Endless Dungeon marries Amplitude's 4X chops with tower defense

We got to sit down with a demo of Endless Dungeon and take in the evolution Amplitude Studios has poured into this sequel nearly 8 years in the making.

Image via Sega

When many think of Amplitude Studios, their minds likely go to the studio’s 4X ventures such as Endless Legend, Endless Space, and the more recent Humankind. However, in between Endless Legend and Endless Space 2, Amplitude also worked on something out of the ordinary in the form of tower defense rogue-lite dungeon crawler Dungeon of the Endless. Now, years later, Amplitude Studios is following up on that interesting outlier with a sort of successor in Endless Dungeon. It’s still a tower defense game, but it mixes in Amplitude’s 4X experience and a more action-oriented style to make it feel altogether different. I was recently invited to take part in a preview and see how.

An endless cycle

The premise of Endless Dungeon is that you take control of a collection of characters from throughout Endless Space’s races and lore, trapped on board a derelict space station and looking for any sign of an escape. The issue is that any attempt to escape leads to winding and unknowable corridors full of doors and monsters, as well as a crystal that seems to affect time and space. If that crystal is broken, it sends the adventures careening back to a hub where they began. Nobody escapes and some survivors have even been there for decades. You can try and make a break for it, but will you be strong, smart, and lucky enough to actually leave?

After Humankind, Amplitude narrative director Jeff Spock and Endless Dungeon lead game designer Arthur Prudent told me Endless Dungeon was a bit of a passion project. The team wanted to return to the Dungeon of the Endless concept from back in 2014, but wanted to update it thoughtfully with new gameplay and lessons learned over the years. Endless Dungeon is still tower defense. However, this time around, players lead a squad of three adventurers into a more hands-on affair with one player controlling the whole squad (one actively at a time) or up to three players controlling each individual character.

The gameplay takes on the approach of more of a twinstick shooter in which players must carefully explore a randomized layout of rooms. At the same time, you must defend the aforementioned crystal that will be sitting at the area where you begin your expedition. Along the way, each room could play host to threats in the form of monster nests or boons in the form of chests of weapons and gear, upgrade stations, and resource centers. After you set off certain triggers or certain amounts of time passes, an alarm will signal and all discovered monster nests will spawn a wave of creatures that will target your resource centers, the crystal, and your heroes.

The point of all of this is to track down an exit door and then guide your crystal through a wave to unlock said door, opening up the next area of the expedition. Your heroes can die, but the real threat is that if your crystal goes down, everyone loses. You start back at the hub in the space station and must begin a new expedition in a newly randomized layout.

In the demo I played, we had access to three heroes each with their own niche. Zed is an offensive powerhouse that wields a minigun and can clear crowds with an audio wave ability, Blaze is a hunter with a sniper rifle made for killing at range and traps for blowing encroaching foes to bits, and Bunker is a robotic bastion with a shield and pistol that can bolster allies and push back enemies as they swarm. Down the line there are going to be plenty of more heroes to recruit and collect to fill out your squad, but these three did a nice job of giving me a taste of what we’re in for.

It's also worth mentioning that according to Amplitude Studios, this game takes place after Dungeon of the Endless, but before Endless Space 2. With this in mind, we get to see races, technology, and concepts that have played a role in that specific area of the universe. Interestingly enough, this was the game that got Amplitude to tie its Endless Space lore down to a timeline. The team decided it was time to decide what fit into that timeline and what pieces of the overall puzzle made sense. In that way, the early look of Endless Dungeon is looking quite fun and stylish in its familiar sci-fi trappings.

Thankfully, you don’t have to solely rely on the skills of your heroes to try to overcome Endless Dungeon. This is tower defense after all. You can build various turrets and defenses at nodes to help you survive each new onslaught. You just need to make sure you track down resource centers to supply the necessary materials you need to keep your defenses up. In my time with the game, I had runs where I felt nearly unstoppable with turrets at every corner. However, opening up doors is also a gamble. Every time you open a door, your resource centers pay out the precious supplies you need to fortify, but you could also be opening up a new nest that will provide a fresh vulnerability when a new wave of enemies approaches.

In this way, the 4X expertise of Amplitude comes into play. Each resource center can be set to production, food, or science. Production allows you to build turrets, food lets you access upgrade centers that bolster your heroes, and science is the currency for upgrade centers that boost your gear. Intrepid explorers can also find chests that might have new weapons or accessories in them that give your characters unique battle capabilities. Carefully choosing how much you explore vs. chasing the exit door is key to economical use of your resources and not getting quickly overrun by the activation of too many monster nests. Therein lies both the strategy and the danger. Endless Dungeon isn’t playing with kid gloves, but the difficulty is also kind of your own fault that way and I dig that gamble.

Of course, because of that difficulty, you should very much expect to be crushed more than once by swarming hordes. Between-run progression wasn’t on display in this build, but Amplitude Studios is planning on offering ways to upgrade your characters, weapons, capabilities, and roster in between runs down the line. In that way, even when you lose, there should be a sense of progression and getting stronger even when you fail.

Strap in for the long haul

The demo I played of Endless Dungeon was mostly about showing off the key elements and foundations of the game, but they feel solid. The mix of action and strategy is immediately apparent. Luck is also a big factor. That said, between squad composition, gear, resources, and turrets, it feels like Amplitude has a strong foundation to build upon. It’s also just fun to be back in this universe with a fresh adventure to explore. We might not be micromanaging civilizations here, but so far, Endless Dungeon feels like it’s going to be strategic enough to keep our decision-making as honed as our trigger fingers.

This preview is based on a PC demo provided by the publisher. Endless Dungeon has no release window yet, but is expected to come out on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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