Sega-owned developer Amplitude Studios has made a name for itself with 4X strategy games. The 4X subgenre is all about exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating (hence its name) and Amplitude has become a pro at it through games like Humankind and its long-running Endless series.
However, the next Endless game, Endless Dungeon, isn’t a strategy game. Rather, it’s a unique mix of a twin-stick shooter, tower defense, and roguelike. Building on a formula first explored in an experimental 2014 game Dungeon of the Endless, Amplitude Studios wants to show that its 4X expertise applies to more action-heavy games with Endless Dungeon.
“What we want to show is that strategy and tactics can take a lot of different forms,” Amplitude Studio head Romain de Waubert told Digital Trends in an interview. “Endless Dungeon is one of those forms where you can explore tactics with friends during intense action. If you like how we look at strategy in 4X, then I’m pretty sure you’d love how we look at strategy in action. There is a commonality between the two because it’s the same people working on both.”
I went hands-on with Endless Dungeon’s first OpenDev (Amplitude’s in-house version of early access) build and discovered that roguelikes and tower defense games have a lot more in common than I thought. There are some clear improvements that can be made, but Amplitude Studios is definitely on track to become more than a one-genre studio with Endless Dungeon.
In Endless Dungeon, you play as an eclectic cast of sci-fi heroes trying to escape a space station that they are marooned on. To do this, they must guard and guide a Crystal Bot from Crystal Slot to Crystal Slot throughout the space station. If they die or the Crystal Bot is destroyed, they’ll have to start the run from scratch. I only got to play this by myself with an AI companion, but the full game will let up to three players make their way through the dungeon cooperatively. Creative Director Jean-Maxime Moris tells me they settled on three players because that was the “sweet spot” where cooperative play wasn’t too overwhelming or too boring.
Endless Dungeon is a satisfying loot-based twin-stick shooter where players will have to stay on their toes as they explore the station room by room and hold back enemy waves that swarm the Crystal Bot from all directions. Each hero has special abilities that can be used to power themselves up or damage enemies, and they can also set up a variety of turrets that either damage and debuff enemies or buff your party and your turrets. The resources needed to build turrets and gain new gear aren’t infinite though, and this is where some of Endless Dungeon‘s 4X influence can be seen.
Resource accrual is a big part of Endless Dungeon as players must manage Science, Industry, and Food resources needed to build and unlock turrets and character upgrades. Players will gain a set amount for every door opened, but Industry resources can be spent to build modules that increase the amount players get with each open door. This adds an additional layer of strategy more akin to a 4X game or traditional tower defense title on top of a twin-stick shooter that might otherwise seem pretty standard.
Resource management is an important part of roguelikes, so Amplitude was smart to recognize how these elements from 4X and tower defense games could work really well in a roguelike. My two issues with Endless Dungeon do stem from the tower defense roots. I wasn’t able to deconstruct or move my turrets, which limited my strategic options when turrets were stuck in an area I no longer needed to be in. Thankfully, Amplitude confirmed that players will be able to move their turrets in the final game.
The other issue is the spawn rate of waves feels inconsistent. I was told that waves activated based on a combination of time and exploration, but I could never really predict when the countdown to their start would be or where I’d be when that happened. Once again, the random nature of these waves meant I never had enough time to fully plan the defense of my crystal during most enemy waves. I’m sure some of that stress is intentional, as it keeps players on their toes, and though Amplitude did give players the ability to teleport back to the crystal at any time, a simple countdown to when the next wave will happen would go a long way in making the tower defense part of Endless Dungeon feel more rewarding.
Outside those few issues, Endless Dungeon still has a lot of promise. And thanks to the OpenDev feedback-driven approach Sega and Amplitude are taking with Endless Dungeon, these problems will likely be solved in the full game. For the most part, Amplitude has done a fantastic job at transitioning into a new genre while still retaining some tactical elements and showing that some different genres actually have a lot more in common than you’d think.
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