Most of the time, we don't think twice about opening doors in games. They're usually markers of progress, unveiling more of the world, or ushering you towards a stash of treasure. Some unlock as rewards for solving puzzles, while others can only be opened from the other side, providing great relief when you finally circle around and bridge back to where you started.
Release date: October 19, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Switch, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Developer: Amplitude Studios
In Endless Dungeon, though, deciding which doors to open and which to leave shut can be a matter of life and death. The wide-mouthed entryways within its space station setting are secured by chunky metal panels that keep even the most insistent monsters at bay. But once you pop their locks, they stay open, and the melange of outsized insects, rogue bots, gelatinous mutants, and freaky apparitions on the other side need no further invitation. It's thus essential to plan ahead, guiding the flow of carnivorous traffic as best you can.
In short, this isometric, roguelike, twin-stick shooter comes with a generous layer of strategy on top. Manage excavation of its procedurally-generated stages with care, and taking down a wave of monsters may be as simple as standing in one spot holding the fire button while they file dumbly into your kill box. If that doesn't sound very satisfying, well, think of it as a mark of preparations well done. But also, enjoy it while it lasts, because there's only so long you can maintain such control.
To complete a level in Endless Dungeon, you not only have to locate the exit, but also escort a defenceless crystal robot to deactivate the lock. Most of the time, this chirpy robo-spider slots neatly into a socket at the level entrance, and as long as it's in situ, monsters only attack in sporadic waves. Once you command your bot buddy to relocate to another socket or the exit, however, and it starts toddling towards its destination, all hell breaks loose. Monsters converge from any nests you've uncovered in infinite streams until the bot settles again, and if they destroy it (or you), it's game over.
The good news is that you aren't alone. The mish mash of travellers stranded on this remote space wreck dive into its depths in pairs or threes, so you always have at least one friend to back you up, controlled by a fellow human or Endless Dungeon's AI. Plus, you earn resources each time you open a door – another interesting wrinkle in that conundrum – with which you can construct automated gun turrets, EMP pulsers, shields, and so on, at points scattered around the rectangular rooms. When it's time to make a bolt for the exit, a few cunningly placed sentry guns might push the odds in your favour.
Endless Dungeon balances these factors admirably. Turrets are useful for softening up the horde, but may be overwhelmed and vandalised if left completely unattended. As for your party, splitting up lets you cover more ground, but dilutes your firepower compared to fighting side by side. Thankfully, whatever you decide, effective AI and team management options ensure that playing solo remains compelling. You can leave individuals to defend a particular spot, or summon them to follow your lead, and also switch to control any one directly. When left to their own devices, your pals don't merely stand in place, but work the room, prioritising their targets intelligently and avoiding damage unless swamped.
The monsters, conversely, aren't very smart, but then that's kind of the point, as they home in ravenously on the crystal or anything tasty that crosses their path. Each of the four breeds has an elemental weakness – bugs don't like fire, for example – that's worth bearing in mind when you're weighing up the pros and cons of discovered weapons, and one type, the blurs, is especially tricky as they have a habit of phasing out of existence then materialising near the crystal. There's also a few hardy elite types to watch out for, since they deal hefty melee damage or bombard you from distance, but that's where each character's special attacks come in handy.
As a twin-stick shooter, it's all quite simple really – far from the booming hell sprints of, say, Nex Machina. Your main concern is firepower versus weight of numbers, which determine whether the tide of beasties forces your line of defence back or wilts like soggy Weetabix. Only the butchest of enemies, including a handful of neatly integrated boss battles, force you to worry about dodging attack patterns while blasting away. Then again, that's often a relief, since it can be hard to keep track of your character's position or that of the bot in a crowded room. And once surrounded your health drains alarmingly fast as you fumble in your pockets for a med-kit.
Yet shooting things is only one aspect of your survival, and when you bolt everything together here there's a wonderfully organic ebb and flow of pacing and challenge. Each level begins in calm, as you open a door from the entrance hall and any critters behind it funnel through to their doom. But then you find and activate resource boosting generators in remote rooms, and need to protect them from attack, perhaps purchasing turrets, or redirecting your exploration to keep them off the monster's march route.
Either way, you slowly but surely unblock all the major arteries on the current floor, gathering resources, weapons, and upgrades while unleashing ever greater numbers of meanies. As you'd expect from a roguelike, the luck of the layout plays its part, deciding just how hard fought each battle will be, but the final trek is almost always hectic, and a test of your defences as much as your trigger finger.
Licence to Chill
Looking for more like Endless Dungeon? Why not check out our ranking of the best roguelikes you should play today.
No matter how grand the mayhem, though, there remains a delightfully wry, laidback tone to your gang's adventures. Endless Dungeon is published by Sega and feels very classically Sega – not in the sense of blue skies, of course, what with there being no skies at all, but in a bright, chunky, funky vibe that turns cold metal corridors into play spaces. The characters are genuine personalities too, despite limited dialogue, with comic strip costumes and devil may care attitudes borne from repeated fatal expeditions and resurrections. Cartie, a gatling gun toting geographer caterpillar is a firm favourite, full of childlike glee at the prospect of making new discoveries, as well as killing stuff.
Another character of import is the haven you warp back to between sorties, which feels like it was ripped from a 2000AD strip, where you'll find a bar and a band playing soulful ballads and assorted alien traders hanging in the fringes. It's a spot for relaxing and mingling, taking five before heading out again. And while you're there, any info and trinkets you've brought back go towards opening alternate routes through the complex, or prompt different characters to put their hands (or whatever they have instead of hands) up for selection. Each of the eight-strong roster you eventually assemble also has a multi-step side quest to complete, which unlock permanent perk slots, giving you an incentive to try them all.
Indeed, you'll likely spend several hours here simply sampling fresh combinations of places and personnel before considering the nitty gritty of finishing a run. By that time you'll have subconsciously absorbed the pros and cons of all the little decisions you might make while enjoying the ride. Like, where to place a turret, how to organise your team, and when to leave a door handle well alone.
Endless Dungeon was reviewed on PC, with code provided by the publisher.