Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: SteamWorld Dig 2


Back when it came out on the 3DS I remember deciding to pick up SteamWorld Dig on a bit of a whim because there had been some positive buzz around it. At the time I didn’t really know much about independent developers on the market, as a whole, and was weary of picking up titles from companies I didn’t already know. To that point my experience with them had been hit or miss, most of them feeling more like “budget” titles that were good for kicking around a short while but that were at least cheap. SteamWorld Dig was one of the earliest titles, though, that began to change that perception for the better. It helped me to see independents with ambition could deliver experiences that could minimally nip at the heels of the bigger publishers, or perhaps even overtake them.

Fast forward to today and the launch of SteamWorld Dig 2 and I believe that both Image & Form and the indie scene as a whole have fully come into their stride and are fulfilling that promise I’d seen. SteamWorld Dig 2 is well-designed, entertaining, aggravating (in the right places), polished… essentially everything you could hope for in a somewhat Metroidvania game, but it very much has a unique style all its own. It isn’t a clone by any means, but instead has periodic upgrade mechanics that are well-spaced, puzzles that you’ll be able to complete on your first pass and others you’ll need to hit later, and enemies that will continue to challenge you the further you go into the game, especially if you’re not carefully upgrading yourself in the areas you need most.


In Dig 2 you will be playing as Dot, who is actually on a journey to find and hopefully rescue the protagonist from the original Dig, Rusty. As she works through the mystery of what happened to him and what he’s been doing since the end of the first game she’ll need to make her way down through a variety of environments, explore caves full of puzzles, and fight a cavalcade of foes. The game-changer from the original Dig is that all of these things are done at a greatly expanded scale and quality. The procedural dungeons of the original have been replaced by hand-crafted layouts where even the many gem deposits you’ll see have a sort of mini-puzzle quality to finding the best way to get to them. The cave puzzle challenges are more abundant and often more diabolical, often having more than one objective in them. Solving the base puzzle may be challenging but it is more easily doable, and that often rewards you with a cog, but in many caves there’s also an artifact present and obtaining some of these will absolutely test your skills and your sanity (I’m looking at you red scarf!!!). In a nutshell this isn’t so much Dig times 2, it often feels more along the lines of Dig squared.

The most significant change in Dig 2, and what I think may even put it ahead of many of its contemporaries, is its upgrade system tied to the cogs you’ll find spread throughout and the abilities they can enable. Just as in many other games you’ll have the ability to upgrade your weapons and equipment using the gold coins you’ll get in exchange for gems you find throughout your travels. What makes Dig 2’s system a step above the rest is how cogs play into the mix and emphasize the power of personal choice. As you level up, buy upgrades for your equipment, discover secrets, or find relics you will find new cog enhancements you can use. The trick here is that you will likely never have enough cogs to turn on all of the enhancements so, aside from being driven to find as many cogs as possible quickly, you’ll need to be selective about what you enhance. Depending on your play style, your weaknesses, or simply in reaction to your most current challenge in the game you’ll want to allocate these differently. Since there’s no cost associated with doing so, you only need to go back to town and make your changes at the workbench, you’re also encouraged to experiment to find the perfect mix for you. There’s one I’d specifically recommend a little less than half way through your bag upgrades that can save you loads of time and trouble but otherwise it’s all up to you.


This feature alone, and the effect it has on how you will then be compelled to play the game, is what propels it to the head of the class for me. Not only is it a great and versatile upgrade system. It is also then helps drive players to take the extra time to explore and work through the puzzles they encounter along the way. Some of the cog enhancements made available through finding relics are literally life-savers, so finding them isn’t merely about getting your 100% completion, they take a direct role in helping you be more successful in the game earlier rather than later. Many titles that have been strapped with the label of “collect-a-thon” should take a long look at how Image & Form implemented this system and take notes, it is one of the foundations that makes Dig 2 exceptional.

Going back to my introduction SteamWorld Dig 2 is a fantastic game that demonstrates the full potential of the seeds the original had planted. At every phase it is clear that the team behind it has grown in terms of both concepts and skill in implementation. For me playing it and writing this review has also made me reflect on the amazing rate that the indie development scene has matured and turned into the collective juggernaut we are seeing today. Not only are we seeing good games at lower prices, we are often seeing AAA quality and ambition as well. This excites me greatly and I’m looking forward to seeing what these team members, as well as their ambitious contemporaries, have in store for us next!



Score: 9.5

Pros:

  • Everything that worked in the original SteamWorld Dig, just bigger, better, and more ambitious
  • A great test of your skills with many puzzles to solve if you want to obtain relics and cogs
  • The cog enhancement system is terrific, well-implemented, and should be a blueprint for all games trying to better justify item collection the right way


Cons:

  • Narratively there’s still a next level I would love to see with these characters
  • Far longer than the original, with plenty to find and occupy yourself with, but hard not to want more


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