It seems as if roguelikes and roguelites are constantly coming thick and fast. It’s a popular genre due to the replayability offered, plus the seemingly endless customisation options on show. Pioneer: Endless Journey sells itself solidly on these two points.
It’s a first-person shooter which drops you into a world of ferocious creatures, where your aim is simple – get as far as possible by defeating enemies and bosses. I’d love to tell you what the endgame offers you, but honestly, the bosses here can be as tough as nails.
The first thing to notice with this preview build is the lack of variety in the level design and aesthetics. There are only a few templates to play through and all of them feature a dry, sandblasted look of the wild west. The enemies fall into this niche, too. There are anthropomorphic cacti, giant spiders, and poison-fanged snakes, among others. None of the low-level enemies poses much of a problem due to the game’s already deep weapon customisation.
It’s clear that the developer is focused on combat; the range of guns, and mods available for said guns, feels pretty extensive. Everything is modular here; you start with a barebones pistol and at the end of each level you receive a selection of upgrades, from which to choose, to transform it into something completely different. Each mod fits into the traditional selection – shotguns, grenade launchers, snipers and more rapid-fire choices like assault rifles and SMGs.
These mods swap out the barrel of the gun after showing you the stats which break down into the usual damage, fire rate and critical hits. Your gun becomes a lovely little monstrosity of weapons parts rather swiftly. Aiming devices boost accuracy, handles and stocks adjust the general handling, sometimes boosting the damage. But what’s probably most interesting is the crystal you slot into the core of the gun.
Across several playthroughs I tried the ice, arcane and electricity crystals, all of which confer a damage bonus against the enemies. There’s no fast swapping of elements so once you’ve chosen you’re locked in, at least until the next chest opens and a crystal hopefully spawns. There didn’t seem to be much to these elemental traits beyond extra damage, but given that the preview area is an arid desert, you have to wonder if future worlds will lean into elements and create a power hierarchy.
The game’s structure leans heavily into randomness – at the open of the game you’re presented with a map littered with joined icons, much like Slay the Spire. Some open into a basic level ending with a chest, others are upgrade stations where you can spend gold coins, earned through fighting, on tuning your gun. Many levels seem to have more than one exit, but it’s unclear if these can be opened in the preview.
Then there are the bosses. And at the moment, they’re a little unbalanced. Usually reaching the large and open boss arena will see it populated with many low-level enemies too. You’ll be happily plugging away these diversions before the boss creature spawns in and cranks up the damage dealt. While there are plenty of great weapons, which can deal with the boss enemies, there doesn’t seem to be a handy way to replenish shields and health, meaning a few unfortunate hits can spell death.
On the whole, Pioneer: Endless Journey is shaping up to be a great entry to the roguelike genre. With a greater variety of enemies and environments, there will be plenty to keep shooter fans happy.