A co-op shooter about space dwarves mining, drinking, and blasting aliens across diverse underground levels with a variety of explosives and other heavy weaponry is a premise that gets my beard twitching before I’ve even strapped a helmet on – and Deep Rock Galactic delivers on it beautifully. Aside from occasional network issues, there was rarely a moment that I wasn’t having a blast with its exciting, objective-based missions and deep progression systems.
Deep Rock Galactic puts you in the employ of a hilariously corrupt space mining collective of the same name, and it doesn’t really care if you or your dwarf buds survive your next delve into the fully deformable cavernous depths of planet Hoxxas or not – as long as they can turn a profit. One of the various mission types even involves going in to retrieve the equipment from a team that was wiped out on a dig so the company isn’t losing more than a few expendable lives. The jabs at corporate greed remind me of the style of humor in Fallout and The Outer Worlds, and they’re always good for a chuckle.It’s not all laughs once you exit the drop pod deep below the surface of Hoxxas, though. In these deep, dark holes, lighting is an obstacle that creates both a deliciously oppressive mood and interesting resource management. Your headlamp doesn’t do you a lot of good unless something is right in front of your face, so you have to manage a limited supply of flares to even be able to see what you’re doing. And darkness isn’t the only hazard: Hoxxas is brimming with freaky insectoid foes both large and small that don’t appreciate all the racket you’re kicking up.
Mowing down these creepy crawly hordes is a riot, with special bug types like armored praetorians and sneaky grabbers forcing you to change up your tactics and make use of the environment to your advantage. They come at you in waves with just the right amount of breathing room after each one, striking a great tempo between moments of tense, spooky solitude and adrenaline-pumping action. It just works, in the same way that the best parts of Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise do.
Racking up a body count by itself isn’t enough to come out ahead.
My favorite way Deep Rock Galactic differentiates itself from other horde shooters is the movement abilities each of the four dwarf classes can deploy. The heavily-armed Gunner has a zipline launcher that can make a reusable cable bridge between two distant points. The Engineer, in addition to being able to place powerful turrets, can spawn climbable platforms to help with getting around the huge, vertical arenas. The nimble scout has the most personal mobility thanks to a grappling gun, but can’t help his teammates as much as the others. Your squad needs to cleverly combine these abilities to access hard-to-reach objectives and avoid getting outmaneuvered in tough fights, and it’s really satisfying to find new ways to do so in the heat of the moment.
Racking up a body count by itself isn’t enough to come out ahead, either. Each delve has a non-combat objective from mining a certain amount of a rare ore to stealing alien eggs. These create interesting tactical puzzles, since the dwarves focusing on the objectives usually can’t focus on defending themselves and have to rely on their friends. It is possible to play solo, and the corporate overlords will even let you borrow a small combat drone to make it less of a chore. But Deep Rock Galactic definitely shines brightest in a four-player group.
It’s a little bit unfortunate, on that note, that I didn’t find the multiplayer experience to be entirely seamless. About one in every five missions, I’d run into connection issues that could cause other players to lag severely and disconnect. That’s never fun.
The sense of camaraderie you’ll develop plumbing the depths is only enhanced by the comically grimy hang-out spot that is the space station you’ll retire to after a mission, whether it be successful or not so successful. It’s equipped with everything a dwarf could need, including a robot bartender from whom you can buy a round for the crew before kicking a few barrels into an industrial incinerator in a basketball-like minigame to blow off some steam. It feels homey and lived-in, with lots of little details like interactive bobbleheads and a hall of statues and posters that you can unlock as you level up your dwarves.
Gritty, claustrophobic sound design enhances the subterranean vibe.
The whole visual style of the station and Hoxxas below shows a strong sense of identity, with sharp-edged polygons and muted, earthy base colors accented and by bright points of interest like your colorful flairs and the neon, glowing weak spots on certain enemies. Gritty, claustrophobic sound design enhances the subterranean vibe as the distant chittering of unseen enemies echoes through spacious chambers and cramped corridors. The voice acting is almost painfully cheesy sometimes, with the gunner taking the prize for the worst fake Scottish accent I’ve heard since Mel Gibson. But the clink of your pickaxe is weighty and satisfying, your weapons all feature gleefully tactile clicks and booms, and sometimes I can’t help but smile hearing a gruff dwarf excitedly shout some silly catchphrase like, “Rock and stone forever!”
Deep Rock Galactic’s progression system is extensive, allowing you to customize your dwarf both mechanically and visually. Starting off as a clean-shaven newbie, you’ll have to earn your big, bushy beard and a variety of other cosmetic options. Achievements like killing a certain number of bugs or completing a certain number of missions will also give you perk points that you can spend on skills like increased run speed, or the ability to trigger a powerful EMP after you’re knocked out by enemies. And your guns, armor, and gear can be upgraded in a multitude of ways using cold, hard cash extracted from the mines.
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Maxing out a class allows you to “promote” them, a prestige system that resets their level but keeps everything you’ve already unlocked and allows you to go on the multi-mission endgame Deep Dives with even higher risks and rewards. Along the way you’ll be able to accept assignments from the company, asking you to complete a specific set of missions to unlock cool stuff like alternate primary weapons. There are plenty of milestones to keep a dedicated player happy for hundreds of hours, and the delves themselves are enjoyable enough on their own that I could see myself putting in that kind of time.
Deep Rock Galactic is the best kind of four-player co-op game. The combat is fast and exciting, with tons of interesting synergies to find between the four distinct playable classes. The objectives on the various missions are wide-ranging enough to keep things interesting, but straightforward enough that a new player could drop in and get the hang of it pretty quickly. You can absolutely have a blast and find success with a level-one, un-upgraded dwarf, but there’s tons of room to develop your skills and customize your look if you’re willing to put in the time. Raise a tankard! This one’s a winner.