I’ve been playing Deep Rock Galactic for a while now. From the first moment I dropped through the crust of Hoxxes IV, I was in love. I’m usually a sucker for co-op games—overcoming challenges with friends is some of my favorite gameplay—and Deep Rock Galactic delivers this in a way I hadn’t even known I wanted. I used to describe Deep Rock Galactic as a game that’s like the underground parts of Minecraft—where you’re hunting for minerals, surrounded by zombies, with the threat of creepers blowing you up and ruining your day. But Deep Rock takes that idea and pairs it with interesting objectives and class-based gameplay in a way that makes it something truly special.
Deep Rock Galactic is a four player first person co-op game. You play as dwarven workers, tasked by your ruthless corporate overlords to mine for their benefit—while they provide a mere pittance in return. And while the company may not pay much, they provide the tools to do the job: a giant drop pod, a heavy loader when the mission calls for it, and an invulnerable robotic M.U.L.E. to make sure the company gets their minerals, whether you make it back alive or not. Because Hoxxes IV is a dangerous place, full of environmental hazards and swarms of giant bugs, it really makes you wonder if fightin’ bugs and pushing dirt is really the best way to make a living–but it’s a really fun way.
In Deep Rock Galactic you can play as one of four different classes: Gunner, Engineer, Driller, and Scout. Unlike other similar style co-op games, you aren’t forced to have one of each in your group. You can mix and match classes as you want. But if you don’t have a full team of four players, bots don’t fill in empty space. Instead, the game adjusts enemy difficulty/amount. If you don’t have friends to play with, there’s even an upgradeable bot named Bosco that will help you go it alone by assisting you with mining, shooting bugs, and picking up large minerals.
As you make your way through the procedurally generated tunnels of Hoxxes IV, you’ll run into all sorts of obstacles, but each of the four classes has their own unique set of tools—and weapons—to deal with them. The Gunner never seems to run out of ammo. He has a minigun or an autocannon that can mow down waves of enemies. But he’s not just about firepower—the gunner also has a shield that he can deploy to protect teammates (or himself) and ziplines that allow his team to traverse easily across gaps or up and down rock faces. The engineer has a turret or two at his command, and the ability to lay down platforms that can create bridges, or stairs. These platforms can help mitigate fall damage, so they’re helpful for easily getting down from heights. The Driller’s all about drilling, and his two massive drill arms make going through most materials easily. The Scout has an unlimited use grappling hook that helps him get around fast, and into hard to reach places to get minerals other classes might struggle to get. He’s also got a flare gun that helps light up big rooms with long burning light—it gets really dark in those caves.
Darkness isn’t the only challenge you’ll face in these procedurally generated tunnels—there are lots of bugs. And there are all sorts of them, from tiny swarmers to the massive Dreadnoughts. There are multiple different types of melee bugs, and bugs that spit acid, or webs to slow you down. There are flying bugs, too, even flying bugs that like to grab, and drop you to your death. There are bugs that are full of minerals you can pop open, and some are even packed with gold. My least favorite bug has to be the cave leeches. They hang on the ceiling and grab you, but unlike Half-Life’s barnacles, they have a long grabby tentacle that actually seeks you out actively. They’re hard to see as they sit in a little dip in the ceiling, and the only warning you’ll have is a slight hiss before they get you, and grab you until you die from it.
Not only do the different bugs pose a threat, but the caves of Hoxxes IV want to kill you, too. Remarkably, there are eight different environments, all with their own hazards, sights, enemy variations and other quirks. Different environments are also composed of different materials, so it may take a little longer to dig through stone than dirt, for instance. Most zones have unique types of hazards. The magma core, for instance, is full of fire, the Glacial Strata has terrible snow storms, the Fungus Bogs usually have lots of poison, etc.
Though I’ve barely mentioned it, mining is important. In fact, it’s one of the most important things about Deep Rock Galactic. You mine to get minerals for objectives, and to get paid! Sometimes you’ll be chunking away at a gold vein, or you’ll be digging out larger objects, like Eggs, aquarqs, bittergems, or the enigmatic ERR cubes. Nitra is used to replenish ammo during levels, and is essential. And of course, you’ll be finding gold, which gives you credits, which can be spent on upgrades and costmetics. There are also specific minerals that are used to purchase upgrades and cosmetics, as well as other things. These minerals are dependent on the environment you’re mining in, with certain upgrade materials only available in certain zones.
After you’ve gotten the goods, and survived the bugs, you’ll have to get back to your drop pod before it leaves without you. Despite the company motto of “leave no dwarf behind” it will happily leave you behind once it has what it wants. Between missions you can relax on the space station, and share beers with your friends at the Abyss Bar. If you collect enough materials, you can even buy some of the fancier, artisan beers. But only the beer of the day will bestow a perk, which you can carry into the level. Be careful about drinking too much, though, because you can carry drunkenness back into the level, too. The station is also where you deck yourself out in cosmetics, assign missions, get promotions, and buy upgrades.
There are several different progression systems in Deep Rock Galactic. There is your account level—which determines if you’re eligible for the marathon Deep Dives and a few other things. You also have a character level, which determines which abilities you can purchase. Completing certain milestones yield perks points, which can be spent on Deep Rock’s expansive perk tree.
Not only is there character level, account levels, and perks, each class has two main weapons, and two side weapons to choose from, once you’re licensed for them, of course—all of which have upgrades which can be purchased. Weapons can also be further modded with overclocks—some of which can change the use of your weapon significantly. Weapons mods, and some cosmetics, are earned through completing assignments, Deep Dives, and programming blank cores upon completion of machine events.
Machine events are just some of the random events you can discover in caves as you play Deep Rock Galactic. Sometimes you’ll find events that yield pick axe parts, crates that hold minerals and cosmetics, and special Huuli hoarders filled with upgrade minerals.
The cosmetics are great, and one of my favorite parts of Deep Rock Galactic. While you can’t create a character, you can certainly customize your chosen class as much as you want. Sadly, cosmetic items are bound to whichever character—so if you want to have a certain beard that your Scout has to use on your Engineer, you’ll have to find the Engineer version.
Deep Rock Galactic’s art style is great, though it can take a little getting used to. It can be described as kind of minimal, almost low poly-like art. It gives the impression that everything is angular, like it’s chiseled out of stone. Even the dwarves (appropriately, I guess) look like they’re made of rock. At first, I had a hard time orienting myself in caves. I can’t explain it, but it was just hard to tell what was happening all the time. But I adjusted to it after a bit, and came to appreciate Deep Rock’s subterranean beauty. Some of the caves are striking, especially with the great lighting and shadow effects.
The soundtrack is also superb. It’s a synth-rock style that sounds like it would be right at home in an 80’s horror movie, or on the soundtrack to Stranger Things. It’s so good, I listen to the soundtrack regularly as ambient music. But since it ties into what’s happening in the game so often, I can’t help but get amped up if I hear certain songs.
Deep Rock Galactic is co-op perfection. There’s really not much else to say about it. It’s been my go-to game for two years now. I’ve played hundreds of hours, and still play regularly with the same group every week as we’ve been working our way through harder difficulties, on our way to tackle the extremely difficult Elite Deep Dive. I absolutely love Deep Rock Galactic, and I recommend it to everyone I can.
Rock and stone, brothers.
Deep Rock Galactic is available now on Steam, and Microsoft Windows Store/Xbox One.
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