The Xbox Game Preview and Steam Early Access schemes are all well and good, but unless you’re a developer who has plenty of ambition for your game, then it’s probably best to just run down the full release route.

In regards Deep Rock Galactic though, early access seems the optimum route for the development team at Coffee Stain Publishing to go down, because not only is it a game that is full of expectation, but it is also hugely ambitious. And all that needs to be tested.

Dwarves, mines, exploration and combat. Four things that quite obviously go together seamlessly. Or at least Coffee Stain think they do and as long as they can progress the game with the same love that is obvious by those who have already taken time with this procedurally generated explore-em-up, then things are looking very good indeed.

As it stands we’re looking at a first person shooter-cum-open world explorer in which you and some like-minded mates get sent deep underground in order to come back with loot and gems. Lots and lots of loot and even more gems. With a pickaxe in one hand, and a variety of weapons and gadgets in the other, you’ll be left to bash and smash your way around fully destructible huge cave networks, all filled with ripe exploration opportunities. With a robot mule happily following you around and eager to keep hold of any minerals you can find, you’ll need to be careful with your progress because once you’ve hit specific objectives, a time limit kicks in and you’re left to retrace your steps and head on back. Fail to do so, and you’ll be left to fight for your life against all manner of alien creatures with little chance of making it home.

Whilst we’re still looking at the early days of this game, Deep Rock Galactic is already a huge amount of fun, but only really if you can coerce three mates in to heading underground with you. For whilst it is an alright game alone, with an AI bot happily listening to your orders and helping out where possible, it is when you get a group of Dwarven miners together do we see the mining operation get really exciting.

And that fun all kicks off well before you get to go mining as choosing your miner type, their look, their weaponry, deciding upon your missions and just walking around the home hub dancing away to groovy jukebox sounds is almost as much of a laugh as the action itself.

With an array of miners available, all of whom bring something slightly different to proceedings, heading into the darkness of the procedurally generated caves that Deep Rock Galactic creates can become a thoroughly deep and engaging experience. The Driller, the Engineer, the Scout and the Gunner will all need to work together, utilising different skills, gadgets and weaponry in order to uncover the most precious minerals from the darkest depths of the Planet Hoxxes. No matter whether you take the gatling gun, flamethrower, portable platform launcher or something else, you’ll feel that you’re most definitely a part of a ‘team’.

Digging, mining and exploring is well defined – albeit of fairly slow progress until you get to grips with exactly what is required of you – and once you begin to come across the swarms of enemies that populate the mines, the fighting is fast, intense and pretty damn manic… especially should you work well as a team.

All that said, it can be hugely confusing as to where to go, and what to do next, and I really do feel that the map system needs a major overhaul, just in order for it to be of any real use. With you wandering around in near pitch darkness, with just thrown flares helping light the way, this is no more true than when trying to use your navigational skills in order to make your way back to the safety of your drop-pod, with your bounty intact.

I’ve got high hopes for Deep Rock Galactic though and am keen to see how Coffee Stain and Ghost Ship Games progress things during the Game Preview stages with further updates and enhancements for the game. With various regions, a big difference in cave difficulties and sizes, clever mining opportunities and a huge amount of humour all currently present, as far as a co-op game goes, it’s great fun.

It does need a few more options though, as the mission types present are severely limited, with any potential Dwarven explorers needing to be able to set aside a decent chunk of time in order to really enjoy what it brings – especially should they wish to go deep with the larger mines. Deep Rock Galactic is quite obviously something that just needs time in order to start to flourish.

Whilst solo players may well struggle to find too much enthusiasm, as much of the fun of Deep Rock is found in watching your mining mates struggle in battle, fall down holes, stumble upon huge quantities of minerals or just dancing around the jukebox, groups of gamers should keep an eye on its progression.

The Xbox Game Preview system isn’t something that should be used by all developers, but Deep Rock Galactic is made for it.