I can only stare blankly when game director Max von Knorring tells me his title is “a mix of roguelike and tower defence, with a little pinch of Dungeon Keeper.” My brain attempts to mesh the exploration, progression and permadeath of a roguelike with the static resource management of tower defence and immediately short-circuits. Knorring turns around his laptop to show me his work, and suddenly I understand.
A spaceship has crash-landed deep into the abandoned halls of an advanced but extinct civilisation on planet Auriga, which is also the setting for Amplitude's new 4X strategy game Endless Legend (more of that on the site shortly). You and up to three friends take command of the survivors, and must fight your way to the surface level by level, using your ship's ebbing power supply to power up rooms while repelling waves of subterranean creeps.
Opening a door is the riskiest thing you can do. In lit rooms you can plug defensive towers you've researched into floor sockets, upgrade your weapons and level up your characters. Straying away from your warm, welldefended safe zones will trigger random events. Monsters could spawn from the dark and rush your defences, you might trigger a trap, or discover a sentient being in need of help. Until you power up a room, there's a chance that monsters could spawn there whenever you open any new door, so opening, say, five doors in a row would be an extremely silly thing to do.
Knorring does just that. Spidery aliens scamper out of every door. Some mob his heroes, who defend themselves with laser pistols and electrified blades. Others rush for the ship's power supply and are chewed up by automated towers. The monster breeds you face will gradually change as you progress. The closer you get to the top of the dungeon, the more they'll resemble the fantasy creatures that dwell on the surface of Auriga.
If your characters die they're gone for that game, which makes the moment you climb from one level to the next extremely risky. Once you've discovered the exit, you have to detach the power source from your ship, powering down all of your rooms and turrets, and then make a dash for the stairway as waiting monsters pour into the dark. If you make it, you can plug the power supply into the room you come up in on the next level and keep pushing on. There will be many room-types, like alien barracks and strange prisons, and Knorring also suggests you'll be able to choose the ship you crash land in. Different vessels will give you different starting modules that can affect your team's competencies. Dungeon of the Endless is designed to be played... well, near endlessly.
If you're especially lucky, you might pick up a new party member or two on your travels. Your crashed ship is one of numerous escape vessels jettisoned from an exploding prison craft, and some of its prisoners have become lost in the labyrinth with you. There are 30 distinct survivors, each with their own unique histories and skill trees. Some are helpful falsely accused innocents, others are unrepentant crooks that might well stab you in the back before pinching your items. Given the horrors lurking within this sprawling maze, that might be a relatively kind fate.