Do you like dwarves? How about mining? Do you feel under-oppressed by large corporations that would work you to death if it improved revenue by a fraction of a percent?

Then do I have a game for you!

Gather The Boys

Deep Rock Galactic tells a tale of the back-breaking and life-threatening labour done by a team of underfunded and underpaid dwarves, done to enrich the titular company. Also, there are funny hats, fluffy dice and pints of beer, to prevent the first part of this paragraph hitting too close to home.

You jump under the mining helmet of one of four dwarves representing a specific class – Scout, Driller, Gunner and Engineer. Each has a specialty that complements the rest, improving traversal, defence, lighting, and more, though every dwarf has a pickaxe to mine their fair share of minerals or xeno skulls.

Never let management dull your sparkle

And that’s the fine print in their employment contracts, and what moves the game beyond “What if Minecraft but graphics?”

Your industrial activities stir up the fauna and flora of Hoxxes IV, the planet you’re pillaging exploiting. Though quiet at first, attacks will build up the more you mine until a final crescendo where you’re fighting off waves of enemies as you run towards the escape pod, leaving no dwarf behind.

I would die for this corporate stooge

Nor, of course, Molly.

M.U.L.E., or the Mining Utility Lift Engine, carries all the rocks you bashed back into the clutches of Deep Rock Galactic. The pod won’t leave without it, because losing a dwarf is a shame, but losing profit… unforgivable.

Seeing this valuable company asset placed above your welfare is a wonderful merging of gameplay and theme. Seeing her awkwardly totter towards the only liferaft off this infested hellhole emphasises when shit hits the drill the corporation won’t pull your fat out the fire, but your lads.

Boss makes a dollar, we make a dime…

This juxtaposition between cold corporatism and rebellious camaraderie is beautifully pulled out through graphics and gameplay. From the many reprimands for pissing around in the central hub by kicking barrels into the drill bay or turning off the gravity, to the many complaints but also affectionate nicknames given to your clunky gear, the world of Deep Rock Galactic feels alive.

Reinforcing this theme of cost-cutting reliability is your gear. Everything looks as industrial as an over-engineered Soviet dishwasher . If your gun runs dry, I’m confident you could beat the bugs into goo before finding a spare clip and reloading with your boomstick no worse for wear.

And, if you want to die less, you’ll have kitbash your equipment in your own time on your own dime. Most can be upgraded multiple times, using your cash and rare materials you must find in maps while not dodging acid spit and razor-sharp mandibles. With multiple choices at each tier this is a nice level of customisation beyond the corporate standard.

‘Support tool’ in the same way an iron girder is

Rugged self-sufficiency oozes from every pore. These aren’t your pampered business elves who’ve never done a day’s graft in their lives – these are hard-workin’, hard-drinkin’, hard-fightin’ dwarves who carve their own space on the wild frontier. Not even extra ammo is given to these working-class heroes – they have to pay for it upfront by shipping minerals back to HQ.

Blue collar, black lung

It’s a tough galaxy alright, lovingly brought to life with some top-notch design choices.

Light is a core gameplay mechanic, with every class having flares of varying intensities, and the Scout even having a dedicated flare gun with phenomenal range. While you do have a piddly light on your helmet, any thorough exploration is powered by the dying phosphorescence of industrial glow sticks.

As bright as a British summer…

Flares were an inspired choice, bringing the issue of light to the forefront of gameplay. They recharge fast enough to be your go-to for illumination, but slow enough to force you to pick the best time to use them. Once thrown they bounce and roll, so you can’t mindlessly chuck them in the more precarious areas. Everything about them makes you consider both where you are and what you want to see most.

These aren’t just reskins, they’re new surprises the game springs on you and leaves you to figure out how to get past them. The result is that you, the player, feel like you’re wising-up about the caves rather than leaning on your dwarfy avatar.

FORBIDDEN PINECONES…

A canvas of rock and stone

This all comes together to create visually stunning levels with surprising variety. Phosphorescent fungi and insects cover the walls creating multicoloured constellations in the black for you to gawk at while huddled in the corner waiting for your flares to recharge.

