Wot I Think: Dungeon Of The Endless

Dungeon of the Endless is a roguelike defense game that rewards fast thinking, inventive solutions and tactical awareness. No, that’s not quite right. Dungeon of the Endless is a cocktail of genres that rewards inhuman omnividence, uncanny forward thinking and strategic oversight. Closer?

Dungeon of the Endless is an original creation made of familiar parts and further proof that Amplitude are a studio enjoying a rapid ascent to peak power.

I first played this game, whatever kind of game it might be, when it was a young whelp dipping its toes in the turbulent waters of Early Access. Half an hour after seeing the menu screen for the first time, I quit, hoping I’d seen it for the last time. I expected a roguelike spin-off of Endless Space, basically Sword of the Stars: The Pit set in a different sci-fi world, and instead, there was this…

And, just like that, we’re back to the initial struggle. How is Dungeon of the Endless best described? I was eating weird pizza with Graham at Gamescom earlier this year when conversation turned to Endless Legend. Yes, we’d spent all day looking at games until our eyes turned into single pixels and we should have changed the topic, but when you work in a toy store, there’s far more inclination to talk shop after hours.

My attempts to explain how difficult and strange I’d found Dungeon of the Endless to be confused Graham. “Isn’t it a tower defense roguelike?”

Having gone into the game cold, I hadn’t realised that ‘tower defense roguelike’ was a description that had been attached to it – I wasn’t even sure it was a description that could be attached to ANYthing. But it made sense. Specifically, it explained why I’d struggled so much with the game. I’d been trying to play it as a tactical dungeon crawler, rushing toward the end of each floor and gathering experience and ‘loot’ as I went. But, like my attempts to define what the game is, my approach to playing it wasn’t quite right.

Dungeon of the Endless isn’t wholly comparable to a tower defense game because it isn’t about protecting a static location. The object to be defended is a crystal and as well as surviving each floor, it must be transported from the entrance to the exit. So Dungeon of the Endless is a game about creating a safe route through a random configuration of rooms, some of which contain monsters, some of which contain modules, and some of which contain item chests or resources.

To reach the exit, with the crystal intact, it’s necessary to master the use of modules, which provide resources, act as turrets, and can even buff every other module or hero in play at any given time. The flow of the game – once you’re over the inital hump of flowing from the menu screen directly into the grave – is complex and erratic. There’s constant impetus to explore and gather, but rooms must also be converted into temporary sanctuaries for passage. Some heroes will be used as crystal carriers while others must multitask, acting as the first point of contact, defender, soldier and mechanic.

The actual process is simple – go from A to B carrying C – but there are enough variables to make every attempt feel fraught with anxiety and danger. I’ve become accustomed to using Mormish, who I think of as a hero for all (or at least most) seasons, but I think my reliance on his skills is probably holding me back. There are some heroes that I’ve struggled to get along with and others that have absorbed me into their comfort zone.

A breakthrough in my understanding of the game came when I noticed that the abbreviation DotE was almost a play on DotA. I’m MOB-Averse so the comparison may be wildly inaccurate, but Dungeon of the Endless is how a competitive lane-pusher might translate into a single player experience. Knowledge is an essential part of the player arsenal – heroes and their skills have specific utility in the many situations that can arise – and an ability to concentrate on details while maintaining an overview of the wider situation develops over time.

I’ve spent far too many hours playing Dungeon of the Endless now and most of them have been tense and exhilarating. Whether I’m any closer to figuring out what it actually is, I’m not entirely sure. A single player dungeon defense MOBAlike? Does it matter? Whatever it is, it’s a remarkable game, taking recognisable pieces and making something astonishing and unexpected with them. It’s as if Frankenstein took a load of rotten corpse-bits into his lab and emerged with a forty foot tall mech.

Despite the much tighter focus, Dungeon of the Endless has a great deal in common with Amplitude’s other recent release, Endless Legend. Both are evidence of a studio that is entirely comfortable pushing at the boundaries of a genre and once acclimatised to their willingness to experiment rather than hold hands, I’ve found both games extremely fulfilling. In the case of Endless Legend, it’s refreshing to play a 4X game and realise it isn’t simply jostling for a place in the rankings, it’s sidestepping them entirely by doing its own thing in its own territory.

As for Dungeon of the Endless, there’s nothing to rank alongside it. Influences and borrowings be damned – it stands alone and is as brilliantly designed, challenging and cunning a package of ideas and aesthetic choices as anything I’ve seen this year. Short-form but a long-term commitment.

I suspect there’s much more to come from Amplitude and on the evidence of 2014, they’re among gaming’s most inquisitive and rewarding studios.

