Let the tears flow. Dungeon of the Endless is a game with an easy lyricism. It is a bright, cruel poetry of doors and what lies behind them. You have crashed your spaceship and now you are underground somewhere. A catacomb of doors. You must get a crystal from one end of each maze to another, but along the way?
You control several people with their own quirks and abilities. You move between rooms gathering the threads of an economy together. You spend money on turrets and other treasures that you can place in certain spots. Enemies when discovered attack in waves, headed right for the crystal. That’s why the doors are so powerful an idea here: what lies behind each one, something very good or very bad? Eventually you will have sounded out each level, and you must prepare yourself to move the crystal – which is when the enemies attack en masse.
Dungeon of the Endless is absolutely stellar. I love it to its melancholy roots. It’s a one-off, or so I thought. Because here’s Endless Dungeon from the same team. And Endless Dungeon looks like…
Okay, Endless Dungeon looks like a hero shooter, or a hero brawler. Heroes, anyway – a touch of Overwatch, of Valorant, of Samus in weird shouldery places. No crash landings here. Instead various spacecraft are drawn to a certain orbiting station, where they fall into a time loop of sorts, sent out on adventures and resurrected with each death. They are colourful, chunky characters – lithe assassins, clanking droids, rusty gunslingers. There’s a hub, and it’s a saloon that evolves over time, with new possibilities for conversations, for canting each subsequent run until your death this way or that – because this is a roguelite, of course.
You directly control your characters, either in co-op or solo, switching between them with a bumper and leaving simple commands for the ones you’ve just leapt out of temporarily. You choose exactly where to walk and stand, and when the enemies come you have to aim your attacks, use your trigger finger, and fire off your specials when the time is right.
So unlike Dungeon of the Endless, in which you clicked a room and your charges went there and did their stuff leaving you at a polite distance, a general’s distance. Build here. Loot here. Kill that.
And yet, as I play more of Endless Dungeon at a recent demo, the more I realise that a trick is being played. This is Dungeon of the Endless – the core of it, with the doors, the maze you have to work through, the crystal you have to get from one end to the other. There are tweaks: you control your characters more directly and aim their fire and deploy their specials, and that crystal of yours has its own legs now, and the whole thing is lavish chunky 3D rather than delicate euro-pixelart. But deep down, the flow is the same.
The objective is the same: explore, place turrets and traps as you build up your economy, get better items, do not die, find the exit and then choose your moment. And the difficulty is the same. Cor, that difficulty! Dungeon of the Endless and Endless Dungeon are both games about being overstretched, venturing out into a maze which you don’t have quite enough presence to fill. So you bolster your presence with turrets and whatnot, but a turret is not a human, and the enemy swarms are efficient and single-minded.
I love what I’ve seen. I love the new art, so playful and colourful, with occasional comic book onomatopeias enlivening the really big explosions. I love the hub, this cobbled-together bar that will only grow and grow in richness. I love the classes I’ve seen so far – a berzerker who can kill with sound waves from her shoulder-mounted speakers, a shielded robot who can repair the turrets you’ve placed down.
But what I really love is that the same melancholy remains, despite the hero shooter coatings and the layer of good comic book cheer. Let the tears flow, said Dungeon of the Endless. In Endless Dungeon they are still flowing.