It’s always exciting when a PC title get’s ported to console. It’s even more riveting when it’s a title that has strategic and tactical depth. Amplitude Studios in particular are well known for the Endless franchise of games, and having first hand experience with pretty much all of their titles in that line, I was really happy to see Dungeon of the Endless getting a port to Nintendo Switch.
Dungeon of the Endless doesn’t have your typical fully fleshed out story. A penal transport is making its way through the reaches of space and comes under attack from an unknown aggressor. Naturally, some crew make it to the escape pods and its at this point the game begins. From that point on its concentration on the gameplay itself as opposed to any overarching story elements though to be fair, this type of title doesn’t need a heavy story. The premise is that you land in the Dungeon of the Endless and must navigate to the top to escape.
Once the initial ship attack sequence is over, you’re given the opportunity to select the crew you’ll be taking into the dungeon with you, as well as selecting the escape pod that you use to make landfall. There are several pod types at your disposal to choose and disregarding the initial escape pod, each offers various advantages and disadvantages that can affect the amount of crew you start with or change various mechanics to your benefit or detriment. Most pods are locked at the start behind completion conditions so you’ll more than likely use the starting escape pod. The two stages of difficulty available are ‘Too Easy’ and ‘Easy’. This is definitely an attempt at a subtle joke because neither is particularly easy. Touché Amplitude.
The gameplay in its base form plays like a tower defense in the sense that you have defendable rooms and choke points that you have to protect from some pretty nasty enemies by building turrets etc… and that’s where the association with that ends. In Dungeon of the Endless, you start off in an initial room with your crystal and the goal is to open doors to new rooms whilst powering along the way to ensure you don’t get overwhelmed by the resident baddies that hide in the dark rooms. You control each crew member individually and every time you unlock a door to a new room it counts as a turn. Every time a turn elapses any room that is unpowered will spawn a wave of enemies making management of which rooms you choose to power integral to the entire experience.
Your ability to power rooms is also finite, as you use a resource called ‘Dust’ to do so (those already familiar with the Endless series will already know what this is, but its essentially currency). Every ten points of dust will allow you to power one room. Keep in mind however, that protection of your crystal is paramount as for every point of damage it takes you’ll lose a portion of your dust. And if your crystal is destroyed… well, that’s game over. There are a limited amount of rooms per floor too, so be mindful that turns are limited.
Dust isn’t the only resource you’ll be managing. In Endless fashion you’ll also have access to Industry, Science and Food. Industry is needed to build modules and turrets in your rooms, Science is needed to research new modules and turrets and Food can be used to heal your crew on the fly as well as levelling them up. It may seem a little overwhelming at first but it comes together nicely to make for a robust strategy experience. This isn’t a tower defense game about how many turrets you have, it requires precise management of your resources and crew if you’re going to make it to the end of a level. Resources are generated through building modules in rooms that can accommodate them which will add to your total for each turn that elapses.
The dungeon levels themselves are procedurally generated so you aren’t getting the same experience twice. There’s always new routes to take, new setups and strategies that you can try out. It adds a hell of a lot of fun to the experience based on that alone and I must admit it was pretty harrowing entering the next room wondering what I’d find next on each run when you know one misstep can cost you the entire game.
On that note, I should mention that each run has you traversing a total of 12 floors that increase in difficulty as you go along. The resources that you collect on each floor are persistent too so it’s worth giving yourself a stock to take with you so you can set up on the next floor. With the gradual rise in difficulty also comes scarcity so it’s important to get good at managing your resources throughout the entire game as it can dictate whether or not you’ll make it to the end.
The goal on each floor is to find the elevator and deliver your crystal to it to escape to the next floor. Once the crystal is taken the crew member you use can only run to the exit so it’s crucial to make sure you know the path you’re taking because once the crystal is in hand it sets off a final and endless wave of creatures at you. I can say without doubt that unless you get really lucky, you’ll fail a couple of times before you get the knack for it. It’s not impossible, but the game certainly has its fair share of challenge but its also the reason why it’s so satisfying when you make it to end.
You’ll have plenty of characters to choose as part of your crew and the choices you make here are pretty important too. Each character has their own backstory which is a nice touch and also a set of stats spread across HP, Defence, Attack, Speed and Wits. HP and Defence makes the best for tanking characters who you can use to hold choke points, Attack is great for dispatching enemies, Speed is great for characters who are running the crystal to the exit or for drawing enemies to a choke point and Wits will allow certain characters to be more efficient when carrying out particular tasks.