Dungeon of the Endless is out now.

37 Comments

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    Thirith says:

    Anyone else expecting to encounter Death, Dream, Despair, Delirium, Destiny and Desire in this dungeon?

  2. jeeger says:

    Meh, no spoiler tag here.

  3. Koozer says:

    Godamnit Amplitude, could you stop making good games for five minutes? I’ve got a backlog here already.

    • Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

      Your wish has been answered with Dungeon of the Endless, it has character, but its gameplay is boring with a capital boring.

      • Eggman says:

        I don’t think his wish has been answered.

      • Flopper says:

        I think Peter played a different game than the rest of us. Dungeon of the Endless is awesome. Prepare to start a game session before bed only to realize the sun is coming up. (Yeah, it’s one of those games.)

        I had the same experience the first time I played Civ 5. Went in thinking I’ll check out this new game… 8 hours later. >.>

        • bills6693 says:

          Agreed. I go in thinking ‘I’ll just run through this dungeon quickly’. Even though I played during Early Access I still kidded myself i’d be quick.

          Really the thing that has killed me every time is getting distracted while playing and not paused. Thats when I lose a hero and it all starts going downhill. Did lose my top 2 heroes once though and make it to the next two floors (unlocking a hero in the process) with my remaining ones.

  4. phanatic62 says:

    There was something particularly satisfying about learning how to play this game. That includes larger revelations, like that doors are the mechanic that drive just about everything, and are therefore one of the most important things to keep track of. But there are also little things like how, similar to FTL, using pause saves your butt more than you can imagine. Or using un-hired heroes to your advantage by building towers around them. Or even blatantly obvious things like powering all of the rooms along your path to the exit.

    This is one of the few games where I feel like the original Early Access pitch was thoroughly realized in the final game. I’ve been burned by other EA games and I’m staying away from them from here on out, but this one was a joy to play all along.

    • ersetzen says:

      It kinda does feel like your ftl ship crashed in a dungeon. I would argue that the most important thing is that monsters spawn only from dark rooms and that you can place people into the dark rooms to keep them away. Although you are totally screwed if you open too many doors.

  5. GunnerMcCaffrey says:

    One of my favourite games this year. And just about everyone dies within a minute their first time. Beyond exploring a dungeon, it’s also about discovering the mechanics.

    It’s really closest to a mini turn-based 4X: you defend strategically important rooms as you would tiles, and each time you open a door you generate global resources as you would in, say, Civ – then you use that very limited pool of resources to research more tech, build defenses, or buff your characters. The interesting wrinkle is the random earning of dust, used mostly to power rooms – unpowered rooms (maybe analogous to fog of war?) spawn enemies.

    Optimal strategy will change based on your party – which will probably change between the beginning and the end – and how the frontline shifts as you reveal the map, each room having the potential to mess with all your tactics so far.

    The two things I was hoping would be tweaked by the time it came out of EA seem like they haven’t been touched: while there are different kinds of monsters who prioritize different targets (heroes, modules, or the crystal), combat in later levels is still kind of indistinguishable chaos where you just set up chokepoints (and then hunt down anything that got past); and there are no real tradeoffs for not focusing on research. I’ve finished runs without building a single science generator.

    Stylish, moody, funny, and surprising.

  6. Joshua Northey says:

    My real only complaint is that I find “very easy” very easy, and “easy” nearly impossible. It could really use an intermediate difficulty setting IMO and make “easy” normal or whatever. Just MO.

    Great game though, with a solid concept, good controls, fun game-play. Personally I would prefer a more serious less jokey theme (for say the items), but the jokey theme works fine and is well executed.

    Amplitude is really the hottest thing in Strategy games. That is three straight winners. Talented people.

  7. physical0 says:

    Dungeon of the Endless has been on my radar for some time. I’ve had it on my wish list since it was in early access (I do not buy early access games). Now that it’s been released, I’ve been itching to buy it, but I’m getting turned off due to a moral conundrum.

    I looked at the various versions of the game and noticed that the DLC included version included a discount for a different game (50% off Endless space and its xpac) and some in-game stuff for another one (Endless Legend).
    Curious enough, so I check out the other games. Endless Legend’s DLC includes in-game stuff for Dungeon of the Endless.

    I’m not really interested in playing these other games. They might be good games, but right now I’m not really looking for that kinda game.

    I find it bothersome that this company is holding content hostage outside of the game they are selling.

    • phanatic62 says:

      I can see where you’re coming from, but I wouldn’t get too caught up in their cross marketing. There are already a bunch of ships and a bunch of heroes in Dungeon of the Endless, and as someone who has played the game a bunch I feel absolutely no need to buy the more expensive version of Endless Legend in order to get a little bit of extra content you may or may not ever experience.

