If the phrase ‘mine-happy smurfs’ doesn’t bring waking nightmares of Rainbow Six: Siege to your underdeveloped mind, it’s likely you have noticed Deep Rock Galactic floating around on Youtube and Mixer. DRG now gets a public early-access release after an extended set of closed alpha and beta tests.

Digging a Little Deeper

Mineral-rich Hoxxes IV is chosen for mineral exploitation by a faceless corporation who care little for the well-being of their freelance employees. I actually work somewhere like that.

Hoxxes is so hazardous that only a race of dwarves will brave its dank, labyrinthine caverns and alien onslaughts. Up to four players can tackle any of the procedurally-generated dungeons with a free-choice of four classes of miner. Each of the classes comes with various ways to defend themselves along with a pick-axe and some flares for lighting.

Mining Maguffin Manically

The maguffin is the collection of ‘morkite’ scattered across the tidally-locked and conveniently geologically diverse Hoxxes IV. Players will have their scanners equipped as much their guns as they search the caves for deposits and clay areas to dig through to the next hall of riches. There are also other objectives like collecting fossils or other minerals and ores.

Your faithful M.U.L.E is a thankfully capable AI companion into which players dump their mineral load. The M.U.L.E also lays lamps that serve as a breadcrumb trail for the trek to the drop pod at the end.

The beginning of the end of an expedition

A helper drone comes along for the solo runs can be directed to scratch at hard to reach spots using the scanner. This takes some of the stress out of mining but it leaves a little bit behind as a penalty for your laziness/friendlessness.

The scout Flinging extra light around the caverns is not that special seeing as all classes carry a maximum of three flares at a time

Class Theory…

EliteGamer.com spoke to DRG director Mikkel Martin Pedersen at last year’s Gamescom in Köln and he was keen to point out the double-edged sword of co-op play. While the ideal of four diverse adults co-oping their way politely through the game is nice when it actually happens, it’s more likely you will have three unmic’d strangers picking whichever character can they cheese with easiest. This will still happen in Deep Rock Galactic but it won’t matter as much.

Detonation pack mid-performance

The Gunner class is obviously packing heat along with a detonation pack for quick excavation. Playing alone or as a duo will make surviving a bit easier but make the whole mission a lot longer.

The Driller has a giant drill and a detonation pack to chew through terrain. They also carry a flamethrower which can wreck in the right hands.

Rocking out at the jukebox

The Engineer can set up usable heavy gun-turrets, auto-turrets and spam ziplines for ease of movement. The Engineer’s shotgun and grenade-launcher are good with grouped hordes but vulnerable to fast attacks from different angles.

The Scout brings added light to the caverns with his flare gun. His grappling hook can be useful for tricky platforming and his assault rifle means he can hold his own in combat.

Watching strangers throwing Nitra away for unnecessary resupplies has aged me horribly

…In Practice

While Ghost Ship certainly succeeded in balancing certain aspects of play, there are other areas which are not as well measured. For example, the Scout category is a bit useless. Flinging extra light around the caverns is not that special seeing as all classes can fling a maximum of three flares at a time. Gunner is by far the easiest character to complete a mission alone with and given that many will begin Deep Rock Galactic alone, you will be seeing Gunner a lot on your runs.

Brutal

Playing with complete n00bs or the wilfully stupid will definitely not ruin the entire round but it will extend it greatly or waste resources. Waiting for the lost while strapped to the extraction shuttle as the timer counts down will erode what little remains of a player’s faith in humanity. Watching strangers throwing Nitra away for unnecessary resupplies has aged me horribly.

Into the Unknown

The dungeons themselves are thankfully more varied than the objectives and utilise the various materials to foster new varieties of problems to solve. Environmental hazards and the various densities of rock help force some astute platforming or forward-planning in certain situations.

Engineer laying down some platforms

There are different areas on Hoxxes IV to visit which act as randomised and replayable themed zones. Each has differing levels of resources, different terrain layouts and groups of nasties to contend with.

The random nature of the cave generation makes each journey into the underground unique. The engine and procedure by which the maps are made deserve praise for their balance and use of the varying terrain types.

Each round of DRG is fun in its own right

The Price of Progress

Deep Rock Galactic has a progress system to get to grips with. Each miner has upgrades for each part of his load-out. Predictable buffs like larger mags or stronger turrets are designed to make the game slightly easier without breaking the game.

To be fair, he is the most versatile and balanced character

But with no competitive element to the title, it just shortens the time it takes to ‘level up’ in an arbitrary ranking scheme. Each round of DRG is fun in its own right and such obvious attention-extenders only serve to highlight the endless and probably pointless nature of the game’s activities.

Some players will bury themselves in the humdrum life of an expendable miner

Grinding Your Life Away

There is a feeling of futility that festers in my admittedly limited mind while playing the Deep Rock Galactic. Arcade-style games present a pure challenge with a defined yardstick against which one measures their skill. Home-system games tell a story or present an ongoing and emergent challenge. Multiplayer games play off the competitive spirit or the unpredictability of human interaction.

Most people only customise their players to look insane on victim’s screen as they teabag them – you don’t have teabagging here

Deep Rock Galactic doesn’t really do any of those – after playing a few dungeons a player will experience most of what the game has to offer and no amount of skins, levelling or gear upgrades will fix that.

Players will either really dig DRG and bury themselves in the humdrum life of an expendable miner. Or have a few hours fun and shyly switch back to being Spetznaz or a professional footballer elsewhere…

Preview code provided by publisher. Deep Rock Galactic is available now on Windows 10 and Xbox One