Rather than climb their way up from monster-filled depths, Endless Dungeon tasks a squad of heroes with descending towards the core of an infested space station. This is just one aspect that Amplitude Studios’ latest title flips on its head as it attempts to reinvigorate the formula used in 2014’s Dungeon of the Endless.
Both games mix elements from different genres in their attempt to create a compelling, replayable experience. Endless Dungeon leans more into rogue-lite mechanics, twin-stick shooting, and increased player agency, but when played solo, its action-packed romps through the station don’t quite reach the same heights as those of its more tactical predecessor.
After your ship crash-lands as part of the tutorial – making for a neat throwback to the original – you’re briefly introduced to a couple of core mechanics before reaching the Saloon.
Permeated by a thick space western atmosphere, this hub area allows you to upgrade your heroes’ gear, decide which characters you take on each run, learn more about them and the station, while listening to some eerily melancholic tunes. A handful of the latter are produced by Lera Lynn of True Detective fame, excellently complementing the rest of the soundtrack, with its pairing of distinctive synths and guitars.
In your initial runs, you’ll start with a duo, and there’s a high chance of facing many deaths. However, with a Saloon upgrade, a third hero becomes available, adding to the game’s modest rogue-lite progression system.
Explosions are at home in Endless Dungeon.
You choose one of three elevators that take you to specific districts, each with a slightly different aesthetic and set of baddies. One of the terminals in the Saloon lets you review a map, informing you about which districts are connected to each other, the enemies you encounter there, and the hero quests you can complete.
Beyond the cozy premises of the Saloon await considerably less friendly environments. Aside from the occasional trader looking to sell you gear, it’s safe to assume that anything moving throughout the rooms and hallways of the ten districts wants to get rid of you and your Crystal Bot.
The trusty robotic pal is both a literal and figurative key to your efforts. Moving it between dedicated slots and unlocking specific doors is how you progress below. Its death – much like your squad’s – brings about the end of the run.
Each opened door yields a set amount of three resources – Science, Industry, and Food. The amount can be further increased by building a limited amount of generators and successfully protecting them when all hell breaks loose.
Science lets you research new and better turrets, Industry builds both generators and turrets, while Food is spent upgrading heroes and purchasing medkits. All three resources are also used by merchants, which act as a means of securing weapons and upgrades.
Some explosions are bad (because they kill you).
It’s a simple enough economy system that lets you focus on the action. However, since it fuels both offensive and defensive needs, you will eventually need to decide if purchasing a shiny new railgun is worth it over a few extra turrets or another upgrade.
Most rooms are powered by default, but you also run into Dark Rooms that need to be brought online before you can use the building slots or upgrade stations within. You do so with the rare Dust resource found throughout levels. Use it too early and you may find yourself lacking it on the lower and tougher floors, but forego a medkit refill and you may not reach them to begin with.
Each time you open a door, you also have a chance of uncovering a monster nest while the likelihood of triggering an enemy wave increases. This creates a risk-reward loop that acts as the glue keeping everything together.
Over multiple runs, you develop a sense of when it’s best to move on and when you can push for more exploration. Opening all the doors makes your squad rich, but having to face twice as many enemies during a wave can see these resources going into extra defenses or see you getting a warm hug and a ticket back to the Saloon from the Grim Reaper.
Certain actions like ordering your Crystal Bot to move and open a door or researching new turrets automatically trigger a wave. Although overlapping waves reinforces them, taking on the extra challenge can be worth if you’re looking to be efficient.
The band playing music at the Saloon lessens the pain of a failed run.
An indicator above your minimap gives you a general idea of when you’re about to have visitors, but this never really removes the pressure you’re constantly under. Enemies belong to four families, each one having an elemental resistance and weakness.
Since they always spawn from areas marked on the map, you’re able to assess the paths that you need to defend and build turrets beforehand. Turrets cover all available element types while also providing support abilities that slow or distract foes, so there is some room to experiment when placing them.
More often than not, you need to counter multiple elements, which is where the weapons your heroes wield come into play. A wave of bots will shrug off light damage, but pair a group of electrical turrets with heroes wielding an electricity-infused railgun and you can turn a widely open door into a defensible chokepoint.
Endless Dungeon is at its best during these intense moments or when barely holding off a stream of enemies as your Crystal Bot finishes opening the door to the next area. But this is also where more of its cracks begin to show. The process of weighing when to open doors and when to move on is exciting at first, but a lack of significant evolution sees it becoming exhausting on later runs.
The core is a nasty place, but you can gradually remove some of its defenses.
