When it comes to the various games we play, depth is often confused with complexity. Having access to dozens of load-outs, massive lists of customisation options, stats to pour over, countless changes in scenery – nice elements sure, but stuff that won’t make up for design goals and concepts executed poorly. For the small team behind Deep Rock Galactic at Ghost Ship Games, the initial idea was to create a co-op experience that drew inspiration from Minecraft and Left 4 Dead. That is, a simple genre and stylistic mash-up that could potentially lead to something.
Without this knowledge heading in, the most striking impression that hits right after playing Deep Rock Galactic is just how well its simple setup and premise works. How the combination of mining and fending off hordes of alien bugs in a fashion reminiscent of the zombie swarms seen in Valve’s classic feels unlike anything else. But still very much based on stuff we’ve seen and done before in the digital space. Even the setting feels somewhat like a mashup, dwarves in space mining for ore in dangerous caves. When viewed as a whole, Deep Rock Galactic is just about the poster child for a simple idea executed well.
Execution, especially in the co-op space, accounts for quite a lot. And on that front what the team at Ghost Ship has managed to create with Deep Rock Galactic is perhaps the finest slice of immersive co-op action and exploration we’ve seen in years. There is of course complexity and depth to be found, Deep Rock Galactic is as far from Pong as any videogame of the past few decades. But the general flow of a mission beneath the surface follows a pattern of exploration, mining, and combat even if the goal is to source x amount of shiny green Morkite or find and destroy a pair of Dreadnoughts.
“The most striking impression that hits right after playing Deep Rock Galactic is just how well its simple setup and premise works."
The mad dash to your team’s drop pod at the end of a run becomes an exercise in pure tension, where trying to get back to your orbiting ship relatively unscathed, ready to do it all again, recalls some of the more hectic moments from Left 4 Dead. On the account of the big-beards at corporate being more interested in your haul than your livelihood.
With this blend of exploration, mining, and combat no single aspect takes precedent over another – with various Hazard levels to choose from, a mission can be as intense and nerve racking as you want it to be. Calling Deep Rock Galactic immersive isn’t a simple descriptor, and sure that’s a word we’ve thrown around quite a bit, but a key part of Deep Rock’s appeal is its presentation. A look and feel that is intrinsically tied to the mechanics and the three pillars mentioned above.
From that first moment you disembark into a pitch-black cave, throw a flare, and see it bring light to an uncharted part of the universe, to discovering a strange object sending off some-kind of signal, to walking through a tunnel and hearing an ambient synth line fill the void with a hint of John Carpenter-style dread and wonder.
There’s an abundance of awe (and ore) in Deep Rock Galactic, on par with the precious minerals you’ll end up depositing into your trusty robotic companion called Molly. From sound design to music to animation and mood, this is sci-fi that wears its inspiration on its rolled-up sleeves whilst tipping a cap to the inherent fun and silliness that comes from a co-operative experience shared with others. Fans of Aliens, The Terminator, and The Thing will catch or hear glimpses of those classics whilst being absorbed in the mysterious world and purposely vague lore of Deep Rock Galactic.
We’re talking progression that leads to new beard and hair-styles to purchase – where you’ll not only be excited to finally deck out your dwarven miner in new duds, but casually wonder how something so simple could feel like a reward worthy of hours spent in the trenches and chasms deep below the surface. The answer to that is a lot like that saying about journeys and destinations, where playing and completing a mission or Deep Dive is reward in an of itself. Perks to equip and weapon modifications and rare gear to find are all great incentives, as is reaching the “end-game” but the magic found in Deep Rock Galactic is that it always keeps you in the moment, in its world, and invested in every swing of your trusty space age pick-axe.
Supporting up to four players Deep Rock Galactic offers the same variety in the different flavours of playable Space Dwarves you choose from – classes that feature their own abilities like grappling hooks, platform generators, turrets, flare guns, and more. The synergy between any two combinations or three or all four is at the sort of level a marketing guru would kill for. Although playable solo, Deep Rock Galactic shines brightest when played with others. Like any great co-op experience teamwork compliments the design and vice versa.
“Fans of Aliens, The Terminator, and The Thing will catch or hear glimpses of those classics whilst being absorbed in the mysterious world and purposely vague lore of Deep Rock Galactic."
Environments are entirely destructible too and with missions taking place beneath the surface in various caves (across several different biomes) each mission is a blend of hand-crafted rooms and structures and procedural generation. To put that in more simple terms, even after Expedition Numbero 30 our mindset was still firmly in the realm of exploration – wondering what might be down that hole or through that tunnel. Taking a moment or two to survey immediate flare-lit surroundings with concern and hope in our little dwarven eyes. The result is seamless and the often-stunning sights you’ll see make the randomised side of DRG something of an achievement.
Okay, so that’s probably the underlying theme of this review – Deep Rock Galactic is a co-op masterpiece. No matter the aspect, you can feel the thought and care that has gone into its creation. It’s full of wonderful little touches too, like being able to see all the spent flares if you find yourself back-tracking or wondering if you’ve been this way before. Banter between the various classes that is not only amusing but endearing. With the final 1.0 retail version now available, it may have taken Ghost Ship Games some time to get to this point (after quite a bit of time in Early Access) but the result is still remarkable.
Playing over the past month there has already been a post-launch update that adds new secondary mission objectives and new structures and cave styles to discover in existing biomes. In the coming months new biomes and mission types are set to emerge, and the passionate community surrounding the game is both welcoming and friendly. Ready to share a drink at the bar, and more than ready to tackle the multi-stage and very cool Deep Dives that become available once you promote your very first miner.
You might think that darkened caves, bugs swarms attacking out of nowhere, and vast tunnels to explore might sound a little claustrophobic or even bland but the tone here is as light and inviting as it is drenched in sci-fi goodness.
“Deep Rock Galactic is a co-op masterpiece. No matter the aspect, you can feel the thought and care that has gone into its creation."
And when things become intense, and the soundtrack begins to increase the intensity and chord range of its chunky synth lines, the heart pounding sense of dread creeps in just enough for Deep Rock to flirt a little with some of the genre’s darker edges. Of course, drinking a pint before each mission at the bar and then throwing the empty mug at one of your crew’s heads and emoting with a positive message about rocks and stones and brotherhood, is reason enough to give this a go and take the plunge.