Due to [REDACTED]’s commitment to destroying their employees, Dari’s been busy and overworked this week! As a result, friend of the site Infomantis (me) is writing a bit about Deep Rock Galactic, which is a little outside the site’s normal scope, but it’s what I know and a good game’s a good game.
Deep Rock Galactic is a co-op shooter designed by Ghost Ship Games built on a very simple premise: “Left 4 Dead 2 meets Minecraft”, and while I personally think that the Minecraft comparison is a little broad scope for what it takes from it, the comparison does prepare anyone coming in for what they’ll be getting. Ghost Ship isn’t really Indie (has a CEO and shares) but it is “indie” (you hadn’t heard about them before this game, because this is their only game) so I feel kinda justified writing about it for everyone’s favorite Hell Zone.
DRG’s main selling points are that every level is procedurally generated so that the caves are never the same, the terrain is fully destructible so you can take whatever path you feel like to your goals; but most importantly, the game is Very High Quality, since I will fully admit that the first two are not criteria I would buy most games on. Some selling points that are not listed on its Steam page that I consider more important are that the game is under 3 gigs, can run on basically any half-decent computer made since Windows 7 if you turn the graphics down, gets regular content and balance updates, and frequently goes on sale for 15$.
As is traditional for most 4-player co-op shooters, you’ve got 4 characters to choose from, each with a unique loadout, different colored armor, and the same voice actor with the same voice lines pitched up or down depending on who you’re playing. The Gunner comes loaded with incredible amounts of ammo, a zipline launcher to slowly ferry your entire team across a cave, and a shield generator for temporary protection. The Engineer focuses more on clearing swarms with area of effect weaponry, turrets, and a platform gun for parkour antics, while the Scout mostly contributes against priority enemies with accurate at long range guns, a grappling hook for getting places, and a flare gun to keep the entire team seeing. Finally, the Driller comes with a short range flamethrower for incinerating anything that gets near, satchel charges of C4 for exploding stuff, and twin power drills for digging through terrain (and also pulping anything that gets close). While you’re able to pick multiples of the same class and your actual guns may differ on personal preference, most of the time it’s best to have an even team because the traversal tools each class has are best used in tandem with each other, such as the engineer creating a platform at a high mineral deposit for the scout to quickly reach.
All this sounds like every other horde shooter out there so far because when it comes down to it, DRG is not an innovative game on a large scale. Fending off swarms of giant eight-legged space bugs while completing objectives that are all some variant of plundering resources and killing anything stopping you is about as basic of a formula a co-op space shooter would have. This is because DRG’s 6 figures of positive reviews come from focusing on polish and the minutiae, so I’m going to start talking very specifically about what DRG did right instead of the broad strokes.
Hoxxes IV currently has 10 biomes to mine, each with unique cave generation, flora, fauna, and other challenges. Combined with the different mission types, positive and negative mission modifiers, assorted random events through the tunnels, adjustable difficulty, optional bosses, and potential team load-outs, suddenly, every mission is a unique experience. In addition, the rather large library of creatures trying to eat you all have distinctly different roles, from the swarmers nipping at your ankles to the shellbacks trying to pinball you off a cliff to the Nemesis trying to lure you into its 10 meter zone of Kill You and… killing you. Each mission only chooses a few of the more disruptive creatures to spawn in, so even if terrain factors are identical between two missions, they could play out very differently depending on the threats spawned. Procedural generation is difficult for games to get right and it’s not for all games, but DRG pulls it off admirably through sheer complexity of factors.
Going into a small anecdote about the difficulty here, I find that there’s two major ways to play DRG: casually and pushing yourself. I usually play DRG casually, booting up the game after work and joining a lower hazard lobby to chat with new players, do some low stakes mining, and generally relax. After enough time spent in the mines, they really do start to feel like home. However, the game truly shines when you’re pushing yourself against your limits, whatever those may be.
