Hammering its way into Early Access last month, Deep Rock Galactic is the mining/first-person shooter combo we never knew we needed. First teased during Microsoft's 2017 E3 showcase alongside fellow indies Super Lucky's Tale, Tacoma, and The Artful Escape, DRG was one that caught our attention due to its stylised visuals and unique gameplay. The title sees you band together in teams of up to four players to seek precious resources in dimly-lit caves crawling with deadly alien bugs.
You play as a squad of space dwarfs who have embarked on a mining expedition to the hostile planet of Hoxxes IV. Your main objective is to harvest a set number of materials hidden deep within the planet's network of caves and make it back to the surface. It may sound simple but with maps being randomly generated and with no waymarkers present, your journey isn't all that clear-cut. You are given the freedom to traverse the environment as you please, for example, you could use a drill to bore a path through the destructible terrain or fire a zip-line to whizz overhead.
After grabbing the goods, you'll have to make a mad dash for the exit. This is where swarms of creatures will emerge and put up one last fight. Combat here is at its most intense as you have to wrestle with poor visibility as you make your way through your surroundings, and it's not helped by the rapidly declining timer that gives you just five minutes. Depending on the class you have chosen you'll be armed with either a shotgun, machine gun, or flamethrower, and each of these weapons performs solidly. As you'll face the odd wave whilst chiselling away at a cave wall it's quite likely that in these last fleeting moments you will have depleted much of your ammunition.
Currently there are four-character classes (Driller, Engineer, Gunner, and Scout) with more said to be on the way in the future. Each of these classes feel distinctive and we'd recommend having a play with each as they all present their own experiences. We really enjoyed how these class abilities can be used cooperatively, especially with regards to traversal. One player may for example place platforms leading up a cliff face while another puts down a zip-line at the summit. All of these characters can be upgraded via an RPG-like skill tree at a cost of money and various materials. This gives you great incentive to explore the different regions of Hoxxes IV to further strengthen your team.
Within the skill tree you can improve aspects like the rate of fire of your weapons, the duration of your flares, and the strength of your pickaxe. Alongside that, in your ship there is also a vanity store where you can purchase new armour, headgear and yes, even beards! The character customisation here is really lacking as there's no way to create a character that looks distinct, but this is something that may be introduced later. We feel the same with the skill tree too, and we wished the developer had added more options that stretched beyond the usual upgrades seen in similar types of games.
On your ship there's a terminal where you can easily join matches with other players based on cave complexity and location preferences. You can also set up your own custom match by moving to another computer and allowing other players to jump into your game. As it's a Play Anywhere title it benefits from uniting both Xbox One and PC owners, creating a large player base in the process. If you don't have a Games with Gold subscription, there is still the option to play by yourself though. Granted it isn't as fun but you do get a robot drone companion named Bosco to help with pest control.
Deep Rock Galactic nails its atmosphere and we enjoyed how we had to illuminate our own path through the darkness with flares and our headlamps. It created a really eerie and claustrophobic feel which juxtaposed wonderfully against its vibrant colour pallet and polygonal style. Humming softly in the background is a gentle arrangement of synthesiser and percussion with the main focus being shifted to the echo of your footsteps and the clinking of pickaxes against the cave wall. Performance issues were practically none existent but we did find ourselves caught in the terrain on occasion.
Whilst it's currently slated for a 2019 release, Deep Rock Galactic already shows plenty of promise. Its blend of mining and first-person shooting is something we hadn't experienced before and whilst it sounds like a strange mix, it actually works well. We really enjoyed the atmosphere and the mad rush to make it back to our ship always kept the blood pumping. There are few areas where a bit of extra work would be appreciated, but with plenty of time until it makes a full release we can't say that we're concerned.