Friday, November 28, 2014

Dungeon of the Endless Review!

                The Endless universe is growing rapidly. It started with Endless Space, a game that delivered a good setting for a Sci-Fi 4X Strategy and continued to expand with Disharmony DLC which brought into player's attention the planet of Auriga as an important piece of the lore puzzle.
Endless Legend was next, showing the surface of the moribund mother planet Auriga. In a world before science and interstellar civilization, races fight for survival which could eventually lead them to the stars on a planet doomed to see eternal winter.
                This universe has a subtle yet interesting lore that is expanding with each game and based on the success these games had it might continue for a long time (hopefully).

               Dungeon of the Endless is the latest installment in the AMPLITUDE Studios Endless universe. The game is a rogue-lite at core, but it successfully combines different ideas from multiple genres to create a much more complex gameplay.
               The game starts as a spacecraft crashes on the surface of a retro looking Auriga. The crew finds itself deep in the planet surface which looks like a huge mysterious and dangerous caves complex. In order to survive and reach the planet’s surface the hero’s party has to fight their way out through eleven levels filled with dangerous creatures and power artifacts of unknown origin.
That sounds "easy"!
Friendship elevator!

              The game mechanics are easy to grasp and look quite simplistic at start, but offer a great deal of variety. With each completed level the game’s difficulty rises and is forcing good strategies and a much more cautious approach to each level.
Like any respectable rogue-lite game, Dungeon of the Endless features multiple randomly generated levels filled with all kind of unpredictable threats and permanent death.
              The starting team can have up to two members with an additional two being recruited in game. Most characters know each others and have some sort of background story. The team interacts between missions and the dialogues between the characters provide delicious information about each hero and can be compared to party dialogues seen in well written RPGs.  But these discussions are not just for flavor and they can lead to some shocking results.
              Synergy is an important factor to take in consideration when picking or recruiting the heroes. There is not much to customize when it comes to characters, because leveling is automatic and the heroes gain abilities and stats based on their preset roles. Items can be changed on characters to improve their capabilities, but that is pretty much it. So making a team that has a good synergy can be decisive.
Sell me some goodies!

                There is a turn based movement system allowing the characters to move only from one door to the next with no other controlled movement in between. Each door opened is considered as passing to the next turn and the killing of all monsters when in combat is the end of a turn. This might look as a simplistic approach to exploration, but in fact it provides a calculated aspect to the dungeon exploration. Opening a door can lead to anything from a room full of deadly monsters, powerful items, new companions or the much wanted exit to the next dungeon.
                There is a resource system in the game providing support to character progression and expanding the strategic choices. There are four resources: industry, science, food and dust, very familiar to the fans of this universe. Each resource allows further development of key features that would help in finishing the game.
                Industry is necessary to build devices that could generate more resources, offer support or protect the rooms under the player's control.
Science is used to research new devices or upgrade the ones already researched. Science helps in diversifying the strategies used to complete a level.
Food is spent to level up heroes to expand the team utility with new abilities that could help in various situations. Food can also be used as an emergency heal when a character is on the brink of death and nothing else can save him.
The last resource is dust, the equivalent of currency in the Endless universe, and is used as an energy source to power up rooms or as currency for vendors.
                The goal of each level is to protect the crystal taken from the crashed ship and move it from one dungeon to another until the surface is reached. The crystal uses dust to power up rooms allowing the construction of all kind of technical devices and defense mechanisms. Exploring a dungeon causes waves of monster to spawn from unpowered rooms, monsters that are attracted by the crystal and want to destroy it. When it’s removed for transportation to the next dungeon entrance, the creatures lurking the world go insane and start to endlessly pursue it.
To work well with this mechanic, Dungeon of the Endless borrowed some elements from tower defense games. Building devices is necessary in order to repel these waves of enemies and have the resources to continue doing so.
                The building system is pretty straight forward. There are four categories of devices providing a large variety of options from strategic devices that can generate resources, give access to a shop or provide level wide bonuses, to smaller devices designed mostly to provide protection.
These devices can be placed on some connectors (slots) found in each room. Strategic devices require bigger connectors which are rarer and up to only one per room, while the rest can be placed on the smaller connectors which can be found in any room.
In order for the building process to work, the area must first be powered up and this is achieved like a linear electrical circuit with each powered room requiring a straight connection to the crystal. The dust resource limits the number of controllable areas, leading to compromises and adaptation for each situation at hand.
My defensive weapon of choice.

               The combat is mostly automatic and doesn't involve much player input aside from activating the hero’s abilities and moving them from one room to another. Mostly the combat comes as a representation of the tactical decisions made until the time of the fight, especially when it comes to clearing waves of monsters. It can be challenging and everything moves on pretty fast and a pause game option is available to make sure the few decisions that can be made when in actual fights won't turn out to be fatal for the team.
Eat this!
Explosive defense!

                While this entire system might look simple at start, its strength stands in a hidden complexity that develops as the game progresses. Despite having a small number of resources and powering up limitations, the build order is as important as in any strategy and taking some wrong decisions could end the game abruptly. Carefully managing each resource and finding a balance between resources and built devices while cautiously exploring the dungeon is crucial to pass to the next level.
    The album is a feature designed to make the game feel less like an arcade experience. It stocks detailed information gathered about the world and the life in it, which can be studied in the game menu. The album is filled with pictures and short texts describing everything encountered in the dungeons.
Spoiler alert!

                When it comes to the technical part, there is not much to say about the Dungeon of the Endless. It uses 2D retro style graphics, which is loved by some players and really hated by others. The music is great and in tone with the game graphics and atmosphere, but other than that there is little left to say.
Sounds good to me!
Exploration is a two way street.

                For co-op enthusiasts, there is a multiplayer mode which allows up to four players each controlling one character. This can be great fun with friends and does take off some of the burden of taking care of four different heroes which are spread in all cardinal directions (Which can be hell if you keep forgetting to use the pause!).
                While there are no major technical problems with the game and I found little to no bugs, Dungeon of the Endless has a serious problem when it comes to content and replayability. Beating the game once is fun and rewarding, but continuing to do so is really not. The unlockable heroes and ships or the album don’t provide a good enough reason to come back and play the game.  Yes, there are randomly generated dungeons or researches, but with little character development and control, it doesn’t feel enjoyable to try beating the game over and over again. And this is odd, because rogue-lite games are known for their replaybility.  Some of the features that combine well with the game idea and make it great for the first playthrough don’t go well with the lack of content and hit replayability hard, which is such a shame.
AMPLITUDE Studios are known for not abandoning their games and continuingly improving them through patches and free DLCs and I’m pretty sure that same is the case with this title. But as it stands now, until the game receives more improvements, it might not be satisfying enough for some gamers.

                Overall, I found Dungeon of the Endless very refreshing, innovative and with style, but when it comes to content I felt a bit let down. In theory, the game could go on endlessly helped by the random generated content and an infinite dungeons mode. But after finishing the game once, there is not much reason to do it again.
I’m looking forward to the updates and DLCs this game will receive and I’m pretty sure I will come back to it to explore more of the depths of Auriga, but as for now I’m waiting.

+ Innovative combination of tower defense, RPG and rogue-lite
+ Tactical
+ Retro style
+ Difficult
+ The album
+ Multiplayer
+ Characters interaction

- Short
- Not many reasons to play it twice
- Could use a larger variety of customizations for heroes


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