Where does one even begin with this game? Where it all starts, I suppose. Dungeon of the Endless (DotE) is a title released in October of 2014 by Amplitude Studios. It is set in the same universe as the other Endless games. Why am I writing about this game now? Because it was just released for the iOS platform on August 20th, and I am finally playing it the way I believe it was meant to be played.
In DotE, you are a survivor of a prison transport that happens to have been passing by Auriga, the planet at the center of Endless Legend. During the doomed flight, the ship triggered the planet’s dormant automatic defense systems and was subsequently destroyed. Thankfully, you made it out alive. When your escape pod crash lands on Auriga – no, strike that, in Auriga – you start out with either 1 or 2 characters, a power crystal (Crystal Core) and a mystery on your hands. As you traverse the many levels in the “dungeon”, you begin to get a clearer picture of the situation: somehow, your escape pod crashed into an abandoned underground laboratory used by the Endless to conduct experiments on hapless subjects and Auriga’s surface-dwellers.
Your party’s ultimate goal is to reach the surface by finding and activating the facility’s elevators, which let you move up one level. On the way, you can get benefits from the various rooms you explore by powering them up. This means protecting your Crystal Core from the “monsters” and eventually moving it to another elevator so you can escape. As you move closer and closer to the surface, you will need to contend with an increasing frequency of powerful monsters, insidious traps and a diabolical RNG god that makes DotE a true Tower Defense Rogue-like and a possible 4X-lite type of game.
After reading that last sentence again, I realize how convoluted and strange it might sound, but I stand by what I wrote. DotE has elements of all of those genres and it does a great job blending them together. Let me tell you why.
Dungeon of the Endless is very much a Tower Defense title because you have to create defensive structures throughout the various rooms that you eXplore on your way to the exit. You can use your Crystal Core to power various modules that help you strengthen your position. As you slowly gain control of the floor, you eXpand your powered zone and try to hold out until a party member finds the exit.
What’s in these rooms, you ask? You’ll have to find out the old fashioned way. You might find a self-powered room, some dust lying around, or a treasure box. You’ll find various slots in the ground for you to build modules on. You get resources like Dust, Food, Industry and Science. You might even find another survivor that may offer to join your party for the right price, or just hang out and probably die when monsters spawn. Is this a 4X-lite in disguise? It sure shares a lot of characteristics with them. Maybe it’s a different type of 4X, a 4X RPG?
So, how do you achieve all of these things with just a Crystal Core as your power source? Easy. Kill, kill, and kill some more! That’s right, you can’t even try to conduct any diplomatic discourse with the test subjects of this vile place. Other than the occasional merchant or recruitable character, every creature here wants you dead. In return, your eXtermination of their existence translates into dust, nanobots used in the Endless universe as currency (among other things). All of the dust you collect can be used to boost the strength of your Crystal Core, letting you power the rooms.
This is as good a place as any to discuss the denizens of DotE. Every unpowered room stands a chance of spawning monsters that attack you, your modules, and ultimately your Crystal Core each time you open a door. The more unpowered rooms that you leave unguarded, the more waves of monster may be spawned to attack you. Later on, you’ll get these bastards that try to knock down the locked doors, further pushing you into a state of panic. Everytime I hear a door knock, I twitch. Yea, it can get that bad.
Alright, something else of interest. DotE uses the Endless universe’s FIDS economy (Food, Industry, Dust, Science). Each room can have up to two types of slots for building major and minor modules. There are three types of resource generators: Food, Industry and Science. Food is used to heal your heroes, upgrade their level, hire new heroes to join you, and sometimes trade with merchants. Industry is used to build modules like these generators as well as defensive and offensive turrets, bots, boosters and other such things. Science is used to research new modules and equipment. There are also two types of crystals you can find attached to the major nodes: one that conveys its benefits for a limited amount of turns and the other used to research new modules.
Your party is controlled through simple instructions. Go here, open that, stand and fight, use a skill or item and ruuuuuuuuuun away. In DotE, prepare to do a whole lot of running away. When I say run, I don’t mean casually, I mean that you’ll be screaming at your screen with the hope that your character survives. This game is more survival horror than many games claiming to be of that genre. Losing a character to a mistake is not sad, it’s tragic. A single character loss can put you on the brink of losing the game. Losing multiple characters, well, I have yet to recover from that.
