UPDATE April 5, 2023: The article originally stated that no progression was shared between players in co-op. The only progression to not carry over between players is which heroes are unlocked, while everything else carries over. The article has been updated to reflect this. Apologies for any confusion.
ORIGINAL STORY: I've had the pleasure of playing Amplitude's Endless Dungeon twice now. My first time—at last year's Gamescom—was a solo hands-on, a chance to freely explore every nook and cranny of its procedurally generated space station. This time I'm invited to try out its co-op, a feature the developer says it's built the entire experience around.
When you're a spiritual successor to Dungeon of the Endless, a game whose multiplayer was a smash hit despite being a very last-minute (and slightly barebones) addition, there's a lot to live up to. Amplitude has undoubtedly taken its knowledge and evolved the cooperative experience to a degree. Still, there were some vital flaws that made me crave a return to last summer's single-player stint.
Instead of being handed a team of three for me to command individually, divvying up resources however I feel, I'm plonked into a multiplayer session with a fellow journalist and an Amplitude developer. I'm told that going it alone in Endless Dungeon is a different experience from grouping up with friends: The former is more of a frantic, on-the-fly hero-switching experience with all three teammates at your fingertips. The latter still offers a dose of actiony chaos but requires more coordination and discussion before you initiate your next move.
That's partly because in co-op, every resource is shared and every individual's decision contributes to the overall run. With the goal being to guide a tiny crystal bot to a bulkhead door located somewhere on each randomised floor, everyone has to communicate about where they're going and what they're doing. Opening doors inches the game closer to triggering a wave of enemies who'll scramble to get their hands on your crystal bot and any resource generators you have on the map. It means you can't really have everyone split up to do a bit of map exploration for the fear that someone will trigger a wave before you can appropriately defend the path between enemies and your precious cargo.
Resources are also pretty damn limited, especially at the beginning. For our first run, I choose Fassie. He's one of the newest additions to Endless Dungeon, a suave bartending support who can lob cocktails at allies for a buff and start barfights as his ultimate. I loved his characterisation, so he was my instant choice. My other two co-op buddies choose DPS-oriented characters. We get into the run and I notice we only have two health packs to share between the three of us.
I'm told you can get more, but only if you're lucky enough to find a room that has a health pack generator inside. Even then it costs Food, one of three resources that every run is shaped around. Don't have enough Food generators, you're screwed on health packs.
Not so endless
The first run is rough, to say the least. With no healer and two inexperienced journalists at the helm, health is consistently low across the group. We find no health pack generator, making things even tougher. I ask our assigned developer how important team composition is, and he says not particularly. But when I pose the same question to creative director Jean-Maxime Moris, he says it's "crucial" to the experience.
"The strategy starts in the saloon," he says, referring to Endless Dungeon's hub where you can create a lobby, upgrade heroes and tinker around with elixirs. I most certainly felt that in our first, healerless run. I also struggled somewhat with Fassie—although for the most part, the twin-stick shooting and direct control are great. Popping my ultimate when the gaggle of enemies began applying pressure could turn the tide of battle, but I struggled with aiming my buffing cocktails at my allies while I was in the thick of it. I regularly missed and ended up buffing myself instead, which was still a win but a frustration nonetheless.
Dying is a regular occurrence in Endless Dungeon's roguelite structure, and all three of us fall relatively early on in the run. It doesn't feel bad to lose, but we all switch up our characters for an easier time regardless. I go for the game's other newest addition, Cartie. She's more of a DPS-leaning character, capable of stunning enemies, and becomes a blazing ball of fire for her ultimate. We round off the team with healer Shroom, another DPS, and head in.
This time, things are much easier. We're regularly topped up with heals, letting us dive straight into battle. Cartie is fantastic to play, much better than the time I had with Fassie. Her ultimate is incredible fun, and I pick up an electric two-handed weapon that melts every lightning-weak enemy bot in front of me. But I was enjoying our run despite the co-op, not because of it. Perhaps it was a consequence of being ferried around by a developer who knew the game far better than we did, but I wasn't doing a whole lot of exploration. We had some moments of cooperation and discussion, but I was mostly floating around during my playthrough.
The most fun I had was easily the boss battle that the Amplitude developer leads us to. AOEs begin raining down, and my MMO-addled brain jumps straight into action. Some AOEs are static, while others follow all three of us or a select player. I almost run a tracking attack into one of my squadmates, who bolts away from me in a panic. It's a great laugh, as enemy waves begin to accompany the area attacks. Dodging AOEs, attacking and strategising in the moment was where Endless Dungeon shined.
Coming away from the boss battle, I finally saw how the game could be an elevated experience with pals. I would've preferred individually distributed health packs or an easier way to explore and defend without having to consult my teammates at every single step, but I think with three equally experienced friends it would be a great time.
Make no mistake, Endless Dungeon is still fun. Tinkering around with different weapons and their attached elements to quickly dispose of enemies became my focus during the playthrough, and one of the things I enjoyed most. I was also in charge of designating stat buffs to my team when we found a room with the ability to do so, and I liked that I could allocate stat changes to both myself and my teammates at will. But I think I'll explore Endless Dungeon alone before I dive in with my buddies.