The problem with many games, especially 4X resource management driven games like CIV or Sword of the Stars is one of agency. Very few games make you feel a connection to the world you are building with the games being much more like ant farms and strategic spreadsheet planning than actual engaging stories. Amplitude created the aesthetically pleasing Endless Space in July of 2012. A traditional turn based strategy game of the 4X variety (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate), it received reasonable reviews with a 77 Metacritic score. They must have loved this universe they created a lot because they decided to roll back time and start at the beginning.
Creating a prequel to a successful game is hardly new but a prequel to a prequel before the first prequel is even created? Now that takes some gumption but that’s exactly what Amplitude did. In the game Dungeon of the Endless you are in control of the passengers of a prison ship that has been shot down and crashed in to the abandoned halls of a long gone civilization on the planet of Auriga (this may sound familiar to Endless Space fans as it was a long lost civilization that helped many of the inhabitants get to the stars and you are scouring the galaxy for relics of). You don’t really know much about why they were shot down but each hero you unlock has a bit of a bio that gives you a view on the kind of person they are, they could be a dominating mean spirited nurse Deena Ratchet (A+ for a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest reference), a Samus inspired bounty hunter named Sara or a roguish Han Solo type named Max. As you progress through the game more heroes can be unlocked but you start by selecting two heroes to enter the dark with.
The style of the game is minimalist but very emotive, using a pixel art style the movement of the characters and monsters is very fluid and organic but also very emotive. We have moved in to a world where we can get near photo-realistic imagery but as Munch or Picasso sometimes the idea of a thing can be more powerful than the actual thing itself. You are tasked with escaping from your deep subterranean crash site and making it to the surface. You are in possession of a power supply that you must transport from floor to floor of a randomly generated dungeon.
A neat mashup of Tower Defence and Rogue-like (an old school style of game based around procedural content generation) the size and makeup of the dungeon varies but is completely randomly generated with no to floors ever the same in any play through. The rooms themselves could contain treasure, special artifacts allowing for the research of new technologies, other survivors who join your expedition with their own unique abilities, personality and skill tree or merchants willing to sell but more often than not you will find monsters, lots and lots of monsters. As you explore you unlock rooms releasing resources and opening up “plugs” where you can build resource nodes, defensive structures, or devices that will provide your players with buffs.
Each time you unlock a door it there is a chance for a monster attack, every layer of the dungeon you ascend to these monsters become more and more vicious and will spawn from any room you’ve left unopened. This is where the risk/reward motivator comes in to play. If you find the exit from the floor early on leaving most of the doors closed you can move your power supply to the elevator quickly and easily with little chance of an attack BUT if you open every door that gives you time to build resources, unlock artifacts or treasure and possibly even add new members to your team. You have to balance the risk of opening doors and unleashing monsters as well as providing new locations for monsters to spawn from later (as monsters will only spawn from unpowered rooms) or a quick exit with the possibility you may have left helpful resources behind.
The game is one of those deceptively simple ones, very easy to play the actual game itself is deep and layered with a large number of tactical options and the random spawning of monsters who attack your delicious power supply keeps up the sense of urgency. The problem starts to develop when it becomes apparent there is no story to speak of and the game goes on forever (hence Endless). This is the appeal of Rogue-likes to many people it’s more the joy of the crawl than a story or specific objective beyond staying alive but for a story driven player this could become a dull proposition after a while. That said, the little asides from the characters are great fun and Amplitude have promised once released the game will include a card system similar to the one in Destiny with story tidbits and pieces of art and information gathered as you make your way out of the Dungeon.
A steam Early Access game it is estimated to leave early access sometime this fall, regularly $12.99 for the regular “Pixel Pack” or 19.99 for the “Founders Pack” the big difference is the Founders Pack comes with additional ships and heroes as well as factions unlocked in Endless Space Disharmony tying together the three games. Currently on sale 10% off this is an opportunity to get the game for a bit of a discount.
If you enjoy Rogue-likes and Tower Defence games then this is the game for you but if you are in to story driven titles you may want to hold out until the final version drops to see how they pull together aspects like multiplayer (4 person co-op is being added), story unlocks, and the endgame aspects of the design.
Come back next week and we’ll be looking at part two of the trilogy Endless Legend.
- Great art style
- Haunting music
- Addictive gameplay
- Masterful hook of the risk/reward compulsion
- No real story
- No real ending (hence Endless)