Endless Dungeon is all the genres: a sci-fi tactical action top-down squad-based twin-stick tower defense roguelite coming to consoles and PC. Publisher Sega and developer Amplitude Studios are gearing up for the first OpenDev event to allow fans to preview and provide feedback on this next title in the Endless franchise. But ahead of that, I had the opportunity to hands-on preview Endless Dungeon for a couple hours, and my overwhelming takeaway is that I am very, very bad at this game.
The game takes place on a mysterious space station that is an artifact of the Endless, who are godlike beings that “rose and fell long ago.” Everyone who arrives there winds up stuck there, and a ragtag bunch of warriors assemble on a mission to reach the core of the station to fix it up bit by bit and ultimately find a way to escape. But they will often fail in their mission and die, which results in them getting reloaded into the station’s hub for reasons they don’t yet understand. The station is evidently holding a big secret that the developers are excited for Endless fans and newcomers alike to uncover, but the preview included almost no story elements whatsoever.
As one would expect from the title, Endless Dungeon is something of a spiritual successor to the 2014 roguelike tower defense game Dungeon of the Endless. A major difference is that Endless Dungeon is coming to consoles and PC simultaneously, with a higher action emphasis and a preference for playing with a controller. Endless Dungeon also has you playing with a squad of upward of three characters. That means you can either play solo and swap between which character you control while giving orders to the other two, or you can just play in upward of three-player co-op and focus on maintaining good team communication. For OpenDev, I only had the option to play solo.
In the Endless Dungeon preview, I had access to three characters and could make a team out of two of them. Each character had their own distinct, recharging “Special Skill” and “Ultimate Skill,” in addition to a default gun with a different rate of fire and impact. Special skills do things like kill everything in a line directly in front of you or place proximity mines, and the ones I actually remembered to use felt good; the controls felt fine in general on my particular 8bitdo controller.
At first, I often forgot I had special abilities unless I had entered into a desperate situation, which might be one of several reasons I was so bad at the game. Unloading your equipped machine gun or laser pistol into bad guys doesn’t actually kill them very quickly, and each new enemy wave contains tons of enemies.
Regardless, there is more to the game than shooting. Each run through the space station involves a randomly generated layout, and every room has slots where you can spend scarce resources to build defense turrets. Different turrets have different effects, but I found it most practical to just build the default turrets that shoot and kill enemies. Enemies will always attack in waves that are announced in advance and come from clearly marked entrance points, and it’s satisfying to build a network of strategically placed turrets that can neutralize most of the threat for you in advance.
Each run, you have a “Crystal Bot” that you need to get from point A to point B. It’s game over if it’s destroyed. Usually, the bot stays put, but when you’ve found a door that leads to a new area where the Crystal Bot can install itself, it will make the long, arduous trek to the next location and tons of enemies will spawn. These are the most intense moments, and in all my runs, I only succeeded in getting the Crystal Bot to a new location once. (Again — I sucked.)
Most of the time, it felt like failure was my fault though. I gradually realized how important it was to protect not just the Crystal Bot but other units I had activated that increased my production of important resources. Resources are doled out to the player every time you open a door and enter a new room, and it creates an intriguing element of risk and reward since the next room you enter could be a new enemy spawning location. If you’ve already found the location where the Crystal Bot needs to go next, maybe you shouldn’t explore every room if it means maybe inviting more enemies to attack you.
The only time where I felt like Endless Dungeon had robbed me is when I had set up a perfect turret network to defend my Crystal Bot, but the bot started taking a longer, less convenient route to where it had to go. I did not have defenses set up for the route it chose, so it was quickly annihilated. This will surely be remedied though. Another odd quirk is that you can shoot barrels for additional resources or exploding barrels to kill enemies, but the two barrels types are often grouped together, making it really inconvenient to only target one over the other.
This preview was a genuinely early and limited glimpse of Endless Dungeon, so it felt like I was barely scratching the surface of what Amplitude Studios has in store. The full game will have eight heroes at launch, with various districts to explore and new ways to get to the station core. There will also be myriad different weapons, purchasable character upgrades, and technology upgrades, both for individual runs and as permanent upgrades. There will furthermore be “cocktails” that provide game-changing effects to each run. I couldn’t get a sense for how deep the well will go on all of this based on just this glimpse. However, the developers did say they don’t want this to be a “grindy” experience.
Likewise, though it was absent from the Endless Dungeon preview, the story is promised to have a quirky sense of humor and many story events rooted in Endless lore. There will be interactions between playable heroes based on events in the player’s game or events in the backstory. The developers intend to make the heroes feel like a living group and not a bunch of independent entities.
Ultimately, it seems that Endless Dungeon is off to a promising start. In its current, early incarnation, each run feels like it lives or dies on your ability to collect resources efficiently and place turrets intelligently, with the twin-stick shooting and special-ability aspect then being your hands-on insurance policy that the Crystal Bot stays operational. However, it could be that the shooting is more important than I give it a credit for, because it’s possible I simply sucked at that aspect too. Regardless, the game doesn’t pull its punches; if you aren’t a regular player of tower defense games, you’re going to have to learn the ropes hard and fast or else die repeatedly like I did.
Personally, Endless Dungeon isn’t something I would come back to voluntarily, strictly because I don’t usually play any of the genres that this game is. But for everyone who isn’t me, I think there’s enough meat on the bone to get players excited for the full meal when it eventually launches.
Endless Dungeon will come to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X | S, and PC via Steam, and OpenDev begins on June 30.