Indie Wonderland: Dungeon of the Endless

You know what, readers? I was actually a bit hesitant to cover Amplitude StudiosDungeon of the Endless. I only have a self-appointed week to play and write about the games I pick, as most of you probably know. And that’s usually not a problem; I’m fairly confident I can get a good handle on most stuff inside of a week. But an endless game?

…Okay, that might be the silliest opening I’ve ever gone for. In actual truth, I’ve had Dungeon of the Endless around for a while. The real reason I was hesitant to cover it is because I felt it had a lot of overlap with another game, a similar-sounding game, which I was considering writing a Let’s Play of at the time. And, on that side note: more Jarenth Plays news is coming soon, fans!

Anyway: the imagined Let’s Play project hasn’t materialized yet, so I kept Dungeon of the Endless around for particularly slow or busy weeks. And hey! Here we are.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low, but high in one place. Mechanical, high.)

(Game source: Patreon bucks.)

Opening

Dungeon of the Endless’ title screen is pretty busy stuff, at first glance. I count eight major buttons, two developer logos, a fancy shaded title, and… is that a tiny ice cream logo?

It *is* a tiny ice cream logo! It indicates I own the ice-related DLC pack.

In practice, the busy title screen holds relatively little goodies for lil’ old starting-out me. The options screen is the biggest treasure trove, and even that one’s pretty sparse. And compact, too. Audio, video, and keyboard mappings are all crammed in a window about half the available screen real estate.

Large enough to obscure everything you might want to keep uncovered, but small enough to make you wonder why they didn’t just use more space.

And everything else is very much pointless. The Journal is a page of pointless stats for a game I’ve never played. The Album is eight empty pages of photo outlines. The Credits list is a dull developer doldrum, the Continue button is greyed out, the Multiplayer button is without merit to me, and I’m not Quitting just yet.

So I guess I’m done sooner here than expected!

One New Game button press later…

A short animated cutscene shows a camera panning over a very pixelated camera. Then I accidentally brush a button, and it immediately disappears forever. Oh well.

What I’m watching now looks for all the world like a character select screen. On the bottom, I see ten character portraits, and another twelve question marks. Four in the top left, that I don’t recognize. Two further down, that I think are from the two DLC sets I got included in this game. And then… four Team Fortress 2 characters?

Sure. Team Fortress 2 characters in my game, why not? It’s an endless dungeon, after all. A lot can happen in endless space. I’m okay with this.

Meanwhile, the center of the screen is taken up by a small needle-shaped spaceship. A small needle-shaped descending spaceship, from the heat visual on the nose. “Escape Pod,” the screen informs me. “No particular gameplay bonuses or penalties.”

I click on the arrow buttons next to the escape pod. These allow me to cycle through other spaceships I might select. Well, except that they’re all locked right now. “Infirmary Pod: Win a game with the Escape Pod.” “Armory Pod: Never let a hero die in a winning game.” “Library Pod: Research all tech 1 technologies.” Which, hey, works for me. I recognize a fancy level select screen when I see one.

I can’t quite parse all the *other* stuff, but hey.

I cycle back to the Escape Pod. Then, I select the first two heroes in the list: Max O’Kane, and Sara Numas. They both have names, and weapons, and stats, and job titles. And I could through their detailed histories and pretend to understand all that, or I could choose instead to learn at the school of hard knocks.

Well, the school of easy knocks. The only difficulty levels I have access to are ‘Easy’ and ‘Very Easy’. Which, you know, fine, game. We’ll play it your way for now. I hope you have those higher difficulties at the ready, though.

Starting time, hero pals!

Another cutscene plays. I watch the pixelated planet again. A thin white trail streaks downward, accompanied by wub-wub sounds. Then it impacts… sending out an enormous explosion! The bright white shockwave engulfs the screen. And then it clears…

Initial impressions

Hold up, we’re getting to the good part.

