Endless Dungeon Preview Has us Lootin’ & Shootin’

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I was hesitant when diving into the Endless Dungeon preview. My issue with tower-defence games is typically that of the boredom variety. Most of the time, these games only have one card to play, and once it’s been played, the tedium begins to set in—build turrets to stop the waves until the whole thing runs like clockwork. Don’t get me wrong, I generally like Horde modes in games when they’re engaging and action-packed (Salmon Run is probably my favourite thing about Splatoon 2 & 3, and I lost countless hours in Gears of War 2’s Horde Mode), but that’s just it: it needs to be exciting and fun.

I bring this up because Endless Dungeon surprised me a little. When I first saw the trailer for it, I was somewhat under the impression it was a Diablo-style looter shooter. However, Amplitude Studios invited CGM for a hands-on preview of the game, and what we were treated to was an interesting mixture of both looter shooter and tower defence with a lot of nuances and nail-biting challenge.

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I got a chance to sit down with Lead Game Designer Arthur Prudent and Narrative Director Jeff Spock, who helped shed a little light on the design process behind Endless Dungeon. Given that the majority of the Endless series are tactical turn-based games, creating something more hands-on and action focused was a bit of a challenge, but something they were excited to create, with Prudent saying, “we love the idea of bringing tactics to an action game, and so we are constantly—since the beginning of development, trying to find the sweet spot between action and tactics.”

But the biggest change that needed to be made was the gameplay itself, which, as Prudent explains, started with the change to a twin-stick shooter style of game. While this meant a switch to a simpler, more intuitive control scheme, as the two explained, it presented the team with new game design challenges, as Prudent says, “ the pacing of the game was something that really was difficult to achieve because at first, we had something that was really turn-based like Dungeon of the Endless, so with this one, we started with in the prototype and…” Spock interjected to say, “It didn’t work.”

It was a simple implementation but one that fundamentally changed everything, as Spock explained, “once we went to the twin-stick, it changed so much in the art, and the camera, and the movement, the interactions, the gameplay; it touched everything, including creating the characters.” But it’s a decision that may have paid off—there really isn’t anything like Endless Dungeon that merges resource management with intense tower defence twin-stick shooting.

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Set on a mysterious space station and a relic of the ancient civilization known as the Endless, the station is trapped in some kind of temporal rift. Anyone pulled into it is infinitely trapped—forced to fight and repeatedly die to escape or resign themselves to their fate. Unlike its previous entry Dungeon of the Endless, which was a bit more tactical in nature, Endless Dungeon puts players right in the action, giving them a plethora of characters to choose from to try and complete each run through the dungeon.

Endless Dungeon puts players right in the action, giving them a plethora of characters to choose from to try and complete each run through the dungeon.”

In order for players to succeed, they’ll need to escort their Crystal Bot to the end of each floor. Players must search every room to gather resources to build turrets, gain abilities and defend themselves from waves of enemies. It’s an interesting mixture of exploration and preparation, but there’s a bit of a catch—what lies behind each door is a mystery, but opening doors is the primary way to gather resources.

While players can find and build resource extractors to increase the amount that opening each new door gives you, they’ll need to explore in order to prepare. This means figuring out the best way to create choke points, where best to place turrets, and how to escape becomes a delicate balancing act, in case you want to chance opening a door in the hopes the room might contain a medkit machine, only to stumble upon an enemy spawn point.

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Much like with GTFO, communication and coordination are key here, as every player uses the same pool of resources and can make decisions independent of the group. Furthermore, Endless Dungeon constantly kept us on our toes since the aforementioned pacing issue was addressed by putting waves on a sort of timer—after every wave, there’s a “saftey” period until you open a door and the timer starts. I found this to be way more interesting than the standard tower-defence game that only fluctuates between the build phase and the wave phase.

My team and I needed to keep working constantly, making snap decisions while also pushing forward into unchartered waters. It was a solid blend of tension and action that consistently kept Endless Dungeon interesting. When combat did eventually happen, the combination of each character’s abilities, coupled with the necessity for teamwork, made flights more intense than just shooting whatever thing was closest to whatever you needed to defend.

Endless Dungeon really does feature a rouge’s gallery of characters, and each one is interesting both visually and mechanically.”