Recently, I went on a high difficulty Sabotage mission with a modifier that spawns dozens of anklebiters every minute or so, and nearly everything that could go wrong, did. A massive explosive enemy dug up directly underneath one of the hacking pods we needed to defend and what felt like five minutes after that were spent frantically recovering from it. I dropped down a ledge into an unexplored room and immediately got 5 laser sights from rival tech sniper turrets pointed at me. We ordered 16 dwarves worth of extra ammunition across the entire mission, got forced into using nearly all of it, and every second of it was a fantastically intense march through unknown territory that called for intense coordination, doing what we each could to bring the mission to a close and take the drop pod home.
Seeing the drop pod doors closing as you finally lift off always provides a fantastic bookend to whatever hell you just went through, and it’s only made more satisfying the harder you fought to get there.
One of the first things you’ll notice about DRG once you start playing multiplayer is how communicative you can be without even touching the mic or chat functions. Every dwarf not only has a laser pointer to ping things for your team’s attention, but a salute button, a context sensitive yell button, and huge quantities of voicelines for about every event that could happen in the caves. This isn’t even getting into the subtle multiplayer game languages of friendly fire, head movements, and of course, jumping. Even the single player companion, Bosco, is controlled by the same laser pointer and yells (and will salute back), so you can swap between solo and co-op without much hassle learning new communication. It won’t ever replace playing with friends, but being able to know you’ll be able to go through a mission and letting the dwarf do the talking makes jumping into public servers easy.
The space rig as the hub between missions is the beating heart of DRG’s corporate wage slave aesthetic, a mass produced space station that the dwarves that live and work there filled with empty beer cans, takeout boxes, and the occasional holiday decorations over the years. Spare mining equipment sits on a cart with a “fix me” note on its head, the dwarves’ rooms have individualized posters and mess, corporate notice boards inform that the breakfast bacon shuttle has been delayed again before saying that profits are up this quarter. One of the alternative currencies is literally called Scrip, in case the point wasn’t made clear enough.
It’s here that you spend your time between missions, drinking beer while chatting about gun loadouts, complaining about how badly that last mission went, and deciding on what beard style to buy from the store (and there are more beard styles in this game than I’ve seen in any other, fittingly.) DRG doesn’t have any storyline and the devs keep lore vague on purpose, but what it has instead is the working dwarf experience. The dwarves complain about the company, grumble about the working conditions, dream about starting their own mining business once they’re done here, but at the end of the day they aren’t quitting… yet.
I mentioned frequent updates earlier, and to compare the kind of quality these updates have brought over the years, here’s a comparison picture of the space rig from about 4 years ago, in early access:
How things change!
DRG is also notable for having one of the better communities I’ve seen in online games. I believe this is due to the nature of co-op games, but I feel that the aesthetics, mechanical encouragement of teamwork, and passive communication listed above are contributing reasons. Going down in a squad will have someone scurrying over to revive you with a friendly “rock and stone” as soon as possible, pinging someone for their attention quite frequently results in a voiced compliment to their beard, and since all rewards are shared at mission’s end, having a space open will usually result in someone joining in late to help out. Most large bugs have rear weakpoints to encourage teaming up to distract and flank, swarms attack from all angles that you can’t cover alone easily, and the ever present threat of cave leeches grabbing someone usually keeps teams close to each other while exploring new areas, just in case. Even the out of game communities are friendly compared to most game communities – as long as you don’t trip into the very dwarven landmines of weapon balance, which in-game beer is the best, or, god forbid, gold mining discourse.
Full disclosure here, I’m aware of the unreasonable amount of time I’ve played DRG, so when I started writing this, in the interest of fairness, I tried to make sure that I covered the negative points of DRG too. The problem is, DRG’s focus on polish and making the game feel fun means that I was only left with a handful of nitpicks to make it look like I wasn’t being paid by the game devs to write this. Do I complain about the lack of obviously femme dwarves, which would likely require an incredible amount of voice acting to match what’s already there? Do I complain about the free battlepass they added to keep the servers more active while specifically promising that anything you don’t get will be added into the regular loot pools? Do I complain about the minor bugs left in the game that the majority of are probably a result of me running the game on a computer that’s even lower standard than the bare minimums recommended? It does have its minor problems, but if you like co-op shooters or playing with friends that like co-op shooters, DRG is one of the best.
This article was written by Infomantis, who you can find more of at @infomantis