With Endless Dungeon Amplitude’s Endless Universe Returns to the Co-op Roguelite Dungeon Crawler

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With Endless Dungeon Amplitude’s Endless Universe Returns to the Co-op Roguelite Dungeon Crawler

Nestled in the city’s 12th arrondissement, Bercy is home to some of the earliest signs of human life in Paris. It also feels younger and more modern than much of the city, which is still defined by the 19th century renovation projects spearheaded by Georges-Eugène Haussmann and commissioned by Napoleon III. Today in Bercy you can find the futuristic, grass-covered stadium AccorHotels Arena, the Gehry-designed puzzle that is the Cinémathèque Française, and the brutalist headquarters of the Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industry, which looks like a giant erector set on the edge of the Seine. All of these were built in the last 40 years, a small slice of the over 4000 years that mankind has called Bercy home.

It’s a fitting place for the game studio that made Humankind and the Endless series to call home.

Amplitude Studios is spread across a handful of floors in an otherwise nondescript modern office building in Bercy. From its windows you can see the Musée des Arts Forains, a museum devoted to fairground amusements and circus art from the 19th and early 20th century, giving the designers at Amplitude a direct view upon one of the many antecedents of the videogame. If you’ve ever toured a videogame studio before, Amplitude will look familiar; it’s a maze of low-walled cubicles covered in Funkos and other geek culture collectibles (one employee has a truly impressive collection of rubber ducks), with the occasional eight foot statue of a videogame character looming in a corner. The official break room has a variety of snacks and drinks in a small-scale version of the familiar tech industry tradition, and a couple of coin-op arcade machines from the studio’s owner, Sega. No doubt the Sonic basketball machine and electronic dartboard come in handy during those late nights of game development.

Founded by two Ubisoft expats in 2011, Amplitude has spent the last dozen years exploring its own original sci-fi property that it calls the Endless universe, with a series of acclaimed 4X strategy games based in that fictional setting. Their next project, Endless Dungeon, drops the turn-based strategy and is instead a roguelite dungeon crawling shooter with tower defense elements. (I am truly envious if that jargon means nothing to you; I’ll explain it as we go.) Scheduled to come out in May, Endless Dungeon aims to be a more accessible onramp to the Endless universe for any players who might be daunted by massive PC strategy games. Based on a recent demo we played at Amplitude’s offices in Bercy, it’s easy to see how this game could appeal to a group of friends looking for a co-op shooter to blast their way through. 

Let’s break this down term by term. Endless Dungeon is what the industry calls a roguelite, an offshoot of the roguelike, a genre named after the 1980 game Rogue. When you die in a roguelike, you lose whatever power-ups and items you’ve collected throughout your run, and have to start over from the very beginning. In a roguelite, you generally lose everything when you die, but there are some permanent upgrades and power-ups you can buy that stay with your character throughout all future games. They’re also known for procedurally generated levels, meaning the game map and the location of all items and key points are different with every game. A dungeon crawler should be self-explanatory; your party is exploring a sprawling network of individual rooms and chambers (a dungeon, if you will), looking for something that’s basically treasure. Shooter can have lots of meanings in videogames, and Endless Dungeon is what is known as a top-down shooter, meaning the player views everything from above, in a bird’s eye view; Endless Dungeon also has a bit of twin-stick shooter to it, meaning you use one joystick to move your character and the other to aim, hitting a shoulder button to actually fire. Finally, in tower defense games you use in-game resources to build turrets and defensive fortifications that automatically attack enemies when they get near. Endless Dungeon is built around elements from all these genres, and although that might sound complicated, it’s easy to parse once you get a handle on it all.

