- Developer: Amplitude Studios
- Publisher: SEGA
- Release date: 15/05/2020
- Price: £17.99 / $15.99
- Review code provided by SEGA
Introducing: Dungeon of the Endless Switch Review
Playing Dungeon of the Endless reminded me precisely why I have a love-hate relationship with the rogue-like genre. I found myself itching to start and end my day with a few journeys back into the breach. As each run inevitably ended in crippling defeat, I became galvanized by my frustrations and immediately threw myself back into the grinder for just one more attempt. Neither my pride nor my blood pressure made it through my time with Dungeon of the Endless unscathed. However, I’m certainly not complaining, as despite its issues, the game is a perfect fit on the Nintendo Switch.
Alien Atmosphere and Aesthetics
The setup for Dungeon of the Endless is as succinct as it is jarring. As soon as the game begins, your ship is attacked, and you jettison from it in a daring escape, crash-landing on the planet below. That’s about all the setup you’re going to get from Dungeon of the Endless. While it does pepper in a handy amount of lore and banter through optional biographies and short dialog sequences, Dungeon of the Endless’ world is carried by its aesthetic and atmosphere.
It’s a wonderful game to immerse yourself in. The pixel art is stunning, conveying a sense of foreign mystery. This art style really sells the idea that you’re stranded in a hostile environment that you have to overcome. Its heavy shadows and moody color palate work masterfully, and the game strikes an excellent balance between visual detail and considered minimalism. The music is unfortunately more forgettable than the visuals, yet it still provides a steady, spaced-out ambiance that adds to the alien look and feel of Dungeon of the Endless. The presentation suits the game’s characters well, too, as they’re equally worthy of praise. They’re an eclectic bunch, ranging from the more typical mercenaries to the more atypical, including a pug with a hammer. Yes, you can play Dungeon of the Endless as a cute dog, however I must be the bearer of bad news: regrettably, you cannot pet the dog.
Overcoming the First Hurdle
Beyond its presentation, Dungeon of the Endless succeeds in the gameplay department. Each run begins with the player choosing two heroes and a ship to start out with. From there, the run will begin, and you’ll be equipped only with your wits and a basic array of things to craft. The objective of the game is to clear a series of increasingly difficult procedurally generated floors, carrying your crew and your crashed ship’s core to safety. As the game’s dungeons are procedurally generated, no two runs will be the same, and success relies heavily on resource-management and strategy.
Your first run will make one of the game’s flaws incredibly apparent: its tutorial is simply abysmal. My first play session lasted about ten minutes as I booted up Dungeon of the Endless, became immediately confused by the game’s complexity, and put it down for the night. The tutorial simply does not equip the player with even a top-down understanding of what to do. The next morning, I surfed YouTube, watched a beginner’s guide to Dungeon of the Endless, and returned to the game. After getting a grasp on the most essential components of its gameplay loop, I began to really connect with its nuances and appreciate the game’s mechanics.
The Basics of Survival
At its core, Dungeon of the Endless is one part rogue-like exploration game, and one part tower defense simulator. On the surface, though, the game is largely about resource management. The game wrestles direct control of your characters away, so you’ll only be commanding them on where to go, otherwise, they’re up to their own devices. In the simplest terms, the gameplay revolves around meticulously crawling room to room, looking for the exit elevator that leads to the next floor. Your core provides power, and that power is generated by collecting a resource called dust. Each room you enter is shrouded by darkness, and only by spending dust to power the room can you make it safe. Rooms that stay in the dark can spawn monsters that’ll lumber ahead to destroy your core.
Naturally, the game does not give you enough dust to light every room, and there are enough monsters to quickly overwhelm the characters you take into battle. This where the tower defense elements of the game enter the picture. With each door you open, you’ll gain a set number of resources across three types: industry, science, and food. Rooms that have been powered with dust can be tricked out with various machines, from improved resource generators to offensive traps and defensive barriers, all of which are purchased using the resources gained through exploration.
It’s a complex game to explain, and an even more complex dance in execution. However, once you begin to get a handle on a playstyle that works best, the systems in Dungeon of the Endless become very empowering. Depending on how you choose to allocate resources and how you approach each floor, there is a high degree of player choice and flexibility in the design. It all feels very satisfying and carving out your own niche playstyle makes each run feel that much more personal.
A Bumpy Ride
The game isn’t without its flaws, though. Perhaps most inexcusable is the hard crash I experienced during one of my more successful runs. Since the game is a rogue-like and it is designed to prevent save scumming, the game doesn’t autosave and it doesn’t allow you to save and continue a run. You can save and quit a run to return to it later, but that effectively makes it impossible to manipulate saves to retry after a mistake. It also means that when the game crashes, your run is gone. This is an absolute gut-punch. Crashes and freezes are always a major issue in any game, but in a rogue-like such as this, they’re particularly devastating. Luckily, I have only experienced one crash in my time with Dungeon of the Endless, and it is possible that a patch can correct this before it becomes a wide-spread issue.
Another facet of the game that I found disappointing was the overarching sense of progression between runs. The best rogue-likes that the genre has to offer make you feel as though you’re getting stronger with each run, and make you feel as though the next run will surely result in you getting further than the last. I didn’t always feel that playing Dungeon of the Endless. As I played more my strategy and skill improved, and I consistently made it deeper into the unknown with each attempt. However, the game doesn’t do much of that lifting. You do unlock new heroes and ships to begin with, but without persistent upgrades to your characters’ strength or your equipment, these unlocks do little to undercut the game’s heavy focus on RNG.
Perhaps the biggest point of contention with Dungeon of the Endless is how heavily to relies on random elements. Earning dust doesn’t feel consistent, especially in the later floors of a run. This can be a huge issue as the floors begin to feel dauntingly large and escape elevators begin to feel impossibly far away. At times like this, the game just won’t giving you what you need to properly execute a defensive strategy that’ll sustain you as you explore. Having a bit more stability within the framework of a run itself or in the overarching progression would’ve gone a long way to mitigating some of the more frustrating elements of the game.
Still, even though Dungeon of the Endless is a flawed experience, I find myself thinking about it often. It’s a complex, challenging, and engaging experience. While its design lacks some elegance, this is a perfect game to have loaded on your Nintendo Switch. It thrives in pick-up-and-play bursts. I’m compelled to hone my strategies and improve. I’m determined to make it further into the abyss than I already have. Even long after this review is published, I’ll be returning to Dungeon of the Endless for just one more run, or so I’ll tell myself before I’ve sunk another three or four attempts into the game.
- Excellent aesthetic
- Plenty of player choice and strategy
- Deeply engaging and nuaced mechanics
- Unhelpful tutorial
- Technical issues
- Too much focus on RNG
While flawed, Dungeon of the Endless is a deeply nuanced and engaging rogue-like, tower defense hybrid that got its hooks in me and won’t let go.