Taking advantage of Microsoft’s Game Preview program on Xbox (and of course Steam’s Early Access), Deep Rock Galactic is an interesting new mine-‘em-up from Coffee Stain Studios. There’s plenty of fun to be mined from the game’s depths, however some persistent technical issues make this one hard to recommend jumping into in its current state.
Mine over matter
There’s not much in the way of story in DRG, and you are essentially thrown directly into the game proper without much fanfare. Basically you are a dwarf in the employ of the titular Deep Rock Galactic, a corporation who sends entrepreneurial dwarves like yourself into dangerous alien territory to mine rare resources – you dig up rocks while fighting off aliens and you get paid. The mission structures are all fairly simple, and generally involve you travelling to an exotic cavernous location, navigating its perilous nooks and crannies while hunting around for specific minerals and fighting off hostile spider-like creatures known as Glyphids.
Like any good resource gathering game there’s a great satisfaction to collecting the valuable minerals, and you fall into an oddly calming rhythm as you go about your work. The environments are fully destructible too, and you can destroy any surface you see in order to carve out a path for you and your compatriots in search of the mother lode.
These Glyphids are protecting rare minerals, sounds like they’re in need of some freedom…
There’s a class-based system at work here too, where you can choose one of four classes of dwarf to take on your mining expeditions, with each differing in their offensive and traversal abilities. For instance, the Gunner has a gatling gun as a primary weapon and does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of combat, while the Scout has powerful flares for lighting up dank memes caves and a grappling hook for enhanced vertical mobility. Each dwarf is distinctly unique in both aesthetic and ability, and have some rudimentary upgrade paths to enhance their weaponry, health and assorted skills. This aspect is fairly basic, so don’t go expecting RPG skill trees a la Skyrim here. There are also purely aesthetic upgrades to be brought, which are oddly expensive with the game’s in-game currency and require rare minerals to craft. Still, it’s all a tasty enough carrot on a stick to keep you engaged and embarking on more treacherous missions with the promise of greater gains.
DRG has been definitely designed with co-op in mind, and the most fun you have with the title is with another three intrepid spelunkers by your side. A good mix of classes in your team ensures your mining expedition will be a successful one, and everyone benefits equally. There’s a great sense of camaraderie too, with an intuitive system which makes it easy to call out points of interest as well as locate the other members of your team should you become separated. But while the co-op aspect is great (and even the game recognises this as the ‘true’ DRG experience), some significant technical issues really get in the way of a good time, which we’ll get to shortly.
The lighting effects are fantastic
The game is brutally difficult when you are rolling solo, as there is no one around to revive you if you kick the bucket, and the enemy difficulty/volume also doesn’t seem to change whether you’re alone or not, meaning you’ll be chewing through a lot of ammo. The only way to replenish ammo is to call in supply drops brought with a mineral known as Nitra, which isn’t exactly rare, but you won’t be tripping over it by the bucket load either. Periodically a concentrated wave of Glyphid will attack your position or a large enemy known as a Dreadnought will appear, and surviving these solo (particularly if your ammo is dwindling) is no mean feat. Basically, it’s possible to play solo, but expect missions to be longer and tougher, and the chance of failure much higher.
With this is mind, there’s a matchmaking feature which makes it relatively painless to quickly join expeditions, however currently the online quality is less stable than a three-legged chair made out of Teflon-coated Jenga blocks. Although it has become better over the past week I’ve spent with the title, I have been kicked from the majority of my missions before I was able to complete them, and due to the way the game is designed, if you don’t complete the mission you get nothing. I have lost hours of time due to poor online quality, and it is beyond frustrating. Even when you do manage to stay in a game, there is significant lag and rubber-banding that occurs, and the fear that you will be suddenly disconnected and lose half an hour’s worth of hard yakka in the mines is ever-present.
DRG has the ability to be a great co-op game; it looks fantastic, it plays well and has a generally satisfying loop to get lost in. However, the issues with online quality must be fixed sooner rather than later if this game is going to continue its momentum on Xbox. There’s only so long you can put up with a game that eats up your time without anything tangible to show for it because you got kicked from the servers. I definitely recommend giving the title a spin once these issues have been resolved, but until then it’s a case of entering these mines at your own risk.
Previewed on Xbox One | Game Preview code supplied by publisher