Being an adult is hard. There’s all this responsibility, accountability, and decision-making that gets in the way of the fun stuff. There’s resource management, dealing with the unknown, no instruction manual, and no real save point to jump back to.
Dungeon of the Endless is adulthood. A rogue-like dungeon crawler with tower defense elements, it is deceptively simple. Jumping right into the deep end, players crash-land in their escape pod into a dungeon world comprised of twelve randomly-generated levels where the goal is to move your power source from Point A to Point B. However, this is not readily apparent as there is no tutorial and no instructions… just a player and his power source. From the start, this game veils its challenge in simple graphics and a minimalist UI. Personally, it took me a good ten minutes to figure out the goal, and I went to law school!
As the game progresses, much like adulthood, things begin to get… complicated. Since there are no instructions, you learn by experience. Monsters begin to spawn, which seems normal. I’m dying, that’s bad. Wait, lighting up a room prevents monsters from spawning. Great! Monsters still spawning from the dark parts of rooms. Bad. The more I explore, the more problems I develop. Bad. Build weapons to kill monsters. Wait. What. STOP.
At some point you begin to see that this is going to be an incremental experience, one that will require a level of comprehension and patience that can only result in greater frustration when you die. Resource management and RPG elements begin to play a role in effectively employing your character. New characters join your push forward simply by meeting them. Strategy and on-the-go learning are imperative. Adulthood is hard, and so is this game.
But that’s also what makes Dungeon so great. It somehow manages to balance all of its individual elements with an impressive degree of success, and tempers the challenge in a way that begs repetition. Analysis of individual elements like your character’s strengths and weaknesses, the environment, and what went wrong previously breeds a natural sense of strategy and game play. Learning from your mistakes materializes as successful dungeon runs, and there is a very real sense of accomplishment that comes with that.
That’s not to say the game is without its flaws. An initial learning curve as steep as the one that Dungeon employs can easily turn off even the most seasoned gamer, and frustration can reach heights unseen since the days of Battletoads. On more than one occasion I was so upset I nearly put a controller through the TV, and that’s not necessarily the kind of experience everyone enjoys. Moreover, the spark of interest in the challenge doesn’t last long; after overcoming several levels of difficulty over a few gaming sessions, I was noticeably less excited to take on the game again. This led me to believe that the replay value burns brightly in its initial stages, but has the potential to fade just as quickly.
With that being said, it is well worth the investment. The time I spent playing this game reminded me what classic gaming challenges brought to the table and what modern gaming lacks. It was a refreshing change of pace from the triple A gaming titles that dominate the landscape, the kind of change that is necessary to avoid fatigue.
Note: This review was done on the Xbox One platform, but the game is available on iOS and PC.
+ Rewarding challenge elements
+ Natural sense of strategy
+ Satisfying gameplay
+ Beautiful, minimalist graphics
– Heightened level of difficulty can lead to experience-breaking frustration and a quick burn-out of interest