SteamWorld Dig 2 Review
Disclaimer: PC Aficionado was provided with a code for the purpose of this review. All thought and opinions expressed in the review are the writers own and are not influenced by the developer and/or publisher in anyway.
Steamworld Dig 2 is a merging of Metroidvania style gameplay and Dig Dug that knows exactly what it is. The sequel title from studio Image and Form International, it builds upon the mechanics of the previous title, offering the penultimate “bigger is better,” sequel with a key exception covered later in the review. While its charms have varying staying power depending on the type of gamer you are, the core audience for this sort of title and fans of the original will find an expanded and polished core gameplay loop, a well-paced series of powerups and upgrades, and an well designed and presented world to (literally) dig into.
The game’s story is a quest to find Rusty, the robotic hero of the previous title. You control Dorothy, a side character from the first title who is looking for Rusty and feels he is the culprit of series of earthquakes affecting the lives of the town/player’s merchant hub nearby known as El Machino. The game almost immediately follows the previous title’s story but speaking from the perspective of a newcomer to the series they do a decent job of getting you the required details. Anything else is spoiler territory, but overall the story is more than you would expect and less than you may hope, not the star of the show but producing the bare minimum of getting you from point A to B without you anxiously avoiding the “main quest” altogether like you would in other open-world titles.
The real meat of the context of this game is in its worldbuilding. The game almost always has the player descending downwards, and each area, from the beginning brightly lit caverns to the volcanic ancient robotic temples breath life into what could have easily been another generic cutesy indie game hand-drawn blah. This isn’t just a series of hand-drawn panels, but something that manages to put cowboy westerns, sci-fi horror, quirky robots and Indiana Jones-style temples and looting in the same game and meld them together into a unique, cohesive whole.
That is not to say the presentation isn’t worth mentioning, however – while the art style itself is fairly standard as far as indie hand-drawn art goes, the lighting effects, great use of color contrast, and ambient lighting effects and textures utilized in specific locations helps the parts of this cohesive world have a sense of place. Animations don’t have quite the weight they should in some instances, but all the debris-producing explosions, be it rocks or enemy corpses, fare better. The music and sound can be a tad forgettable, to the point that going back and playing it while listening to youtube videos made no difference in my enjoyment, but all in all, the presentation is decent.
The writing is also just barely worth mentioning – while not top notch by any stretch, it conveys the lighter tone the game is going for, and the characters get some goofy and adorable dialogue to bounce off the player. I particularly liked the dialogue of the upgrade merchant of the game, a meek robot who meekly encourages you to get upgrades for your equipment only if you want to, and who nerds out on every new upgrade the player shows up with.
And the game will bring you back to this merchant often. Thankfully the core gameplay loop, as previously discussed, is engaging enough to hold players attention. The aforementioned genre merging at the beginning of this review will have fans of either genre finding something to love.
The game has you exploring and slowly opening a map of an underground, digging and platforming your way to precious ores, steam-powered fast travel pipes, caves and doors leading to mini-areas, and secret passages. There is just enough side excursions to make the world feel substantial, but not so much as to overwhelm the player with cave markers, and it’s all a joy to explore with the tools you are given. You start off with just a pickaxe, backpack and torch, but later on you get various other tools that improve your digging and exploring potential. Each item has it’s own upgrade paths progressed through the game’s two main currencies – gold, and cogs. Gold is gained through the selling of the ore you dig up, and cogs are collectables found all throughout the underground. The ideal way to gain these resources is to have enough space in your inventory to fit the amount of ore that you find, and to have a torch that can shine a light on secret and resource squares. However, those happen to be related to my two main nitpicks in the game.
So let’s talk about the elements intended to slow the game’s pacing – the backpack and torch. The backpack is your inventory which can be upgraded over time. The slotting system claims a spot each time you either fill an ore of a certain type, or find a new ore, up until you run out of slots. I always felt that the the amount of space each slot occupies is just a tad too limiting throughout the experience even when making the backpack the item I upgraded the most. A solid system would have you fill your inventory right as you get to a warp back to the surface, but I always felt I was discarding items before I got to another warp regularly. Despite this, the game’s backpack does serve as an excuse for the player to warp up to the surface, sell their ore, buy upgrades, and heal. This game did not need another. The torch, unfortunately, is that redundant other.
