As explosions quickly spread through the prison ship, it crashes onto an unknown planet. With only a handful of survivors, among them a bounty hunter, a vicious nurse, and various opportunists, the player must escape the prison ship to survive. The problem, however, is that the ship is now crawling with alien enemies that spawn in the darkness. The ship's energy crystal and the light that it provides are the only things standing between the player and annihilation, but various resources are at hand for one to build in order to protect the crystal long enough to get it to the exit and on to the next floor. This is the basic premise for Dungeon of the Endless from Amplitude Studios, a strategy defense game with a retro vibe that is both fun and frustrating.
After hitting the planet, you awaken in a room with a shining crystal and are asked to choose two characters. The aesthetic of the game is a fun cross of pretty artwork during loading screens, retro pixelated characters, and a wicked sense of humor, such as the tough disciplinarian Nurse Doreen Ratchet, an obvious nod to the Big Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. We also have the devoted smoker Rakya Pulmoni, surely a commentary on the habit (wreck your lungs, right?), and Elise Ness, the female version of Eliot Ness. In addition to the two beginning characters, one can recruit two more along the way for a total of four heroes in the party at a time. Keeping a new hero in the party for three completed floors will unlock that character in the start screen.
You begin with a limited amount of resources - Industry for building, Science for research, and Food for character health and development; with these resources, you protect the crystal that powers the ship and, more importantly, the light that keeps the monsters at bay. Killing monsters also helps to gather Dust, which is a fourth resource that allows light/power to be extended from room to room. Resources cannot be placed in rooms that are unpowered, and enemies cannot spawn in rooms that are lit, so it's important to strategically light and unlight rooms according to the circumstances of a particular floor.
The game begins on the Escape Pod.
As rooms are powered, one can build in four different categories: Major (Industry, Science, Food, Resource Protection/Defense), Support, Debuff, and Offense, each of which has a different effect on the enemies and heroes on that floor. The randomly generated floors must be searched for Artifacts, which use Science points to research new builds with which to fight enemies. Everything depends on opening doors. For example, when an Industry Generator is built that adds +5 to Industry per D, this is not per day; this is per door, so for every door opened, one receives x amount of that resource. The same is true for researching new skills; these generally take three opened doors to complete, although the game will give one credit for the skill for even one door if it's the only one left. Like other strategy defense titles, it's all about creating a balance between the resources that you have and those that you want to save for the next floor, all while staying alive.
Once you have a feel for what's going on, it's straightforward keeping up with the resources, but the in-game tutorial is quite weak in helping to get an initial handle on the game. The tutorial can be accessed via the character menu and will walk a player through the basics. If, however, you want to skip a step, hitting Skip turns the tutorial off rather than moving on to the next slide, making it difficult to look for a specific bit of information. The game also doesn't explain a lot of things. Wit, for example, is one of the stats for both characters and buildable weapons, but the only definition of Wit says that it helps to crack better jokes, which doesn't help much when trying to decide if this is a stat that should be buffed on existing weapons.
Move from room to room opening doors.
Unfortunately, the game is rather buggy, too. Some enemies wouldn't die -- they couldn't attack or be attacked, but they would prevent the character from leaving a room. Much more serious is the loss of a save. The game has a Save and Quit option. If it's Game Over, the save will disappear, so the Save option is strictly for taking a break and picking up later from where one left off. The first dungeon has 13 floors, and saves had already been made that allowed the game to continue without incident. When I quit for the night on Floor 6 and returned the next day, however, the Continue button was grayed out, so I had to begin again, which can lead to a good deal of frustration when trying to finish the dungeon and unlock other pods since the floors don't go quickly if one is trying to be thorough even on the easiest setting.
The game's 29 achievements seem a fair mix and will require a good bit of time to finish. The reviewer spent between six and seven hours completing the Escape Pod on the easiest setting, and each different pod has an accompanying achievement, so this will take some time, especially since certain requirements must be met to even unlock the different pods. The multiplayer achievement might be bothersome, as well. Online multiplayer lobbies were consistently empty, something surprising since the game is so new, but perhaps players are still learning the game before jumping online. A couch co-op option would have been a nice alternative.
SummaryWhile a bit slow to start due to the sub-par tutorial, the game becomes more absorbing as you get a feel for it, research new tools, and try to save the crystal. The recruitment of new characters along the way adds variety, as well as researching new builds with which to beat back the enemy in new and interesting ways. The game would benefit from better explanations and perhaps a glossary of terms, as well as local multiplayer for when the going gets tough. Overall, despite the bugs, it's an enjoyable experience that requires the player to stay on his or her toes while keeping the crystal's light alive.
- Randomly generated dungeons add variety
- Humorous characters
- Fun gameplay
- Needs better explanations/tutorial
EthicsThe reviewer spent a little over ten hours killing monsters and protecting the crystal and earned six of the game's 29 achievements. A game code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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