When both the white haze and the loading screen clear, I find myself staring at… a crashed spaceship. Man, that’s one crashed spaceship. Bit of a wonder it’s still in one piece, to tell you the truth. Max and Sara are standing around, looking just as surprised as I am at the fact that they’re still alive.

At least, that’s what I choose to believe. I can’t *actually* read anything from their tiny pixel faces.

Next to Max and Sara, the only thing of interest inside the small craft is the rotating yellow Energy Crystal. I know this courtesy of the helpful tutorial pop up that just joined us.

“It looks like you just survived a terrifying crash! Can I help?”

Alright. What do we have?

First thing I notice, on the top left, are resources. Food, Science, Industry, and Dust. I know this not because of the tutorial, but because of prior experience. These resources are entirely unchanged from the last time I saw them in Endless Legend, down to the icons.

Each resource has two values: a top white one, and a bottom one, with a little +, in the appropriate colour. But what does that mean?

Before I can explore the UI any more, Tutori-Clippy starts badgering me. “Open a door,” it tell me. “Open that door! You’ll never be cool if you don’t open the door!”

Ugh, fine. I select Max by left-clicking his portrait, then right-click on the door. He walks over, slowly opens it, and…

The large roon behind holds darkness, more doors, and small diamond-shaped patches of indeterminate coolness. And also monsters!

Aah! Maybe I should’ve led with that!

The monsters attack Max! He valiantly fights back, shooting the monsters as good as he’s getting. Sara, meanwhile, is… just standing in the other room, doing absolutely nothing. Traumatic D&D memories start to emerge. It’s not until I select her and right-click her into the room that she draws her sword and joins the fight.

After the monsters die, I look around once more. I notice that my resource values have changed, just now. The top values have increased… increased each by exactly as much as their bottom values. Okay. Okay, I see what’s happening here. I gain resources every time I open a door, is that it?

The tutorial helpfully confirms that this in, in fact, the case.

The room I’m currently in is a lot darker than the previous one. But! With a click of the middle mouse wheel, I can ‘power’ the room, sending Dust energy from my Energy Crystal into it. The lights spring on as yellow energy lines snake across the room. And in the Dust section of my resource HUD, one of the two brownish tabs lights up.

Each ten units of Dust allow me to power one room. I just activated one. One more left! And sure, I can turn this room off again. But why would I want to?

Powering the room has a few advantages. Chief among those, I learn, is that I can now build ‘modules’ inside it. That’s what the patches are for. The buttons on the lower left reveal a handful of buildable modules.

Most of them are for getting me *more resources*, apparently.

Finally, the tutorial teaches me about the hero stat screen on the top right. Each hero has a whole mess of RPG-style stats: attack power, defense, health, speed… you get the idea. Each hero also has Active and Passive Skills, three slots for Equipment, and a Level. No ‘experience’ analogue, though: I can apparently use Food to manually level up my heroes whenever I want. Except Food is also used to manually heal heroes after battle. Decisions, decisions…

Oh, they also have backstories and whatnot. In case you were interested in these characters as *characters*.

And then, with some last few encouraging words, the tutorial sets me free! My goal: ‘get to the surface’. One floor at a time, if I have to.

‘You’ll learn more by dying’ does not great encouragement make, game.

So let’s go!

The room I’m currently in has one more door. I try to position my characters relative to it, but it turns out they don’t actually take micro-orders. All they listen to is ‘get to this room‘-level commands, not ‘get to this place in a room‘. So, I work with the tools I’m given. Get to that next room, both heroes!

Hey, this one has monsters as well!

I travel from room to room, slaying monsters and spreading power. And finding weirdness. This room is ‘powered by a mysterious force’. That room only has small building patches in it, not one of the larger ones. I can only build one type of auto-gun on the smaller patches, and only after I clear them. What’s that good for?… And then this room has a treasure chest with a new sword!

Watched over by the half-melted remains of a giant skull head.

