In between Endless Legend and Endless Space therein lies Dungeon of the Endless. It’s almost as if Legend and Space met up somewhere and made hot, mad pixel love to each other and Dungeon was the spawned result. So – while the game sounds like a spin off, it plays remarkably better. During its early development, I remember reading that Dungeon of the Endless was supposed to have elements of rogue-like dungeon crawling and tower defense. That seemed confusing at the time. I just could not envision a game where you build towers to destroy waves of enemies, yet controlled a character that explored procedurally generated dungeons. It didn’t compute.
Then I played it. And played it some more. And a little more after that. And I can honestly say that the mesh of gameplay elements works beautifully. You start the game with two characters from an original pool of four. More can be unlocked later by completing certain requirements like having a character live more than three levels and similar achievements. Then you get to take your band of merry (or sullen) adventurers out on an epic journey through dimly lit hallways crawling with strange and hideous beings.
"Then I played it. And played it some more. And a little more after that. And I can honestly say that the mesh of gameplay elements works beautifully."
The game boasts old-school pixel art (except for some of the effects which look awesome), so the characters and monsters look like what you would get if you had H. R. Giger design Super Mario Brothers. Each of your characters has an inventory and can utilize and manufacture different items found on the way. Some items can only be used by certain characters while all of them can wear armor. The correct use of items can mean the difference between standing at the end of a level victoriously, sneering at the broken bodies of your enemies or lying in a heap of melted flesh and bone wishing you had stayed back home.
All games rely on resources and the player’s decision on how and when to use them. Characters in World of Warcraft have stamina, mana, and health while ships in FTL have a limited amount of energy to spread out across all systems. Every game is either won or lost depending on the player’s astute decision making skills. Victory makes you feel powerful and smart while defeat leaves you cursing your mistakes and kicking the coffee table. This could get expensive depending on which bone you break. Dungeon of the Endless has four major resources, beyond character health. You have Industry which allows you to build devices (towers) and attack incoming enemies or create stations to increase resource generation. Science is used to research, develop and purchase items and abilities. Food is used, oddly enough, to level up and heal characters. Lastly, the most important resource is Dust.
"Victory makes you feel powerful and smart while defeat leaves you cursing your mistakes and kicking the coffee table."
You’ll recognize how important Dust is if you’ve ever played any of the other Endless games. In Dungeon, Dust allows you to power rooms. The advantage of a powered room is that you get to build structures in it, it lights up, and creatures will not spawn in it. What the game pulls off beautifully, though, is not giving you enough resources so that you end up passing turns waiting for resource generation or oftentimes you’ll find yourself traveling down a long hallway only to discover that you don’t have enough Dust to power the last room in the hall - which means that creatures will spawn there. Of all the things in the game that you do not want, it’s creatures spawning.
"Creatures will spawn at inopportune times and travel along the rooms and hallways attacking your structures, heroes, and most importantly the power core."
Your ship’s power core is carried from one end of the dungeon to the exit, once it’s found, and every creature in the level desires to destroy it. Your heroes are quite adequate in dispatching a moderate number of enemies, but they can be quickly overwhelmed if stretched too thin. Once your power core is obliterated, you’re characters are not far behind. Creatures will spawn at inopportune times and travel along the rooms and hallways attacking your structures, heroes, and most importantly the power core. Thankfully you can build devices that act like tower defenses in traditional tower defense games. This allows you a small amount of breathing room when defending your heroes against the onslaughts that come too often to rest.
"Dungeon of the Endless is a blast to play and well balanced. You won’t win on your first try and probably not on your fiftieth either."
Some creatures love to attack structures, other prioritize heroes and some pass everything to speed off towards the core. And they’re fast, too, which is a shame since while you’re carrying the power core you’re slowed to a crawl and cannot defend yourself. The smart thing to do is to make sure all of the rooms in your path are powered, but you’ll discover many times that the game is smart and doesn’t give you the Dust you need to power the rooms, and you WILL find your path blocked by ravenous monsters. Dungeon of the Endless balances resources on a razor’s edge and creates paranoia in the player. Not many games can say that they can cause such heavy second guessing every time they are played.
Dungeon of the Endless is a blast to play and well balanced. You won’t win on your first try and probably not on your fiftieth either. The game is challenging and intricate with what seems like endless methods of achieving goals. Replayability is high, but with permanent death, however, it can be unforgiving. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to find the elevator out of here before whatever’s crawling in the walls decides to eat my face.
Review by: Mark Brenner | Reviewed on: PC