(Play and read on)
- Developer: Amplitude Studios
- Publisher:Amplitude Studios
- Version reviewed:PC
- Released on: October 27, 2014
I always begin a game with no expectations. Previously released trailers, media hype and the personal reviews (good or bad) of friends will excite me, but once I actually sit down to try out the game myself, my thoughts on it are automatically reset. The best way to play a game is to discover it for yourself.
So I’m relaxed and my mind is calm. I switch on the computer, log into Steam and launch Dungeon of the Endless. This is what I see:
At first glance, this might seem like a relatively simple title screen. You’ve got your title front and center, the developer’s name at the bottom and the menu options in between. But subconsciously, every detail merges to create a certain effect. All these written elements are engulfed in a background of deep-greyish hues; ‘Dungeon’ is pixelated, while ‘of the Endless’ is of a long, thin font, all of which are suggestive of a vast far awayness, simultaneously, confined and enclosed. This is exactly what the game is. Paradoxical, to say the least, but those aren’t the only contradictory elements.
If you played the music file at the beginning of this review, you’ll know what I mean, because the main title screen’s appearance of potential threat is set against soft and pleasant music with a hint of the eerie and mysterious. And a blend of retro. This instantly brings a smile to my face, because there’s nothing like the healthy pleasure of game nostalgia that stirs the emotions – oh how far we have come, and how far will we go? <Ahem> Composed by Flybyno, the game’s soundtrack consists of these solemn-retro themes, which fit the gameplay and environment most favorably.
I select ‘New Game’. ‘Continue’ is shaded, of course, because this is the first time I’m playing and I’ve no saves, but keep it in mind anyway, because this has a later significance. A pixelated cutscene then ensues and it’s very brief: you’re traveling in a spaceship called the Success and its main occupants are prisoners. It’s being attacked and it looks like it’s unlikely it will survive the damage.
Suddenly, you’re taken to the character/ship selection screen. Since I’m just starting out, only one ship and four characters (two women and two men) are available to me, while the others have to be unlocked, no doubt, by making progress in the game.
I read the description of the spaceship, Note from Sales Brochure: “The pod is guaranteed to survive any crash; we hope its occupants do as well.” I’m immediately taken with the game’s tongue-in-cheek comments and dark sense of humor, which abound in this game.
I discover I’m allowed to select only two of the four people available. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with this basic procedure. You take a look at each of their stats and decide which two characters would make the smart choice in helping you win the game. Every gamer has his preferences. Based on what I could make of the stats, my first choice combination was Deena Ratchet and Max O’Kane. As the mouse cursor hovers over each character portrait, the following lines are displayed: … has been unlocked. You can send this hero to a gruesome death whenever you want. I wonder in amusement at its implication.
But we’re not done here yet. On the left side of the screen, you’ll find the difficulty settings. Now usually, the difficulty settings are located in the ‘Options’ menu. By placing these settings on the same screen as the characters, the game is drawing your attention to its possible greater role/importance in your experience of the game. I actually snickered when I saw what the settings were:
This game just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.
Generally, games have three basic difficulty settings: Easy, Normal and Hard. I never start a game on Easy. I always start on Normal. Even if a game’s giving me quite a bit of trouble, I insist and persist till I’m done with the game. The reason for this is that I feel you learn more when a game puts you in testing situations and when this happens, you become better at the game; the challenge provides an additional thrill. Also, it’s Normal mode, so if you’re not getting through, there must be something you’re doing wrong. Games are all about trial and error. Easy mode allows you to be complacent about things, which become unforgivable when you try the game on Normal.
But this game works better in reverse. Let me explain.
Now that I’m forced to choose between two degrees of the mode I shun, I grudgingly decide to go along with the less easier option: Easy. Another short cutscene shows the Success crash landing onto another world. And finally, we’re in the game.
Since I was involved in no gameplay till now, I’ve been using the mouse. Even when it comes to PC games, I use an Xbox controller. I’ve never quite gotten the hang of using the mouse. However, once I plug the controller in, I find that the game doesn’t respond to any of my commands. I use the mouse to go into the menu, click on ‘Options’ and to my utter dismay, there’s no indication of controller support. (However, there’s rumor that the game is being ported to Xbox, so controller support may be worked in soon.)
Annoyed, I unplug the controller, set it aside and take up the mouse again. Then I take a deep breath and begin the tutorial. Although it mentions a good number of things to pay attention to, the game’s tutorial is rather terse in its style of instructions and it explains very little. I might’ve gotten on just the same without it – stumbling in confusion.
You have an overhead view of the area and your characters are two of the prisoners that survived the crash. Your primary goal is to take the crystal to the Exit… but you don’t know where the exit is. The game starts you off in the ruins of your ship. Open the door as indicated and another room appears. The map is generated as you open each door, so the only way to find the exit is by exploring the dungeon. Another thing, you can’t carry the crystal with you as you explore; it has to stay in the room you start out in.
The game is a mix of RPG and strategy, so it employs turn-based tactics. To explore the dungeon, you have to select the hero and open a door. Opening a door is like triggering a turn/event – rooms may contain resources, items or hostile creatures. You’re also granted a certain amount of each resource as you open each door.
