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Dungeon of the Endless: Organic Matters Update and Rescue Team DLC Review

Dungeon of the Endless Organic Matters Keyart

Dungeon of the Endless was one of my favorite games of 2014. Its Rogue-lite elements allowed players to create personal sci-fi narratives while its diverse, defined cast of characters brought substance to its otherwise procedurally generated mission. Its original cast defied genre stereotypes without contrivance, every character design unique and running much deeper than pure role reversal. Most importantly, however, Dungeon of the Endless’ gameplay loop never failed to compel me. The new Organic Matters Update and Rescue Team DLC bring an abundant roster of characters, enemies, and tools into play, Amplitude Studios admirably supporting the title over a year after release. Organic Matters makes some subtle additions to mix up dungeon crawling and Rescue Team, despite its characters’ bland visual design, brings a nice helping of new content to DotE at a price too reasonable to pass up.

In case, you’re unfamiliar with DotE, gameplay blends elements of turn-based strategy, tower defense, and dungeon crawl beautifully, resulting in well-balanced, inimitable gameplay testament to Amplitude’s wit and care. It took me a few trial runs to figure out the system of building defenses, managing resources, scouring room to room for an elevator, and leveling and equipping characters all while defending a home base. It may sound like a big mess but, trust me, it quickly becomes intuitive.

Gameplay is essentially a turn-based system playing out in real-time. The objective of the game is to ascend all thirteen floors of a sci-fi dungeon by locating every floor’s elevator, meanwhile defending and transporting a crystal that acts as home-base. Players can control character movement and abilities as well as build defenses all within a single turn. Rather than countdowns cuing enemy waves, “turns” marked by players opening doors dictate the flow of gameplay. At the start of each turn, enemy forces spawn in unlit rooms and players are awarded resources. “Industry” is used to build turret defenses and resource modules, “food” to level and heal characters, “science” to upgrade modules and turrets, and “dust,” a resource collected by opening doors and defeating enemies, to power rooms. Once an elevator’s discovered, players have the option to carry the crystal to the next floor; however, lifting the crystal causes all the doors on the floor to open and for enemies to come pouring out. Whether leaving it up to turret defenses to stave off enemy forces or a matter of making a run for the lift, ascending each floor is consistently challenging and fun.

DotE features the most diverse character roster I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi game. Characters are both parody and tributes to sci-fi archetypes but ruun much deeper than caricatures. Appearances, stats, abilities, and backstories all complement each other and, along with occasional in-game chatter, make characters feel complete and alive. Golgy Phurtiver, for example, available in Vanilla DoE, is a fast hitting burglar that’s convinced she’s a spider. Not only does she possess a “Web Slinger” ability that can slow enemies but she scuttles around the dungeon on all fours. The new Rescue Team character Sasha is described as a discharged drill sergeant become dog trainer and has a “Heel!” ability that tames the largest nearby enemy. Backstories are brief but they’re enough to get players’ imaginations going and accomplish much more than a class system could have. Developers could’ve still had a good game if they’d used Medic, engineer, scientist, etc. classes instead of characters and, sure, mechanically the game could’ve still been great fun. But I’d like to emphasize how much soul these specifically named characters bring to the table and how memorable they make this title, i.e. all the more reason why I could not get past Rescue Team’s bland hero designs.

Personally, I was disappointed by this year’s Australium update which brought Team Fortress 2 cameos by Heavy, Pyro, Medic, and Engineer, reducing what was a nebulous yet refined sci-fi universe. Sure, DotE’s sarcastic parody of sci-fi may lend itself to such anomaly but it came off like zany fanservice too dissonant for my taste. Rescue Team, available on Steam for 1.99, introduces uniformed rescue workers Sasha Chokyo, Zugma Walker, and Wes Davoun. Sasha is a former drill sergeant become animal trainer, Zugma an Ogre-sized bulldozer operator, and Wes a sound technician and audio engineer. While I admire the originality behind each character of the Rescue Team, I highly dislike that all three wear the same orange uniform. It creates too specific a context, undermining the ragtag feeling of having criminals and heroes come together to survive, and really brings to light how key costume design was to making the original characters great. Rescue Team characters have cool, unique backstories but garbing them all in the same uninteresting uniform simply takes the fun out of playing as them. Colorful costumes complemented colorful personalities perfectly and vanilla DotE seemed to know this; nothing felt cooler than working with a quartet consisting of bounty hunter Sara in her blue-jumpsuit, Elise’s red space-marine battlesuit, insectoid Skroig’s golden husk, and machine-gunner Gork’s green spandex. Colors. Rescue Team, just like Australium, feels like a step in the wrong direction, throwing a dull palette into the mix.

Organic Matters includes free content designed by fans during creation contests such as a new “Organic” escape pod, three new monsters, a new hero named “Rosetta.” Also included is a new ending sequence, two new “Recycler” minor modules, and gamepad and steam controller compatibility. Rescue Team adds the three Rescue Team heroes, two new monsters, and a “Field Medic” module which lowers the cost of healing heros. Probably the greatest addition is Zugma’s ability to carry dust from floor to floor. Previously, dust was lost in transition between floors and became more and more scarce in later levels. Having Zugma on the team brings a new spin to resource management and can alleviate some stress in later levels. No, it wasn’t enough to make finishing the game any easier but it did serve its purpose as a new strategic tool.

Compared to DotE’s previous Deep Freeze Add-on, which added the unique character Kreyang as well as a new ship, Rescue Team falls somewhat short in terms of originality. The new characters function perfectly as a trio but aren’t as fun to use as previous characters simply because they aren’t visually exciting. Most of my concern is obviously both subjective and skin deep. Rescue Team and Organic Matters’ new content plays beautifully and delivers just what fans wanted – more. They’re both great updates, despite my design hangup, and absolutely worthwhile.

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