What do you get when you mix science fiction, cooperative gameplay, mining, shooting and dwarves in space? “Deep Rock Galactic,” a surprisingly wholesome first-person shooter released on May 13. At first glance, the game might not seem upbeat – alien arachnid guts abound, the dwarven characters are ill-tempered and bark orders at their loyal machines – but the wholesomeness comes from the interactions gamers have between their friends while playing it. You’re forced to work together to succeed, and the teamplay is fun and rewarding.
“Deep Rock Galactic” is played through a series of missions. You start out on a space rig above the fictional “Hoxxes IV,” a dangerous planet infested with alien arachnids. Choose a mission – mine for precious minerals, collect alien eggs and so on – and blast off from orbit via a mining vessel deep into the crust of the planet. The caverns you explore are computer-generated on the fly, making each experience a unique one. You excavate a wide variety of biomes, adding even more variety – one cavern will be volcanic and the next a subterranean jungle.
On many occasions, the terrain itself is more hazardous than the swarms of hostile aliens. Your team must work together to navigate the natural hazards of long drops, poisonous bogs, radioactivity, extreme heat or cold and more to achieve objectives. But the deeper you dig, the greater the rewards, so even after you’ve completed your primary assignment, you might be tempted to keep going despite the dangers. Greed might just get the better of you, sending your crew home battered and penniless.
Between assignments, you and your friends can upgrade gear, customize the appearance of characters – just how big can my beard get? – and, true to the fantasy dwarf trope, get plastered at the bar. There’s great camaraderie to be had playing “Deep Rock Galactic” with friends and random players you can encounter online.
Although it was officially released recently, the game spent more than two years in early access. Many game developers in the past few years have used a similar model to varying success. Essentially, the developer releases an early beta build of their game and asks players to plunk down some cash upfront to help them finish their game and add more content.
Using this tactic, game developers are able to design video games of surprising depth and polish without the support of any major publisher such as Electronic Arts or Activision. “Deep Rock Galactic” attracted mild attention for those two years, but it’s gained serious traction within the past month.
Developer Ghost Ship Games has promised to keep working on the game, already laying out a roadmap teasing future content. There are bugs that need ironing out and improvements to be made. Once in a while upon entering a new cave, a load error will occur, and the graphics will spaz out permanently – it’s completely unplayable, and I just shut off the game when it happens to me.
There also are mild game balance issues. There are four distinct classes to play, each with their own strengths and weaknesses – the Scout, Gunner, Driller and Engineer. Three of them are pivotal, but not the Driller. I’ve spoken to other gamers, and everyone agrees, including players who claim the Driller is their favorite. Aside from these small issues, “Deep Rock Galactic” is an excellent adventure.
I picked up the game in late April weeks before its official release. You can play alone with a robot helper, but you’re clearly encouraged to hop online with friends. The endless variety of caves to explore, focus on teamwork, risk vs. reward mechanics and long haul of going after rare weapon upgrades and cosmetics make for a satisfying gameplay loop. “Deep Rock Galactic” is available on PC via Steam and Xbox One for $30.
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