Endless Dungeon is a deliberate sequel to an accidental success. In 2014, Amplitude Studios, the French developer known for its meditative 4X games like Endless Legend and Humankind, released a chaotic blend of roguelike and tower defence called Dungeon of the Endless. Conceived in "a drunken night that was going wrong," it was developed as a skunkworks project alongside Endless Legend, surpassing all the studios' expectations when it launched eight years ago.
What surprised Amplitude most, however, was the love for Dungeon of the Endless' multiplayer. "It was added late to the game, so it was kind of barebones in many aspects," says Romain de Waubert de Genlis, co-founder of Amplitude Studios. But this didn't stop players from raving about it at conventions before the pandemic. "We were amazed to see that the best moments that our players were mentioning happened to be playing multiplayer."
Endless Dungeon, therefore, is designed as a multiplayer experience from the ground up. In fact, it's sort-of multiplayer even in singleplayer, letting you control multiple characters at once, flitting between them as you fend off waves of alien foes.
The premise is similar to that of Dungeon of the Endless, but with players exploring an abandoned space station rather than a hostile alien planet. Each floor of this station is procedurally generated, with you guiding a power crystal on robotic legs to a specific bulkhead door. But between you and said door are lots of other doors, leading to rooms containing anything from power-ups to new weapons to alien hives that periodically spawn waves of enemies.
Every door you open also provides a sprinkling of resources used to heal characters, upgrade their stats and abilities, and most importantly, build defences. Your heroes simply can't shoot fast enough to stop the hordes of aliens from gobbling up your crystal-bot like a giant Ferrero Rocher, so you need to place turrets on specific nodes scattered around each room, then support them with reinforcing shields and 'jellifiers', which coat the station floor in a slowing forcefield.
While the DNA of Dungeon of the Endless is visible in the game's structure, in both presentation and function Endless Dungeon is quite a different experience. Gone is the simple, top-down pixel-art, replaced with a painterly 3D aesthetic that makes the station's procedural gunmetal corridors pop with colour. And while there are fewer heroes than in Dungeon of the Endless, they are more distinct. The build I played offered three playable characters, including Zed, a sort-of cross between Overwatch's Tracer and TF2's Heavy who churns up foes with her underslung chaingun, and Bunker, a spindly robot who lugs around a weighty ballistic shield.
Command and conquer
The biggest change, though, is that you control these characters directly, moving with the keyboard and aiming with the mouse. You can also activate special abilities, such as Bunker's shield-slam that splatters nearby foes, and a skill that turns Zed's chaingun into a devastating beam weapon.
Although still early days for the project, the combat feels satisfying. The ability to swap between characters with a tap of the spacebar is a particularly neat touch. "The most challenging [thing] was trying to make the hero switch feel natural," says Jean-Maxime Moris, creative director on Endless Dungeon. "And also that, when you switch, you wouldn't get entirely lost in the dungeon, so we needed to add support features such as the mini-map."
The core loop of the game also bubbles with tension. You must open doors to accrue resources, but every door you open potentially adds another enemy-spawning hive to the map. Consequently, the stakes ramp up quickly. Waves of enemies will trigger every few minutes, and if you haven't established a sturdy defence by the third or fourth wave, your crystal-bot is going to end up stardust. You can't rely on turtling around the crystal either. Eventually, you must order it to unlock the bulkhead that'll let you access the next area, meaning your defence needs to be consistently strong all along the crystal-bot's path.
In the build I played, this was a big ask. I only made it past the first bulkhead door once, and my crystal-bot was destroyed soon after. The difficulty is partly deliberate. Amplitude wants Endless Dungeon to be a challenging experience. In typical roguelike fashion, your characters will grow in power over the course of repeated runs, better enabling them to hold back the alien tides. But Moris also admits Amplitude is still in the process of balancing the tower defence element of the game. "We need to improve it and make it more polished and make it feel even more powerful," he says. "There's stuff that we can do to improve the placement of the turrets, the feedback you get when they do something, the general dynamic and synergies with the gunfights."
The enemies I fought in the demo were essentially a race of giant bugs, which, while acceptable starting fodder for a tower-defence scenario, don't make for a compelling adversary in the longer term. But Moris assured me that this is just one type of foe you'll face in Endless Dungeon. "We have four families of enemies, each [of which] has four or five different enemies in them," he says "So that gives you an idea of the variety that we have. We will spread that over ten different environments."
Fleeting though it was, I enjoyed my time with Endless Dungeon. The tension between cracking open doors and dealing with whatever spills over the threshold works well, while the blend of tower-defence and roguelike offers a study foundation for Amplitude to build upon. That said, I do worry that it lacks a certain spark. When I asked Moris and de Waubert de Genlis about what the game brings to the table that we haven't seen before, they pointed to the general blend of tower-defence and roguelike, and the ability to directly control your heroes. But the former was present in Dungeon of the Endless, and I'm not sure the latter is something you'd stick on the back of a box. There are plenty of tower-defence games that feature direct control, after all.
Then again, it's early days. Endless Dungeon is currently in opendev, with the studio working with players to help refine and expand the core experience. So perhaps that spark will reveal itself in the roguelike progression, or working together as a team in multiplayer. Either way, Endless Dungeon looks set to be a fun romp, and there's plenty of time yet for Amplitude to turn it into something special.