Shove your iDrill up your arse

Beyond the organic, Alien fans (the film, not the anal-probers – not that I’m here to kink-shame) will love the retro-futuristic feel of the technology. Chunky CRT monitors and cold steel girders are de rigeur for space exploration apparently, and your orbital hub is more workshop than space station.

Combined with the diversity in wildlife, both nice and nasty, as well as all the small touches that bring the world to life and the stellar lighting effects, Deep Rock Galactic is a beautiful game despite the cartoony aesthetic.

Getting to work

Moving past theme and style, the gameplay itself is solid. Shooting mechanics are nicely varied with weapons having distinct feels and specific uses across the classes, from cracking armour to taking out swarms, encouraging careful usage and teamwork.

Movement is also considered, with each dwarf getting their own traversal tool which helps the whole team get around with things like a platform gun or zipline cannon. Unless you’re playing the super-selfish Scout with their self-only grappling hook, that has them hopping around the arena like a majestic yet obese grasshopper.

Obesity sponsored by Rock Croissants™ – The Crunch That Lasts®

Together, they make big fights against boss monsters or swarms an absolute joy. When you’re forced to run and gun across treacherous terrain with every surface crawling with bugs, hot-swapping between gun and traversal tool, you and the enemies feel weighty and consequential.

‘Pleasure pits’ or ‘candy mine’ never pop-up though…

You’ll have many opportunities to master these mechanics across the various missions. They work like a more forgiving version of Payday 2, with different areas made available at different times, forcing you to experiment. There’s still plenty of choice though, with each map providing a different abundant and scarce bonus resource for you to find for kit upgrades.

Actually, Deep Rock Galactic has other similarities to Payday. Some systems are locked behind Promotions, which work like Infamy – get to max level and you can choose to go back to level 1, unlocking new bonuses.

Going back to missions, Assignments encourage you to tackle specific delves to get an extra bonus, giving you some steer on missions to pick up in exchange for greater rewards – whether that’s digging metal or harvesting delicious eggs…

The experience isn’t frustration-free but even that works well with the theme. The plodding pace of the M.U.L.E. and its tendency to get in the way feels like the inevitable effect of corporate penny-pinching, making do with gear that belongs on the scrap heap. And Molly is hugely helpful in avoiding getting lost in the more complex caves. When your objectives are completed she’ll beeline to the escape pod, leaving behind glowing green trail markers just for you. Bless her little cotton socks.

Lead on to safety you gorgeous metal cube

Biting into the poison apple

So far, so absolutely glowing. But it’s not all perfect.

Though audio is stellar with atmospheric snippets and pumping and reactive beats, the spoken dialogue is… lacking. While dwarves do have different accents that share many of the same lines, and all seem to have one personality – dwarf. It’s a far cry from dialogue seen in the likes of Left 4 Dead which conveyed all the necessary gameplay information while injecting a little colour into the characters.

Grabbing peeels… I mean breeews!

There are some fun pop culture references that spice things up, but even these often don’t make sense in context and are mostly voiced by the mission control dwarf. His lines are my favourite, which is a real issue when he’s the only non-playable character…

To belabour the point with examples, lines like “I love this grappling hook!” when using the grappling hook, or “I hate thorns!” when hitting thorns, seem so unnatural and ill-time. I’m mid-air, or just been impaled. You know what’s more appropriate and charaterful? “Weee!”. Or “Ow!”. It feels like they wrote dialogue based solely on a half-completed dating profile on PlentyOfDwarves.com.

Disclaimer: as a friendless misanthrope most of my gaming experience was solo. Apparently there are quippy replies to lines which may bring the dialogue to life, but I certainly wasn’t feeling it.

Final word

That said, it wasn’t enough to completely spoil my enjoyment. If you have friends (braggart) and enjoy Left 4 Dead, Payday or similar co-op games then you’ll enjoy Deep Rock Galactic. And, if you don’t have friends (like all the coolest dudes) then the game will team you up with Bosco who’s a thoroughly competent AI ally. He can even be upgraded like the rest of your gear to be better as a miner, medic or… mgunner…

Overall I’d say Deep Rock Galactic is a gem of a game. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAthis is why I don’t have friends…

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