Twelve years ago, Left 4 Dead popularized a very specific format of first person shooters. With only four people, players needed to hack and shoot their way through objectives; which sounds simple but created a solid core of gameplay that almost deserves to be its own genre.
Since then, other games have followed in the wake of Left 4 Dead such as the Vermintide series and Strange Brigade. Deep Rock Galactic from Ghost Ship Games joins the legacy Left 4 Dead brought to the mainstream, and brings a fresh twist with its mining and terrain controlling techniques.
Deep Rock Galactic
Developer: Ghost Ship Games
Publisher: Coffee Stain Publishing
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release May 13, 2020
Deep Rock Galactic has inconsistent graphics, but that’s not a bad thing since it accommodates the game’s unique terrain mechanics. Terrain that can be broken or mined is low-poly in order to make it obvious that it can be dug into.
In contrast, care is taken with objects like the pumps, hoses, drills, and other tools; things that won’t be broken beneath dwarven strength of arm and explosives. The dwarves themselves are kind of in between in terms of quality, but this is made up for with the sheer amount of cosmetics that need to be considered.
Weapons are also customizable, with multiple paint jobs and details. The amount of detail Ghost Ship Games put into the machinery, objects, and cosmetics cannot be understated.
Lighting is another important factor in Deep Rock Galactic. Every stage is completely dark save for ambient flora or crystals that give some minor vision. The game handles light sources well and in particular moving light sources and shadows are fluid with no harsh impact on frame rate.
Deep Rock Galactic is a squad based, first-person shooter with a wide variety of missions and biomes. Players will take their squad of dwarves into the deepest recesses of Hoxxes IV to bring back resources for the proud dwarven people.
Players choose one of four classes for each mission, and only one of each can be present on a mission. The Driller is a digging specialist with two arm-mounted drills for fast digging, that excels at close range fights with his flamethrower. The Engineer is relatively weak on his own, but can build up a sentry turret. His platform gun makes flat surfaces out of dirt on the walls for hard-to-reach spots.
The Gunner is a hard hitting tank with a highly accurate minigun. His zipline gun makes permanent ziplines to help dwarves over chasms and up slopes. Finally, the Scout is weak but nimble. His main contributions are his grappling hook (which lets him reach difficult places on his own) and his special flare gun (to make permanent light in an area).
All dwarves share a few same basic tools like their pickaxe for harvesting resources and sculpting terrain, and their personal flares. Flares are a rechargeable resource that lights up an area after being tossed to help the dwarves see ahead. These flares are different from The Scout’s flare gun, as they lose their luminescence in a minute or so.
Mission types include gathering Morkite, salvaging equipment from failed missions, pumping liquid Morkite, and more. Though in the way of the dwarves are the Glyphid and Mactera swarms, alongside other species of giant insect.
Enemies come in wide varieties, and need to be handled in different ways. For instance Mactera Goo Bombers need to have their goo sacks shot out, or else they’ll flail when they die and create a lot of dangerous terrain. Meanwhile Glyphid Oppressors are only vulnerable on their backs.
In addition to fighting off enemies, players will need to use the tools at their disposal to get the resources they need. In particular, resources hidden deep in the ground will need to be dug out. Resources high up will need The Gunner’s zipline or The Scout’s grappling hook.
With a wide variety of missions and randomly generated stages, Deep Rock Galactic maintains its replayability many hours into it. The use of unlockable cosmetics and weapon upgrades gives even veteran players something to keep striving for.
Players will always be on the lookout for special upgrade materials. The thrill of building a large haul to take back at the end of a mission grows as the mission progresses, and climaxes in the escape portion at the end of each mission.
Upgrades are minor buffs and not at all necessary to perform well, but it makes the collection of credits and resources feel more meaningful. Becoming a better miner and a more reliable companion will give veteran players a feeling of accomplishment.
Players also earn perk points based on their achievements in game. Perks can provide solid bonuses and new abilities that are useful in game; such as faster recovery, hover boots, or a berserker rage.
Though perks are shared across all characters, the only thing that isn’t are cosmetics and gear upgrades. Cosmetics are locked behind the overall account level, meanwhile it will take playing each and every class to unlock the class-specific gear upgrades.
Experience is earned for each mission and account experience is based on your combined levels across all classes. When playing multiplayer you won’t always get your preferred class, as selection is on a “first come first serve” basis. This means you have to either find a lobby with your preferred class unclaimed, or make your own lobby if you want to play a specific character.
Players can invest hours in upgrading equipment, collecting cosmetics, and earning in-game credits. This might sound grindy, but there’s a fine line between grindy and replayability, which Deep Rock Galactic falls on the right side of.
Deep Rock Galactic is fully voiced, though there’s not much dialogue in the first place. Exposition and warnings are given by an ugly dwarf at Mission Control, who’s constantly watching monitors to warn players of incoming swarms of enemies, or inform them of the current status of their mission.
Each dwarf has their own voice for making callouts, and calling for help when grabbed by certain enemies or downed. Otherwise the dwarves don’t speak very much themselves.
The stages are accompanied by ambient music that matches the biome the mission takes place in. Which is usually pretty subdued until enemies appear then it becomes frantic.
Rather than the stage music, during the ending phase of a mission the dwarves have only a limited time to return to their dropship. Once the timer starts, the music becomes this dramatic synthwave melody.
It ebbs and flows, with the expected intensity for the situation. That of blue collar space dwarves fighting their way through a horde of bugs to get back home.
The story of Deep Rock Galactic is at present not very deep, in fact it might never be deeper than it appears but it has potential. The crew is employed by the eponymous Deep Rock Galactic corporation in charge of retrieving resources from the hostile planet Hoxxes IV.
The corporation itself is very straight-laced and mysterious. Mission Control is constantly monitoring the going-ons of the crew, and seems to have little issue with throwing away lives and expensive equipment in the pursuit of Morkite and other alien resources.
There are hints of a deeper story, but the game doesn’t need to pursue it. What story does exist serves its purpose just fine as a rationalization for the gameplay, and Deep Rock Galactic isn’t any worse for not exploring more of its setting.
Ultimately, Deep Rock Galactic is a fantastic game for those who like Left 4 Dead or games like it. The squad based missions are infinitely more fun with friends though, and similar to Sea of Thieves the game is more enjoyable with others.
For those wanting a semi-casual squad-based shooter, Deep Rock Galactic is the way to go. What could be better than grabbing a few friends, picking the blue-collar beardling of your choice, and putting in an honest day’s work moving dirt and squishing bugs?
Deep Rock Galactic was reviewed on Windows PC using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.