Deep Rock Galactic passes you a shotgun, pickaxe and a whole load of flares before pointing at a nearby cavern and suggesting you acquire a quota of particular minerals and ores if you want to keep your job. One more thing, the game says in a voice not entirely unlike J.K. Simmons’, watch out for the giant alien insect creatures that live in these caves, they can get a bit rowdy at you running around drilling hole in their walls and wrecking the furniture they just finished paying off.
I had never heard of the game before, nor any rumblings of its existence until I found myself faced with a 20-foot long dwarf-covered banner and 12 PCs surrounded by a small crowd at the PC Gamer Weekender event in February. “Danger”, the banner cried. “Darkness”. “Dwarves”. Next to it was a dwarf with a gatling gun and a cigar. This was going to be good.
Launching into Early Access today, Deep Rock Galactic sees you and up to three friends onboard the game’s hub — a wonderfully detailed and atmospheric mining ship in orbit around the mineral-rich planet Hoxxes — where you get to choose tools, weapons and outfits for an upcoming mission of your choice.
For now, the Space Rig is limited to private quarters for each player where you can manage your loadout and customisations, as well as a large mission control room featuring a chunky drop pod and a mission select terminal. The game hints at future planned areas including an Armor Station, Medbay, Shooting Range, Treasure Vault and every dwarf’s true home – The Abyss Bar.
Presented as a hologram of the celestial body below, the mission terminal allows you to choose from various caverns across the surface, each containing different types of missions ranging from “collect X of Y mineral” to “collect a bunch of creepy alien eggs without getting torn to shreds”.
I teamed up with Maggie as to take on the dutiful job of hitting glowing rocks with pickaxes.
Deep Rock Galactic presents you with four available classes, each with their own distinct roles and loadouts:
- The Miner: A burly stout fellow equipped with two giant drills strapped to his arms like a couple of tooth-laden, rock-destroying traffic cones, as well as a flamethrower for dealing with unwanted wildlife — good for forging paths through the difficult terrain below.
- The Engineer: A pair of steampunk-esque welding goggles hide his eyes which light up with excitement every time he lays down one of his automated sentry turrets — excellent for establishing perimeters and safe zones.
- The Scout: Who is able to utilise a grappling hook to reach otherwise inaccessible places and traverse the rocky outcrops quickly and efficiently, and has a flare gun to light up the deepest darkest caverns and the horrors that lie within — great for quickly finding mineral veins.
- The Gunner: Who, as is obvious, carries a gigantic minigun to launch barrages of lead at any giant insects that happen to get in his way. This fellow can also establish ziplines for the rest of the team to use — good for superior firepower, and supporting the rest of the team with bullets, and providing means of moving around quickly.
I’m a sucker for automated turrets in every game, support roles are fairly close to cocaine in my eyes — so naturally, I donned the goggles and went for The Engineer; with Maggie choosing to bust up the scenery with drill arms, then set it alight as The Miner.
We selected a simple mining mission with the objective of collecting a certain amount of two specified minerals, leapt into the beautifully mechanical drop pod and plunged into the depths of the planet’s mantle.
Deep Rock Galactic is beautiful. The first thing which greets you when the mechanical doors hiss and grind open — aside from your dwarves shouting obscenities into the void — is the beauty of these caverns. The game paints vast, open spaces, ceilings shrouded in darkness and mist, with mesmerising veins of minerals glowing, glittering and enchanting. The cavernous maws are juxtaposed with tight claustrophobic passages which permeate the rock, stalagmites and stalactites puncturing the space, eerie mineral formations exuding gases and plant life grasping onto the tendrils of existence down in the deep dark.
This stunning vista is occasionally interrupted by crackling radio chatter from the mining ship’s command, instructing us to get to it if we want a paycheck at the end of the day, to be careful of the native population which have way too many teeth and claws, and to look out for a particular type of ore.
Minerals and ore help in your missions in various ways, not just as a win condition; one particular red one will heal you, whilst a slightly different red one will provide you with weapon-based resources, which can be used to call in supply drops and replenish equipment. Everything you mine goes into a pool which the whole team can access, which presumably return to the ship with you and can be used to unlock upgrades, new equipment and such.
We immediately stumbled onto a vein of Glittering Black Stuff, which we apparently needed to mine in order to finish the level, and started hacking away at it. Maggie’s dwarf soon started shouting about not being able to carry more minerals, presumably because he ran out of pockets, and we were instructed to call over Molly, the wonderful Mining Utility Lift-Engine: an adorable crate on legs which can traverse any terrain to reach your team, and allows you to throw any minerals you’ve collected into its seemingly bottomless storage container whilst providing useful illumination to the surrounding area.
After a few minutes, we’d collected enough of the first type of ore — as we whooped about it and how great we’re doing, the Space Rig command suddenly warned us of an incoming swarm: “this is a big one, prepare yourselves and good luck”. No problem, right? I beat a couple of turrets into existence Team Fortress 2 style and got ready to take a nap whilst they introduced the incoming insects to the wonders of lead-based ballistics. The first turret swiveled towards the darkness, having detected one of the critters, and as its flashlight panned over the cavernous walls it illuminated a huge, seething mass of claws and anger pouring down the rock surface, surging towards us practically screaming. The turret threw a few bullets at the mass, which appeared as effective as throwing pebbles into a raging river.
