eventually there'll be a research system and tech tree to get your teeth into, along with a more robust hero skill upgrade system. There'll also be more monsters, more heroes -- each of whom have their own abilities and objectives -- and new things to discover. Amplitude is also considering adding a multiplayer co-op mode -- given the nature of the game, this could be great fun -- plus "online persistency and unlockables," apparently.

If you want to jump on board right now -- and it's a solid, enjoyable game even in this early state -- then it'll set you back either $12.99 or $19.99 depending on if you want to buy the "Pixel Pack" or the "Founder Pack." The former gives you access to the game, its updates and the final version complete with digital soundtrack when it releases. The latter, meanwhile, gets you access to the game plus a bunch of extras once it releases: an extra hero and a new ship to use in Dungeon of the Endless, add-on content for Endless Space, 50% off coupons for both Endless Space and its expansion and new skins for Amplitude's upcoming game Endless Legend. Your votes will also carry twice the weight of Pixel Pack holders on Amplitude's Games2Gether site.

Dungeon of the Endless is looking extremely promising, and even if you're starting to feel a little burned out on roguelikes, it's well worth a look -- rather than being just another dungeon crawler, it's an innovative blend of genres that looks great and plays better. More than that, though, it's further evidence that Amplitude Studios is a developer well worth keeping an eye on in the coming years.

Tags: amplitudestudios dungeonoftheendless Preview

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