There are four types of resources in the game:
The management of these resources is absolutely vital to your survival. And unfortunately, I understood very little about this aspect when I first played the game. I experienced five game overs within the first level alone. By the way, the maps are randomly generated, so there’s no point counting on your memory of the last attempt to help you find the exit faster. On my sixth attempt, I finally located the exit. Now, the option of carrying the crystal is available. But make sure you’re ready before you pick up the crystal, because as soon as you do, waves of enemies will descend upon the crystal-bearing hero from all directions. The hero can’t do anything to defend himself except sprint to the exit (Sara Numas makes for a great sprinter). So, the chase sequence is pretty intense and nerve wracking. You could probably have the other hero travel alongside for protection or just hope the hero makes it in one piece. But don’t hit the exit button that pops up until you’ve made sure all your heroes are in the room, or else he’ll get left behind to die a cheap death.
An elevator takes the heroes to Level 2. Finally. Then two minutes into the stage and both of my characters die. I’m taken back to the title screen. Remember the shaded ‘Continue’ button? I still can’t select it – it’s still shaded. I stare at the button in wide-eyed amazement. That’s right – if you die at any point in the game, you don’t start at the beginning of the last stage you were on, you go right back to the beginning of Level 1. There are 12 levels in all, so imagine the tragedy of dying on Level 11. When this cruel realization dawned upon me, I rage quit.
The next time I turned on the game, I made sure I was prepared. When a game gets the better of me, I have my own special booster – something that heightens the senses. Like Red Bull. When the can’s empty, I relax with a Snickers bar.
And guess what? It really worked.
The reason for this second attempt at the game was not only because I wanted to win, but because I knew I didn’t understand how the game worked in order to truly enjoy it. And most people who try Dungeon of the Endless for the first time will probably go through the same thing. So what if dying takes you back to the first level? That pretty much makes it like an arcade game, too, and we love those.
This time, I decided to put my ego aside and try the game on Too Easy with the other two heroes: Gork Koroser and Sara Numas. Since there’s so much going on in the game that you have to be aware of, Too Easy would be the best mode to learn on the go how to effectively play the game. As I progressed through the stages and encountered more difficult enemies, I gradually understood the significance of each of the resources, how they affect your performance in the game and the importance of building resource modules to increase your resource collection.
Dust – powers the crystal. You also need dust to power up rooms, especially the ones you’ve built the resource modules in, or else they won’t work and you’ll reap no benefits for the industry you spent on building them. Be careful not to leave too many rooms without power, because enemies spawn out of these unpowered rooms. Also, for each time you’re attacked, a certain amount of dust is subtracted from the total you had. There are two ways to lose in this game: either all of your characters die or you allow the dust to go down to 0, ultimately destroying the crystal (and the objective of the game).
When there’s an incoming wave of enemies, make sure you’ve got your eyes on the crystal and the built up resource modules. The enemies attempt to attack and destroy these first, especially the crystal, because these are all sources of your strength and energy. Without the resource modules, you’re extremely vulnerable and without the crystal, of course, you’re as good as dead.
Industry – used to build resource modules in order to increase production of those resources. Don’t forget, however, that you need dust to power the modules you build. It’s also used as the currency to buy items from the merchant. While modules may be rendered useless upon leaving, the items continue to benefit you over multiple levels.
Food – can be used to heal your heroes and level them up as well. It can be tempting to use food to heal your heroes in battle, but the heroes automatically regenerate to full health when all enemies have been killed. So to prevent yourself from wasting food, try running into another room. The enemies follow you, but you’ll at least (in most cases) have the first turn to attack. You could also have the other hero(s) join you or let him deal with it on his own. Leveling up has to be done manually, so make sure you know how to do this. The option to level up is contained in the character menu. Food is also used to recruit new heroes as you progress to the next floors. You can have a maximum of four heroes on your team.
Science – I barely used this resource in the game. It’s unlike the other resources that can be spent on almost any given turn. Science is only spent on the artifacts you find while exploring the dungeon. The artifact offers you four options for new modules or upgrades to existing modules. Even if you spend the Science required to research the new module, you need to make sure you open at least three doors in order to complete the research. So, it’ll take a while before you reap any benefits. Bear in mind, that the artifact can be attacked and destroyed like the other modules, but can’t be repaired like they can. This also means modifying your defense strategy to include the artifact, besides the resource modules and the lives of your heroes.
Dungeon of the Endless is the follow up to Amplitude Studios’ first game Endless Space and takes place in the same universe. It’s a wondrous mix of rogue-like tower-defense, sci-fi adventure, strategy and RPG. The pixel art is at once simple and fascinating with its use of rich vivid colors. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the game’s mechanics, the experience is extremely rewarding. It has high replay value with its diverse set of characters and personality traits. There are plenty of characters, ships, pictures and bios to be unlocked and new play conditions to be experienced. Since the maps are randomly generated, you can always count on being surprised by what you find behind each door. For its price, it offers gamers a whole lot to enjoy and really gets the grey cells working. This is a game definitely worth picking up.
So what’re you waiting for? Start making your way up!