Calling Dungeon of the Endless a Real Time Strategy RPG is a bit of a misnomer, but it’s the closest I could really get to defining it. There are real time strategy elements, RPG elements, randomly built dungeon-crawls, rogue-like parts, and tower defense elements, all rolled up into one neat, hard to define package that can be hard as hell but is equally as rewarding when you get all your pistons firing as a player. It’s definitely something unique on the gameplay end of things, throwing lots of older gaming elements in to make something completely unique, but at the same time reminding you of its roots. The visuals alone scream of the games I played back in college, though they are still definitely more advanced. Let’s take a look.
Set in the Endless Space universe, Dungeon of the Endless takes place before Endless Legend. Several hundred criminals and their guards were packed into a ship known as the “Success” to colonize the Auriga system. Little did they know that the planet they’d chosen to settle on, which was hospitable from all outside appearances, also harbored some of the Endless tech, including an advanced satellite defense system that ends up destroying your means of safely landing and forcing the people on board to eject in survival pods, as pieces of the disintegrating ship fell apart over the main planet of the system. You pair of characters crash deep into a long abandoned complex built by the Endless, an ancient space-faring race. You’re not the only ones down in the bowels of the facility, and there are things looking to kill you, so your only real hope is getting to the surface where you might have a better chance at survival. This is pretty much it for the story from that point on. It’s survive or die. You do meet other people you can recruit to join you, and that does change things up, but from the get go each experience is going to be different depending on not only your starting pair of characters, but how the dungeon will randomly roll out for you as you move forward. You don’t have to tackle the whole survival thing all on your own, as there is a multiplayer co-op option to the game.
Visually, this game feels very retro, with a few modern tweaks to improve the look a bit. The game is decidedly 2D, with sprites and the whole works on that end of things, and it has a very pixel art look to it instead of being smooth in any way, shape or form, which works very well with the set-up and what you have to do to survive. The lighting effects looks great, and the way they have the crystal feed power through the level is a nice touch, especially if you’re just trying to light the way so you can be sure it’s free of critters. The characters you control are definitely unique and are pretty easy to tell apart on screen. The music fits the game along with the other effects. They don’t stand out, but fit and do the job they need to.
Most of the controls are handled by the mouse, but you can trigger a few things with your keyboard. You can pause the game with your spacebar. That’s the biggest key I used there. The rest was all mouse. Left clicking and dragging will move your map around. The left mouse button also handles your construction options. Different construction options require different room shapes to build in. Left clicking also controls your characters. What they do depends on options in the room. They’ll always attack enemies there, but if there are other things to do in there, left clicking gets you to it. The middle mouse button will power up the rooms, and you can simply click on the room away from the crystal you want to power it up and it’ll find the path from the crystal to do it. Unless that’s too many rooms away from the crystal. It is limited in how far away and how much it can power. Right clicking will make your character do a particular action, but building and selecting options requires the left mouse button.
The main goal for each and every level is to find the exit and take your crystal to it. The location of the exit is different in every level, which means you have to open doors to get through the level to find the exit. You get through the dungeon levels by selecting at least one of your characters (yes you can select more than one by holding down the shift key) and opening a door by clicking on it. Any room you open up can contain a different array of things, from more characters you can recruit, shop vendors, resources and items, but more often than not you’ll unleash a bunch of hostile enemies. The other thing opening doors does is function as a means of progressing through time. The doors act as turn markers, so once you’ve cleared a room, you have all the time in the world to wander around or prep for the next one. If you’re using an object for research, this is tied to those timers as well. You start with two of your chosen characters from when the colony ship is first getting obliterated, and if you’ve unlocked other escape pods you can select those as well before getting dropped to the lowest levels of the long abandoned complex.
