4X stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. I love 4X games. Master of Orion 2? Amazing. Galactic Civilizations 2? Even better. Sins of a Solar Empire? Great game. I'll give almost any 4X game a shot. The good ones are amazing time sinks. But two games I wasn't particularly impressed with were Sword of the Stars and Endless Space. I found Sword of the Stars rather clunky, and Endless Space good looking but boring.
But something strange happened. Kerberos (developer of Sword of the Stars) released Sword of the Stars: The Pit, and Amplitude (developer of Endless Space) released Dungeon of the Endless. These games are not 4Xs, but both are dungeon crawls with Rogue-like qualities. They're both fantastic, considerably better than the games that came before them. So if you're like me and you weren't thrilled with Sword of the Stars or Endless Space, allow me to convince you to give these two a shot.
Of the two games, The Pit is the most straight forward. It is also the most Rogue-like. You choose your class (from marine, engineer, scout, and many others if you buy the DLC), and then you're on the surface. The goal is to reach the bottom of The Pit, an alien research facility that might contain the cure to a deadly plague. To get there, you have to use your strength, finesse, brains, and dozens of skills to overcome traps, locked doors and containers, and mountains of enemy monsters.
The Pit is simply a well-made dungeon crawl. It's got a cartoony style, and relies heavily on the random number generator, but its interface is easy to understand and there is a lot of lore to find. It's difficult, but not entirely unforgiving. Once you learn an item or food recipe, it's remembered across playthroughs and the Gold Edition DLC adds stasis chambers, where you can bank items and experience for future playthroughs. Presumably, you go as far as you feel like you can make it on your current run, then bank your best stuff to carry it over to the next run, which would make it easier. I'm entirely too ambitious to have taken advantage of it properly, but it's one of those touches that makes a difficult game less of a shear wall, and more of a steady incline. I haven't reached the bottom of The Pit, but I always feel like I'm one more run away from doing it.
Turn-based strategy. Real-time strategy. Tower defense. Rogue-like. These are all qualities that influenced the design of Dungeon of the Endless. You control a team of up to four heroes as they escort a crystal power source up 12 levels. Each level starts at the crystal. You open doors until you find the exit. Each time you open a door, you increment a turn, which both increases your available resources and potentially summons waves of monsters. You can use your heroes to fight the monsters, or any modules you've researched, such as a simple laser turret, or a tear gas module that does damage over time to monsters in that room. Some monsters want to fight heroes, some want to fight modules, and some only want the crystal. Once you find the exit, one of your heroes has to carry the crystal to it, and that's when all of the doors in the dungeon bust open and a flood of monsters tries to stop you from exiting. The game instantly goes from methodical search, to manic dash and carnage.
I may not have done a great job of explaining Dungeon of the Endless, but the tutorial does an even worse job than that. Dungeon of the Endless has a lot going on, and a lot of it could use a better explanation, but all of it works great together to make a complex, unique game. On top of that basic explanation, heroes gain levels and skills and can equip items, modules must be researched and operated, hero abilities used efficiently, power managed, etc. And on top of all of this, you're fighting against the RNG, and you only get two difficulty choices: easy, and too easy, and they are neither. I recommend reading a beginner's guide once you've crashed out a couple of runs, but it is very rewarding to get to the end with a team of four heroes alive.
It's likely coincidence that these two fairly dull 4X franchises have spun off some amazing dungeon crawls, but I'm thrilled they did nonetheless. I mostly wrote off Sword of the Stars and Endless Space, but I'm particularly happy I took a chance on these two games. I absolutely recommend them to anyone who's into sci-fi and Rogue-likes. I titled this as "versus" as if these two were competing, and perhaps they are, but it's us, the people who play the games, who win here.
POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014