We’ve noticed the trend that comes around every so often. You know the one where a game, ostensibly having been in Early Access for some time, finally goes to full release and manages to capture the hearts of everyone. Thing is though it never really seems to last, whilst there might be a few weeks where the game rides high as an influx of new players come in the shortcomings quickly become apparent to the less-dedicated audience it’s attracted and back into obscurity it goes. I tend to ignore most of them, not least of which is that it’s become ever harder to get 3 of my mates together to actually play these co-op titles du jour. Still with little else to play and a few mates who were routinely on it I thought Deep Rock Galactic would be worth the look in. Whilst I do enjoy it’s novel concept, combining some of the best parts of Minecraft and Left 4 Dead, I felt a distinct lack of drive to progress much further in the game and judging by the lack of my friends playing it now I get the feeling that I’m not alone in this regard.
The game’s premise is simple: you’re a bunch of profit seeking dwarves who are being sent by a faceless corporation to mine resources from a planet and they’re none to fussed if you happen to get crushed, mangled or eaten in the process. After you prove your worth in a few tutorial missions you’re then set out on the planet proper, with all its greater hazards and rewards. There’s no real overarching narrative bar the one you’ll create with your friends (or your drone companion, if you can’t find anyone else to accompany you). If I’m honest the premise kinda turned me off at first but after a couple rounds with mates and some good banter to go along with the in-game shenanigans I found myself gravitating to it a bit more.
If you just went off the graphics you’d be forgiven for thinking that this game has only been in Early Access for 2 years as it very much looks like a game from much longer ago. I have no doubt a lot of that is due to the fully destructible, procedurally generated environments that you’ll be exploring, something that can be quite taxing on almost any system should you get a little bit too excited with blowing things up. The game looks fine for what it is and given that most of the time you’ll be navigating through dark and cramped corners it’s not like it had a lot of opportunity to show off beautiful environments even if they built them. At the very least this makes it much more appealing to a wider market as basically anyone with a non-potato PC should be able to play it.
Deep Rock Galactic is first and foremost a co-op survival game, taking direct inspiration from the seminal titles in this genre. The secret sauce to its rapid rise to stardom though comes from the infinitely destructible, procedurally generated maps and the mining mechanics that come along with them. No longer is it simply a case of getting from A to B and not dying, no instead you’ll also be gathering resources, restoring lost machinery and all sorts of other objectives whilst trying to survive as well. There’s also a progression system reminiscent of Vermintide, although instead of loot randomly dropping you’ll be using the rare minerals that you find on your journeys to upgrade your character and gear. There’s 4 character classes to choose from and each of them have a desirable set of skills to make use of in any of the dungeon biomes you come across. I also believe there is some form of end-game content here but I only just got to the point of being able to do that before everyone gave up on playing it. All said and done it’s a pretty comprehensive little game and should the mechanics click with you there’s likely dozens of hours of fun to be had.
Combat is pretty basic with most of the classes following your standard weapon archetypes and the majority of enemies simply running directly at you. To be sure there’s some pretty great enemy mechanics, like the lava monster thinger which, when killed, creates a massive lava creator where it died (and killing anyone who’s dumb enough to be in close range just for giggles) but most of the time you’ll just be fending off standard rank and file affair. Of course the standard “throw more enemies to make it harder” trope is in full effect here too which can make some of the higher tier maps more of a grind than anything else. There’s possibly a bit more variety if you switch up classes a bit, something which I neglected to do throughout my entire playthrough, unfortunately.
The mining and exploration part is pretty great though, forcing you to get creative to meet the objectives and mine those sweet rare minerals that you can use for upgrades. This is where the various character classes really start to shine as each of them can make traversing certain obstacles a lot easier. The procedurally generated maps are also incredibly well guided as it’s rare that you’ll find yourself in a hard dead end or in a confusing maze that you simply can’t make any sense out of. Even if you do there’s always the option to just dig your way to freedom, which I’m not ashamed to admit we did countless times just because we couldn’t be bothered to spend more than a couple seconds staring at the map. The subtle clues scattered around the maps are also pretty neat as well and once you figure out what the clues are you’ll be able to spot all sorts of rare materials that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Progression comes at a relatively steady pace but it honestly doesn’t really feel like you make any meaningful improvements to your character, at least in the time I played. There’s 2 main sources of progression: the first through upgrading your character class’ weapons and armour (using the aforementioned materials) and the second comes from completing milestones to unlock perks. To be sure there’s a couple solid quality of life improvements in both of those mechanics but for the most part they’re small percentage based changes that don’t really impact how your character plays or how effective you are at certain things. This might be a bigger deal in the end game scenarios though and honestly the inverse of this, which is what Vermintide goes for, is a much quicker turn off. Still it’d be nice to know what the end game I was (without having to Google it) working toward was so I could at least figure out whether or not it was worth it.
It’d also be nice if there were a few more cosmetic options available as I found myself with a rather large stash of cash and minerals that I couldn’t really do anything with. Sure I could’ve dumped some of it on another character class but to make a meaningful difference I’d also have to level them as well (which would likely also net me even more cash and materials). It’s possible that there is something waiting just beyond my current station that’ll make use of everything but realistically if by this point I can’t see much of a reason to go on then I don’t feel like the game is doing its job particularly well.
Which is probably my biggest complaint about Deep Rock Galactic: it just doesn’t really lead to anywhere. For many this is probably not a particularly large issue and it’ll serve its purpose just fine as a kind of casual grind game that you can play with your mates and have a laugh about. For me though I like to have some kind of driving objective to my grind, whether it’s say reaching the max light level in Destiny or getting raid ready in WoW. Those things keep me going once the novelty of the grind has worn thin and reaching the objective brings its own kind of satisfaction. Maybe that’s here in Deep Rock Galactic, I just don’t know because the game hasn’t been particularly forthcoming with details about what that might be.
Deep Rock Galactic is a great fusion of different mechanics that I never thought I’d see together in a single game. The combination of co-op survival and procedurally generated, infinitely destructible environments make for some truly unique challenges. The longevity of the game will depend on how much you enjoy the concept itself as for those that enjoy a mindless grind this one will stay somewhat fresh for an extended period of time. However the lack of an overarching goal was a killer for me, as there was nothing really there for me to aspire to or to desire as something to show off to my mates. All in all Deep Rock Galactic is a fine game, just one that had a pretty definite expiry date for me.
Deep Rock Galactic is available on PC and Xbox One right now for $44.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 6 hours playtime and 7% of the achievements unlocked.