Your torch has a fuel source that shines a light on blocks several squares around the player, revealing cracks and ores as well as making the type of rock easier to see in more dimly lit parts of the game. However, the torch extinguishes far too quickly, and when it does extinguish it barely lights one square in front of you. While the torch is not needed, it does help you see which tiles have resources before you have dug your way to them, saving you time digging toward a dead end. The torch was meant to be another reason to go to the surface but ends up being a minor annoyance, as the effect it has on gameplay is not major enough to ruin anything, but just annoying enough to be a consistent pain. If there was one major change I would make to the game, it would be to ditch the torch system – it adds nothing the backpack isn’t already doing, and since when do robots need torches?
Regardless of this, all resources are gained in enough quantity to satiate the pacing of the game – there was just enough upgrades opening up for me to keep playing, just enough resources to get a steady stream of upgrades, but at the same time always another upgrade to get. Another thing that could have had an effect on that pacing, however, is a key change that may prove divisive to previous fans and affect their long-term enjoyment.
I previously mentioned that while the game is mostly a straight upgrade of the first, there is one key difference between the second and the first game. While the first game had procedurally generated levels, the sequel is entirely handcrafted. The debate on whether procedural generation and more replayability or a handcrafted, more focused and controlled experience that is the same every time you play it is a debate for another time. What matters is how well the game does what it sets out to do. So how well does this game do handcrafted?
It is nothing special on the surface – the secrets are secret enough but not the hardest to find, the levels are not a mess but not particularly inspired, and some of the more tightly designed puzzles and challenges can be fun. The major benefit taken from a less procedurally generated route is the pacing of the world design itself beneath the surface – the game hit a sweet spot for me in terms of resource collection speed in relation to map progression that more than likely stems from the freedom handcrafting levels offers. There are multiple bosses in the game, a few stealth sections, platforming and puzzle segments that would simply not be feasible to reliably create a randomly generated world. The sections themselves offer enough variety to keep the digging from getting stale. However, some will find the added puzzles and boss fights gets in the way of the core gameplay loop and represent significant spikes in difficulty, relying on an entirely different set of skills to get through them than the traditional exploratory skills the rest of the game offers.
It is also worth bringing up that despite the positives this design choice brings, it can also make subsequent playthroughs less appealing. The game is cited among most to run at about 6.5 hours to beat and 9.5-12.5 hours for a completionist run, which seems about right for someone who is a bit more coordinated than I am (I was not even done with the game at 12 hours, and I am sure I missed secrets, but I am a tad slower at these games than the majority). The game also retails for $19.99 USD. In a procedurally generated game this would not be such a big deal, but in a game that is the same every run, with no real “build” variety outside of starting out upgrading different things, it brings the value down substantially, to the point that I am not quite sure that a game like this without much replay value is worth the full price on offer.
All in all, this is a game that, aside from it’s nitpicks, this game scratches that looting and upgrading grind, that repetitive exploration/gathering trance for its runtime. While in my eyes not worth what is being charged, it is a definite pick for a holiday sale where you want to be stuck in a satisfying gameplay loop that can be absentmindedly idled through while avoiding loved ones. The fans of the first game may be miffed at some design choices, but the overall design makes all nitpicks easy to overlook for an enjoyable grind.
- Satisfying core gameplay loop and game pacing
- Good visual style
- Some decent dialogue
- A solidly developed and even more solidly entertaining and varied world to explore
- Sound design is forgettable
- Story puts in the bare minimum effort to get players through the digging.
- Some minor design element complaints
- The switch from procedurally generated worlds to handcrafted ones make this a hard sell for gamers wanting more replay value and older fans that enjoyed that element of the first game.
- Some will find the added puzzles and boss fights gets in the way of the core gameplay loop and represent significant spikes in difficulty, relying on an entirely different set of skills to get through them.