Playing Endless Dungeon may give you a sense of déjà vu. Like other roguelites, its cyclical gameplay loop has you run through a series of procedurally generated levels, iteratively improving on each attempt. But its repetition feels starker than most of its genre siblings, as Endless Dungeon is itself a do-over – a fresh reinvention of developer Amplitude’s similarly named Dungeon of the Endless.
If you played that well-received 2014 release, you’ll recognize the setup here. You and a group of buddies must explore an abandoned space station room by room, slaughtering legions of alien bugs and bots, while constructing defensive turrets to guide a fragile crystal towards the exit of each floor. There’s one major twist this time around, though: Endless Dungeon has shaken off the 2D pixel art of its predecessor and donned the garb of a fully fledged 3D twin-stick shooter.
It’s a big change. You’re no longer whizzing around a tactical map with a cursor, or arranging turrets while your chosen hero dishes out blows in an automated combat system. The action is brought to you, personally, as you’re thrust onto the frontline to aim, shoot, and smack your way forward. It’s a far cry from Amplitude’s previous non-action-oriented games, and a heady recreation – using the same ingredients that made Dungeon of the Endless so engrossing, but assembled as a totally new recipe.
For studio head Romain de Waubert, it’s as much a change of vision as it is a change of controls and camera. “We wanted to revisit Dungeons of the Endless but really focus on the multiplayer, on the team-based game,” he says. “But if we do that, [we need] to work better on the controls, hence the twin-sick.”
Call to action
The result is a game that, in its early form, places greater focus on character action and group coordination. Each playable hero fits a recognizable type – the tank, the support, the damage-dealer – with character-specific weapons and special abilities distinguishing them from one another. Like its predecessor, Endless Dungeon is brutally difficult, but proves itself an action game worth suffering for – as you cleave through waves of enemies in gloriously colorful bullet-slinging firefights.
It’s an ambitious change of pace that allows Endless Dungeon to straddle the line between a fresh concept and a regurgitation of its predecessor. “There are elements of legacy,” creative director Jean-Max Moris says. “[The game] retains the same unique universe, atmosphere, humor, and tone. But a shift has happened and we've moved forward in terms of that layer of action frenziness, on top of the tactical smarts of tower defense.”
Ironically enough, I found those residual tower defense mechanics the most novel aspect of the game. For each room of the sprawling space station you enter, you’ll earn a handful of resources with which to construct turrets across an array of preset locations. There’s offensive, defensive, and support structures to choose from, but most attention must be paid to how they synergize. Place a Jellyfier correctly, and it’ll slow down incoming enemies just as they enter the range of your slug-slinging machine gun turrets. Build a Support in the right room, and you’ll reinforce any towers caught directly in the firing line.
Light RPG elements are thrown into the mix, too, as you occasionally find passive buffs and weapon upgrades. And shrewd resource management comes into play when you get the chance to build more Generators to expand your constructions. With four main resources to keep track of – for building turrets, buying turret upgrades, enhancing your hero’s abilities, and buffing your precious crystal – much of my time was spent agonizing over how best to prioritize industrial growth. There’s a tactical depth to Endless Dungeon rarely found in twin-stick shooters, and a metagame that I imagine will provide fertile ground for the most fervent roguelite lovers to optimize.
Hell and back
Moris says that Supergiant Games’ much-loved RPG Pyre provided early inspiration for Endless Dungeon, but Hades is what he considers now to be the modern roguelite benchmark. It’s not hard to see the influence of that latter title on this game’s isometric-esque camera angle, combat system, and persistent character upgrades.
But it’s a shame that the combat is so rudimentary in comparison to those indie heavyweights. Lacking the fast-paced precision fighting of Hades, most gunfights in Endless Dungeon are static brawls, as you hold an area against incoming waves while waiting for your special abilities to recharge. With no dodging or fluid movement system, I spent most of my time sitting stationary by my crystal, just another turret among many.
The game's most exciting moments came through my own failures. Spend too long chewing over turret placement, and a random swarm of bugs will punish you for lingering. Stray too far from your crystal without building adequate defenses, and you’ll have to rush back against the clock. It’s in these stages of panic that the game’s more dynamic side shines through, and I hope they’ll occur more frequently in later levels.
Grub battlin’ hub
Endless Dungeon looks to not only draw from the Supergiant Games catalog in terms of gameplay but also its approach to storytelling. A central hub will allow you to interact with a roster of characters, much like the House of Hades, and each playable character will have their own storyline to work through. You’re encouraged to explore new avenues through the space station as you progress these questlines, all while making your way to the station’s core.
“Each of these characters has their own reasons for being there, and objectives,” Moris says. “You get to discover those with the bread-crumbing design, whereby you're going to have to piece together the quest of every character. The hub is going to become richer and richer as you progress through the game, and there'll be more and more heroes to get your hands on and to investigate.”
Endless Dungeon might be built off a nearly eight-year-old game, but it’s reinvented its base material with real ambitious flair. Shedding little of its predecessor’s tactical nous, this roguelite has deftly taken a winning formula in a new direction. If the combat is still a little underwhelming, let’s be happy there’s likely plenty of time between now and the game’s unannounced release date.
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Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games.