Endless Ocean Luminous Review – IGN

I’ve always been mesmerized by the ocean

Thinking about the creepy, alien-like creatures that patrol its depths is simultaneously fascinating and frightening. So it’s incredibly disappointing that Endless Ocean Luminous’ take on one of the most exciting settings on Earth is boring, tedious, and downright aggravating. This deep sea diving adventure’s overreliance on randomized maps, events, and objectives makes it truly feel endless, and not in a good way. After 26 hours spent actively in dives and plenty more within its menus, I’m nowhere close to seeing the conclusion of Luminous’ shallow story, which is a big problem considering I feel like I saw everything its expeditions had to offer many, many hours ago.

Luminous’ dives have you cataloging all the wildlife

Living in a large body of water called the Veiled Sea. Each outing drops you into a randomly generated section, and from there you are encouraged to freely explore the map while scanning life and scavenging treasure. You can swim through twisting cave systems, coral reefs brimming with fish, or deep, dark trenches where only your flashlight reveals the way forward. Ancient ruins and abandoned shipwrecks also crop up on your expeditions, and while they’re somewhat cool to stumble upon the first time, all the locations look so similar across each procedurally generated dive that they almost instantly start to blend together.

Endless Ocean Luminous Gameplay Screenshots

Exploration should be at the heart of this game given there’s no combat and very little story, but I was bored by the Veiled Sea alarmingly quickly. I found it really tough to get invested in exploring a region when I knew I’d instantly forget about it after I finished my dive and was onto the next random map. If you uncover 80% of any given map, you are rewarded with a seed that allows you to return to that specific region, but they are all so similar that I never found a place worth going back to anyway. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Luminous an ugly game, but its incredibly simple terrain just isn’t exciting to look at, and certainly doesn’t entice me to explore it much.

Besides looking cool, the fish don’t really do anything

The story explains with a throwaway line that the Veiled Sea is home to more pacifistic life than usual, so instead of feeling like a living, breathing ecosystem with predators and prey, it’s basically a big underwater bus stop where the fish don’t want anything to do with each other. They all just float around, unbothered by the apex predators swimming right beside them or the human disruptors snapping a camera in their faces. It’s disappointing, and makes the whole setting feel hollow and lifeless.

The main goal of each dive is to earn research points and money to upgrade your character, unlocking story missions in the overarching campaign while you do. As you level up, you can earn stickers and colors to decorate your wetsuit, emotes to use with other players in online co-op, and the ability to have bigger and cooler fish join your party to temporarily swim alongside you. These are mostly cosmetic upgrades, and I would have loved to see more meaningful options to improve exploration, like a better radar, faster swim speed, or more informative map.

The story missions aren’t doing Luminous any favors

Once you do unlock them, either. The 12 I’ve seen are all woefully short, generally taking between just one and three minutes to complete. Of the 30-plus hours I’ve spent in Luminous, easily less than 90 minutes of that has been related to the story, which is so shallow it might as well not even be there at all. Besides your silent protagonist, the only two characters I’ve encountered are your annoying diving companion, Daniel, and an AI assistant called Sera that lacks any sort of personality.

That leaves you with a frustrating grind to unlock story chapters one-by-one that don’t provide much payoff. The cycle becomes this: Watch a short and mediocre story scene, enter a generic dive and scan an unreasonable number of fish in order to unlock the next underwhelming story beat, and repeat. The breaks offered by the story missions are so brief that they felt more like a gut punch before I was thrown back into the next generic, randomly generated underwater purgatory.

This was all true before I even encountered Luminous’ worst roadblock

The Mystery Board. This set of 99 completely hidden objectives is initially presented as optional, but later in the campaign Luminous abruptly gates story chapters behind completing the entire board. Squares on the Mystery Board are completed by doing things like discovering specific biomes, looting specific pieces of treasure, or scanning specific UMLs (unique marine life) throughout your dives, but their requirements are all kept infuriatingly secret until you incidentally manage to complete them.

And here’s the real catch: All of these MacGuffins are scattered randomly across Luminous’ procedurally generated maps, so there’s no guarantee that the biomes, treasures, and creatures you find won’t be repeats of squares you’ve already unlocked on the board. I spent a lot of time just swimming aimlessly, hoping to stumble into something that causes a Mystery Board notification to pop. It’s purposeless, unfocused, and frankly, felt like a waste of my time.

The most egregious instances of luck-based progression are found in the UML investigations

UMLs are Luminous’ mythical or fictional takes on real oceanic life, and while they often look quite cool, they’re also my biggest source of frustration. To summon a UML to your dive, you must track down between seven and nine fish emitting strange signals spread (randomly, if you couldn’t have guessed) across each map. When playing in multiplayer, where you could have up to 30 divers exploring the same chunk of the Veiled Sea at once, this ritual goes fairly quickly, as everyone is seeking out the same strange fish and working together toward a common goal – but it’s a slow and repetitive process if you’re alone alone.

To Luminous’ credit, the multiplayer felt pretty stable when I tried it, even with over 20 players exploring the same area. All divers drop into a different part of the map and have to track each other down to start exploring together, and you can then fast travel to the locations of any divers you’ve encountered face-to-face if you ever get split up, making getting around feel way less tedious.