Foes might have different attacks – some roll past and spawn small bugs, others web you or outright phase in and out of reality to evade damage as they get close to your Crystal Bot – but your tactical choices are ultimately limited.
You can plop down a turret or leave an AI-controlled hero behind to cover an area prone to breaches but, especially on lower floors, it all comes down to unloading as much ordinance as possible into increasingly bullet-spongy waves of enemies.
A lot of my deaths came down to poor planning or spending my resources unwisely, both outcomes expected and fair. But even as I kept learning when to not spend and which upgrades to pursue, Endless Dungeon’s rogue-lite side felt ineffective, making subsequent runs feel like I was constantly swimming against a powerful current.
The hero and weapon upgrades are rarely game-changing, struggling to help characters keep up with the enemies they face. Percentage boosts can and do help you stay alive for longer, but one of Endless Dungeon’s fundamental flaws is that the way you fend off enemy waves doesn’t really change as you delve deeper.
In the short-term, it’s discovery that fuels a desire to push on, but lacking a sense of progress, I felt less inclined to start a new run after unlocking the full hero roster and using a fair share of available weapons.
Each gun has an underwhelming set of two upgrades you can purchase.
The arsenal on show is rich enough, although its railguns and pistols lack adequate punch, especially when compared to the roaring beast that is the minigun.
Using hero abilities to unleash rocket barrages, place down additional turrets, or transform into a ball of flame and roll across enemies is fun, yet the characters themselves feel uninspired.
From the forgettable bundle of in-mission one-liners to their stories being relegated to text screens read back at the Saloon, there’s little about them that’s compelling. I can’t really remember any of their names, despite having taken all of them on multiple runs.
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is that they and the broader game lack that unique charm the Endless universe boasted in past titles. It’s partly due to the comic book-inspired art style, which while cohesive, fails to stand out from the crowd.
Spending 25-or-so hours playing through Endless Dungeon solo across all four of its difficulties –some more forgiving than others –, I did reach the core itself several times.
Rocket launchers provide compelling explosion-shaped arguments that make enemies reconsider their desire to attack you.
But while the AI mostly does its job, having two other co-op partners whose movement is less restricted and who actually use their character skills efficiently strikes me as the best way to experience the game, at least at launch.
In solo mode, you can switch between your heroes by pressing Space. By default, the AI follows you, but it can be ordered to hold position by holding down the Space button and mousing over dedicated icons. This is useful when you need to cover multiple incursion points or position a hero near a door to then quickly order the bot to move after completing another task.
Swapping or issuing orders in the midst of battle, however, is too cumbersome, and quickly assessing where characters are in the middle of bigger enemy waves can be difficult. Endless Dungeon’s love for color is evident from the get-go, but its attempt to make abilities and explosions feel impactful does translate into too much visual noise at times.
Since the AI also seems to have an aversion to using ultimate abilities, having to spend a few seconds to get your bearings and line up some of them (or make sure you don’t hop into your large turret while surrounded by bugs) can translate to losing a chunk of health. This adds up over time, creating instances in which dying doesn’t feel fully deserved.
Fighting bosses alongside your AI pals is also not ideal. While they do tend to avoid attacks – generally speaking – I did catch them forgetting to shoot back. One boss loves to slam into the party, attacks which the heroes can avoid relatively easily. The same cannot be said for the not-so-nimble Crystal Bot, which made victory often feel like it was out of my hands.
Turrets are your friends, which is why you should regularly shove them to repair received damage.
In addition, enemies regularly got stuck on terrain, requiring me to hunt them down across the map in order to end waves. Although I had no significant performance issues, I was forced to quit one run mid-way, because my party couldn’t move after unlocking a new section of that floor.
ENDLESS DUNGEON VERDICT
When played in solo mode, Endless Dungeon creates a functional blend of elements from different genres that, unfortunately, fails to capitalize on the uniqueness of its universe and keep things interesting in the long run. Stale rogue-lite progression systems alongside heroes and guns that do not go through significant transformations as you play then fuel tedium.
Four difficulty levels help alleviate this somewhat – as you can choose how tough you want each individual run to be – but even with this flexibility and the intense moments that admittedly accompany early runs, Endless Dungeon’s shift to more action-focused gameplay doesn’t see it reaching similar heights to its predecessor.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Stopping enemy waves in their tracks with continuous, roaring minigun fire.
Risk-reward loop tied to opening doors
Different turret types allow for some experimentation
Lera Lynn tunes and the soundtrack as a whole
Shallow gun upgrade system
Stale rogue-lite progression
Gameplay doesn't evolve enough, making later runs tiresome