Let’s talk about the party members, or heroes as I like to call them, since surviving DotE is a heroic feat. They can have different origins. Some are survivors of the crash, while others originated on the planet as either test subjects or planetary denizens. These characters must work together using the equipment and passive/active skills at their disposal. DO NOT forget to upgrade your party, because if you do, the monsters will kill and eat you faster than you can click the heal button.
Okay, time for an admission: I have never beaten the game. Not even on the easiest difficulty. It’s a really tough game. I even resorted to using the pause button, and all it did was show me the folly of my ways. I’ve come back from near defeat, by surviving and finding new low-level party members, but I eventually end up losing anyway. So, let’s try a playthrough and see what happens.
I’m going to play a game on my Mac using the easiest of easy settings with Kreyang, a Drakken mutant librarian, and the loud-mouthed nurse, Deena Ratchet. Here. We. Go.
The first floor is boring because I am able to power up all of the rooms. Well, some of them are self-powered. After dropping an industry producer and a food producer at the start, I leave the floor with a good amount of food and production.
The second floor is equally boring until I run out of dust, then it’s terror and fleeing into a well-defended room. Deena’s ability to heal the party is very useful here. Then I meet my newest party member, Max O’kane, and we’re off to the third floor.
The third floor is when we have to survive our first crucible. Max is an interesting character. His passive skill that boosts “found” dust and his fleet footedness, leads to me using him as a door opener and scout. Unfortunately, he isn’t a very hard hitter at the start. On the other hand, his high Wit makes him a perfect resource booster. That’s when a stationary character boosts the production of whichever resource module they’re next to after occupying the room for more than one turn.
In room after room, we get attacked as I look for the exit. Upon finally finding it, I realize that the path is long, and we’ll be attacked at every corner. So I take this opportunity to use some of the food I’ve been generating to level up my party… just in the nick of time too.
We make it to the fourth floor and, after a bunch of meaningless banter, the first door is opened, and then this happens:
Troe Pekenyo joins the party, and I finally have two good combatants. Time to pick up the pace. With Troe in the mix, Kreyang can finally get a break from the fighting and help boost production at the science resource generator. I was running low after researching upgraded modules, so this was a welcomed boost.
Meanwhile, I discover Ken Massoqui in a stasis pod. I can’t do anything with him because my party is full. This is the second time I see the Roving Clan-looking merchant with his friendly pug. Too bad that both Ken and the Merchant end up being murdered by the monsters before I make it to the 5th floor.
The 5th floor is very quiet. Lots of self-powered rooms and easy places to defend. I use this time to research upgraded resource producers. The 6th floor is a whole other story. I find the exit early on. Do I make a quick escape, or slowly open doors to increase my resources and take my chance with the murderous test subjects and possible EMP bursts? I consider opening one more door…
Yup, you guessed it – I run. I could open one more door, but it’s getting a little too intense. The monster spawns are only getting tougher with each floor. During the ride to the 7th floor, Kreyang starts to inquire about a bathroom and how much she needed to go. For a Drakken, she is quite modest.
Unfortunately, the 7th level is a horror-filled nightmare. Not only do we discover the beetle-riding Urces door crushers, but Max O’kane is ambushed and murdered in the dark trying to protect a research crystal. Kreyang is unfazed though as she keeps complaining about being claustrophobic. The 8th floor ought to be fun with only 3 party members. I need to find a 4th one quickly.
To call the 8th floor tense is an understatement. There are lots of depowered rooms because of the door opening events but it doesn’t translate to an instant loss. Misha Cherny with his gatling gun joins the party and turns the tide back in my favor. But the depowering of rooms continues (random door opening event), and I am constantly ambushed by nasty monsters. I have to leave several unopened doors that stem from the escape elevator, yet the party somehow survives that too. Kreyang does threaten to kill whoever it was that hummed along to the elevator music.
