Dungeon of the Endless
Tower Defense/Strategic Dungeon Crawler
Whenever I hear the phrase “real-time strategy game” paired with “coming to consoles”, my first thought is usually “…Why?” Unless heavily modified or specifically made for consoles in the first place, real-time strategy games aren’t especially compatible with anything but a mouse and keyboard. That said, any broad statement will have exceptions, and in this case, Dungeon of the Endless has proven itself to be one of these exceptions due in no small part to its unique take on the genre.
The basic premise of Dungeon of the Endless is familiar enough: A ship full of deep-space travelers (in this case a prison ship) crash lands on a distant planet and down into the depths of an ancient underground alien facility, leaving the player in charge of exploration/escape attempts from said facility. The dungeon is procedurally generated, meaning no two playthroughs will be the same, and there are plenty of other factors to spice things up as well, including a roster of 23 characters (all but eleven of whom must be unlocked before they can be selected to start a run with) and several escape pods to be selected which impose various bonuses and challenges. In terms of how the game actually plays, it’s a spicy little mix of dungeon crawling, real-time strategy, and tower defense. The player controls between one and four heroes at a time, each with their own abilities and stats, as they explore the floors of the dungeon. The goal is to find the elevator room and get the core of your escape pod to it, thus transferring to the next floor, while also balancing equipment, hero levels, powering rooms, building modules (towers), and keeping enemies from either killing your heroes or destroying your core.
The formula is wonderfully, deeply strategic, but not to the point that its complexity should be intimidating after the first one or two failed runs. It’s also difficult, so don’t go thinking you won’t have any failed runs, because you absolutely will, but in such a way that you never feel like the failure is unavoidable. Every time I died, I was able to look back at my run and very easily say “yeah I see where this went wrong.” It’s also entirely possible to take things at your own pace because, in addition to having a feature that lets you pause and survey the map at any time without penalty, the gameplay is sort of turn-based. Every time you open a door, any rooms that are either unpowered or have no heroes in them will spawn monsters, but once those are dead you have as much time as you want to level up, build, reposition and plan before you open the next door and spawn another wave. On that note, one of the few issues I took with the game was that enemies don’t seem to have any real distinctions beyond health bars and damage output, so I couldn’t look at one and immediately think “oh yeah that’s a problem, I should take care of it by doing x y or z”. On the other hand, I’m not very good at this game and thus didn’t ever make it very far, so maybe later floors switch things up more.
Despite the game’s overall grim mood – being trapped in ancient, dimly-lit underground ruins with little chance of survival isn’t exactly a lighthearted scenario – there’s a decent amount of personality and levity to characters and their interactions with each other. There’s not much chance for any given character’s quirks and idiosyncrasies to shine through, but that just makes it even more impressive that they manage to anyway. Some of the characters are amazing and hilarious just by concept – one of the starting characters is a “War Pug” who fights with a mallet, the animation for which is weirdly adorable. These little touches of personality make the game memorable in a way that gameplay alone would not, and help set Dungeon of the Endless apart from other titles.
Dungeon of the Endless could very easily have been a game at war with itself, given that it so heavily mixes elements of randomness with elements of strategy and trying to control a situation. Since it mixes these elements well, however, the result is amazing, and it allows for much more replayability than tower defense games that have set level designs and upgrade paths. Combine that with the ability to save and quit anytime you want and the portability of the switch and you have a game that’s perfect for those stretches where you don’t have time to do something too involved but just sitting around waiting would bore you out of your skull. The difficulty and strategic bent make it a game that’s not necessarily for everyone, but those who are up for that sort of thing might find one of their new all-time favorites if they pick this up.
Dungeon of the Endless
Though I can see how not everyone would enjoy it, Dungeon of the Endless is a very strong title for those who would.