      It’s just my opinion of course, but I would just buy the basic version of DotE. Don’t let their marketing get in the way enjoying a fun game.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Meh, I don’t think the content is that substantial. You are talking like 00.01% of the content of the games. Describing it as a hostage situation seems kind of over the top. It could be more charitably described as bonuses/incentives for repeat customers.

      I think the only time it is worth getting worked up about DLC or extras is if the lack of them makes the base game substantially worse. That is not the case here.

      • physical0 says:

        It’s not how much content that bothers me… it is that it is any content at all. I am definitely being melodramatic when I refer to it as a hostage situation…

        I think that Day 1 DLC is also worth getting worked up over, and cross marketed DLC. This preys on completionists and collectors and can trick them into buying things that they otherwise wouldn’t have bought.

        I agree that it is minor, but it exists… If I don’t speak about it now, it may become a major problem.

        • Joshua Northey says:

          Do you get mad that car models come with different levels of trim? It is just discretionary pricing, trying to let the customers with a little more money to spend spend more if they want. It is an odd thing to be upset about unless it is being abused, and it definitely isn’t going away.

          • physical0 says:

            No, I do not, because cars with better features require more components and effort to assemble. Building a car is different than building a video game. That is a false analogy.

            When you make a video game, it’s a sunk cost. True, there are some ongoing costs maintaining a distribution platform and marketing and all that jazz, but once the ones and zeroes are in the file, it doesn’t cost much to copy them and give them away. The game is finished, and now it should be sold. If the designers decide to put additional work into the game and release more content, I see no issue with giving them money for that. The issue here is day 1 DLC. Gating off portions of the game (however small) for more money is a cash grab, plain and simple.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            A) It is not a bad analogy at all.

            “No, I do not, because cars with better features require more components and effort to assemble.”

            You don’t think additional content takes effort to assemble? You think the content is just magicked up out of thin air? In some cases it might even take additional workstations and equipment.

            B) 98% of the industry is a cash grab. It is a business. You must have a tough time navigating the world as almost the entire economy is built out of the concept of the “cash grab”. How many of these games would exist if their were not businesses selling them? Almost none.

            Your argument is compatible with requiring them to give the game away for free. After all the work is done its a sunk cost, why don’t they just give it away?

            I don’t think you have really thought your position through. It is internally inconsistent, and frankly absurd. No one would like a car company that sold cars, and then you found out the engine and tires were extra. But that is not what we are talking about here, we are talking about floor mats. At the very worst, it is an annoyance.

            If I run a coffee shop and it costs me $1.25 to make and sell a cup of coffee am I “making a cash grab” if I sell it for $2.50?

            When people talk about entitled teenage gamers you are the person they are talking about. You sound totally disconnected from how the rest of the world works and like you have never worked at an adult job.

          • physical0 says:

            Yes, it is a bad analogy… Every time you build a car, it requires work to assemble. The more complicated the car, the more materials and work necessary. Those higher trim level cars actually take more effort to assemble each and every single car. You don’t just build one car and then sell it 1000 times.
            Your video game, you build it once, and it’s done. You aren’t writing and compiling every single copy of the game individually. You build it once, and then just distribute copies.
            An appropriate analogy would be like writing a book and selling two versions, one complete, the other with a couple of chapters excluded.

            I wouldn’t declare the entire industry a “cash grab”. I think that there are a great many games which are worth the money they are asking. Doing business is doing business. I have no issue at all with fair and honest business practices. You are misunderstanding my statement.

            Please, try to avoid ad hominem.

        • twaitsfan says:

          It really isn’t day 1 dlc either. If you supported them early enough you could’ve gotten it all for the same price.

          • physical0 says:

            I see no issue with giving the early supporters a discount for the game. After all, they did help test it and provided valuable feedback.

          • Eggman says:

            It’s a very small piece of content. Without it, the amount of content in this game is still tremendous value at 12$ or thereabouts.

    • horsemedic says:

      Thought experiment. Imagine a game in your library you enjoy playing and paid a fair price for. For me, it might be FTL.

      Now imagine that, months after the game comes out, a DLC follows: a new type of ship.

      If the DLC is $5, I might buy it. If it’s $50, I probably will not. If the reviews say the new ship is pointless I might not spend anything. If the reviews say the DLC is amazing, I might pay an exorbitant amount.

      In any case, the existence of the DLC does not diminish the value of the game I bought several months ago. I either paid a fair price for FTL, or I didn’t.

