A beautiful blend is not only how I would describe my favourite drink, but it’s what makes a great game. Blending genres, gameplay mechanics, plot hooks, anything really to create a game that appeals to many instead of the few. SteamWorld Dig did just that; it appealed to adventurers and explorers by putting players in control of a quirky robotic protagonist and popped him in a procedurally generated world where he digs his way around. Unfortunately, as good as the first SteamWorld Dig was, it ended short. Thankfully, SteamWorld Dig 2 elaborates on the successes of its predecessor. Twice as big and scrapping the procedurally generated world concept, SD2 certainly maintains its appeal of a Metroidvania-style exploration game, and a damn good one at that.
For those unfamiliar with SteamWorld Dig, it’s set on a post-apocalyptic Earth which is now inhabited by robots and irradiated humans. You control Dorothy, a kind-hearted bot looking for her friend, Rusty, the protagonist from the first game. To do this, she must enlist the assistance of the sparse yet automated population of the town of El Machino, which is the location of the entrance to a mine which is where Rusty was last seen. It’s a story that moves at a brisk enough pace that allows you to keep track, filled with personality and charm. At times, dialogue can be tongue-in-cheek, mainly from FEN, a wisp-like character that resides within Dorothy’s furnace who starts off ratty and sarcastic but eventually warms to her as she progresses in her quest, becoming endearing and more encouraging. FEN is easily one of the standout characters in SD2, but there are many more you’ll meet on your travels.
SteamWorld Dig 2 takes place mainly within the caves and caverns as you use your pickaxe tool to smack away the crumbling environment block by block. Often you can find materials which act as the game’s collectables, such as copper or gems of all kinds, which can be sold to the trader at El Machino in exchange for currency to buy upgrades for your equipment. The sense of progression is everywhere here. Exploring every inch of the mines and beyond has the potential to become tedious work but never ends up that way, instead keeping your eyes glued as you press on. Exploring unbeaten paths is all part of the fun, finding relics and upgrade cogs that can be attached to your equipment to give them special perks, such as extra XP on every enemy killed or taking no damage from pressure bombs fired. They can be removed and used elsewhere if you no longer need them where you initially attached them to.
The sprawling mines and openings that, at times, carry pumping soundtracks are home to many puzzles for you to figure out. They are excellently designed, often requiring a recently unlocked weapon and never feel too hard to fathom, carrying a feeling of accomplishment when you nail them. Dorothy is a dab hand at combat too, using her pickaxe to dispatch the sizable creepy crawlies that patrol the abyss, and if you prefer to battle from afar, your pressure bomb launcher that you get around an hour in is a capable weapon of destruction; thing is, it requires water to use.
Outside of the story, there are many special rooms to explore around the mammoth-sized map that have challenges for you to overcome in the hopes of earning a much needed cog or treasure. You may need to traverse over a spiked floor or time your sprint as rocks fall from above. There is so much variety that finding these rooms is just as much an achievement as overcoming them.
Level design is top notch in SD2. From the mine you start in and lava laden temples to thick magical jungles, each with their own distinct architecture and challenges. One time you may be required to dig upwards then horizontally, only to be blocked by a cracked rock with the crack ending on the other side, meaning it needs to be hit from that side in order to break. Then another time you may need to dig downwards to find a switch to a blocked door. The game changes so much that it stays feeling fresh. Each of the environments look great too, especially on the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode.
There’s always a lingering desire to progress. Upgrading your pickaxe may get you slightly further, but if you don’t upgrade your lantern, you won’t be able to see the route ahead. After the story is finished, the game doesn’t end there. It allows you to continue to find more secrets and earn more upgrades, fulfilling that desire to progress even post-endgame. The first SteamWorld Dig may have had some shortcomings, but developers Image and Form have taken what was cumbersome, scrapped it, and built on what made it fun to create a fantastic adventure game.
Developer: Image and Form
Publisher: Image and Form
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita, PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 21st September 2017