Then I find a room with a giant research crystal. Here, I can spend my Science points to unlock new building modules, or upgrade old ones.

Over time, of course. Nothing in life is free, and nothing in life is immediate.

Finally, I find the ‘exit’ room. It’s clearly marked as such by the international ‘exit sign’ pictogram, so that’s easy. The only caveat: it’s an unpowered elevator. I have to go back to get the Energy Crystal, and carry it to this room, before I can proceed. Picking up the crystal will de-power the dungeon’s auxiliary systems, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue. Right?

Wrong, obviously. No sooner does Sara pick up the crystal, than the whole dungeon goes into Emergency Panic Mode. Ominous music starts up, warning light start blinking, and one by one, the dungeon doors I hadn’t touched yet start opening. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

And monsters start pouring out. Hordes of them. Up until this point, I’ve fought like a dozen creepies, tops. But this is easily five times that. And they all make a beeline for the crystal, slowly — very slowly — carried by the otherwise-fast Sara. She goes down in moments, not even able to defend herself from the onslaught. And when she bites it and the crystal falls, it’s game over.

Good job! Except not. Try again.

Er…

Okay, that can happen. They did warn me about learning through dying! Let’s try that one again, okay.

For my second attempt, I hang out with the other two starting heroes: Gork and Nurse Deena. To say that that one goes ‘better’ is maybe overselling it a little, but at least I get a better handle on the endless waves of monsters.

To wit: it turns out that ‘powering rooms’ doesn’t just open them up as building locations. Every time I open a new door, every open and unpowered room has a chance to spawn waves of monsters. Like the ones I encounter during exploration, except… less expected. Those monsters then start roaming for whatever they’re hungry for: some try to attack my heroes, but others go straight for the crystal.

And when I pick up the crystal, to make it to the exit, all rooms are thrown open. Which means there are suddenly a lot of ‘open and unpowered’ rooms. Is the mystery of the monster flood starting to make more sense to you as well?

Luckily, this time, I’m prepared. Before grabbing the crystal, I retract all my power, then distribute it to make a path from the start to the elevator. Then, I identify dangerous spots along the route, and I use what little Industry I have to build gun turrets on the building diamonds. I actually manage to unlock mini Tesla coils this time around, so that’s a thing!

They’re a *tremendous* help, lemme tell you.

Still, it’s not good enough. Again, I get overwhelmed by what seems like endless monsters. I try to hole up and wait them out, but there is no end to them. I lose again.

Third try, with Max and Gork. I almost don’t make it out of the gate with them; an early tough enemy encounter means I don’t quite have the food to heal them. Fourth try, with Sara and Max again, I try opening all the doors first. Except that spawns way too many random enemies, who proceed to kill my crystal before I even try for the exit. Fifth try…

Man, this game isn’t kidding around. I guess I’m gonna have to put a few more tries in before I really get it. As far as I can tell, there’s no real meta-game unlocking or anything… so no ‘waiting for better stuff to become available’. Everything I research in one round is gone the next. My losing so far is all up to me. Which means I’ll have to learn to get better before I get any farther.

On Easy difficulty, of course. I may be getting super frustrated, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before I go for the Very Easy escape. I have some dignity left.

Alright then. Try five. Maybe the TF2 characters are any good? Or maybe that ice dragon guy…

Onto page 2. >>

One comment

  1. Another game where I’m put off by the extent of the randomness. This review prompted some introspection, which revealed something I hadn’t realised: I don’t actually like roguelikes. It came as quite a surprise.

    I thought I liked roguelikes, after discovering them through Desktop Dungeons and sinking countless hours into it, but time and again I’d find myself shying away from them. They’d have too much randomness, or long sessions where you could end up with zero progress, or no meta-game to smooth out the learning curve and give me a sense of advancement. Maybe I’m just getting old, and I don’t want the same challenge from games as I did as a youth.

    In summary: Desktop Dungeons is rad, and I’ve been living a lie.

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