Deep Rock Galactic artwork with logo

Deep Rock Galactic is probably the most accurate representation of space Dwarves we're ever going to get. The four characters are a rowdy and almost permanently drunk bunch that enjoy mining for precious minerals, unleashing wanton destruction against anything non-Dwarf shaped, spending unbelievable amounts of time taking care of their luscious beards, and most frequently of all, shouting something about Karl.

So if you curious how all of this madness translates into actual gameplay, as well as how Deep Rock Galactic compares to the rest of the objective focused co-op games, allow me to give you my thoughts now that I'm well and truly addled from huffing flamethrower fuel for the past two weeks.

Deep Rock Galactic artwork of a fierce battle

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At the very core of Deep Rock Galactic are the four Dwarves, each of which represents a unique and highly useful specialization. The Driller wields a massive flamethrower and is capable of creating a secure bunker within seconds; the Engineer can provide area denial with his turrets while simultaneously helping with the mining operations by throwing around platforms; the Gunner can set up ziplines and rain a downright ridiculous amount of bullets onto the enemy; while the highly mobile Scout is all about jumping like a crazy person with his grappling hook and grabbing all of the hard-to-reach pieces of ore.

Much like how each character has their own strengths, they also have some significant weaknesses that need to be compensated by the other Dwarves, which is where Deep Rock Galactic's teamwork aspect comes into play. For example, the Driller is more than capable of turning entire hordes of alien bugs into shish kebab, but once one of the big boys busts through the ground, the Driller is almost always forced to yield and hope someone else will deal with the problem.

Because of this, from the very beginning Deep Rock Galactic heavily pushes players towards sticking together and facing any sort of problems as a team. This then makes learning how to actually navigate the caverns and how to defend each location all the easier, as new players can always just take a peek to their left or right and see what their more experienced allies are doing. As such, by the time I reached the end-game I was prepared for just about everything Deep Rock Galactic could throw at me, and I also knew I could rely on my fellow Dwarves to do the right thing as well. Now that is a great feeling!

Deep Rock Galactic screenshot of four Dwarves fighting together

Not pictured - the Driller killing everyone with a 'carefully' placed satchel charge

When it comes to the actual weapons, there is a small but specialized arsenal to choose from. I found the vast majority of them to be fun to use, with a special mention going towards the flamethrower as wielding that beast made me feel things I should probably talk to a psychiatrist about.

All of the weapons, armor sets, explosives, pickaxes and anything in between come with a variety of upgrades you can choose from, as well as some optional overlocks a bit down the line. These upgrades are unlocked as you progress through the levels, and each tier offers you a choice between two or three competing ones. In theory this is a pretty good idea as it greatly increases the amount of customization you have available to you, but in practice there's quite a few that are simply the best in their category, which can make the upgrade paths of certain weapons feel a little bit token.

On the other hand, the perks that are directly tied to your character are significantly more balanced and tricky to choose from. None of them are particularly overpowered, and those that seem like they are usually offer a one-and-done type of effect, which makes min-maxing them rather hard.

Perhaps the biggest bit of praise I can offer the perk system is that I frequently swapped them around in order to experiment with different ideas and loadouts. This will likely change once I put in some more hours and really figure out what I want out of my characters, but until then, the perk system's an interesting one to mess around with.

Deep Rock Galactic screenshot of the stubata upgrades

There's lots of choices and they're not permanent, so give them all a chance

However, there is a downside to all of these perks and upgrades. Once you've leveled up your first character, it becomes incredibly apparent how the weapons were designed with all of the upgrades unlocked and ready to go.

As a consequence of this, swapping a character and starting from level one can often feel unsatisfying as both the weapon and the character simply lack that hook that makes you fall in love with them. This was especially apparent with the low-level Driller as using the flamethrower without any upgrades is an exercise in frustration since you will constantly run out of ammo, all the while your unupgraded sidearm pistol makes you as accurate and deadly as a stormtrooper stuck in a tornado.

Things obviously get a lot better once you level up, but it would be downright lovely if we could use our excess currency or special minerals to speed the process along. After all, Deep Rock Galactic is at its most exciting on the higher difficulty levels, and that's just not something you can dive into with a completely green, level one Dwarf.

Deep Rock Galactic flamethrower in a tight corridor

When your back is against the wall, you really want those weapon upgrades!

Speaking of difficulty, I have to commend Deep Rock Galactic for letting even brand new players dive directly into the second hardest difficulty setting. This is something that annoyed me to no end in Vermintide 2, so being able to immediately skip to the challenging content, even if I wasn't 100% ready for it, was a breath of fresh air. Switching to the hardest difficulty I possibly could from the very beginning obviously resulted in me laying on the floor more often than I'm willing to admit, but even so, I had a great time and have learned a variety of highly useful lessons because of it.

