Published on October 17th, 2023 | by Stephen Heller
Endless Dungeon Review – Co-op perfection
Summary: Endless Dungeon manages to create the perfect mix of tower defense, roguelikes, and twin-stick shooter to create a deep, yet accessible adventure for the ages. One of the best co-op games of 2023.
One more run
Amplitude Studios has made a name for itself in the 4X genre, with lauded releases such as Endless Space, Endless Legend, and Humankind. However back in 2014 there was a divergence for the studio, leaving behind their strategic routes for a mashup of tower defense and roguelike with Dungeon of the Endless. Celebrated in its own right, Dungeon of the Endless tied together two seemingly very different genres in such a way that it was hard to imagine them apart again. That is why many people were very excited for the release of Endless Dungeon, to see what nearly ten years of game design experience has provided Amplitude with to shake up the genre again. I am happy to report that the wait has well and truly been worth it.
Endless Dungeon is a triple threat. One part roguelike, one part tower defense, one part twin-stick shooter. What is even more unbelievable is that it manages to service all three genres with mastery.
Endless Dungeon throws you onto The Station, a former space facility that belonged to the Endless that has been left to rot in the void, abandoned to the litany of monsters that hide in its crevices. You, and a collection of eccentric space rogues are also trapped inside, with the mission of getting to the core, turning on the reactor to wake up the station, and make your escape. You begin the game with three characters, all of which are bursting with life and color, and there’s quite a few more to unlock on your future runs.
And each of those characters has different abilities at their disposal, which really changes up how each run is handled. Take your first character Sweeper for example. They have expertise with pistols and lighter weapons, and using their Janitorial powers, can slow down enemies with soapy floors. Creating a slippery chokehold right in front of a well place turret and watching the baddies fall is incredibly satisfying, but even more so when you combine other character talents to create chaos. I won’t reveal them here, but each character in Endless Dungeon truly feels unique, and that makes each and every run an absolute delight.
But what is the structure of a run? You must protect the Crystal Bot, a metallic spider-like creature that is holding an energy crystal. Your objective is to find the exit, then have the Crystal Bot go to the bulkhead and hack it open, while protecting it from the wave of baddies that will be spewing out of every corner. The rub is you don’t exactly know where that exit is, and you will be exploring the floor of The Station room-by-room, until you discover the way out.
But what lays behind that door is a mystery. Sometimes you will find some loot, other times you could be walking into a trap. Each level of The Station is procedurally generated, so there isn’t even the chance to memorize the rooms you should avoid. But exploration is the name of the game, and there is always some tension when opening that door.
Each time that you open a room you are granted some resources. Industry is used to build towers, and to install upgrades. Science is used for researching new towers and upgrades, and some handy personal upgrades too. Food is used to generate healing. Managing these resources is key to success, and finding bonus generators to increase the amount you gain each time you open a new room is critical.
And as you move throughout the station you are going to find many types of enemies waiting to end your run. There are four general types of enemies, and various units within each faction that will demand you to think strategically. Elemental resistances need to be considered – sure flame weapons work really well against the bugs, but less effective against the mechanical bots. As the different enemy types start to intertwine with one another, it means you have to consider your attacks, and escape routes to ensure your survival.
That’s where the tower defense comes in. Almost every room has a series of nodes, glowing squares that you can use Industry on in order to build your defense system. Combining standard gun turrets with precision sniper shots, and flamers is a lot of fun, and incredibly easy. You simply hit the build button, select from the radial wheel, and you are good to go.
When it comes to personal weapons however, that is a little lacking. There are different classes of weapons, such as light and heavy, but mostly they are just skins of the same guns over and over, which have an elemental damage component. They work fine, and shooting baddies is always fun, but outside of a few standout unique weapons, I would have preferred to see more variety in the gunplay.
Eventually your run is going to come to an end, no matter how well you prepare. The randomness makes it hard to always have the perfect strategy, and if you don’t happen to luck out with the upgrades or loot you need, chances are you will die. You are sent to The Saloon, the player hub which has a number of cool characters to chat to. You can uncover the lore of Endless Dungeon (most of which is actually pretty great), and purchase persistent upgrades for future runs. The Saloon is a safe haven, and it actually feels quite alive which is a little different from most other roguelikes I have played of late.
But it cannot be overstated just how much fun Endless Dungeon is when it comes to co-op. Playing solo, you actually have control of three characters, switching between them with a button. It’s fine, but not the ideal way to play. Suiting up with two buddies, making a solid plan to get through the onslaught that awaits, only to have it go hilariously wrong? That is where Endless Dungeon truly shines. It’s fine solo, but it’s truly great in co-op.
Endless Dungeon not only manages to mash together three separate genres into one amazing experience, but it manages to build out on the ideas originally present in Dungeon of the Endless, and truly deliver an unforgettable roguelike experience. If you have some friends willing to face the hordes alongside you, Endless Dungeon could be your unexpected favorite game of 2023, which says a lot considering the number of certified bangers we have seen this year.