Deep Rock Galactic doesn’t mess around. We both let out simultaneous cries of “oh my god” and started panic-throwing everything we have at them. I launched grenades as quickly as little stubby dwarven arms are able to, while Maggie attempted to spray the horde with napalm which served only to transform the raging, screaming mass into a raging, screaming inferno utterly undeterred in their berserk charge, which… really kinda made the whole situation worse.
Turrets were running out of bullets, flaming corpses blocked Maggie’s ability to set the fallen insect’s brethren alight, and I was reduced to unloading a shotgun shell into one giant bug whilst lunging at the three that took its place with my pickaxe.
We heard a roar in the middle distance, as a green glow throbbed and pulsated over the nearby rocky outcrop; fearing the worst, I chucked a flare in its direction whilst expending my rapidly diminishing number of shotgun shells into nearby monstrosities. The flare bounced off the cliff and illuminated the giant flexing mandibles of a behemoth — its huge carapace slowly and deliberately advancing towards us. Its arachnid eyes glowed in the reflected light of my space-age dwarven technology, which appeared all but a pointless trinket against its primordial fury.
The turrets had expended their ammo reserves, Maggie and I had thrown all of our grenades and my shotgun was depleted. Yet still, it came. It was only now, after we turned and ran for our small hairy lives, that I realised mining other minerals would help you out during missions. “Find the red glowy stuff!” I shouted several times, whilst using the physics-defying gloopy platform gun to rapidly create artificial scaffolding up a nearby column. I mined out the vein, watching the numbers creep up on my HUD whilst Maggie fled from the giant six-legged nightmare and smashed the skulls of pursuing bugs with her pickaxe.
As my axe cracked open the last of the vein, the mineral counter ticked over the required amount for our salvation; I called over the MULE and haphazardly dumped the last of my findings in as Maggie’s situation was deteriorating, evidenced by the increasing guttural roars and swearing of her dwarf. Leaping back to the now poorly decorated perimeter we first started in, I spent my winnings getting us a ticket to survival: “Stand clear” announced Command, “Supply drop inbound”.
“NOW” I shouted, as Maggie came sprinting over the alien-blood-soaked rock, the velvet darkness behind her illuminated by the primal rage of the behemoth, bounding after her. The timer courted with three seconds. Maggie punched through the closest rock face with her traffic cone drill arms and stared down the oncoming train of hate and destruction bounding, unstoppable towards her. The cavern overhead thundered, the beast roared, and — in a hail of debris and blood — was smashed into the unforgiving ground below by the finest piece of dwarven engineering in Deep Rock Galactic.
It was pretty straightforward after that: we found the remaining veins fairly quickly, consciously aware that another swarm could attack at any time and neither of us had the supplies to endure another, even with the supply drop’s gifts from orbit. We climbed, we drilled, we mined. Molly the MULE followed us through passages, up the sides of cliffs and through dwarf-sized gaps in the rock as we collected our spoils, interrupted by the occasional group of insectoids bustling about.
Just as we poured the last of our mineral-shaped loot into Molly and were heading back to the drop zone, Command chimed in again, another swarm was on its way, even bigger this time: unless we got out very soon, we would be nothing but a pile of dwarven minced meat. We called for the evac pod — which arrived within seconds — but it only had three minutes until it would leave, with or without us. Making us further aware of our impending doom, a large countdown timer appeared in the corner of our HUDs. It might as well have read “Time until your agonisingly painful deaths, alone, in the Deep Dark”.
We ran, Maggie switching between incinerating everything behind us and punching a path through difficult terrain whilst I thinned out the flood with grenades, littering alien guts and mandibles over the cavern walls. The countdown timer reached 2 minutes, and the pod continued to be infinitely far away in a cavern beyond. The distinctive roar rippled through our bones, the green glow beyond the formation behind us gradually getting brighter and closer, glistening off the minerals embedded in the walls. Maggie abandoned the flamethrower and started carving her way through rock and earth in a desperate attempt to reach salvation. 60 seconds. More roars, more claws, more screaming.
30 seconds flashed, a panic on our screens, as we burst into the chamber with the pod. We’ll make it! We were 10 feet below the pod entrance, and I flung platforms into existence at the rocky outcrops to get us a footing, and stumbled into the sweet warm embrace of machine-forged steel. A behemoth burst out of the passage we just carved and swiped off most of Maggie’s health as the smaller critters surrounded and picked at the last of her life.
We were so close, it could not end like this. She coated the horde in her fire. The last of my grenades found the behemoth’s face. Explosions and fire ripped limbs to pulpy chunks. The beast reeled in apparent shock and pain.
Mere seconds were left, Maggie scrabbled up the platforms and we threw ourselves into the drop pod just as the timer approached 0. The dense mechanical steel door slammed shut behind us, and the pod made its beautiful climb back into the belly of the Space Rig.
Another day’s work, another day’s pay; all in the life of a dwarven space miner.