Over the past couple weeks I took a deep dive into Deep Rock Galactic. It’s a fairly fun game about digging holes. I know that probably sounds boring, but it is fun I promise. So let’s take a look at what makes Deep Rock Galactic such a blast in a quick review.
Developer: Ghost Ship Games
Publisher: Coffee Stain Publishing
Release Date: May 13, 2020
Available on: PC (Win), Xbox One, Gamepass
Deep Rock Galactic is a co-op shooter where you and up to three others venture through a hazard filled alien planet. You’re all dwarves that are employed by the late capitalist Deep Rock Mining corporation and are repeatedly sent on dangerous missions with too few supplies. To that end, players will play through a variety of objective based missions where they’ll have to deal with a combination of environmental hazards and hordes of creepy alien bugs while managing their resources. It creates a fairly compelling gameplay loop that is easy to lose several hours to.
The biggest immediate distinction that Deep Rock has from other co-op shooters is its lack of reliance on shooting. While it is a first person shooter, players will spend more of their time exploring the caverns of Hoxxes IV trying to gather resources than they will actually shooting bugs. The maps are also procedurally generated, so each outing feels a little bit different from the previous. You’re not simply running through the exact same maps over and over again, but rather learning the unique hazards of a given biome and overcoming them with the available resources.
Having said that, there are only seven mission types and the majority of them require players to mine a specified amount of a resource. The lack of imagination in the mission design is compensated for by ten different biome types which, as previously mentioned, each feature unique hazards and a collection of different mutators. Alone none of these factors amount to much substance, but in combination they help to add that extra bit of variety that Deep Rock needs to stay engaging.
There’s also an excellent sense of pacing throughout the missions. A really nice balance is hit between quieter moments where players can freely explore and those where they’ll need to hunker down and defend themselves from a swarm of alien bugs. This helps to keep tension running throughout a mission so that players never reach a point where they’re entirely comfortable and things devolve into tedium.
However, nothing so far touches on the two reasons that I think make Deep Rock truly great: class design and challenge scaling. In most co-op style games the classes tend to fall into one of two categories. They’re either so similar that it doesn’t matter what you have as things will play out the same regardless, or so distinct that you feel disadvantaged when you’re missing one or more of them. Deep Rock, amazingly, hits a perfect balance with its classes to where none of them are essential, but each role you have will add something and make the mission a little more comfortable.
The reason for this is that each class has their own mobility skill which helps with exploration. While it is possible to use only one of these skills to solve every problem, each ability has certain scenarios where it’ll function better than others. For example, the gunner’s ziplines are great for creating permanent pathways over or into deep chasms. This gives everyone on the team a direct pathway to an area instead of having to find another way around, or otherwise dig a pathway through the chasm. In this way, each class feels like a welcome addition when they’re present in a mission, but players won’t feel hamstrung in groups that lack four players.
In addition, the challenge level in Deep Rock Galactic scales exceptionally well to accommodate groups of any size. In my time playing the game I did everything from solo missions to a full stack of four players and the game always exhibited the appropriate level of challenge. This allows for a variety of different group sizes to play and enjoy Deep Rock, which is a huge win when so many other games feel as though they require an exact group size otherwise you’ll have a subpar experience.
There is also a ton of progression systems in place for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing. There is a player level, individual character levels for each of the four classes, several tiered equipment upgrades, weapon unlocks, and cosmetics. While it isn’t really my sort of thing, I imagine the volume of experience bars and the slow drip feed of new unlocks could prove quite addicting for those who are driven heavily by progression systems.
Deep Rock Galactic is interesting in that on paper it sounds kind of boring despite being really fun to play. Fact is that it’s a smartly designed co-op shooter with great class design, pacing, and difficulty scaling featuring just enough variety to keep players engaged. You’ll have an enjoyable time digging holes, gather resources, and shooting alien bugs regardless of your group size and, to my mind, that makes the game one of the best cooperative experiences of recent memory. Deep Rock Galactic is well worth a look, doubly so if you have a group of friends you regularly play games with.
Rock and Stone!