Strictly cooperative multiplayer titles are not as common as those that focus on competition, much less on the gameplay mechanics that have traditionally been reserved for solo play. This is the case of Deep Rock Galactic, a cooperative multiplayer game with 4 players where the main goal is to go on an adventure in mines to collect materials and escape in one piece from the local extraterrestrial threat. While the levels generated by the procedure are initially engaging and the different character classes work well together, the gameplay loop begins to become obsolete long before reaching the endgame and prestige levels. Although it has a solid foundation, this cheaper game will largely appeal to a very specific type of player.
The title doesn’t have a lot of history. The basic configuration is that you are a dwarf miner who works for the Deep Rock Galactic Company, and your only task is to visit various places and extract minerals. There is a kind of boss who sometimes communicates with you on the radio, mainly to give you instructions or to congratulate you on your success. But for the most part, you simply live the life of a resource gatherer without much flair and storytelling, going mission by mission.
Access your character
But more importantly, there are also computer stations from which you can access your character enhancements, benefits, visual customization options and other menus. When you are ready, you enter the drilling rig and its descent to the planetary surface. As the level begins, players emerge into a series of randomly generated caves where they explore, mine and complete objectives.
One of the strengths of Deep Rock Galactic is the procedurally generated levels. You could end up in one of the different biomes – sand, rock, volcanic, etc. – which offer different visual styles and occasional gameplay differences such as radiation crystals, flame wells and blowers. Although it takes place underground, the game still has wind storms and rain, which remains unexplained. Another key aspect is that all of these caves are devoid of light, so players carry unlimited but short-lived light sticks to help light the world. These little kinds of revelations continue to be engaging throughout.
To explore these caves, players have a pickaxe that allows them to destroy everything in sight. It takes between one and three hits to break anything, and you can tunnel in any direction. Your objective depends on the type of mission, but generally there is a lot of mining work involved in obtaining materials or creating paths to the ceiling or in steep falls. Players have limited inventory, so they bring a mobile robot that stores team equipment for the mission, called MULE. Although repetitive, the mining aspect does not become frustrating, especially depending on the type of class you play and if you have other players next door who can work together to greatly expand the crossing options. To facilitate navigation, there is a 3D topographic map of your immediate environment, but it does not show where you have already explored.
Creating zip lines
The driller has a reinforced electric drill, which allows him to do anything much faster than using a pickaxe. The Gunner is capable of creating zip lines between two locations, and the Scout has a grab for fast crossing in all directions, as well as a useful Flare Gun that shoots bright and long-lasting light sources. Each of these tools is sufficient for personal use, but when
The driller has a flame or an ice cannon to control the crowd, as well as schoolbag loads and grenades. The engineer has decoy grenades to keep the enemy distracted, while he builds automated turrets and shoots the enemy with a shotgun. The machine gunner contains a large minigun, a cluster grenade and a temporary shield generator that enemies cannot enter. Finally, the Scout has two assault rifles and a grenade which slows down enemies.
Despite all of these available tools, the Deep Rock Galactic fight is messy and unsatisfactory. The game balances the size of the enemy according to the number of players in a mission and also the difficulty selected. At lower levels, enemies don’t pose much threat – all players have a rechargeable shield that runs out before your health. To restore health, you need to find and extract red crystals. Interestingly, despite so many gadgets and weapons for combat, there is no healer class, so you will be doing a lot of circles with enemies popping up from the ground everywhere. But on higher difficulties, the number of enemies becomes overwhelming, so players resort to cheaper things like zipping back and forth,
It’s not much fun to be faced with a huge swarm of bugs, to have to resuscitate constantly and run desperately, shooting in the drip of enemies. Dead enemies leave a ruined body for a few moments, adding to the mess. There is also little enemy variety between biomes, as you will be repeatedly faced with the same bugs, and therefore the fight doesn’t change, just their health and attack strength. Players will also often run out of ammo, especially on higher difficulties. To replenish, you need to extract a certain mineral and then call supply pods.
To help players better prepare for combat, you can improve the equipment of your characters. These upgrades require materials and a certain level of experience – that’s why you do all this mining. Improvements focus mainly on expanding the available ammo and stopping power of your equipment. There is also a benefit system, for which you earn points by completing certain milestones, such as completing a number of missions, eliminating a specific amount of enemies, etc. The perks have to be equipped and you will have more perks available than can be used at the same time, thus promoting the idea of various loads rather than a single all-powerful character. Benefits can be active, such as gravity boots, or being able to delay your death for a few seconds, and passive, such as faster movement and dealing damage to enemies. One of the benefits is being able to turn an enemy bug into a friend – a strange choice given the messy nature of the fight and the amount of friendly fire even between dwarfs, not to mention something that looks like the enemy.
