Endless Dungeon Review - A Rewarding Mash Up
How does one describe Endless Dungeon? Well, that is the trick, right? When a game comes along that does media types like myself the disservice of not neatly fitting into a pre-defined category it tends to create a difficulty that we don’t usually face. It challenges our innate need to give everything a bloody label. Well in the case of Endless Dungeon, a label, or at least a convenient one-to-two-word one, is impossible. You see, it is more than a straight-up twin-stick shooter, less than a full-blown tower defence game and all wrapped up in a rouge-like gameplay loop. It is, well, its own thing and frankly, it does its own thing pretty darn well.
The game starts with a trip through hyperspace on a ship with a few cool companions and a janitor. A conversation between the crew examines a myth about a place in space that sucks ships out of hyperspace and those ships are never heard from again. Guess what happens next? That’s right, they are sucked out of hyperspace and crash into a giant alien structure. The big surprise, the only one to seemingly survive is the Janitor, the character you control. As you are about to be overwhelmed a helping hand reaches out to drag you out of the rubble, kill a horde of machines heading your way and take you under her wing explaining the Endless Dungeon in the process
As far as game setups go, it is a perfectly acceptable one. The game has a central hub on this strange space station which happens to be a bar. This bar is filled with other fellow survivors who can join you on your journey, provide upgrades or knowledge or just provide someone to shoot the shit with. There is an eclectic group of aliens, robots and humans to chat with, all of which have distinct personalities and often provide some genuine warmth and humour. The story itself isn’t much, but these characters make up for any shortfalls in that department. As the story beats go, the goal is to use a crystal power source (which is conveniently stored on what is essentially a robot spider) to gain access to unexplored areas of the space station and hopefully find a way to escape for good. Thanks to this crystal, the characters never die either, they just get teleported back to the bar for a few drinks and upgrades before heading back out and trying again.
The gameplay loop is where things get exciting. As I said before, this really is a mash-up of a game. The core is a traditional twin-stick shooter, so playing with a controller is a must. You can play as the Janitor or a host of other characters from the bar that are unlocked as you progress, each of which has different special abilities and stats. There are all the typical archetypes, the damage dealers, the healers and the inbetweeners, so you shouldn’t have a problem picking a pair of them to go adventuring with. In single-player, you can freely switch between the two characters and in multiplayer, you and up to two mates pick one each. Combat is as you would expect, aim with one stick, move with another, shoot with the triggers and use abilities when appropriate. There are some basic commands like “guard” or “come with me” that can be given to both the crystal spider and your companion, which are essential when you get to the next component of the game, the tower defence elements.
You see to progress in the game you need to explore each level. Every time you open a new door you are rewarded with resources that can be used to upgrade your player or, more importantly, build defensive towers. The catch is as you open doors you will come across more spawning points for enemies. As you progress these enemies will stream out, heading towards your crystal in waves. Certain activities like moving the crystal to a new location or researching a new tower will also set off a wave of enemies so tower placement, as well as commanding your second character to guard the crystal, becomes key to getting out alive. Placing towers near the spawning points is a great way to thin out enemy numbers but they tend to get destroyed quickly, whereas spreading out towers through the map, especially on the path you expect your crystal to walk, provides cover, but not enough to keep it completely safe. It is a fine bit of strategy that creeps in as you learn the ins and outs of the game, there is a risk-reward with every door you open and often it is better to leave a door closed and forgo the resources so the enemies have to walk a longer path to reach you and therefor face more covering fire from towers.
As you guide the crystal to new safe points, more and more of the endless dungeon opens up. The game is over when your crystal is destroyed and you are teleported back to the bar to go again, bringing with you items that can be used to upgrade your abilities, unlock new starting points on the map or improve the variety of guns that can be found throughout the dungeon. This is obviously the rogue-like section of the game and it is probably the weakest part of the game. It feels a lot of the time that very little improvement is occurring, with the upgrades seemingly minor, especially early on. The key to a good rouge-like is finding the balance between the speed of upgrading the characters and the challenge of the game and I feel like Endless Dungeon is a little on the slow side of this mark. It just takes way too many runs to feel like you are becoming a tougher character and as a result, it can feel a little grindy at times. That isn’t to say this is a deal breaker, but I can see some balancing patches coming out in the future to address this.
Thankfully though, everything else seems to be right on as far as technical performance and gameplay goes. The graphics sport a fun, space-cartoon style that is part Futurama, part Hades and it never wears out its welcome. The levels themselves can get a little bit “samey” after a while though, with very little to distinguish between the different areas of the dungeon except a slightly different colour scheme and plant life. The game runs perfectly on a range of systems, from my gaming rig to my laptop to my ROG Ally and Steamdeck. It automatically picked the best settings for the system and never missed a beat, even on the lower-specced handhelds. In fact, much like Dead Cells and Hades, it is the perfect game for a handheld system and feels great on the go.
Endless Dungeon may not be a tech powerhouse or groundbreaking experience, but then not every game has to be. What it does do is take the core of three different genres and mash them into an enjoyable and fresh experience that can be enjoyed solo or with a friend on just about any PC out there. It has been put together with a clear passion that shines through in the wonderful characters, the tight addictive gameplay and the enjoyable art style and while it is let down by some repetitive environments and the grindy nature of its rogue-like elements, it is still absolutely worth your time and money. Should you be looking for a tight little experience that is great in small doses or on the go and need a break from the big titles that are seemingly coming out daily at this time of year, Endless Dungeon is the perfect fit. It won’t blow your mind, but it will put a smile on your face.
Endless Dungeon was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Five Star Games Australia.