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Game On: No microtransactions? Not a ton of toxicity? Two big reasons to love Deep Rock Galactic

Jan. 3, 2023 Updated Wed., Jan. 4, 2023 at 4:27 p.m.

Cooperative first-person shooter Deep Rock Galactic received a massive viral-themed update in November entitled “Plaguefall.” Initially released mid-2020, the game has recently experienced a notable surge in popularity.  ( Coffee Stain Studios AB)
Cooperative first-person shooter Deep Rock Galactic received a massive viral-themed update in November entitled “Plaguefall.” Initially released mid-2020, the game has recently experienced a notable surge in popularity. ( Coffee Stain Studios AB)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Although it was officially released in May 2020 after two years in early access, Deep Rock Galactic has continued to add new features and escalate in popularity. 2022 was a good year for the game – it was finally released on PlayStation 4 and 5 in January, received an Xbox Series X|S optimization upgrade in September and saw two major updates – Season 02: Rival Escalation in April and Season 03: Plaguefall in November.

I can’t say enough good things about Deep Rock Galactic. 2022 was likely the most challenging year of my life so far, and whether I played it alone or with one to three friends online, it always left me in a better mood. Some might find that pathetic, but I’d argue it’s a far better coping mechanism than a lot of other things.

For the uninitiated, Deep Rock Galactic has players assume the role of dwarves excavating the mineral-rich planet of Hoxxes IV. Of course, the planet’s inhabitants – giant insects and arachnids – don’t take kindly to your intrusions, so gamers must fight massive hordes of enemies while they exploit the planet for all it’s worth at the behest of a soulless corporation.

Each stage is procedurally generated, meaning no two playing experiences will ever be the same. There are four classes – scout, gunner, driller and engineer – and weapons galore. With eight mission types, eight secondary missions and 10 biomes to explore, it’s hard to get bored with the variety on display.

Like so many other live-service games, players can also customize the appearance of their characters. But unlike most other games, Deep Rock Galactic doesn’t have a storefront littered with limited-time cosmetics and other nonsense designed to exploit gamers’ fear of missing out.

There’s a battle pass containing new cosmetics to encourage players to put time into each season, but once it resets, all of the items you didn’t acquire are thrown into the random item pool alongside everything else. You can then acquire those just the same as anything else – by playing the game – a truly novel concept in 2023.

It’s genuinely shocking because Ghost Ship Games must be losing potential money by being so player-friendly. Plenty of successful titles have shown that predatory microtransactions rake in cash – in 2021, Activision-Blizzard generated $6.49 billion from microtransactions compared to $2.31 billion from actual product sales.

Ghost Ship Games isn’t exactly strapped for cash, however. Their initial sales expectations for Deep Rock Galactic was a mere 200,000 units. Sales hit 2 million in January 2021, 3 million by November 2021 and 4 million by June 2022. And given the game’s abrupt rise from 8,000 average players in October to 21,000 in November on Steam alone – this doesn’t include Xbox, PlayStation or even Microsoft Store PC players – sales are likely booming.

For all this, I haven’t mentioned the most endearing aspect of Deep Rock Galactic – the sense of camaraderie cleverly woven into the game. In my 350 hours playing so far, I’ve encountered remarkably little toxicity. Anyone who’s played online video games can attest to how uncommon that is.

Ghost Ship Games made several good choices to accomplish this. First and foremost, it’s a cooperative game rather than a competitive one. While they’ve admitted being inspired by Left 4 Dead, they wanted to keep the skill gap minimal – and succeeded. Even new players can contribute meaningfully.

There are a variety of tools designed to help your teammates – dispersing flares or creating platforms, ziplines or tunnels, for instance. When a teammate is incapacitated, rescuing them feels rewarding and heroic. They can’t “bleed out” in this state, so players aren’t screaming in your ear to hurry – most everyone is happy if you play it safe, taking your time to revive them.

Between missions, you and your fellow miners can gather at the Abyss Bar to get blackout drunk dancing to cheesy tunes – a surefire bonding moment even in the digital world. If you’re looking for a new cooperative game to play with your friends, I can’t recommend Deep Rock Galactic enough. With smooth gameplay, random hilarity and tons of replay value, I’m confident calling it the best cooperative shooter since 2009’s Left 4 Dead 2.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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