Five types of missions
All these actions and mines take place in one of the five types of missions. All missions indicate their approximate length and complexity, so you pretty much know the type of cave you will be exploring. They also have a secondary purpose, which simply means collecting rare minerals. Mining expeditions are simple and simply require players to collect a certain amount of specific material. Egg hunts are somewhat similar in that they require players to extract a number of eggs hidden in the caves.
With Salvage Operation, players locate and repair two mini-MULES, which lead them to a crushed drop pod, which must then be repaired and defended when enemy waves attack. In point mining, players have only one large cave, where they have to extract special shiny gems and bring them back to the central mining platform. Gems emit their locations via blue light, so you know where to dig. After extracting the gems, you must again defend the mining platform from enemy waves. Finally, the elimination missions simply make you eliminate up to three large and powerful Dreadnought bosses. Usefully, your map shows the location of targets in Egg Hunt, Salvage Operation and Elimination, so that you do not walk long in the caves. At the end of each mission, you must also go to an evacuation capsule placed randomly within five minutes.
Make your mission
Crossing and mining are best done with other players, as the game presents itself as a first cooperative experience. To this end, the walk-in cooperative works very well, because you can choose to make your mission deployment private or public. You can also join other minors, via a server browser or a quick join; filtering makes it possible to sort the types of difficulty and mission. To be successful, only one miner must go to the escape basket at the end. Players generally tend to work together, even when no one is using the available voice or text chat. The loading times are very fast.
Although the game supports solo play, it turns out to be quite boring. With a single dwarf, your movement and gathering speed is much more limited, so it can turn basic missions such as mining expeditions into boring business longer than 40 minutes. You get a floating AI companion who can extract stuff high up on the walls and shoot certain enemies, but things still take much longer. It can also revive you only a few times, when players don’t have such a limit. The biggest enemies also all have a weak spot on their behind, which is obviously more annoying to hit when no other player can distract them.
Despite a solid foundation, the gameplay loop of Deep Rock Galactic ages quite quickly. It’s the kind of game where you’ve seen all it has to offer in the first ten hours, and even if you’re joined by players who have extremely high profile levels and who have obviously spent more than a hundred hours at play, their experience is very similar to yours.
The game guides
To give players a little more drive, there is an assignment board that gives you goals or reasons to keep playing through the same five missions over and over again. At first, the game guides you to level up each of the four character classes so you can unlock their alternate primary and secondary weapons and more grenade options. It also provides an objective to level up your overall account and, possibly, to give you a weekly set of missions to perform, all in the name of resources.
Long-term goals include conquering higher difficulties and participating in difficult deep dives, which are three missions chained and randomly generated only once; which means that if you fail and try again, the layout will stay the same. After gaining enough XP for each character class, you can promote them (prestige system) which gives you a visual icon and an additional location, access to deep dives and brings you back to level 1.
But the loop is still dull. Sure, there are sometimes random events that happen – like falling on coordinates that lead to a new weapon skin, or encountering a mighty hostile robot – but these are minor diversions. Missions can also get random modifiers, which make them more difficult by changing enemy abilities, or more useful by offering additional gold or XP. However, at the end of the day, you do the same things over and over again – facing higher difficulty from enemies doesn’t change much from moment to moment.
The game has a pleasant artistic style. The crystals and materials glow attractively in the dark and the visual effects can be used. The triangular surfaces that can be distorted and that you will look at a lot are of quite low resolution, but that makes the game work without any hiccups. The designs and textures of the dwarf characters are not too detailed, but they work well for this type of game. As mentioned, you gain new skins for weapons and armor, and can buy visual customizations such as beards, hats, etc. The audio design is sufficient, offering ambient noise during general exploration and kicking a song during combat.
Deep Rock Galactic offers
Deep Rock Galactic offers an initial promise, with various characters and abilities, dark and mysterious caves that are randomly generated, and unique traversal and exploration mechanisms to keep players engaged. But soon enough, you realize that long-term goals are not very attractive, and missions start to develop quite repetitively. You’ll be able to see most of the basic gameplay loop in the early hours, and while it can be fun to tap into with others, there just isn’t enough hook here to keep playing very long term, which is most games in this genre sucks. However, thanks to its lower asking price, Deep Rock Galactic may be worth a shot.
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