Everyone has different saturation points for different things. Different concepts and styles will wear on you over time, and at some point you hit critical mass. From that point forward you can’t look at things the same again. Sure, there will be some gems that come along that are the exception to the rule, but it will be an uphill battle. Dungeon of the Endless, while a well-made game, may have successfully pushed me past saturation on three things at once.
Amplitude Studios, makers of Endless Space and the recently released Endless Legend, bring Dungeon of the Endless out of Steam early access this week. I’m beginning to see a common theme in their game naming by the way. While their most well-known previous games are all in the 4x genre, Dungeon of the Endless is radically different. Their latest game is a rogue-like/tower defense game with RPG elements. Oh, and it’s also pixel-art, so it’s basically an amalgamation of every indie game that’s been released in the last three years mashed into one.
While I do find several of these concepts pretty tired at this point, I’m still open to a game that uses them exceptionally. The one I found particularly tiresome in this game is the pixel art. I’m completely done with this look. It’s just sooooo boring as an aesthetic in a time when we get one of these seemingly every week. If developers are going to continue to use this art style they really need to do something to make it stand out. Dungeon of the Endless just doesn’t stand out visually. It’s a lot like Sword and Sorcery, Risk of Rain, or dozens of other games, and it doesn’t do anything above and beyond to distinguish itself.
I don’t mean to harp too hard on the visuals, because they look fine, just not exceptional, and behind the visuals is a pretty well made game. You start by choosing two heroes from a stable of available starting options. Through each playthrough you can unlock more heroes who join you as you play. The most I had at any one point was 4 heroes at once. Each level (or floor) starts with your heroes in a room guarding a relic of sorts. The goal is to search the floor looking for the exit. Once you find the exit one of your heroes has to pick up the relic and slowly carry it out.
Along the way you’ll find resources, enemies, and the occasional new hero or shopkeeper. You can use resources to build up defenses in each room such as turrets, poison gas generators or shields. You can also build modifier units that allow you to gather resources more quickly. Your defenses can be upgraded as you progress through the floors. Combat is indirect. All you need to do is place your hero in the same room as enemies and they’ll fight for themselves with the exception of each hero’s special ability, which can be anything from an enrage to an AoE heal. Your heroes can also equip armor and weapons. The basic gameplay goal is to clear a path to the exit, and then prepare to slowly escort the relic out while hopefully forcing most of the enemies through a gauntlet of your well-placed defenses.
My primary complaint about this is the same as when I reviewed Endless Legend, a lot of systems and resources aren’t clearly explained. There are tons of options for gearing your character, building resource generators etc., but I’ll readily admit that I barely understood any of it without a proper introduction to the mechanics. The pixel art is tiresome for me, but only slightly less so than the rogue-like genre of games flooding the indie scene. Tower defense games are close behind on that front as well. The urge for the industry in general to get a hold of a certain type of game and beat it to the ground can be really discouraging, and it can cloud the judgement of an otherwise well-made game. It’s clear that a commendable amount of care and ability was put into making Dungeon of the Endless. I actually had a pretty good time playing it. I’m not saying whatsoever that this is a bad game, or even a mediocre game. It’s well made.
BUT when a game is walking a path this well-trodden it needs to be better than pretty good. We have “pretty good” rogue-likes coming out monthly. We have “pretty good” pixel-art games coming out weekly. That doesn’t make this game any less good, but it certainly does make it much less likely to garner any attention or acclaim, and deservedly so. Dungeon of the Endless lacks that one thing, the element that pushes it over the top into the exceptional. That piece that sets it apart from the pack just isn’t there. That’s my endorsement of Dungeon of the Endless. Is it good? Absolutely! Is it a must-play? Probably not.