Initial Release: September 22 2017
By sticking to the elements of the series that work the best and by not introducing anything new for the sake of being new they have distilled it into what is, probably, the perfect SteamWorld game.
The feedback loop is an incredibly important part of what makes certain video games feel harder to put down than others. By reinforcing the feeling of risk and reward every few minutes or so, they keep a player hooked and help to create that mysterious “just one more go” effect. SteamWorld Dig 2 is the perfect example of this, offering up bitesize adventures into its dangerous and compelling underground world which always makes the player feel like they improved in some way with each incursion.
The game follows on from its predecessor and puts players into the metallic shoes of Dorothy, a robot searching for her friend Rusty who, as fans of the series will know, is the protagonist from the last game. the basic loop and gameplay is still here but almost everything has been improved, refined and tweaked to make SteamWorld 2 a much grander experience. There’s a hub-world filled with zany characters and areas to sell your loot and upgrade your weapons, secrets to find and a simple but compelling storyline to play with.
As mentioned previously, the game is broken up into short dives underground in the hunt for treasure. You’re time available underground is limited by your lamp’s fuel so initially these romps are short and sweet. With each outing however, resources are gathered which are in turn used to upgrade anything from Dorothy’s pick-axe (making it faster to mine through the earth) to her lamp and armour. There’s a palpable sense of progression in these initial moments of the game which really drive the player forward. Death is fairly simple to avoid thanks to the game’s excellent control scheme and platforming mechanics so you never feel like your time is being wasted. If you are to die you will lose resources, sure, but the game is fairly lenient and never feels unfair.
SteamWorld Dig 2’s world is as wacky and endearing than ever. It’s filled with mutants, old and dilapidated robots and a whimsical little sprite called Fen who accompanies you every step of the way.There isn’t much of a story here, but what is present is interesting enough. Mysterious earthquakes plague the world, ancient technology has awakened giant golems and ethereal spirits and at the centre of all of it lies the mystery of what happened to Rusty. The tale definitely draws you in during the later stages and never gets in the way of the looting/survival sections of the game.
What really makes SteamWorld Dig 2 stand head and shoulders above its predecessor is the fact that while all levels in the first game were procedurally generated, they’re lovingly designed in the sequel. Everything from enemy placement to resource management to deadly traps involving falling boulders are used to lead the player through a gauntlet of risk and reward. The world is much larger this time but definitely richer and more dynamic. The game has you back-tracking through its many catacombs and temples in classic metroidvania style. Regular upgrades like a hookshot and a jackhammer keep gameplay fresh right up until the credits roll. The addition of a jetpack in the later stages of the game does make Dorothy feel a little too over-equipped but in general each upgrade opens the world up nicely.
SteamWorld Dig 2 has released on almost every platform imaginable but I must say that it is when it is in handheld form that it really shines. The game is perfectly suited to short play sessions and as such I found most of my 8-10 hours spent enjoying the game on the PS Vita. The game ran without a hint of any technical issues throughout and stayed consistent and smooth. There was also never a point where I got stuck in the mines unable to proceed. Even if your lamp runs out, backtracking is always clear and straightforward.
Enemy variety is also one of the game’s strengths with each one interacting and changing the environment in interesting ways. Aggressive and hefty beetles will awaken and break blocks around them opening up a path for them to roll at you. Exploding fireflies can be used to your advantage, clearing the room of other enemies or obstructions. One enemy in particular stood out for me though. Sleeping metallic giants which are awakened by techno-spirits are incredibly formidable opponents towards the end of the game. Triggering them leads to all-out chaos as they barrel towards you, breaking everything around them. One section utilises this fear to create a stealth segment of sorts. It’s times like this, when the game tasks the player with thinking about their route that it really shows the level of design involved.
It’s difficult to fault SteamWorld Dig 2 thanks to its restraint and excellent level design. The developers could easily have run away with the concept after the last game and made something bigger and more ambitious but I’m definitely glad they didn’t. By sticking to the elements of the series that work the best and by not introducing anything new for the sake of being new they have distilled it into what is, probably, the perfect SteamWorld Dig game.
We were provided a copy of the game by Image and Form Games for review purposes.