It’s a well known fact from countless fantasy worlds that dwarves love mining, and so it makes an awful lot of sense that the space dwarves of Deep Rock Galactic love space mining. Venturing to the alien planet of Hoxxes IV, there’s countless caves to dig into, revealing precious minerals that would set any dwarf’s eyes alight with lust. There’s also loads of bugs angry that you’ve ventured into their territory. I guess you’d best brings some mates and pack your gun as well as your pickaxe…
When you get down to it, Deep Rock Galactic is a pretty simple game; the introduction is pretty much all you need to know. If spelunking into an alien cave and completing objectives to collect rare minerals while fighting off bugs sounds like fun to you, then you’ll probably have a great time with Deep Rock Galactic.
What the simple premise doesn’t tell you is that this is one of the best Aliens games out there. As your ship drills into the planet and drops the ramp into each procedurally generated cave, everything is shrouded in darkness. Your flashlight will do next to nothing to cut through the gloom, and you’ll be throwing temporary glow sticks to illuminate your surroundings.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll have to overcome is simply navigating your surroundings. You can pull up a scanner that gives you a 3D map view of your surroundings, but the minimalist stylings of this almost intentionally makes it difficult to read, so that you’ll be turning the map around for quite some time trying to get a grasp of your position and how to reach any objective markers you might have. Those markers can easily be obscured by cave walls as well, which makes things even trickier.
You won’t be immediately besieged by bugs (unless the game decides to make things a little bit spicy), but as you descend into the depths, you can find yourself attacked by large numbers of aliens. They’ll scuttle out of nesting holes in walls you walk past, or simply come at you across the floor and along the walls, and even fly at you in some cases. They can easily flank you and start chomping on your behind, catching you out for focusing too much fire on the bigger boss-like bugs you’ll face.
Thankfully, you and your compatriots pack some serious heat. There are four classes in the game with complementary skill sets, but you can easily play in a smaller group, or even go it alone with a little robot buddy to help you when you’re in a spot of bother. The Scout specialises in illuminating areas and getting around quickly on a personal grappling hook, while the Gunner touts a hefty minigun and can create ziplines for everyone to use. The Engineer can spit out platforms to help reach inconveniently high up mineral veins and place defensive turrets to help thin out bug swarms wile the Driller can chew through rock like nobody’s business and has a flamethrower that sends glorious gouts of fire wherever you want.
As your progress deeper and deeper, you’ll be accompanied by a four-legged robot vault known as a M.U.L.E in which you’ll deposit minerals and other loot once your pockets are full. Once you’ve gathered the required materials, it’s time for extraction: smash the robot’s big red button and it will head back to the drop ship, giving you a five minutes timer to follow it back or get left behind. This extraction phase can occasionally be fraught with danger if you let it. Don’t dig wide enough tunnels or set up ziplines, and you can find yourself stranded down below as bugs come out of the woodwork to nip at your heels. Some mission types will have you defending your position from bugs as your drop ship reboots, or waiting on a rig for extraction.
The half dozen mission types help to keep things nice and varied, featuring different cave structures. Basic resource gathering will typically have you heading down narrow caves, while other missions drop you into a vast multi-layered cavern that provides different challenges to navigate. Add to that the different biomes and their regional alien types, and there’s plenty of variation to be found every time you set out.
There’s a simple gameplay loop of heading down on a mission, coming back to the lobby-like Space Rig with armfuls of resources, and then dropping them into the upgrade terminals to unlock boosters for your weapons, new outfits to mosey around in, and other trinkets. It’s not the most exciting set of upgrades, mostly featuring incremental improvements to your gear instead of new weapon types, but alongside unlocking stat perks and abilities through passing a wide range of milestones, it’s more than enough to keep you engaged with the dangled carrot of unlocking each character’s alternate weapons.
The problem is that it’s maybe not all that exciting. Having come through more than two years in Steam Early Access and Xbox Game Preview, the core gameplay loop is certainly very well refined, but it’s short on big thrills during the first several hours of play. You’re introduced to new objective types – “Oh, great, now it’s an egg hunt…” – you might encounter special elemental aliens, but the fundamentals of mining and fighting bugs never really change and that can wear after an extended session of play. With three or four players it can feel lacking in challenge by default, unless some of the bigger bugs shows up and you haven’t paid attention to how much ammo you’ve been burning through.
Stick with the game though, get through the initial mission chain and the challenge does emerge from the shadows. The missions dotted across the map of Hoxxes are refreshed every 15 minutes, mixing up the objectives on offer with varying hazard levels and level modifiers. You can then amp that up further, if you want to test yourself. Once you’ve reached level 25 with an individual class and reset it with a promotion, you can then delve into the endgame with Deep Dives that string together a trio of pre-seeded missions carrying your team’s resources from one from the next, and with high end materials as your reward to go toward Weapon Overclocks that push your gear that little bit further.
The game’s brought together by a distinctive chunky polygon art style that goes hand in hand with the strong contrast found in the lighting. The synth soundtrack is equally good, bringing the 80s back with a bang as you fight off yet another horde of bugs. Alternatively, you might find some time for a bit of R&R between missions, with the maze-like Space Rig in orbit featuring a bar to buy drinks at, a disco to dance at and the brilliantly addictive Kick Barrel game, as well as plenty of little secrets to find for those who want to explore.