Combining genres is nothing new in video games, yet it’s always captivating when developers execute it so well. Endless Dungeon is a sci-fi, isometric, roguelike, twin-stick shooter with Tower Defense elements. It’s understandable if one might think that such a combination of genres would never work – I felt the same initially. However, once I grasped the essence of its fun factor, I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this unique blend of genres.
The Stellar Art of a Space Adventure
The graphics in Endless Dungeon aren’t necessarily high fidelity, but the distinctive aesthetic perfectly captures the game’s character and atmosphere. The game’s cutscenes are animated comics overflowing with personality thanks to the brilliant work of all artists involved in this game, from character designers and musicians to voice actors. Their effort comes together brilliantly, making this experience much more immersive.
At first, you take the role of Sweeper, a spaceship genitor who finds himself trapped legendary space station from which escape seems impossible. While trying to survive the deadly alien bugs with a Space Marine called Zed, Sweeper will learn more about the station. Most importantly, he will learn about the reloader. This technological marvel brings you back to life when you die in the field, cleverly combining the game’s lore and gameplay.
Despite being a sci-fi game, there’s an undeniable Western tone to it that I find quite appealing. Clearly, this merge of different genre is a recurring theme here that transcends gameplay. The game can be exciting, thrilling, comical, and incredibly chill. Most importantly, I never felt like any of this was disjointed. It appears there was an intentional effort to ensure this amalgamation worked harmoniously and didn’t feel like an arbitrary patchwork of ideas.
A Bot-Defense Tactical Western Shooter?
Endless Dungeon is primarily a twin-stick shooter but with many twists. First, your life is not the most important thing here; the Crystal Bot is. If it is destroyed, your entire squad instantly dies. Enemies come in waves, and as long as a single squad member manages to survive and prevent enemies from destroying the Crystal Bot, the others will return once a wave is over. Soon, you will realize that you can’t handle many waves of enemies by yourself. This is where the game’s tower defense element comes into play.
Each room provides numerous spots where you can swiftly deploy turrets using a resource known as “Industry.” You get a bit of Industry, Food, and Science every time you open a door. They are used for building turrets, buying upgrades and medkits, and researching new turret types. You might also find chests with better guns and generators: structures that, when activated, provides extra resource points of the chosen type every time you open a door. This way, even when you find an empty room, you are rewarded for it.
Juggling Enemies and Resources
All that said, there’s a catch. You might also find an enemy spawning point whenever you open a door. Meaning that enemy waves will become larger and more dangerous over time. This creates an exciting cycle in which you might need more turrets to fight enemy waves, but you need to open doors to get resources, and this very action might make the waves even harder to handle.
Things get even more complicated when you realize the Crystal Bot must be moved throughout the stages. Some doors will only open when the crawling automaton is there to hack the station’s system, forcing you not only to accompany the Crystal Bot to defend it but also to instantly recognize the best spots on the map to handle multiple enemy waves with the right combination of turrets.
A Delicious Genre Stew with a Sprinkle of Exploration
This is how the developers manage to brilliantly blend all genres quite seamlessly. You must explore to gather resources you will use to build turrets so you can better defend the Crystal Bot. On the other hand, as you roam around, the enemy waves become larger and more varied, forcing you to adapt on the fly.
Protecting the Crystal Bot, combating hordes of robots and bugs while swiftly placing turrets proved to be far more enjoyable than I anticipated. Especially when you learn about the different damage types, enemy weaknesses, and how to perfectly place flamethrowers and acid snipers so you won’t even have to look back at certain corridors.
Saloon Shenanigans: Cells, Scraps, and Badasses
There are many layers of complexity that keep this game engaging. This is a roguelike game, so stages always feel fresh when you return to them. It’s true that some runs will be better than others because of the randomized aspects of the game, but no run is meaningless. Every time you die, you return to the Saloon, which works as your average roguelike hub area in Endless Dungeon.
There, you can unlock new characters and new areas and use two kinds of resources that you keep after each run: Cells and Scraps. The first one allows you to buy minor but significant improvements to weapons and characters. The second one is used to improve aspects of your Saloon and some gameplay elements, such as bringing one extra character on each run.
If you try to understand the entire game at once, it can be overwhelming. The game features six different resources, a variety of enemies, damage types, turrets, and structures. Additionally, there are numerous distinct heroes each with unique active abilities and starting weapons.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a bullet hell or an overly action-oriented game. While it is indeed a twin-stick shooter, it carries a strong essence of tower defense. You won’t be dodging and rolling around. There’s a bit of action and dodging, but the focus is on clever positioning of your character, turrets, and well-timed use of active abilities.
Frustration of a Lone Sweeper
This brings me to a few criticisms of the game. At times, it’s unclear why I’m taking damage, how to prevent an enemy from approaching, or how to evade incoming shots. When playing solo, it becomes particularly challenging to avoid taking damage. Controlling the flow of enemy waves becomes nearly impossible when relying on your AI teammate to pull their weight. It appears that the game expects players to accept they will get hit and deal with the consequences as best they can.
On top of that, loot is also something that, at times, doesn’t quite feel right. You often find weaker weapons in chests, making the choice of keeping your current gun somewhat irrelevant. Besides, there aren’t enough guns in the game to make you really excited to open a chest. I often felt like I wasn’t finding anything particularly new or interesting and was much more excited to find a research station so I could unlock a new type of turret.
Yet, even though some elements of the game felt uneven, there’s an overall sense of coherence in the gameplay experience I can’t get enough of. As someone who isn’t particularly fond of tower defenses or roguelikes, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by Endless Dungeon.
Friends Make Everything Better, Especially in Space
The game’s cooperative play is a highlight, elevating the experience significantly. Although you can play alone and control multiple characters at once, it almost feels like you’re also adding RTS to the game’s genres. When facing the harder waves, you must position your squad perfectly, order them to stay, and then move to the next one, and it will often become quite hard to manage.
When playing with other people, instead of depending on the game’s AI, you can communicate where each of you should stay to protect structures, reactivate rooms after a blackout, or even perfectly time the use of a character’s abilities, making teamwork so much more fun than playing by yourself. This game feels like it was primarily designed to be played with friends, and that’s how I recommend you to experience Endless Dungeon. It’s that different, and it does make the game so, so much better.
Despite some minor drawbacks, Endless Dungeon excels in blending various genres seamlessly and providing an engaging, constantly fresh, thrilling experience to anyone who enjoys innovative games. It caught me by surprise and made me rethink the way I approached every situation while keeping the experience fun and fresh due to the many different weapons, scenarios, enemy types, and characters. The overall high quality art is just the cherry on the top. As long as you like twin-stick shooters or roguelikes, there’s a very good chance you will find something to love about Endless Dungeon.
- This article was updated on October 31st, 2023