The 9th floor is no picnic. The elevator has 3 doors, but 2 of the 3 have no places where I can build a module. This seems to be the end of the line. Will I survive to make it to the 10th floor, or have we reached the end? Read on!
It’s brutal. I am unable to get enough dust generated to offset all the new rooms, and a door-busting cretin created another wave of monsters that my party barely survived. After finding the exit elevator, I think I have done everything I can to prepare for the escape. Little do I know how many doors remain. Troe Pekenyo gives his life to save the Crystal Core and the rest of his friends. He might have been short in stature, but his heart was big.
The 10th floor might be the end of it all. Losing a level 7 frontline hero is terrible this late in the game. It’s a massive drain on the food resource and forces all my heroes to move as one, so production boosting suffers as well. WIll a replacement be found? Maybe. But it will cost us.
Unfortunately, the 10th floor is full of peril. A 4th party member hasn’t been found, and Misha has to hold down the fort far too often. Deena and Kreyang are brave, but they aren’t fast enough to cover half of the unlit floor. One more party member lost and it will be too much. Troe, we miss you! On the second to last door before the escape elevator, we find Mizi Kurtiz, and morale improves immediately.
The 11th floor starts out poorly, but at least the party is up to five again. Wait, what? Five, or four or… Miri is crazy. Actually, she’s not. Two beings occupy the same space, so she has to be in a room alone, or she reduces the effectiveness of the other party members that are present. I wonder how long she will last without support. This floor is grim. I have very few powered rooms and the monsters that spawn are just vicious.
I haven’t found the exit elevator and the attacking monsters are relentless. At this rate, I won’t make it to the 12th floor unless I get lucky. I’ve had to upgrade my main 3 party members, and I am in a bind because I don’t have enough dust to power the rooms, nor safe slots to build resource producers that won’t be demolished right away. Yet somehow, I survive by creating choke points, but it’s tough. I am sure the 12th floor will be easy. Being positive is where it’s at…
It’s time for another small intermission. I’ve made it to the 12th floor and I am learning a lot about how to survive, but now we shall see if I can make it to the surface. I realize I should have been making more food to further upgrade my party, so I will try that in the next playthrough. I have made it to the 12th floor only twice before, and I usually die pretty early because I didn’t pay attention to what the monsters do and didn’t take into account how I needed to prepare for the mixed waves. All good lessons. Now back to my story.
So, the last floor begins with a quandary: 4 doors and only enough dust to power up a single room. Oh boy, I hope I pick the right one. 4 rooms later: one self-powered room, and enough monsters killed to collect the dust needed to power a second. So far, so good.
The unfairness of the 12th floor continues. So many unopened doors and unpowered rooms to contend with, and that’s just from one wing! Why can’t I catch a break? I do find a hero that is holding down a room, but I need to support it before it dies. I open the next door and… WHOA!!!
I find the exit elevator with more than half of the rooms to go. Is this a prelude to my first ever win? Maybe. Do I open another few doors to increase my food storage for that last level? I will risk one more door. Finally, I have made it to the last fl…
I lost. I LOST. Once the exit appears, the amount of monsters that spawn with each door opening begins bordering on stupid. If you see the exit, NEVER EVER open an extra door on the 12 floor. I could have easily made it out. I could have lit the rooms and walked the Crystal Core to the exit in peace and called it a day, but my greed resulted in a horrible loss. So close to a win?!? And I lost instead. I should have done the smart thing and headed for the exit like I did in the 6th floor.
That, folks, is why I HATE Roguelikes. As much fun as this game can be, this level of frustration is just not worth it for me. One wrong move and you’re deader than a doornail. In case you forgot, I was playing on “Very Easy”. DotE is a great iOS mobile port. I doubt I will fire this game up on my Mac ever again. I will not play it again using a trackpad, that is for sure. No RTS type of game is worth playing on a trackpad and it will forever be relegated to my Steam category of Roguelikes. In other words, games that I won’t play again. On the iPad, the game just feels natural. The controls make sense. You don’t need to create all kind of shortcuts to use with a keyboard because it’s all touchscreen. I suppose that some people prefer to use hotkeys for games of this type, but I’m not one of them. I hope I do better on my iPad the next time I play.