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Deep Rock Galactic spinoff adds mining to Vampire Survivors, and it works

Vampire Survivors? How about Dwarf Survivors?

A dwarf, the star of Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor, stands in the middle of an army of ferocious bugs in the sci-fi mines of Haxxas IV. Image: Funday Games/Ghost Ship Publishing
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

When I first sit down to play Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor, I resolve to give the game a spin for 20 minutes and then pause for a productive note-taking session. Three hours later, I realize that I am a fool. This is one of those sticky games that can be played in short bursts, but I keep diving into new rounds, and as soon as I close the client down I’m thinking about playing it again.

What is Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor, and how has it so effectively commandeered my brain? It’s a pastiche of Vampire Survivors, a top-down auto-shooter, interpreted in the world of Deep Rock Galactic. The premise in Survivor is the same as the original Deep Rock Galactic — dwarves fighting through bugs and beasties to mine valuable ore in the world’s most unsafe workplace. But while the original title is a four-player co-op game, in this new spin-off, I’m alone.

I play a dwarf on a solo mission down in the mines. It’s me, my friendly robot Bosco, and a couple of simple guns. Bosco and I shoot at everything in our vicinity, and I can mine my way through walls of rock and stone. The problem is that every monster in the mines is coming for me, and my starting weapons only make a dent in their armies. Luckily, ore and monsters both drop experience, which I can use to upgrade my gear or buy new power-ups.

An upgrade screen in Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor, showing some of the weapons the player can choose from upon leveling up. Image: Funday Games/Ghost Ship Publishing

A run will start like this: I have a couple of objectives, like getting a few specific minerals, or murdering a number of bugs. Some runs, I get a powerful kinetic plasma gun that bounces off terrain. Other times, I have to rely on a shotgun’s powerful knockback blasts. When I complete one wave, I delve deeper into the mines, and the danger ramps up continually over time. Before long, the screen is crammed full with voracious insectoids and delicious experience diamonds.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor’s mining mechanic adds a fun set of choices. Mining is just as automatic as firing; all I have to worry about is picking a path and steering my dwarf. But rock is slower than open ground, and ore is even more of an obstacle. Do I risk mining a valuable gem when a wave of hungry beasties is bearing down on me? Should I make a break for it across the plains, or cut a path through the stone to safer ground?

If I die, it’s often because of my own hubris in thinking I could carve a clever shortcut or sneakily mine a big crystal. On the other hand, I can also mine a path to funnel enemies down a chokepoint I’m pelting with plasma shots, and I feel like a big-brain genius. The ability to build your own battlefield by charging through stone is a brilliant addition to the auto-shooter formula.

A dwarf in Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor earns brightly colored experience diamonds by slaying insectoid enemies in the mines. Image: Funday Games/Ghost Ship Publishing

Dying doesn’t necessarily mean the expedition wasn’t worth it. I can upgrade my dwarf between rounds, boosting their movement speed, mining skill, or weapon damage. Because Survivor is currently in beta, not all of the upgrades are available to me yet, and there’s a tantalizing Artifacts tab that is currently inaccessible.

The game also needs some rebalancing. For instance, on a call with Polygon, developer Funday Games shared that playtests had revealed Bosco needs some buffs. I also found myself yearning for some more ridiculous, overpowered guns in the later levels. The existing upgrades have their own niches, but few of them are showstoppers with massive, exciting power spikes. But, even with a limited arsenal, I found myself looking forward to the post-match dopamine hit of assessing my riches and picking upgrades.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor has the benefit of being based on a hugely successful title and set in an established world. The game may not be re-inventing any wheels, but I’m not sure that’s a problem when it’s a really good wheel. Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor is currently in closed playtesting on Steam, and is expected to launch in 2023.

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