You'll love it if:
- You enjoy a solid dungeon crawling experience with strategic planning
- You enjoy turret defense games with meaningful decision making and resource management
Not for you if:
- You want a Rogue-like experience that you can experiemnt with diverese builds
- You enjoy shooters with crazy weapon abilities and a bullet hell gameplay style
It takes a lot of guts to create a game that mixes and combines multiple genres when most studios can hardly get one right. Being the successor to the smash hit Dungeon of the Endless, Amplitude Studios‘ Endless Dungeon excels at giving us the fast-paced, twin-stick shooter, dungeon crawler, tower defense, roguelike, multi-genre all-star we have today. While this review was written using the PC version, Endless Dungeon is also available on PlayStation and Xbox.
This is one of those games I really wanted to 100% before I wrote my review, and let me say, it was definitely worth it. While Endless Dungeon piqued many of my interests, I recognize that this style of game falls under a niche category and will definitely be an acquired taste for many, in my opinion. While there are definite personal issues I have that hurt the replayability of the game, I feel the bones of something amazing are present, and there is so much potential. However, if any of what I’ve said has interested you in some way, here’s my review of Endless Dungeon.
Endless Dungeon is a masterfully crafted twin-stick shooter tower defense game with dungeon-crawling rogue-like elements. The core mechanics and gameplay are smooth and satisfying, with each run lasting anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on randomization and player skill. While guns feel impactful and strategizing is satisfying, there are elements lacking to really make this a rogue-like game that you can get “endless” playability out of. Overall, the game has the bones of something amazing, and with some fine-tuning and more diverse gameplay mechanics, there is the potential for something truly amazing.
The “Core” Gameplay
Endless Dungeon has you playing as a host of eight playable characters in their mission to access the core of an abandoned space station in a desperate bid to find a way to escape. You start off in a beautiful comic-book animated intro scene before crash landing into the tutorial. The game plays like a twin-stick shooter initially, and moving and aiming at monsters is fairly simple. You start off playing as Sweeper, a janitor who happens upon the space station after a crash, and you quickly find more party members along the way.
While gunplay is straightforward, the diversity comes from the range of characters and their abilities, as well as the type of weapons they can equip. Sweeper creates splash zones of soapy water to slow down enemies in their path, whereas a later unlock Blaze allows you to place mines and create dangerous chokepoints for the waves.
As you progress through the dungeons, your goal is to move the “Crystal-Bot” to key points and unlock doors. Guiding the crystal bot and protecting it is where the tower defense nature of the game comes into play. As you make your way through the randomly generated levels, you open doors to discover new rooms with potential; upgrades, chests, production facilities, or even monster spawners. The big deal with the progression is that you never know what exactly is on the other side of the next door, and progressing means making sure you’re prepared for what is to come.
As you open doors, you generate three resources; Science, Food, and Industry. Science is generally used to research turrets and level them up. Industry is used to build turrets and production centers, and Food is used to level up your characters and acquire new passive abilities. Saving these resources and spending them on appropriate upgrades is a major part of finishing runs and surviving levels.
Additionally, as you progress through the dungeons, opening doors will increase the danger meter. As the meter goes up, so does the chance of a wave spawning to attack you and the Crystal Bot. This is where the excitement and tension of Endless Dungeon stems from, never knowing when and sometimes where you’ll be attacked.
Along with the dungeon layouts, while the levels are all procedurally generated, it plays so smoothly that it often seems like these level designs were handcrafted. Static set pieces and guaranteed rooms, combined with a good mix and variety of rooms, lead to each un feeling unique yet also pre-planned by the developers. While it does still happen, very rarely does it feel like the random nature of the levels is out to screw you over.
Overall the core gameplay and level design feel fluid, and the game runs smoothly, mixing and matching several genres. It is important to note that there are definite issues with how repetitive the runs can be, even with the procedural generation. After a while, the levels begin to blend together, and the lack of weapon variety definitely hurts the game as well. One charm of rogue-likes is having several different “build options” and being able to pull off crazy stunts, and that is one area I find that Endless Dungeon lacks. This is something I will definitely go over later. But what the gunplay may lack a bit, the tower defense definitely makes up for.
Endless Dungeon Tower Defense
As you progress through dungeons, you’ll find rooms where monsters can spawn from and attack your Crystal-Bot. Defending these points and setting up choke points becomes key in passing the harder levels. Not only do you have to protect the Bot in its standard spot, but you’ll even have to move it and guide it to doors, crystals, and key progression points. Creating pathways and defensive routes for the Crystal Bot on limited resources becomes an essential skill in the resource management and tower placement strategy in this game.
In some of the later levels, the tower defense becomes much more important than the gunplay and control of your characters. As you explore the rooms of the dungeon, you come across nodes placed on the ground where you can build your turrets. These turrets also have health bars and can be destroyed, but when they are, they’re only destroyed until the end of a wave or when repaired by the players. Especially towards the end of runs, one of your biggest tasks will be tower maintenance and managing your AI-controlled party members to the fullest.