While for the most part the difficulty progression in Deep Rock Galactic is about as sensible as you would expect, the easiest difficulty setting seems to be like a beardless Dwarf - kind of missing the point. I figured it would be the exploration-focused mode, one where you can just randomly dig around and see how all of the mechanics work in completely safety. That was not the case. While Hazard Level 1 is ridiculously easy if you're even remotely trying, you can still die by taking a wrong step and falling into a pit, get liquefied by overwhelming radiation, and you can still run out of time on certain missions if you decide to mess around for too long.

It honestly feels odd to have such interesting levels to explore and movement mechanics to play around with and yet no completely relaxing way to experiment with them. This goes doubly so when you consider that Hazard Level 2, a supposed step up, feels just as easy in terms of combat as Hazard Level 1. There's a certain lack of identity to it that bothers me, and while it's obviously not a big problem by any stretch, I would've preferred to see Hazard Level 1 as a sort of playground instead of just being basically useless.

Deep Rock Galactic screenshot of a Dwarf being attacked on the ground

My first few games gave me a close and intimate overview of all the ground textures

If you're wondering why I would even want to explore the various levels, especially considering they are procedurally generated and thus quite random, the answer would be because some of them are drop-dead gorgeous to look at. Some are riddled with explosive mushrooms and have an eerie green light permeating throughout them, others feature serene and crystalline caverns, and then there are those that look like you've just dug your way straight into whatever alien bugs consider to be hell!

Besides being there to gawk at, each of these different biomes presents a variety of unique challenges for the Dwarves deal with, which is one of the ways Deep Rock Galactic attempts to stay fresh even with a limited set of objectives. Searching for the fabled Morkite ore can be a completely different experience when one location has you running through naturally formed caverns with easy-to-access roofs, while the other has you dodge constantly expanding lava fissures as you attempt to mine minerals some 100 meters above, all overhanging a pool of lava.

Deep Rock Galactic screenshot of strange crystals

Sometimes the scenery just looks completely alien

As always, I do have one thing to complain about, even though I'm a big fan of how the levels are generated. This thing would be the snail-like fossils that are side objectives on quite a few maps. The reason I absolutely despise them is very simple - they are gray and easily blend into the background, while simultaneously being found primarily around the most inaccessible parts of the cave system.

Deep Rock Galactic clearly understands that visibility is a problem as most of the other materials have a lovely, easy-to-see glow to them - so why are the fossils this stealthy? If they rewarded far more currency than the other secondary objectives I could understand them being harder to spot, but to my knowledge, they are exactly the same as the rest. As such, I can only hope a future update will give them at least a tiny glint of light, just anything so we can spot the little devils when they're hiding on the opposite end of a ravine!

Deep Rock Galactic screenshot of glowing nitra

At least most of the resources are polite enough to sparkle

To end everything on a positive note, it's time to move onto the cosmetics system. While Deep Rock Galactic features two pieces of cosmetic DLC, the vast, vast majority of skins can only be acquired in-game through good ol' fashioned skill and determination. Some of the simpler cosmetics can be purchased with in-game currency as soon as you finish your very first mission, while the more exotic pieces come only from high-level missions and their secret objectives.

Needless to say, I absolutely adore this as it gives everyone a slow but steady progression in sheer rugged Dwarfiness. When my Driller first started out he was as clean shaven and embarrassing as an Elf, but as he progressed throughout the ranks he finally managed to cultivate a glorious ginger beard that reached all the way down to his chest. It doesn't even matter that he's probably going to burn it and himself down the first time he whips out the flamethrower - it just looks good on 'im!

All of this is completely inconsequential to the gameplay itself, as is the surprisingly charming announcer constantly yelling at you, but it adds a lot of character to Deep Rock Galactic's Dwarves and brings all of the players together. After all, you know exactly where your group stands when everyone is chanting "ROCK AND STONE" in unison!

Closing Thoughts

Deep Rock Galactic screenshot of the four Dwarves drinking beer

If you're in the mood for some co-op action, and occasionally incoherent Dwarven rambling, Deep Rock Galactic is well worth checking out. With fast-paced combat, beautiful scenery with a good bit of variety, and mechanics that are easy to learn yet hard to master, Deep Rock Galactic is about as rock solid as it gets.

Just whatever you do, don't go and try to solo the missions. Deep Rock Galactic is built for co-op and that's where it truly shines, be that with random people or your closest friends. So raise a tankard to your fellow Dwarves and chant "ROCK AND STONE" as you all plummet to your impending doom - it'll be a fun ride!