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DEEP ROCK GALACTIC

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Developer: Ghost Ship GamesReleased: May 13.2020 for PC, Xbox One.
Publisher: Coffee Stain PublishingReviewed on: PC
(Review copy provided by publisher)

Somewhere deep in space, an intergalactic mining operation has hit the motherload. Using dwarves ripped straight from the pages of fantasy lore, Deep Rock Galactic has found the ultimate workers for their dangerous and highly lucrative business model. You are one of these dwarves; a foulmouthed, hard drinking, and dangerously expendable model of capitalist fodder. Either alone or with three friends, you are tasked to descend into the deepest parts of interstellar bodies to retrieve precious metals worth millions. Now, naturally all work comes with some risk, including dismemberment by aliens, death by cave in, or just plain old being stranded on the rock because the company pulled the rescue ship too early. These things happen. 

DEEP ROCK GALACTIC is a pitch black comedy about the world of capitalism and us grunts stuck in it. Building on a highly engaging and deeply addictive gameplay loop, this is one of the best multiplayer games released in many years.

The easy to pick up mechanics are introduced in an opening tutorial mission, one that’s textbook perfection in how to get someone to like your game. Basic traversal, combat, and skill controls are given plenty of time to sink in, and before you know it you’re already finishing up the first mining run — complete with a mad dash for your life to the escape pod.

Each character class has their own specialty; Drillers can mulch up the ground like nobody’s business; Gunners handle enemy waves and can create ziplines for easy getaways; Scouts can build platforms to reach far away materials; and Engineers handle robotics that provide safety at all turns. 

It shouldn’t be overlooked just how well balanced DEEP ROCK GALACTIC really is. Every character compliments the other, and playing as a team comes naturally thanks to these core mechanics. As the game progresses, and the caves become more complex, every natural obstacle has to be handled with precision as to conserve gear and ammo. Resupplies can be called in at a cost, and there’s never a certainty you’ll get a second chance for one. One of the best experiences I had with my crew was descending into an impossibly vast cavern filled with lava, and getting separated with my scout. Luckily our driller was close at hand, meaning they could excavate a brand new path for my escape, just in time before a sudden earthquake swallowed the area I had just occupied. 

These experiences only get better as the game goes along, but there is a learning curve that takes some wind out of the sails in the first few hours. While the opening levels are a blast to clear through, the following levels until you reach double digits can become a slog as you grind for better gear. But the moment you really get to open up with your skills and customization, the game picks up again beautifully. 

The audiovisual presentation is nothing short of fantastic. While the environments tend to get a tad repetitive the longer you play (even procedural generation has its limits), the lighting engine is out of this world and left me gasping every single time. Flares, torches, and glow sticks all emit different kinds of light, and there’s a sense of wonder every time you descend into what you thought was a small hole, only for it to turn into a massive underground cavern. Light bounces off walls naturally, lending the entire world an eerie glow as it distorts through alien crystals and stalactites. The soundtrack, likewise, is a feast for the ears, and one of the better ones I’ve heard all year.

The UI is pleasing to look at and easy to follow, but the quasi-3D map tends to be more frustrating than helpful. Stylistically it looks like something from PROMETHEUS, the Ridley Scott movie with scientists who didn’t understand how maps worked. The map draws only certain portions of the area, depending on the angle that you look at it, leading often to an aggravating guessing game regarding the direction you should mine. Seeing it in action I can’t help but feel sympathy for any poor soul who gets stranded on an asteroid with this junk.

Content-wise DEEP ROCK GALACTIC offers dozens, if not hundreds of hours of gameplay, depending on how many times you want to go back into the fray. End game content such as the Deep Dive modes are tough as nails excursions into the hardest parts the galaxy has to offer. Each mission rewards you with raw materials that can be traded or crafted into something better. Namely cosmetics and upgrades for gear. As the game progresses, each character ends up looking more and more like their player, making the journeys into the depths feel that much more personal.

But how is it on your own? The answer to that would be: OK, I guess. It’s certainly playable, and the AI controlled droid, Bosco, is more than passable as a compatriot, but it doesn’t feel the same as with friends. It becomes more of a survival horror game, as you alone go deeper and deeper into whatever darkened hell you find, scurrying for one last nugget of gold before time runs out. With partners, the experience is more akin to a playable version of ARMAGEDDON; all roughhousing and very little logic to be found. 

This is amplified even further in the base of operations, where players can order up a round of drinks for everyone between missions. It’s a sad moment to see the robotic bartender pour only a single mug, leaving you drinking to your loneliness. I did play a few rounds with strangers, but found communication was highly dependent on how said strangers felt about a new guest to their crew. One mission saw me going astray to pick up some extra gold, only to find that the rest of the gang had left me alone far into the other side of the map to fend for myself. In space, no one can hear you scream out of frustration. 

So while it’s not the most perfect game to get just for your lonesome, anyone with three pals looking for some solid co-op mania should not pass on this. It’s got a few odd design choices and bugs here and there, but what it achieves in mood and addictive mechanics puts it in a class of its own.

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