      And the same consideration would apply if the DLC came out at the same time as the game. And it would apply if, instead of $5 or $50 for a new ship, they wanted to $500 for a new ship and a mountain bike. The existence of the DLC, whatever costs or cross ties it involves, doesn’t change my ability to decide whether the base game is worth the base cost.

      I can see how crossover DLC’s might be annoying if you’re a completionist, but I don’t think game developers have any sort of obligation to write their business models around collectors, as opposed to gamers. In fact, in non-digital settings, I think part of the appeal of collecting is that the market often makes it a challenge to acquire the complete set.

      99 percent of the market will simply weigh the game against its price, regardless of whatever other content may be or become available. I doubt this is going to snowball into an environment in which I need to buy five separate games to collect enough DLC to make any one of them enjoyable, because that’s a ridiculous way to buy or market games. This simply isn’t a real problem.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        Exactly.

      • physical0 says:

        I’m going to disagree.

        When I look at a game, I look at the whole game, not the base game (why would they make more if they didn’t want you to play it?). When that brand new game came out, I look at the whole game and decide it’s worth the money. Later on, DLC comes around and I judge the DLC, the game is already a sunk cost. When I look into an older game, I consider the cost of the game, including all of it’s DLC, and decide if it’s worth it. With Day 1 DLC, I look at the whole game, and decide is it worth it… This game isn’t worth $20. I do think it’s worth $13, but I don’t like that they removed a few small chunks of the game to upsell and cross market.

        Looking at this one, to get the “whole game” would cost $64.98. I think that is a bit too expensive. I’ll pass for now. If they ever sell a “complete” edition, I’ll re-evaluate.

        • horsemedic says:

          Then you value owning the complete set of available content above all else—even when you can get 99 percent of the available content (reviewed above and elsewhere as being a complete and fantastic game) for less than 20 percent of the maximum price. Even with no evidence that the additional 1 percent of content will materially improve the gameplay.

          In short, you’re not basing your buying decisions on gameplay. You’re a collector.

          That’s fine, of course. But it means you’re an exceptional actor in the game market, and you’re probably in for frustration if you expect publishers to adopt pricing models that suit your tastes.

          Those of us who just want to get our money’s worth in gameplay, regardless of whether we’re leaving extra content on the shelf, have nothing to fear from crossover DLCs.

          • physical0 says:

            So, a game which is good in and of itself for a price is a thing. The existence of a piece of DLC which costs almost as much as the game itself, yet doesn’t offer any major content doesn’t bother you? The existence of a piece of DLC which is exclusive to people who purchased another, much more expensive game (and the DLC for it!)

            I think it’s a bit insulting, and predatory on my kind of gamer. I enjoy playing games. I don’t necessarily buy ALL the DLC to a game I own. If I own a game new DLC comes out and it’s boring, I’ll skip it. But, I won’t buy a game which has crappy DLC, because that supports developers sharding their game for the sake of cash grabs. I don’t support that kinda developer. If a developer wants to release DLC, be my guest, but, they better make sure the DLC is worth it.

          • horsemedic says:

            No, it doesn’t bother me. If it’s not worth the cost, I won’t buy it. I have no problem with a game developer experimenting with bonus pricing models and crossover content, if they think that can help them make a profit. And when it’s a developer offering what I consider to be fantastic value for a very cheap game, I wish them all the best.

      • Synt_x says:

        Exactly

        Just buy the game, enjoy it and then get DLCs if you think it’s worth it.
        The cheapest bundle doesn’t make for best enjoyment – give me Lemmings 1 4-level demo over the complete Lemmings 3 + all the Christmas specials included any day.

  8. Hex says:

    Yay! I want these people to make all of the games. I love what they’re doing with the place.

  9. geldonyetich says:

    I eventually wrapped my head around this game when I realized it’s mostly a board game first, then the other bits come later. Opening a door is starting a “turn,” after which you scramble around and thwart any waves of enemies that might have spawned, but something else can happen too – opening a door is always a nifty risk, they worked hard to preserve that in the core mechanic. Between “turns,” you’re back to the board game, deciding which piece needs to go where.

    I’m a tad sad about gamingkind when clones are so common that our finest reviewers spend most of their time talking about how if a game isn’t a clone it’s hard to understand what it might be.

  10. Shadow says:

    Despite the fact I hate tower defense and think it should’ve died the puny simplistic WarCraft 3 timewaster mod it was born as, I have to admit Amplitude Studios has to be the most innovative significant company in recent times. They have consistently been able to put out games with the most inventive combination of existing (and non-existing) designs so far. Big points for that.