Endless Dungeon is a rigorous blend of tower defence and tactical roguelite action
Forgive it for being unforgiving
First announced last year, Endless Dungeon is a top-down, tactical roguelite hero-shooter set in Amplitude's Endless universe - yer Endless Legend and Endless Space types. Lots of things with no end, basically. It's also a sort of sequel to Dungeon Of The Endless, a turn-based game from 2014 that laid a lot of the groundwork for Endless Dungeon's core loop of dungeon runs and wave survival. I got to sample one of its earliest levels with three different heroes in a recent hour long preview session, but came away with mixed feelings. If you can get a foothold in a run it's fantastic, but getting that foothold can be frustrating in its current state.
You start in a hub area populated by a few aliens and robots having some drinks near the bar. I'm told that this cosy space will evolve a little between runs, with NPCs commenting on your progress and new folks popping in for a chat. It's no Temple Of Styx a la Hades, though, so don't expect any rigorous customisation options or any branching paths to expand it. On the ground, there's a big pad that whisks you to a mission and it's here where you select the heroes you control, swapping between them with a press of the space bar while the AI takes control of the others if you're playing solo.
I got to sample Zed (mini-gunner), Bunker (robot with shield), and Blaze (four-armed cowboy sniper), each armed with three abilities that pop them into a given archetype: tank, damage-dealer, a bit of both. I could only take two heroes with me into the sample mission, with the third slot locked until I discovered the "Procedural Factory" during a run. I'm told there will be eight heroes on release, so that's a fair number to shake up the action with.
Once you enter the abandoned space station, the game's less than typical rogueliting kicks into gear. Much like The Binding Of Isaac, Hades or Rogue Legacy, you move through procedurally generated rooms. Sometimes these rooms have loot chests in them or house a shopkeeper who sells you wares. This is largely where the similarities end, though. The trick to survival in Endless Dungeon isn't so much selecting the right concoction of power-ups, but by making smart investments, both in your future and its infrastructure.
A little robot with a crystal for a brain is your everything – you must protect it with your life. The aim of the game is to kick open doors, find the escape room, then successfully escort robo-bud out the chute. Of course, it ain't that simple. Some rooms are homes to alien nests that spew goo-slinging bees and gnashing blobs in huge swarms. To combat the nasties, you must construct turret defenses in as many rooms as possible: regular shootybangs, support modules that buff their armour, and pylons that emit a slowing radius are the basic trio on offer in the beginning.
And yet, there's more. You can't just go and build these things willy nilly! You must spend Industry tokens, one of three currencies – Food and Science being the other two – that automatically fill your pockets every time you enter a room. On your hunt for the exit, you'll occasionally find generators that can be converted into additional revenue streams, adding a couple of extra tokens to your pocket whenever you open a door.
Sorry to bang on about the game's generators, but they really do make or break runs. Each generator only supports one type of token, so initially I went down the Science route, as gathering Science unlocks new turrets – or so I thought. Turns out I never had enough Industry tokens to build the turrets in the first place. And as for Food? Well, that's spent at machines for passive buffs and healing packs, but again, it never seemed as important as Industry.
Industry was everything in my preview build, as investing in anything else early on meant you'd never be able to pop down any turrets. Resources were scarce in general too, which can make it difficult to stabilise a failing run if you've made some bad investment decisions. It's a fine balance, but for me at least, it's probably a bit too fine for my liking. It didn't seem like there was a lot of room for experimentation, for example, and if I didn't choose Industry early on, then I'd be up shit creek. Here's hoping Food and Science aren't always playing second fiddle to Industry in the final release, as it would've been cool to mix things up a bit. That's the fun of roguelites, after all.
I hope this will change with the inevitable final polish and balance tweaks as we head closer toward release (which is still TBA, at time of writing). Based on what I played, though, Endless Dungeon hasn't quite discovered its own rhythm yet, and I reckon that's why investments seem so fragile. Waves of enemies will periodically burst out of their nests and swarm you, leaving you no choice but to run somewhere and defend something when the time comes, but when you're starved of resources and you've not had a chance to set up many turrets and all of your generators are going up in flames, it can all feel a bit much, you know?
Somewhere deep within my frustrations is a shiny nugget of enjoyment, though. The game is a melting pot of turret defense, wealth management and hero-shooter, and when you strike the right balance of all three it makes for a really fun time. When the decisions you've made with its three currencies all pay off, there's great satisfaction in tactically positioning your turrets and watching hordes of aliens stall at their gates. And the heroes have cool abilities, like Bunker whose shield slam slices through waves, or Blaze's mines that provide some explosive cover for your favourite turrets. Clever use of these moves do allow you to counter the horde if you're struggling, too. For instance, Bunker's ultimate sees him armour up and place his shield down on the ground as cover, turning him into - quite literally - a brick wall with a gun poking through the other side. I credit the majority of my crystal robot's survival to Bunker's hunker down.
One magical run saw me invest in Science at the right time, meaning I unlocked a flamethrower turret and one that spat acid bullets which formed a fantastic combo. And particularly successful turrets were upgradeable too, giving off a glow to show that they'd worked hard and could use some beefing up. After a quick tinker, I'd beefed them up - for free! If only those highs came a bit more often. So, even though I couldn't quite find my rhythm with Endless Dungeon, there is definitely potential here, and it's a roguelite worth watching, especially if you're after something a bit different from your usual room-bashing. There's no release date for it yet, but you can follow its progress (and sign up to Open Dev program which starts next month) over on Steam.