You get one crystal to power your pod with. You can use it to extend your power out to other units, so you can see enemy units when they spawn from other areas of the level moving around, and they won’t spawn in lighted areas either so you can keep them away from your crystal. If they destroy your crystal it’s over, as sure as if you’ve lost all you characters. The crystal itself is powered by dust, which functions as your currency and its energy and health. You level your characters, buy the loyalty of ones you come across, and heal them in combat, by spending food. Your characters all start at level one and have locked abilities you don’t have access to until they’ve lived through at least three levels with you. Your party members all can be active in combat and can help boost different room improvements. You have different options with equipment and other goodies you find in different rooms and upgrades that can either boost you or your production or can hinder the critters that spawn in different areas and move through. If you find the exit before you want to leave, you can keep exploring, but once you find the exit you can make for the next level if you want. You’ll have to pick one of your characters to carry the crystal to the exit. Once you pick it up, waves of enemies spawn and keep coming for your crystal before you can make the exit. As long as your crystal bearer makes it and everyone’s alive, they all move on to the next level of the dungeon. This is probably the most hair-raising part of playing as you try to make it through the mess, depending on how long the path you have to take is.
This is not a game you play once and put down. This is one of those games where you get your ass handed to you, you rethink your options, pick a different set of characters and give it another go with a new and completely random dungeon level layout all over again. It’s designed for each run to be completely different, even if you’ve picked the same starting characters again. This is aside from the Steam achievements and trading cards. It’s challenging and fun in a lot of ways that most tower defense games aren’t for me, as it applies so many other neat things to it. They made this fairly brutal with losing team members permanently, among other things, but at the same time there isn’t really frustration, just a need to open the next door and see how well your luck holds with the characters you picked, and it’s amazing to dive into all over again with someone new.
You do get quite a bit of value out of this. There’s a lot of options, and as I mentioned, each playthrough is guaranteed to be different and new. On the other hand, even on the easiest settings the first few levels aren’t too difficult, but the game won’t let that last. It amps up everything as you go and gets much harder to get through. Brutal would be how I would describe this game. Brutal in a Dark Souls kind of way. You don’t get anything back if you lose it. When you lose all your characters, you start from scratch. That’s it. It’s great game design that keeps you coming back and has been well fleshed out in the last ten months they’ve been working on it since it hit Early Access.
Now, the game does borrow a lot of elements from a lot of different places, but it very much feels like something I’ve never played before, even with the elements they’ve got here. It’s like an old-school dungeon crawl, but it’s not quite that. There’s tower defense, but that’s not it either. There’s definite RPG elements, but it doesn’t fit there either. It’s also a bit of prison escape and survival horror with a deep sci-fi element as far as the story goes, but again, that’s not entirely accurate either. It’s all those things and not, and it meshes beautifully into something I really enjoy sinking time into. You’ll recognize a lot of elements, but the developers got creative with them, including the backstories for each of the characters. Dungeon of the Endless also manages to hold your interest. Apart from wanting to see what’s behind the next door, you really want to get to the next level to see how far you can make it. It may have almost made me late for work a few times because I was too invested to pay attention to my phone warning me what time it was. Where some games get me engrossed in their story, this one got me involved in opening up the next door and bracing for whatever I found. That’s an accomplishment right there.
They do give you a few options for picking this up, some with extra digital goodies and some that give you extras in another of their games. Really though, even without the extras, it’s a solid game that runs well, is decently priced and is a blast to play. There’s not much more to ask for other than that. I didn’t have any problems running it, it never crashed to desktop on me, the saves always left me right where I left off and everything worked as advertised. This is definitely one everyone who loves any of the genre’s I’ve talked about with this game should pick up. While it felt like a daunting task back when it first hit early access, they’ve added a lot of options that make it not only more fun, but expanded upon the world you have to move through by leaps and bounds, and it’s great seeing it all come together like this. The developers listened to what people wanted out of the game and accommodated really well.
Short Attention Span Summary
Dungeon of the Endless is one of those games that tries to tinker with the formulas for several different game genres before splicing them all back together again the way the developers want it, and the end result works amazingly well. While it’s hardly forgiving of mistakes and can be just as brutal to the player as Dark Souls, the game manages to be a blast all while throwing things at you as you progress through each randomly generated level trying to escape from your fate. The design is deliciously on the low-tech side while keeping lots of the modern touches that keep it moving fast and fun. It’s easy to get caught up in opening doors, just trying to find the way out or see what’s behind the next with all your characters prepped for the worst, or at least you hope so. This is one of those games that I think pretty much anyone can find something in, and it’s worth adding to your collection, if only to keep you humble in your gaming skills.