The most elemental goal in a round of Endless Dungeon is to ferry your “crystal bot” from one level to the next. The crystal bot is a big crystal at the center of the first room in each run. Your four-member squad has to find the exit door by running around the level, opening up every new room they come across. Those rooms can have enemy spawn points, or useful power-up stations, or a merchant that sells new weapons, or the exit that you’re searching for. Every time you open a door you get a boost to your team’s communal stockpile of resources; there are four of them, food, industry, dust, and science, in what Amplitude calls the FIDS system. Food can be used to buy stuff from the merchant or used to create health-restoring medkits, Industry builds the turrets you’ll need to protect the crystal bot, and Science points are used to research and unlock new turrets during a run. The potential reward for opening a new door seems to be greater than the risk, at least in the demo we played, so even if you find the exit door quickly it might be smart to open every other room to get as many resources and power-ups as possible. 

Once you find the exit door, you should build up your defenses before calling your crystal bot. There are specific installation points in every room where you can set up those turrets, and they have a variety of impacts upon enemies; one type of turret simply hits them with gunfire as they walk by, while another momentarily stuns them. These turrets can be attacked and destroyed by enemies, but you can also restore their health by hitting them with your melee attack as you run by. These turrets are crucial to protecting the crystal bot as it begins its slow march to the exit, so don’t skimp on building them.

The endgame for each level is when the crystal bot starts to walk towards the exit door. At this point your team should squad up around the crystal bot and escort it to the exit. If it makes it you’ve finished that level and will reap the benefits, and will then head directly to the next level. That’s the game’s basic loop: explore the dungeon, find the exit door, set up your turrets to defend the crystal bot along its path, and then escort it to the finish line, before doing it all over again on a larger and more difficult map.

There are a variety of different characters with their own unique personalities and abilities that you can pick from, providing the kind of flexibility and versatility that the straight-forward gameplay loop lacks. I could see players who really get hooked on the game experimenting with odd and counter-intuitive party structures, like four versions of the same hero, or using all supports in order to increase the challenge. There’s also a hub you hang out in before starting each run, where you can customize your character or buy one-time power-ups to help give you a bit of a temporary edge. 

If you’re a dedicated fan of Amplitude and its Endless games, this might sound somewhat familiar to you. In 2014 Amplitude released Dungeon of the Endless, which closely resembles the upcoming Endless Dungeon. The studio stresses that Endless Dungeon isn’t a sequel or a remake, but a “spiritual successor” that updates and expands on the earlier game. It might seem a little weird that in their decade-plus of existence Amplitude has made exactly two types of games of vastly different genres, 4X strategy games and roguelite tower defense dungeon crawlers. It actually makes a solid amount of sense, though; if you spent years developing a massive PC strategy game, wouldn’t you want to take some time to work on something completely different? And with the same universal framework behind every one of these games, it’s possible a fan of quick and direct co-op action games like Endless Dungeon could find themselves so enamored of the setting that they try out one of the Endless 4X games. As odd as it might sound, it’s not like Amplitude is out here making kart racers or mascot platformers with their Endless characters. (Although they did make a dating sim visual novel set in the Endless universe a few years ago, basically as a prank.)

I could see Endless Dungeon scratch a specific kind of co-op itch for players looking for something that’s easy to jump into but has a bit of depth and meat to it. If they’re into the Endless universe, I imagine they’ll feel even more compelled to try it out. Given how prominent roguelites have become, though, and how a game like Hades was able to combine a deeper, more satisfying loop with one of the best-written and most expansive narratives in the medium, Endless Dungeon can’t help but feel a little behind the times—a little uninspired, even. Its allure will rest heavily on its multiplayer nature, I suspect, for all but the most devoted of Endless fans. And if you aren’t that keen on co-op—or are in that era of adulthood where your old squadmates’ schedules are taken up by children, careers, and other obligations—Endless Dungeon might not have much to offer you. I can see the value in it, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to return to these endless dungeons once the game comes out in May. If you like the idea of a top-down co-op shooter that’s also a roguelite and a tower defense game, and is part of a sprawling sci-fi universe that’s six games deep at this point, Endless Dungeon will probably get the job done. 

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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