In the cluttered landscape of fictional post-apocalyptic worlds, 2013’s SteamWorld Dig was a breath of fresh air. A steampunk Western, it sends you digging deep into the earth, searching out precious resources to sell in the dusty, one-mechanical horse town above. It’s a glorious a tale of robot cowboys, mutant humans and mysterious technology. SteamWorld Dig 2 is very much the sequel I was hoping for. It has the same core gameplay loop of digging for riches, but leans further into platforming, puzzle solving and RPG elements, while boasting a gorgeously detailed aesthetic.
In contrast to its predecessor, SteamWorld Dig 2’s world is not procedurally generated, and you can feel the handcrafted quality as a result. Dungeon layouts take devious pride in enemy positioning and cleverly hidden secrets. You’ll also come across cave entrances that take you to an impressive variety of self-contained challenges. These rooms make for a nice change of pace, as you go from literally carving out your own path through a massive sprawling world to being in a confined space with very specific solutions. These puzzles and platforming gauntlets aren’t difficult, but they’re satisfying, and net you cogs and artifacts – two of the most important collectables in Dig 2.
Dig 2’s protagonist, Dorothy, doesn’t have much to work with from a story perspective. But much more importantly, she’s wonderfully nimble, and even the simple act of wall jumping to quickly ascend mine shafts feels great. New abilities unlock steadily, giving Dorothy more and more versatility. It’s not long before you’re shooting sticky bombs, pounding through previously unbreakable rocks with a jackhammer, and using a hookshot to grapple your way around the mines. And it doesn’t stop there.
Everything you use can be levelled up, too, allowing you to mine faster, shoot further and expand your backpack. This provides a constant sense of progress, and feeds into the compulsion to harvest and cash-in resources for gold. Each upgrade you purchase or blueprint you acquire then unlocks a new cog mod. These are perks that are powered by the upgrade cogs hidden around the world and sit atop your core abilities, allowing you to spec (and re-spec – nothing is locked in) Dorothy to suit your play style.
Like taking on enemies with your pickaxe? You should equip Hunter’s Edge and Bounty Hunter, which give you extra XP and a cash reward for pickaxe kills, respectively.
Like taking on enemies with your pickaxe? You should equip Hunter’s Edge and Bounty Hunter, which give you extra XP and a cash reward for pickaxe kills, respectively. You could also equip Healer, which adds a chance of netting a bonus health orb from enemies defeated using the pickaxe. And then later in the game you’ll get Sharpened Edge, which deals extra damage with the pickaxe.
Then again, maybe you’re all about the resources and want to carry more, find more and make harvested minerals and ores magically come to you, Ratchet & Clank-style. There are mods for all those. There’s even a mod to highlight all the resource tiles on the mini-map. And one to make hidden areas easier to find. And one that means you’ll lose less resources if you die.
There’s a wealth of options, in other words, and the possibilities ramp up as you progress. This system really rewards players who are as thorough as possible, too. I loved systematically pillaging everything on the map; creating a maze of tunnels as I mined every resource tile, found every secret, and beat every puzzle. Plus, the more XP you earn, the higher Dorothy’s level, which then gives you a percentage bonus whenever you sell resources back in town.
Dig 2 is all about the explore, harvest, upgrade, explore loop. Like the last game it has a risk-reward dynamic at play, as you need to come back to the surface to sell off your loot regularly – your backpack can only carry so much – but how often you do that is about how far you want to push it. The longer you stay underground the dimmer your lamp gets, and the more you collect the greater the loss if you die. It gets easier as you progress, however, as you can equip cogs to help keep your lamp glowing and unlock more ways to safely take out enemies.
The fast-travel system also makes your health less important than it might be, as getting to a pneumatic tube entrance lets you hop back to town, instantly replenishing your health, water stores, and lamp. Thanks to that lifeline, I probably only died around a dozen times across ten or so hours of play. That’s not to say there aren’t tense times, of course. You’re not always close to a fast-travel point, so if the light is growing dim and your health is low you often have a choice: press on and hope to find one, or bail out and try to survive the long journey back to the last tube. Dig 2 also throws some great curveballs at you, whether that’s being pursued by hulking robots in a techno fever dream, or carefully navigating an acid swamp, where seemingly everything either explodes or melts the ground away.
After you beat the final boss you’re able to hop back into your last save to continue scavenging and levelling up, but the incentive to do so isn’t explicit, as you need to collect all the artifacts – no easy task – to unlock the post-game content. I’d have loved something more immediate. The original encouraged multiple playthroughs thanks to its procedural world, and while I prefer the more curated, content rich approach taken here, a New Game + mode would have been amazing, or perhaps a separate set of standalone challenges to test your abilities with different loadouts in different scenarios. As it is, Dig 2 is mostly one-and-done, but it’s great there’s a reason to see it all the way through.
Release Date: Sep 22, 2017