Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Dungeon of the Endless, available on Switch, PS4, XBO and PC, developed by Amplitude Studios and published by Merge Games.
As a reviewer, nothing’s more disappointing than being handed a great game for review and then finding out that it’s not ready for prime time.
I started Dungeon of the Endless well in advance of its launch and had plenty of time to get a writeup done, except for one small thing — the pre-release code for the Switch port was glitched, and every time the game hiccuped, my progress got wiped.
I was less than happy about this, especially since DotE was great when it worked. I held off on my review since I was told a patch was coming, and now that it’s been patched, it’s still broken. As of the time this piece was written, I was literally unable to complete the game even once due to routine crashes. I find it impossible to believe that the developer and publisher didn’t see how crash-prone it was, and it shouldn’t have been released in this state.
With that aside for the moment, Dungeon of the Endless is a semi-turn-based roguelike with a good dose of tower defense thrown in. The story isn’t much of a factor, but the premise is that players crash-land on a hostile world and must carry their ship’s salvaged power crystal from the bottom of a dungeon, all the way up to the top floor where they’ll escape — although I can only guess about that.
At the beginning, there are a handful of characters available, with plenty more to be found and unlocked. They all vary in weapon type, skills, attack power, speed, and intelligence — want a speedy robot with a hologram lady head? An intelligent pug with a war hammer? A birdlike alien warrior? All of these folks are here, and more. Even better, some of them have mechanical synergies and shared backstory, so the cast is pretty neat.
The player starts by picking any two teammates available (max party size is four) and then entering the dungeon. Every floor is randomly generated and broken up into a series of rooms separated by doors, and in Dungeon of the Endless, doors are surprisingly critical. In fact, the entire game hinges on opening doors… and that pun was only halfway intended.
DotE‘s semi-turn-based aspect comes from the fact that nothing happens until a door is opened. Players can avoid opening doors for as long as they like, but when they finally do, several things can occur. Characters entering the next room might find loot, enemies that want to destroy the crystal might spawn, or there might be nothing at all. Play isn’t just about moving from room to room, though. There’s an extra factor to consider called Dust.
Dust is found in limited amounts and powers rooms. Rooms with the power on will never spawn enemies and can generate resources or host defensive weaponry – this is where the tower defense aspect comes in. Haphazardly opening doors will lead to a quick game over thanks to a destroyed crystal or overwhelming enemy numbers. However, the player can strategically craft a path that monsters will follow and prepare choke-point defenses to stop them.
Dungeon of the Endless can be tough, but a good understanding of the systems and a bit of forethought makes it manageable — and if this description sounds a bit complicated and unusual, that’s because it is. It took me more than a few tries to figure out how all the pieces fit together since the tutorials are not great and don’t properly explain the concepts. But, once grokked, I appreciated the complexity and originality here.
Keeping in mind that Dungeon of the Endless is not currently in working order, other criticisms include things like the length of a run — although I’ve never been able to finish, I’ve gotten as far as the 11th floor and even that felt a bit too long. Gameplay is solid and strategic, but it tends to settle into similar rhythms once players get the hang of it. I’d prefer quicker runs with a focus on experimenting on team composition.
My other issue is a high-level one. Certain chars can generate extra resources if they’re left behind, but Dungeon of the Endless is great at moving an entire team or just one character — moving any number of chars that’s not one or all is incredibly cumbersome. Despite the advantages, I rarely split my team because it was too awkward to control. Some way of efficiently controlling a partial group would be great.
Apart from those minor annoyances, Dungeon of the Endless is a fresh idea that works well, it’s got a good level of depth, the sprite-based graphics are nice, the character design is great, it’s a perfect fit for the Switch and there’s just a heck of a lot to like here, especially for fans of roguelikes — it’s just totally broken. Much of this heartache could have been avoided if A) the glitches were fixed, and B) there was an autosave at the start of every level. I’m sure the developers were eager to avoid ‘save scumming’ as most roguelike devs are, but this port has chewed through too much of my time and energy, and some concessions towards quality-of-life would have been appreciated.
I like Dungeon of the Endless a lot when it works, but I absolutely can’t recommend it in its current state. Come back in 6 months and I’m sure it’ll be a winner.