It's been a long 20 minute run. I have the early part of the dungeon lit up like a Christmas tree. I've found the exit and nearly every room in a line from the entrance to the exit is powered on and fully-armed. I station Gork, my heavy assault hero, near the entrance to one of the dark rooms before the exit. My medic, Deena, is prepared to grab my charging crystal and make a run for the exit. It's been a solid level for me. It's go time.
Deena grabs the crystal and the enemy waves begin in earnest, launching themselves from the dark, unexplored parts of the level. My defenses take care of most of them, shielding Deena as she makes her slow, encumbered walk towards the exit. Gork is there at the entrance to the darkness, laying down holy fire from heaven. Deena reaches him and it's time to make our way through the two dark rooms. Gork leads and he finally falls near the exit. Deena follows him into hell. Game over.
Ah, well. It was a good run.
That's how it goes in Amplitude Studios' Dungeon of the Endless. At its core, DotE is a roguelike, with players guiding their team of heroes through a randomly-generated dungeons. In addition to basic dungeon crawling, each room you explore can be powered up by the entrance crystal, which acts as the player's home base in each level. Within these rooms you can find more heroes and shopkeepers, install resource modules, or equip weapons on specific hard points. The latter part is the tower defense side. This is important because occasionally waves of enemies will spawn from the dark parts of each level and attempt to attack the crystal.
The early part of each level is split between exploration and defense. Find new rooms as you search for the exit and protect your crystal. Opening new rooms and killing monsters gives you the first resource, Dust, which is then used to power up each room. A powered room can then be augmented with modules to increase resource gain, add defense and other effects to heroes, or attack monsters. You'll only have a finite amount of Dust without grinding, meaning you can't power up every room in a level. That's the basic give-and-take in Dungeon of the Endless: figuring out which rooms to explore and power on.
The other three resources are Food, which is used to heal and level up your heroes, Industry, which you need to build modules, and Science, which is used to research brand-new modules. Modules can be used to increase the production of each resource, allowing you to focus in different directions depending on what you need more.
There's also the heroes themselves. Each one is unique, with their own defense, speed, intelligence, and attack stats and their own special skills. Gork has the highest defense and damage, but his Speed and Wit are lowest of the bunch; the mechanical Opbot DV8 moves fast and has high Wit, making him a great choice to repair and overclock installed modules; while Mizi is a glass cannon, meant to hold rooms alone thanks to her Bad Company skill. You can choose two in the beginning and you can unlock up to four as you explore each level.
It's up to you to combine your choice of heroes, the tools you have at your disposal, a bit of strategy, and a whole lot of luck to finish a level. Your ultimate goal is to finish 12 levels in total: good luck with that. You can can also change the rules by choosing from different spaceships in the beginning; each ship has different unlock conditions and imparts effects like giving your heroes twice as many health points or trapping you in the endless dungeon.
Together, everything comes together to make Dungeon of the Endless an odd and mostly-satisfying experience. The controllable units make the tower defense side of the game more active. The randomly-generated dungeon gives you a sense of tension: you never know what you're going to run into when you open a door and there's no way to back out of your choice. That tension is backed up by the unique heroes: they can all level up, opening new options, but permadeath means when they die, they're gone forever. You have some control of your crew, but it's not godlike. You tell them what rooms to enter and you can augment each room to protect them, but that's it. You can't even grind forever; there's a hidden timer that causes more random monsters to spawn the longer you stay in each level. Everything can go wrong in an instant.
There's also nothing like that final sprint from the entrance to the exit. Leaving a level requires you to pick up the crystal and hope you can make it to the exit before your party bites the big one. It's a white-knuckle run depending on who you have crystal-running. And if everyone dies... back to the first floor with you.
This thoughtful game design is all wrapped up in a low-pixel presentation. The hero sprites wander around dungeons with some great, subtle lighting effects; the contrast between light and darkness makes you feel like they're trapped in a derelict ruin. It works, providing you with a clear idea what's coming and what each things does, but I do wish they could've kicked up the graphical presentation a notch.
I didn't expect much from Dungeon of the Endless. I only picked it up because I was reviewing Endless Legend and decided to see the companion game. I'm not a huge roguelike or tower defense fan, but together, each genre shores up some of the issues I have with the other. Like other roguelikes, the game can be hampered by the fact that so much is left to chance; sometimes you'll get a good draw, sometimes the level just isn't laid out in your favor. I still spent far more time with DotE than I expected. It's not perfect, but it is one of the better roguelikes I've played and for $13 it's entirely worth it.
The graphical presentation pales in comparison to sister title Endless Legend, but it's clear and the lighting is top-notch.
The soft eerie soundtrack accompanies you to your impending death.
Amplitude is rather good at creating solid interfaces you can click around in. This is another on the pile.
Dungeon of the Endless is hard as hell. You'll be playing for a while, and even
Dungeon of the Endless is an intriguing mix of roguelike dungeon crawler and tower defense. Grab a crew of heroes, defend them with room modules, explore a lost dungeon, and find your way to the end. Like most roguelikes, success in the game is still heavily based on luck, but there's still a lot to love in Dungeon of the Endless.