Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor’s auto-shooter gameplay has me yearning for the mines

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor’s auto-shooter gameplay has me yearning for the mines

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I have spent the last few days delving into the darkness of Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor, and have only occasionally taken a break to come up for air. This is yet another take on the bullet-hell survival formula established by Vampire Survivors, using the sci-fi setting of the original Deep Rock Galactic. It’s a combination that works as well as chocolate and peanut butter. I’ve spent hours fleeing from bugs and mining valuable ore, and yet every time I step away, I find myself yearning for the mines.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor starts with only one of the four dwarves from the original game available, the Scout. The Scout teaches the player the basics of the game, using his enhanced mobility to flee the bugs while whittling them down with steady automatic arms fire. Each round begins with a drop pod landing deep in the mines, and the dwarf emerges with a starting weapon and a couple of objectives: collect resources from around the map and draw out the elite boss by slaying wave after wave of an unstoppable alien swarm.

The Scout starts with a simple assault rifle, but the longer I played, the more of an arsenal I unlocked. I gained XP from mining and killing bugs; every time I leveled up, I got a small upgrade like movement speed, fire rate on my weapon, or more damage. At certain milestones, I unlocked the option for a new weapon — perhaps a cryo grenade if I’m dealing with swarms, or a high-powered sniper rifle to eliminate tough targets. The weapons automatically fire, but go down while they reload. I needed to keep an eye on my ammo, watch my positioning, and collect all of the goodies on the map without being overwhelmed by monsters.

A Driller sprays flame and acid all around him in powerful gouts during a round of Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor

Image: Funday Games/Ghost Ship Publishing

Occasionally, the Deep Rock Galactic corporation was kind enough to give me a supply drop. I had to find these beacons and clear the area around them, then wait for the drop itself to come down. If I was successful, I got an artifact — something like an ammo clip that gives me a much higher fire rate at the cost of attack speed, or the chance to find gold in any rock I happen to mine. If I had to abandon the supply beacon to save my life, it smarted — and the rest of the run was much tougher as a result.

During my first few rounds, I took the time to find my feet and didn’t worry too much about advancing. This is a game where you will die early and often — and that’s just part of the fun. Every time I died, I returned to the main menu, where I could unlock new permanent upgrades with the resources I earned during my last match. The next time I went down, I was stronger, faster, and wiser. I also eventually earned the ability to play as the other classes: the Gunner, Engineer, and Driller.

While the first few rounds of Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor felt a bit samey, the game opened up as I unlocked and played as new classes. Every round, I had some new upgrade to test or a new tool available in the random arsenal. The four classes all play differently as well. While the Scout is a nimble guy who runs and guns, the Gunner is much happier facing down the swarm and allowing his massive minigun to rip through bugs like wet tissue paper; the Engineer drops turrets, creating zones of control; and the Driller is the best miner of the group by far.

A selection of upgrades available in the shop in Deep Rock Galactic, showing ways the players can empower their weapon or dwarf.

Image: Funday Games/Ghost Ship Publishing

Mining was essential, regardless of class. Valuable minerals were wedged in the rock that I needed for upgrades. Secondly, mining allowed me to create new paths that were critical for survival. If I was wedged up against a rock, with every bug in the universe coming at me to munch my bones, I turned and noped out by tunneling through the stone. The trick is that mining can be slow work, especially when trying to get special resources. The best rounds of Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor are the ones where I beat the odds by clever use of mining to open up new paths, evading the swarm and feeling like a Big Brain Genius in the process.

I’ve rarely spent time in Deep Rock Galactic itself, simply because it’s not a game on rotation for my friend group. But it’s fun to get to approach that world from another angle, one that is more suited for solo play. There’s an amount of brainless joy to the game — all I have to worry about is pointing my dwarf in the right direction, and he will do the rest. All the while, I get the serotonin boost of leveling up and getting neat new guns. I regret to report that instead of brain, there is Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor was released on Feb. 14 on Windows PC. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Ghost Ship Publishing. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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