Dungeon of the Endless is Amplitude Studio's foray into the rogue-like dungeon-defense genre that has RPG-style elements mixed in with some squad-based combat. Taking place in the same universe as the Endless Space/Endless Legends universe, Dungeon of the Endless starts you off in a downed space craft and from there the dungeon-diving begins. Now those of you that have been around for any length of time may know that Amplitude Studios is a studio that has developed a few of my favorite games of all time, Endless Space, a stunning 4X high technology, space-based strategy title, and Endless Legend, a high fantasy 4X strategy title. With Dungeon of the Endless, Amplitude is aiming to bring their loyal fan base something new, different, and wholly unique to the rogue-like genre. When I previewed the game back in September I was quite impressed with how solid the game felt, even though it was still in Early Access.
As an aside I am going to preface this review with the fact that Dungeon of the Endless has taught me a few valuable lessons; first, blindly supporting a studio since they have made two of the best titles that money can buy will only set you up for utter disappointment when they develop something that, frankly, haunts your dreams and causes undo amounts of anxiety. And not in the scary-movie kind of anxious. Second, rogue-like games are not my style of game; simplistic rogue-like titles such as Rogue Legacy are straightforward and do not add too much to distract the player.
Dungeon of the Endless has many, many more features to it and without any sort of warming-up period, absolutely and utterly turned me off to the game, the genre, and ultimately started the title off in both an ultra-confusing way and has led me to seriously doubt the game; this lead me to be anxious, unwilling, and in the end, extremely dissatisfied with a title that by all-accounts, is a good title. In short, I detest Dungeon of the Endless. Though while I personally struggle with the game, I absolutely have to state this... Dungeon of the Endless is a great game, just one that I do not enjoy, and I will elaborate more as we go.
I will start off with a few of the things that I enjoy about Dungeon of the Endless' graphics; they are quaint, pixel-y, yet highly detailed. Some of the backgrounds consist of some of the best pixel-art I have seen in a game, but that is about where it starts. Units are certainly detailed and animated well, but the design of the heroes and of the monsters, when compared to the background art, seem a bit hodge-podge. Given how you are essentially crash-landing on a planet and are wandering through randomly generated areas, that is okay and if that is the aesthetic that Amplitude is looking for, then they did so perfectly.
Special Effects all remind me of something that you could find in a Tron movie and that is also a huge win, since nearly anything Tron is a good thing (seriously, I adore the Tron movies...) and with the sometimes-odd looking squad mates, the clashing designs fit incredibly well together. Kind of like how Thanksgiving dinner looks great (and tastes great) when it is all separated and in their own respective serving dishes, but when you put it on your tiny little plate it turns into a giant mess of delicious goodness. Dungeon of the Endless' graphics are sort of like that. I did have some problem getting used to the really weird camera angle though, as it is pseudo-top down and the rooms that you enter honor that viewpoint, but the backgrounds will occasionally be seen from a perspective similar to what a first person title would have. Strange, but not game breaking.
True to Amplitude Studios' past title, audio is done quite well. No pops, hisses, or poor sounds and a decent background track keeps you company as you slog through room after room of generic baddies that are trying to destroy your power crystal as you open more doors to the dungeon. Sounds fit will will the graphics as well, being suitably "32-bit" in the aspect that you will not find sweeping scores and hyper-realistic audio; for what its worth, Dungeon of the Endless knows its a video game and happily presents itself as such. I did find that there are some sounds (swooshes of swords or grunts) that seem a bit repetitive, but no different than say, firing a weapon in a Battlefield title. All in all, true to form, I was pleased with the audio and am happy to see that Amplitude puts as much thought and care into the sound effects and soundtrack as they do the graphics.
Now you may be confused, since I have now covered graphics and the audio and have been fully happy with the results. That is because the game, on a technical level, is really quite nice. I enjoy the goofy graphics and the audio is done quite well; what made me suffer is not the technical aspect itself, but rather the gameplay. Dungeon of the Endless is the first real rogue-like I have invested any time into, given my time with Rogue Legacy is limited to about 4 hours, yet I have put dozens of painstakingly long and frustrating hours into Dungeon of the Endless.
When I first started up the game I was a bit confused, it just allows you to choose two of three heroes (though there are a TON of unlockable ones) and boom, you are playing. That is it, nothing more. Just choose hero, watch your ship go from orbit to the ground and now it is time to open some doors. I can be forgiving, I can look past some faults, but just ... dropping someone in with no real direction was hard to swallow. After playing for some time I figured out how to move my crystal pylon, a power source that you have to drag around the dungeon to power various rooms to allow the opening of doors. A neat mechanic and a way to limit your squad from becoming ultra-powerful gibbing machines; the big issue is that at the start of the level, when you only have two team members, moving the thing is a death sentence.
Once you 'unplug' the pylon, baddies will literally pour out of rooms that you just cleared. With only one person protecting and the other dragging around that cursed crystal, you really have no choice but to, well, die. There are ways to micromanage and heal your teammates via the smart and easily navigated menus, but all you can really do is set the equipment, level up a bit, and then heal (that is the extent of the RPG elements), where I really struggled was that you had no control over your squad, even though this is supposedly a loosely squad-based style of game. You can click the unit into a room and they do the rest. That is all. In truth the LACK of being able to manage my team has my pulse racing (in a bad way) and I can feel the anxiety getting ready to set in and I believe that is what really gets to me with Dungeon of the Endless; the lack of control.
Do not get me wrong, the gameplay mechanics for each individual sub-genre that Dungeon of the Endless covers are excellent. The RPG elements are detailed and surprisingly fleshed out for as simplistic as it is. The dungeon defense aspects (similar to tower-defense games) is clean, and in my opinion, the best aspect of the game. Then there is the rogue-like persistence of Dungeon of the Endless which works, but when you mix all of these features together, it is simply too much yet not enough. Had they stuck with JUST dungeon defense or JUST rogue-like features, Dungeon of the Endless would be a masterpiece and likely one of my favorite games; as it is currently?
It will remain in my "If I never play it again, it will be too soon" pile of forgotten Steam games; it has changed my personal opinion of Amplitude, as I have felt let down by the title (possibly due to my own expectations?) and even more so, has turned me away from any title claiming to be "rogue-like." Fortunately it is not only about how I personally feel with the game; I can absolutely detest a game, as I do this one, but still recognize its merits and Dungeon of the Endless certainly has plenty of those.
Review by Robert