Making this even more interesting is the way Special Spawns can occur to really shake up the gameplay. Amazingly, while the chances of these spawns occurring are said to be pretty low, we experienced one on our very first wave—causing every monster to be a special Elite type and kill us almost immediately. But of course, each run will determine somewhat what character players’ teams of three will choose.

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Endless Dungeon really does feature a rouge’s gallery of characters, and each one is interesting both visually and mechanically. Zed looks almost like Samus, but her giant shoulder balls are massive speakers, allowing her to utilize deadly sonic attacks. In contrast, Shroom is a little ol’ botanist lady in a plague doctor’s mask that shoots healing blobs at her allies. While each character has unique attributes and special abilities, for the most part, everyone feels more or less the same.

But this isn’t a dig at Endless Dungeon, as Prudent as Spock explained, this was very much by design. “During the development, we faced a challenge with the fact that we wanted to have all the combination of heroes in the dungeon to be interesting,” Prudent said, adding, “it forced us a little bit to be sure that everybody can do all the basics of the game and you’re not always forced to have a healer or a tank, etc.”

Where characters will begin to differentiate, they said, was in both the meta-progression—as players find different weapons and abilities—but also in the levelling up, with each character’s stat evolution being totally different.

This sense of fun and freedom was at the core of character design, as Spock added, “The big concern was, we didn’t want to have a character that was like, ‘if you’re going on a run you HAVE to take this tank, otherwise everyone dies,’” He went on to say, “ We really wanted to avoid that, we want it to be: you can pick the three characters that are the most fun, the three characters your friends like to play with, we didn’t want like Arthur said, to be limited by these roles.”

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However, when I related Endless Dungeon to a game like Risk of Rain 2—which has similar wave-based gameplay and meta-progression; but features a robust roster of characters that each play differently—they did leave the door open for some more crazy character design down the road.

“It’s true at the beginning, each of these characters are polyvalent, they’re not as clearly demarcated as a more strongly typed character set would be,” said Spock, adding, “but to an extent that was intentional and I think, again like Arthur said…Arthur’s always right, in the future maybe we can go a little crazier on some of the extreme characters, like “in this situation, you take this guy, and it’s going to be a crazy run, and maybe a bit more difficult here, but a bit easier there.”

While this may sound somewhat technical, Prudent and Spock said they worked hard to learn from the development of Dungeon of the Endless to make something that’s both tactical and fun. “Obviously, we tried to keep the most iconic elements of Dungeons of the Endless,” Prudent said, “with the crystal defence and the squad-based elements…We knew it would be a challenge to keep this squad-based approach to a more action-oriented game, but we really liked how that creates story between characters, and it’s a really good feeling to have a group of people trying to achieve something together.”

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Prudent went on to say that they wanted to take the things that they could have done better or differently in Dungeons of the Endless and implement them here, such as having a better sense of progression within the dungeon, expanding the meta-progression, and providing a better story for the die-and-retry gameplay.

Spock added to this, saying, “Dungeon of the Endless, there was backstory, and each character had their own little background, but we didn’t go a lot further than that. You know, the story that was in that game—and very much in a procedural game—was sort of in the player’s head, here we put a lot more meta.”

But this also contributed greatly to the game’s style, allowing the designers to go in different creative directions thanks to the more action-oriented gameplay. “We wanted to have the same sort of style as Dungeon of the Endless, which is very dark, black-humour,” Spock said, “we wanted to keep that, but we also wanted to add this space western, pop-culture style, so you have these western archetypes in a science fiction setting.” This can be seen in various ways, such as the way certain characters are designed to the conception of the Saloon—Endless Dungeons’ main hub.

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The Saloon not only adds to the game’s story but also to the gameplay itself, as players consume drinks before each run that add unique effects to the gameplay. One drink, for example, called the Pepper Punch, will give players’ turrets massive damage, but cause them to overheat constantly, so players need to be watching and repairing their turrets constantly, lest they get overrun.

Endless Dungeon surprised me, and it’s shaping up to be something truly interesting—and with a planned Nintendo Switch version, I could definitely see this being a portable smash. Amplitude clearly put a lot of love and effort into making this something special, and it shows. Time will tell how endless this game truly is—I was told there were plans for game modes and gameplay updates after launch—but as of now, it’s looking pretty wild.

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