Characters will unlock useful skills as you level them and one of the most important is operating. Characters with this skill can boost your modules to provide more resources per turn but they have to be stationary while doing so, limiting your use of them. There are sizeable amount of skills in the game per character so it brings plenty of variety and depth to the experience.
You’ll have access to a fair few characters to begin with (including a Pug!) but there’s also opportunity to unlock characters throughout your run. Once you hire a character and they survive for at least three floors or you complete the whole dungeon, they’ll be unlocked to hire for your next run. Characters will gain access to new skills as you level them up and you’ll also be able to outfit them with a weapon, armour and piece of equipment to increase their abilities. The entire system lends a feeling of deep strategy to an otherwise simple formula but it works so well that I found making decisions about which character got which piece of equipment a very rewarding experience when it contributed to my success in beating a floor.
On the tower defense side there’s plenty to get stuck into too. You start your run with access to the basic resource modules and one turret, but once you encounter a room where you can use science to research new modules it opens up a number of new possibilities. Some modules will allow you to power rooms without dust, others will replenish crew health when they defeat an enemy in that particular room. There’s so much variety that you’ll never be short of new strategies to try out. Each module or turret also has upgrade stages and it kept me very busy trying to decide what I should research. What’s really impressive about it all is how well the tower defense aspect synergises with the rogue like elements of the crew. It just works really well overall and I’m still enjoying it now after a very sizeable amount of hours spent in game.
Each room will vary in tower setup with larger modules being built on bigger points and smaller points being reserved for turrets and the like. Enemies can also destroy said points too, so it’s important to defend them adequately. I always felt a rush of horror if I had forgotten to power a room and a wave of enemies set upon my unprotected resource generation network.
You’ll come across different types of rooms as you explore. Some will have enemies lying in wait, some will have various resource caches and some will have merchants that will allow you to buy equipment as long as you have enough resources. You’ll also encounter big dark crystals called a ‘Stele’. These will normally hold some benefit or disadvantage for the floor depending on the judgement of the RNG gods, but are finite in that they normally self destruct after a pre-determined number of turns.
The control scheme can always be a point of contention with PC ports, but I’m happy to say that the system is intuitive and effortless. I almost always felt comfortable and in control of the situation whilst playing. If I had one gripe it would likely be character selection. You have the option to select characters individually using the shoulder buttons or select all by pressing them in unison. However, because you can’t change the order of your characters it can sometimes be a battle to avoid moving characters who are operating modules by accident, which can cost you resource generation. It’s not a game breaker by any means but it could be frustrating at times.
The game is wondrously pixelated and it works really well for the setting. Environments and the rooms are exceptionally detailed and I found exploring the dark and gritty depths of the floors enjoyable. What really impressed me was that the design of the environments change as you increase in floor number. It was a nice touch and kept me interested in exploration. The soundtrack also deserves a mention for pairing well in that it matched the tone and bleakness of the dungeon effortlessly and whilst it couldn’t be called massively memorable, it added to the experience none-the-less.
In terms of how the game performed on the Switch, there were some moments where heavier waves of enemies caused the game to chug a little. It was manageable and didn’t ruin the experience but you can definitely see a slight drop in the frame rate. That said, these moments were pretty rare so it isn’t too taxing on the games otherwise solid performance in handheld mode.
There’s plenty of opportunity to keep coming back for Dungeon of the Endless. There is an almost unprecedented amount of variety because of the numerous gameplay facets and procedural generation of the dungeon itself. On top of that it’s so easy to pick up and play and despite the challenge, I didn’t feel it was ever unfair. I very regularly cursed a lost run but you realise pretty quickly that the losses you take are because you made a mistake, not because the game threw something unfair at you. I completed my first full run in around two and half hours but keeping in mind how much there is to the game, I’ve already put many more hours than that into it overall so you can be sure you’ll be getting your moneys worth if you decide to take the plunge.
I’m still discovering things in Dungeon of the Endless despite the amount of hours I’ve put into it. Bringing the title to Switch was a pretty genius move by Amplitude Studios because having the title in handheld mode is such a good idea for this genre that i’m surprised it wasn’t done sooner.
There were a couple of small flaws along the way with the sometimes finicky character selection and slight drop in performance in heavier load situations but these are admittedly very small drawbacks on a robust and excellent strategy experience.
Overall I loved every moment I spent with the game, and will no doubt be picking it up in the weeks to come to take on another glorious escape.
Dungeon of the Endless is an example of how you can take a simple formula and make it endlessly enjoyable.