The tower defense mechanics are bolstered by the fact that each run will provide you with limited resources. The resource economy system in Endless Dungeon is very reminiscent of Dungeon of the Endless. Every time a door is opened, the players gain a small amount of Industry, Science, and Food. Industry is utilized to build your turrets, and if you happen upon a resource production site, it will also enable you to build resource generators. These generators increase the amount of resources you get when opening doors. Protecting these generators is almost as important as protecting the Crystal Bot itself.
Science is the resource that allows you to research new turrets and increase their power. Turrets can level up by gaining enough kills during the dungeon, but they can also be improved upon in research. Food is the final resource that is used to increase character levels and unlock more advanced passive abilities throughout runs.
Often during Endless Dungeon, you’ll find yourself needing more turrets to protect your generators or defend monster spawn points. Getting more resources, however, requires you to open more doors and explore further into each dungeon. And with each door, the potential for a new spawn point for enemies and more area to cover asks you to build more turrets. This balance of exploration and defending often allows the player to feel like a tactful mastermind planning out their adventure, and I really appreciate the feeling it creates.
Adapting and Overcoming
In addition to dungeon layout, different levels will spawn monsters of different elemental affinities, ranging from destructive robots prone to electric damage to quick Blurs that fade in and out of reality. It’s these different elements that will require you to harness the powers of different turrets. In most runs, you start off with a neutral machine gun turret that does basic damage to all enemies. As you progress, you’ll find that there are several different enemy affinities with different weaknesses. This will require you to research and level up turrets of varying elements as well as find the appropriate guns.
In addition to efficiently managing resources and choosing which turrets and guns to acquire across a run, you’ll quickly find that managing your allies is key to successfully multi-tasking and keeping your turrets alive. Multi-player and solo running the game offer vastly differing experiences, and I’ll go over the online play aspect in more detail later. For now, what’s important to note is that in solo play, your other party member(s) are controlled via AI and follow your character around. What’s key is that you can also order them to cover a certain area while you run off and complete other tasks.
When playing solo, you’ll find yourself managing turrets while having to run to different parts of the map to protect generators from monsters. Enemies slipping through defenses or destroying turrets are very common. A key part of the game is knowing when and where to leave your allies protecting an area so you can run and repair broken turrets, protect resource generators, or start turret research.
Speaking of turret research, many activities in Endless Dungeon will cause waves to spawn suddenly. Researching turret upgrades, opening specific doors, mining crystals, or moving the Crystal-Bot are the main ones. Starting a run normally has you begin with just the basic turret, and as you progress, you unlock nodes which you can use to spend Science to research turrets of different elements to use. Often you’ll be given an option of three options that can help deal with the elemental weaknesses of monsters on your current level.
I really like that the mechanic to improve your run or gain power in a playthrough forces you first to withstand the onslaught of enemies and survive the wave. While not a true tower defense game, this really gives waves weight and uses them as hurdles to get better in the current run. Very rarely did I ever feel like I was getting screwed over by the game’s random level design and random upgrade offers, as, for the most part, I could make meaningful decisions to make the best of a rough start.
Forming Your Party
I will say that some of the best moments in my playthroughs came from the multiplayer experience. While crossplay is currently limited, a couple of friends and I all own the game on Steam, and playing together was an absolute blast. Instead of planting party members at key points, we were able to communicate and divide up tasks. Preparing for an oncoming assault of enemies and the relief of pushing the Crystal-Bot through the exit is really better experienced with friends. Really the only note I have for Multiplayer is that it makes everything I like about the game all that much better.
At first glance, Endless Dungeon has all the makings of a Rogue-like game. You begin runs from scratch and have randomized encounters and dungeons, you gain meta currency to improve your power over subsequent runs, and you have multiple varying ways to complete runs and make it to the “end”. Over the course of my playthrough, I personally felt that while there was much to grind for and replay the dungeons for. Character-specific quests and objectives always made me feel like my party choices and runs had a purpose.
One feature that Endless Dungeon does have going for it is the “Beverage Challenges”. Over the course of completing runs through the station, you can come across drink recipes. Take these recipes back to Fassie, the bartender, and you’ll unlock special optional challenges to make runs more compelling, difficult, or even just different altogether. I enjoyed these challenges myself as they offered additional challenges when I felt the game becoming a bit too easy.
It felt like I was playing more to unlock all the collectibles and uncover story elements as opposed to playing for varied playthrough experiences. Endless Dungeon does so much correctly when designing interesting bosses and incorporates interesting-level design. It does lack, in my opinion, ways to make each run feel distinct and unique, and I have some critiques on how it plays and some suggestions.
