Somewhere between Borderlands, Minecraft and other popular games from the 2010’s lies the premise of Deep Rock Galactic; a co-op exploration mining game with plenty of progression and upgrade systems. This is a game teenage me would have been absolutely desperate to play. And luckily, it’s great.
Everything from the weapons to the abilities to the environmental design seems to have been created with co-op in mind, right from the very start. Nothing accentuates this more than the class system. There are four major classes in Deep Rock Galactic, with different ways of customizing them. You are a Dwarf hired by Deep Rock Galactic, and as such your team layout is optimised to have a Driller, Engineer, Gunner, and Scout. The Driller, as the name suggests, is designed to drill through rock to get to better or more valuable loot and is kitted out with the equipment to back that up. This pairs well with the Engineer – a low HP class that can summon sentry guns that are good for defending a set point. The Gunner is a high DPS badass who can also summon a shield around an area, useful in tandem with the Engineer. These are all brought together with the Scout who favours high speed and can light up areas for an extended period of time.
There are four main classes but actually five main characters in Deep Rock Galactic. Whenever items are collected, they must be deposited in BET-C (nicknamed Betsy), a robot pack mule that follows commands. Although you and three other friends fill a team, Betsy often feels like a full character as you personify little traits. In this sense, the same can be said of all the classes. On the surface, they are devices used to equip the player with tools, but they become much more, and this is seen through the actions you take or the missions you complete. Whether you take it seriously or joke around, this is something that becomes central to your character.
Light is also a central mechanic in Deep Rock Galactic. If you don’t light up the area around you well enough, you can miss valuable items or get ambushed by hordes of enemies. Each character has lights they can throw that regenerate over time, but the darkness is combated best when a team communicates and efficiently shares. Deep Rock Galactic has a multitude of micromanagement opportunities throughout, often displaced by the innate goofiness of its central design. For every objective that is “complete this hard level” there is another for riding Betsy for 15 seconds with the full team whilst shooting enemies. For every “upgrade this perk tree” there’s another for scoring 3000 points with 100 shots of kicking a barrel into a hoop. This is another such thing that brings back memories of Borderlands. Deep Rock Galactic does not take itself very seriously and I’d urge you to do the same.
This isn’t the only strange familiarity that Deep Rock Galactic has with shooters. Running and gunning with the Scout and a double-barrelled shotgun brought out memories of playing Doom 2016. This is only further accentuated by the quick mantle system and rather floaty movement mechanics. However, despite the similarities I’ve brought up, it’s fair to say that Deep Rock Galactic feels like its own beast. It has familiar ideas but feels unique within its genre. And much of that is due to the brilliance of the gameplay, which is for the most part split into two ideas: the mining and the killing.
At the start of each mission, you are given requirements and bonus objectives for each mission to declare it finished. These are achieved by mining deeper into the level and finding precious resources, using your pick-axe on ores, grabbing fossils, or punching your way through viscera to find alien eggs. There’s often a pulsating grossness to most of the levels in the form of cysts in the earth, eyeballs grown out of rocks or the general grotesque nature of enemies. After a while of searching, those enemies often come in waves to take you out before allowing you to concentrate on finishing the mission.
It is this which brings one to the combat. The combat is punchy and satisfying with an equally amusing sound design. The pop or squish of a powerful creature is a very rewarding way to finish a wave of enemies. This is made much better in co-op as you, and three teammates, face off against a seemingly endless horror to narrowly win. The final part of your mission is a combination of all ideas; after you successfully find what you’re looking for, you must make your way to the extraction point in time or you are left behind. Riding Betsy to glory as you escape the depths of a particularly tough cave is one of the greatest feelings in all of Deep Rock Galactic.
This all being said, there are some issues Deep Rock Galactic has – nothing that ruins the experience but bits and pieces that are enough to hold it back somewhat. Whilst the base gameplay loop and general presentation are great, the mission structure and environments do get a little repetitive. Most of the environments past the first main stages feel rather similar, barring a few standout levels, and a lot of the mission structure is of a fairly similar feeling, like an A to B mission without much thought past that. This isn’t too worrying in the opening hours but it could certainly harm the longevity of the game in the long run. There are things to earn such as the promotion system at level 25, and one could argue that this might help with that longevity, but that remains to be seen for now.
Deep Rock Galactic on Xbox One is a game with obvious appeal. It is punchy, funny and a blast with friends. The environments and mission structures do become a bit repetitive but the moment to moment gameplay is fantastic. If you are looking for a “blow off steam” game to play with friends, Deep Rock Galactic has you covered.