Dungeon of the Endless Review

Open the door.

I love a good roguelite experience. Whether you’re inching your way around a dungeon or careening through space, the random pickups and permadeath always make for a tense and unpredictable time. Dungeon of the Endless is one such roguelite, but it’s also been fused with tower defence gameplay, not to mention a little base building as well.

It sounds complex, but in practice it’s actually quite simple. You begin on a crashing space ship and have to pick your heroes and escape pod. These characters will survive the crash and help you uncover and escape the dungeon, if you’re lucky enough to get that far. There’s a variety of characters on offer, from slow thugs with automatic laser guns to melee robots and war pugs, and you’ll unlock more by finding them in the dungeon and keeping them with you for a few floors. Heroes have various strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities; some of them will be melee focused whilst others will use ranged weaponry.

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Your escape pod can provide also advantages that will allow you to fine tune your playstyle, provided you are okay with the trade-offs. The standard pod offers no advantages, but no disadvantages either, whilst the infirmary pod significantly increases your heroes’ health points, but removes the automatic healing phase from the end of every turn. The Armory pod, however, lets you start the game with a full party of four heroes instead of the usual two and even supplies some weapons, but you won’t be able to find heroes in the dungeon and it’ll limit your research and early building capabilities.

Once you’ve settled on a starting group and pod, you’ll find your heroes in the dungeon with a crystal that you’ll be trying to defend throughout. Trekking through the dungeon, you’ll gain food, industry, and science for each room you uncover. Industry and science are used for buildings and research respectively, as you might expect, whilst food is used to level up and heal your heroes. You can increase the amount you find by building generators in rooms that have a major module in them.

You also find dust whilst exploring and defeating enemies, which is used to power rooms. Any unpowered rooms have a chance of spawning enemies every time you open a new door and these enemies will rampage through your base, some attacking your buildings and heroes, but others making a beeline for your crystal. As they damage it, you’ll lose dust, which you can’t really generate yourself, and as you lose dust, you’ll lose power to rooms, which causes more enemies to spawn as you explore. It’s a vicious cycle that can be hard to recover from, so protecting that crystal is imperative.

Thankfully, you’re not defenceless. In addition to resource generators, you have an ever expanding selection of defensive buildings that can be built on minor modules found in rooms and corridors. Some will directly damage enemies, whilst others can debuff them, heal your own heroes, or repair other structures.

You start with the bare minimum, a level one cattle prod, but there’s a lot of options to unlock and upgrade once you find research stations, which are randomly placed on each floor. Spending your science will start them researching, but time is measured by the number of new rooms you open. If you just sit around waiting for it, literally nothing at all will happen.

These interconnecting systems dominate the majority of gameplay. You’ll wander around the floor, upgrading and building defences, researching new items, and killing any enemies that appear, until you find the exit. There are 12 floors to make it through – this dungeon isn’t so endless, after all – and you’ll have to bring that crystal with you as your power source. You need to have your heroes go and pick it up, at which point monsters will spawn repeatedly in all your unlit rooms as you make a dash for the exit.

It’s a satisfying loop, especially once you’ve learnt the ins and outs of how to play, but it keeps throwing conundrums at you. The crystal cannot power every room from the dust you’ll manage to collect, so you have to decide where you want monsters to come at your chain of turret-laden rooms. Creative combinations of defences can be just as effective as your heroes, at least earlier in the dungeon, and you’ll have to be mindful of your exit strategy to help your heroes not get bogged down. You’ll also start to learn the hero combos that fit well together, with some being a little squishier earlier on and needing a partner that particularly tough to keep them going until they’ve hit their stride.

With a lovely pixel art aesthetic that’s full of neat little touches, and deep, synth-filled electro, the presentation is spot on. That makes it a little surprising to find the frame rate drop quite noticeable during end of level sprints. It’s at this point that the most enemies are spawning, but it’s still unexpected. Thankfully it doesn’t affect the gameplay, especially considering the indirect, order driven method of controlling your heroes, but it’s not still not ideal.

You also might find the game start to get a little repetitive. It’s a curse of both the roguelite and tower defence genres, where each floor will see you starting from scratch with new base building, and each death sends you back to the start with a more limited selection of buildings to choose from. That said, the randomisation makes each attempt a new challenge and puzzle to try and solve, while the wealth of options and the conceit of exploring the floor with your heroes helps keep things engaging.

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Summary
Dungeon of the Endless combines the roguelite and tower defence genres in a way that makes it deeper than the sum of its parts. It's challenging, but rewarding, and if you're a fan of the roguelite genre, then this is one of the most interesting ones from the last few years.
Good
  • Gorgeous presentation
  • Deep tower defence
  • Even deeper party system
  • Humour sprinkled around the edges
Bad
  • Frame rate drops in the final stage of each level
  • Repetitive base building
9