Not So Endless Replay-ability
One of my personal gripes with the game is that after a while, I was essentially grinding levels to gather all the collectibles, and the runs really just started to blend together. One thing I love about Rogue-likes is the “endless” ways to play the game, and Endless Dungeon doesn’t offer that, in my opinion. While the hero combinations and abilities are cool, I wish there was more diversity in what heroes could do, how you could improve their abilities, and how the gunplay really felt.
The first issue with the guns is that outside of a few standouts like Campfire, almost all of the guns feel like reskinned versions of the same three guns but with different elements and colored projectiles. I wish the game went the route of having guns feel different, shoot differently, and have more diverse splash effects.
At the moment, the gunplay is firing different colored bullets for different enemies. It’s not boring, it just gets a bit stale after a while. Passive percentage-based upgrades like increases in fire speed or critical hit rate are definitely useful. These upgrades, however, don’t make the gameplay experience all the more different, and while useful, are very bland.
If I could offer a suggestion for Endless Dungeon, I’d wish for gun upgrades you can get during runs, like the passive hero upgrades you can get now. Upgrades like splitting bullets, AoE effect explosions, ricocheting projectiles, and other stuff of the sort. I like it when rogue likes have diverse “build” options, and discovering these combinations is part of why you want to reply to the game. Currently, even unlocking different turrets begins to feel stale, with a few varying options, such as turrets that buff your characters, de-buff enemies, or turrets that help repair other turrets.
Lacking Gunplay Variety
The second point almost ties into the first, but it’s dungeon combat variety. I will say Endless Dungeon absolutely nails the combat system. It’s the perfect balance of fast-paced action intertwined with strategic decision-making. And if anyone wants to talk about gunplay, those who read my Modern Warfare 3 Review know that it plays a very big part in my enjoyment of games, as I’m sure is the case with anyone.
I love how even with randomized dungeon layouts, we get a beautiful mix of short boxy rooms with multiple exits, long corridors, branching paths that lead to dead ends, and rooms that loop into previous parts of the dungeon. The dungeon layout often gives us good defensible choke points and even opportunities to not open doors so enemies have a longer path to the crystal bot. Even enemy variety is nice, with some monsters being immune to damage from the front and focusing on charging the Crystal bot and others choosing to focus on turrets or party members.
The baseline for game variety and unique play-through are all there. My biggest gripe with replayability is that, for me, this is where gameplay diversity ends. I understand that different heroes and their unique abilities can give fun variety, but more often than not, I find myself forgetting about the abilities of these heroes as I run around to repair turrets.
Only a few of the abilities really stand out to me, and hero upgrades don’t offer enough change to really make me want to build around or upgrade them. I feel hero abilities could be more impactful or even offer an alternative way of playing the game if tuned more because, as is, they feel very situational and not always the most relevant.
Endless Dungeon has some stand-out bosses, and the first time I encountered the Bug Momma, I remember getting that signature “holy crap, this is awesome” feeling I love when encountering a challenge in a new game. The boss design in endless dungeon is amazing, and they each feel unique and interesting to play against. Not only that but the first couple of times you encounter each boss, they still feel like a genuine challenge. Once you discover each of the bosses’ mechanics, they do eventually get easier, but that’s normal in any game.
What I wish Endless Dungeon had was more bosses or mini-bosses so that runs don’t blend into one another, with a singular boss splitting the runs up. How bosses work in Endless Dungeon is that on the second floor of each run, you can encounter one of three mid-run bosses depending on the district you enter as you progress through your run. These bosses, plus the boss at the Core of the dungeon, offer fun challenges that break up the gameplay loop, but for me, this is the only variety the game offers during runs.
Outside of the boss fights, the dungeons begin to feel monotonous with the lack of variety in how you fight the waves of monsters. Mini-bosses, bonus objectives, more bosses, or anything of the sort would really make runs stand out more. While challenges do exist to make runs harder or require different skill sets, I wish there would be more diverse challenges.
Overall Endless Dungeon offers a unique gameplay experience being a dungeon-crawling twin-stick shooter with elements of tower defence as the main combat mechanics. The game has an amazing structure with a deeply satisfying gameplay experience. The gameplay loop is satisfying, and completing runs always feels rewarding. What Endless Dungeon lacks is the additional content to promote replayability and the charm that makes Rogue-likes the defining genre they are.
Without a diverse collection of guns or upgrades to follow different build routes, the separate runs begin to feel stale and blend together. Competing runs becomes a task to gain collectibles to unlock more of the story and the lore of the universe Endless Dungeon takes place in. While I feel the game lacks certain Rogue-like elements, I can definitely say the bones for a great game are here, and the general combat loop and gameplay are very exciting and satisfying. I feel Endless Dungeon offers a great gameplay experience and is definitely a notable entry in any gaming collection.
Special thanks to DL Gamer for providing us with our copy to review the game.